How do veterinarians even function?


I really worry about some of my veterinary clients. And I know lots of people worry about me.

Would calling the veterinarian be your first thought if a mouse came running across the floor of your house?

Apparently that's how my clients' minds work. My phone rang at 9 o'clock the other night and the woman on the other end had just spotted a beady-eyed critter. She wanted me to come over to her house and catch it. She sounded like she was in her 60's and I'm thinking, "How do you get that old and not know how to do something so simple?"

And what did she think I was going to do? Lasso it and turn it loose in the field? What's even stranger is that she wasn't sure what a mousetrap looked like, nor where to get one. I went over how to set the trap with cheese and warned her not to let it snap back while she was preparing it. She kept telling me to slow down, like maybe she was taking notes or something.

At least that situation had an easy fix—can't say the same for every case. For example, I wasn't sure what to do when another client showed up at the clinic. The presenting complaint was that the horse couldn't see—that was the history given when the client made the appointment. So that's what I expected when the horse came lumbering out of the trailer.

Much to my surprise, the horse came out with his head up, looking all around. His eyes looked perfectly normal and he didn't seem a bit uncomfortable in his surroundings. The man led him toward the clinic past a bucket and two rolled-up garden hoses—the horse sidestepped all of them.

I got the horse in the stocks and started my exam. The eyes were clear and responded normally to light. He followed motion and blinked when you moved a hand quickly toward the eye. This is about all us veterinarians have to go by—as you know, there aren't any charts with big letters or hard black plastic devices with multiple lenses for the horses to look through.

"I think he can see just fine," I said. "What makes you think he can't see?"

"Well, I'm building some pens at the farm and we're using some pipe I got from the oil field," the client responded. "We put in the corner posts first and then we started putting it all together. This horse is in the pen right next to where we have been working and for the last two days he has been standing there watching us weld. I think he looked at it too long and now his eyes are damaged."

This guy was a city slicker who had moved to the country to pursue his lifelong dream of owning land—just like Oliver Douglas on Green Acres. I call it the "Mr. Douglas syndrome." We see it a lot and it often brings questions like this.

Now he had me wondering. I've been around pen building with metal pipe all of my life, but I'd never once worried about the horse standing there staring at the weld until he couldn't see. Do you think a horse would do that? I did it once and my grandma made me lie on the couch for an hour with potato slices on my eyelids. I'm not sure why, but that was the only medical treatment I had ever seen or heard of for looking at a weld too long.

I started to tell the horse's owner to go slice a potato just to see how he would get the slices to stay in place, but then I decided I'd better give the horse some ointment and a giant pair of sunglasses that I snagged at the fair about 20 years ago.

Not really. Instead, I called the veterinary school and talked to the ophthalmologist to see if the horse's eyes could actually be damaged. After laughing at me on the other end of the phone for about five minutes, he finally assured me that there was nothing to worry about. The horse would be just fine. He went on to say, "I just wonder how some veterinarians can actually function in society when they ask questions like that. How do you practice that long and not know something so simple?"

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

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