Being a veterinarian is not for the weak of heart, mind or stomach


A kid reconsiders his veterinary aspirations after suiting up for a surgery.

When I was a kid, I could tackle any carnival ride. But now I spin around one time and that's it, I'll be sick. So I understand when people come to the clinic and get sick. Thank goodness that gross sights and smells don't bother me. No matter how bad it gets, I have yet to pass out or vomit. I've come close a couple of times, but it's never happened. That leads me to this story.

It was a cold November night, and some high schoolers were waiting for a hernia surgery on a show pig. The pig's owner was a macho 18-year-old—I'll call him "He-man"—with aspirations of a veterinary career. He'd been prancing around the clinic telling everyone that he was going to be the greatest veterinary surgeon ever.

I like to let kids with 4-H projects glove up and help with the surgeries on their animals, so I asked He-man if he was up for it. He jumped at the chance.

We scrubbed him up and showed him how to put on the gloves. Before he finished, though, he took a dip of snuff. A big dip. The kid must have shoved half a can of Copenhagen into his mouth.

When he'd finished packing and pushing, his face had taken on a distorted, almost deformed shape. I was amazed and told him so. That seemed to please him.

The surgery consisted simply of cutting the skin over the area where a pig's belly button would be and closing the rent in the muscle. Then the skin would be re-apposed and the surgery would be done. No big deal. I've done it a hundred times.

I explained to He-man what was about to happen and told him not to touch anything unless I told him to. I also told him to keep his hands above his elbows. This keeps anything from falling or dripping onto the sterile gloves.

Now get this picture in your mind: Here stands He-man, his bottom lip sticking out like a diving board over a pool. He's holding his sterile hands over this head. He has turned his cap around backward and is strutting around for all the other students. He's starting to get on my nerves.

It was late and cold, and I was ready to go home. "On with the surgery," he boasted, "the future of veterinary surgery has arrived." He was quite a show-off.

I made the skin incision. There was very little bleeding. After this, I dissected through the tissue until I reached the hernial sack, and then I cut it. In these procedures, I usually let the kid feel around and become familiar with the anatomy and then show them how to suture up the skin.

This is exactly what I intended for this surgery. I was into the hernial sack. When this is cut, the intestines are exposed. I was about to get He-man to stick his fingers into the hernia, so he could get a feel for what had happened.

Suddenly, a clump of brown substance fell into the surgical field. I hate it when that happens. I looked up to see what in the world had come from the ceiling of the clinic. When looked down again, another clump of stuff bounced off of the drape. I was puzzled.

I looked over at He-man to see if he knew where it was coming from. He was white as a sheet and looked like a boxer after standing up from a nine-count. The brown stuff wasn't falling from the ceiling—it was dribbling from his bottom lip. Not just snuff, either, but a steady stream of slobber was rolling down his chin. He was looking dizzy, but his hands were still in the air. I yelled for someone to catch him just as he started down. Two people standing next to him softened his blow.

We couldn't stop the surgery to tend to him, so the other kids just stepped over him and kept watching. In a minute, he stirred. It must have been a strange feeling to wake up on the floor of veterinary clinic with your hands gloved and above your head, not knowing where you were or how you got there. The first noise he made was a gurgle. This was followed by some crazy words that could not be understood.

This was followed by the impending noise "I have too much snuff in my stomach and it is going to have to come out very soon."

His pig did well. The other kids there had a good time. I'm almost sure his career choice changed. But I know he was a very humble he-man on his trip home.

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.

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