It all comes down to percentages


I try never to judge a person by the clothes they wear or the car they drive, but after 11 years of getting hot checks and no-pay clients, you start paying attention to the subtle clues that might mean you are about to lose some money.

I try never to judge a person by the clothes they wear or the car they drive, but after 11 years of getting hot checks and no-pay clients, you start paying attention to the subtle clues that might mean you are about to lose some money.

It was 11:58 a.m. when this fellow drove up in an orange Pinto.

Mr. Pinto

We have been blessed over the years with many veterinary students and we consider it a privilege to be a part of their training. This particular summer found us with Britt Conklin. Dr. "to be" Conklin was a go-getter and always accused me of being the biggest pessimist in the world.

It had been about three straight weeks of working through lunch, and I was really looking forward to eating and resting just a bit before the busy afternoon got started. But instead, in walked the occupant of the orange Pinto. He was wearing a T-shirt that was so old that it had a "runner" in it. At his side was a German Shepherd that was so skinny you could read a newspaper through him. The only thing on this dog that wasn't totally devoid of normal size was his abdomen. This critter's belly was twice as big around as anything else and just kinda jiggled as the dog ambled to the front door of the clinic.

As usual, Britt dove in. He filled out a record and took the motley pair into the exam room to work his healing magic. I went to my office and began pouting over another missed lunch.

In a few minutes he was at the door of the office verbally listing off his findings; heart murmur, congested lungs, ascites, pallor, were just a few of the adjectives that came rolling off his highly educated tongue.

Exuberance of youth

"What do you think is wrong, Dr. Brock?" was his final sentence as his eyebrows drifted up his forehead.

"What do I think is wrong?" I replied with a sarcastic tone. "That dog has practically got a heartworm crawling out of his nose. Before you do anything to that dog, you make sure the owner of the Pinto understands that the dog is in terrible shape and most likely won't live. Remember, we have to treat those dogs with arsenic to kill the worms and one that is that sick will have a hard time. If he does decide he wants to treat him, make sure you get a deposit."

"Here you go being a pessimist again," bubbled out of his lips as his eyebrows made the trip back to the normal position. "You never know what might happen and you never know how much this guy loves his dog."

He was right. I was feeling a bit guilty of my judgments. But I couldn't help thinking, if this guy loves this dog so much, why did he let it turn into a walking skeleton before he brought it in? And as for the money thing, well, treating heartworms is an expensive proposition. It takes very expensive medicine, eight or so weeks of confinement and serial blood tests to monitor the progress of the patient. Maybe this guy was really a millionaire who just chose to drive an orange Pinto, but I was doubting it.

A confident, "let-me-take-care-of-this," met my ears, and off Britt went.

In a few more minutes he returned with a smile, the news of a deposit and a signed slip of permission to treat the dog for the now confirmed case of heartworms. I was feeling even more guilty now.

We routinely run an initial blood test to evaluate if the dog can tolerate the treatment. This dog was in terrible shape. We decided to treat the other concurrent problems with the liver and kidneys before we subjected the dog to the worm-killing dose of arsenic.

Much to my surprise, the next day found a totally different dog. He could stand up on his own, was actually wagging his tail and was eating and drinking like nobody's business. I was beginning to feel some "crow eating" coming on as Brit told me how well the dog had responded to the initial treatment.

New dog

All I had to say was, "What kind of odds did you give this guy?

His response was, "Well, yesterday I told him there was a less than 30 percent chance that the dog would live. But when he called this morning, I upped it to 70 percent. He was so excited that he said he would be down in a little while to see."

Just as he had told me, the fellow showed up and they just went on and on about how well things were going. The Pinto driver shook Britt's hand for a good 20 seconds as he departed the clinic with the largest smile I had seen in awhile. I could smell the crow cooking as Brit stuck his chest out and returned to the side of his patient.

So far we had run $75 of blood tests, given $50 worth of medications, run $20 worth of heartworm tests, put in a catheter and run $45 worth of fluids. Remember, we haven't even started treating the heartworms yet. I still had my doubts, but Britt spent the entire day walking with a hop in his step.

The next morning arrived, and we walked to the kennel together to check out the progress of that dog. Our arrival found a little different setting than it had the day before. That dog was so dead that it was unbelievable. His legs were stiff and poking through the side of the kennel.

A turn of events

"What am I going to do????? This guy thinks his dog is doing great!!!!" shrieked Britt.

This time the raised eyebrows reflected a new emotion.

"How could that dog have died? He was doing great just 12 hours ago. He is laying there like he died two weeks ago! Oh, my gosh! This is terrible!"

The trip to the phone was not accompanied by a hop in Britt's step. Doom and gloom were all over his face as he solemnly told Mr. Pinto the bad news.

For the rest of the summer, Britt was a man of percentages. He couldn't give a vaccination without saying that there was a 30 percent chance the dog may die. By the end of the summer I started calling him the eternal pessimist. He informed me that it was a lot easier to tell someone who was expecting their dog to die that it had lived rather than trying to explain how one that was supposed to live had died.

"No kidding," was my reply as I put the first bite of crow in his mouth.

A few days later, when the tenderness of the situation had dulled, I told him that all was not lost; at least he got a deposit.

"Oh, I was going to tell you about that. Mr. Pinto only had $10 on him that day."

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