The veterinarian-doctor divide


I've been a mixed-animal practitioner for more than 20 years, and I've seen some gross stuff.

I've been a mixed-animal practitioner for more than 20 years, and I've seen some gross stuff. I mean the kind of stuff that makes everyone in the general area sick, and it just doesn't bother me. I can pull the pieces of a fetid calf out of a cow while eating a cheeseburger. There has been nothing associated with animals that ever got me close to throwing up. But the other day, I found something that did.

It was early afternoon a few Tuesdays ago when one of the techs asked me to come look at a cat in the exam room that had a badly broken jaw. I could hear the owner talking to another tech in the exam room. He was wailing in a high-pitched voice about how awful he felt that his cat had such a horrible injury. I was standing a good 20 feet from the exam room and could smell something coming from that direction.

I believe my nose went on strike about 1990. People smell things that don't even register with my nose at all. So, if I can smell something terrible from 20 feet away, it must be terrible. I can remember considering this fact as I ambled toward the exam room and the smell got worse. How in the world could a cat with a broken jaw be producing such a horrible odor? It was kind of making me sick just entering the room.

When I made it in, my attention was drawn to the exam table. There was a black cat postured on the table with a mandible that needed some serious help but it didn't look stinky. By the time I entered the room, the smell was so thick, you could almost see it. I began approaching the cat to try to determine what else might be wrong with it to cause such a stink.

Before I made it to the cat, the owner began to speak and I turned my gaze toward him. Oh my. I had identified the source of the wretched odor.

Picture this: A 300-pound dude standing in the corner with a ribbed white "wife beater" T-shirt. Boils were weeping from every inch of exposed skin, some with white padded bandages on them absorbing the exudate. Skin tags: You know those pedunculated blobs of skin that grow on a neck? Well, this guy's skin tags had skin tags. Dandruff: A huge dark hairy beard covered his face, and the white dandruff was coated on the fibers, matting it together. Most of his teeth were missing. The three remaining made his mouth look like a domino. Juicy wet spots stained the white T-shirt where the boils beneath it had ruptured and weeped into the shirt.

I never made it to the cat. I felt myself vomit in my mouth and decided to bail out before I spewed. I can't take it—human grossness does me in. If that guy had been a horse or a dog, I would have dived right in and fixed him without missing a beat. But, human boils? Really? Ick.

The only nice thing about being the dude that owns the clinic is that you can delegate when things look bad. I promptly went and found another doctor and begged her to go fix the broken cat. I had to leave the building. The smell of that dude filled the entire small animal clinic, and I couldn't escape it.

I often wonder what my life would have been like if I'd became a physician like my grandmother prescribed. All I know is, if I was a doctor and that guy had come to me, I wouldn't have been able to touch him. Isn't it amazing?

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

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Brock, visit

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