Monday, April 16, 2018

An Hour Spent Sitting At A Fork In The Road


2:00 pm, Friday, January 13, 1989.

I had promised him I would call with my decision by 3:00 at the very latest. I had exactly one hour left and I felt no closer to making up my mind than when the problem was first presented a month ago. My brain was beginning to whir uselessly like my rusted out Honda Civic spinning its wheels, stuck in a snowdrift, just polishing the snow to ice under the tires. A lot of noise, a lot of vibration, a faint burning smell, but no forward motion.

To remove myself from all possible distractions I headed up to the mezzanine level of the library at the veterinary college. This was the home of obscure unread journals and a clutch of spartan study carrels. Nobody else was up there. I picked out a carrel and proceeded to stare at the bare wood partitions in the hope of clearing my mind and coming to a decision.

Nope. No decision. Just more whirring and wheel spinning and, to extend the Honda metaphor, now also regular puffs of black smoke.

Aargh! 2:20 pm! Only 40 minutes left!

The decision was at one level just about my summer job for the four months between third year and fourth year vet school. But at another level it was about my entire career and working future. This was the problem. Summer job decision? Easy. Done it many times before. Entire career and working future decision? Not so easy. Even the decision to enter vet school wasn't as hard as it offered a wide range of career options, including my original plan of going into research and teaching. But with this decision I could feel the funneling beginning in earnest, and it was freaking me out a little.

2:40 pm.

The choice was between a job offer at the Veterinary Infectious Disease Organisation (VIDO), where I would assist in cutting-edge research and make contacts with scientists and their post-graduate programs, and a job offer at the Small Animal Clinic at the vet college where I would gain practical hands-on experience in a clinic setting and get to know my instructors for fourth year. To that point I hadn't worked in a clinic yet and felt profoundly unready for fourth year, which was very clinically oriented. Almost all of my classmates had worked in vet clinics before, often for years. But VIDO was an incredible opportunity for someone who was focused on a research career. My mind began flipping back and forth, like putting the car into forwards and reverse, forwards and reverse, forwards and...

2:55 pm.

I continued to stare at the partition. My heart rate was high and my palms were damp with sweat. People, especially at that age, can sometimes attach far too much importance to decisions they need to make and get far too stressed about them, but all these years later when I look back at that moment it is even more clear now that it was in fact an absolutely key decision, easily one of the three or four decisions I have made in my life that have had the most profound long term impact. The stress was unhelpful, but understandable. I needed a couple minutes to walk to the phone (pre- cellphone days) and as I did that I still didn't know what I was going to say.

3:00 pm.

I called the director of VIDO and declined the offer. You already guessed this outcome, but I sure didn't. I don't recall a conscious decision having been made. It was as if my subconscious mind directed my mouth.

The summer at the vet college Small Animal Clinic was a fantastic experience and after fourth year I followed my future wife to Winnipeg and began to work in a private practice, temporarily I said...




Monday, April 9, 2018

Pet 911


There isn't one. No doubt some people call 911 when they have a pet health emergency on their hands, but I don't know what the operators tell them beyond "call your vet". The real "911" for such emergencies is obviously your veterinary clinic's phone number. If your clinic is not open it will (or should...) have information on the answering machine regarding who you should contact when they're closed: sometimes an on-call veterinarian and sometimes an emergency hospital that your clinic refers to.

You probably knew all this already, but it never hurts to cover the basics. Now that I know that you know what to do when there is an emergency we can move on to the more interesting question of what actually constitutes an emergency.

Fortunately, true emergencies are much less common in pets than in humans. If you look at the eight most common emergencies in people - chest pain, stroke symptoms, accidents, choking, abdominal pain, seziures and shortness of breath - really only the last two are at all common and easy to recognize in pets. They do get abdominal pain, but it's harder to tell and is fortunately less often life threatening (no appendix in there to burst). Dogs and cats rarely have strokes and even more rarely have "heart attacks". In fact, coronary artery disease is unknown in our pets. Yes, they do get other kinds of heart diseases, but these tend to be chronic and do not often result in a sudden worsening constituting an emergency. True choking (i.e. not coughing or gagging that sounds like choking) is also less common than you might think. And pets do have accidents, but far less frequently than people, maybe because they don't drink or drive or ski or cycle or take showers or clean their guns or play with matches or rewire their homes or try to create viral videos...

As an aside, when I started in practice in the early 1990s "HBC" was a fairly regular emergency presentation. This had nothing to do with the Hudson's Bay Company, but rather it is our abbreviation for "Hit By Car". These days far more dogs are on leash and far more cats are kept indoors, so we may only have a handful of HBCs a year. Similarly, "BD-LD" is on the decline. Can't guess? "Big Dog - Little Dog", which is a traumatic dog fight injury where the size and strength differential leads to serious wounds in the "LD". We still see this, but people generally seem to be more aware of dog behaviour (generally - not universally), and again, more dogs are on leash. That being said, the increasing popularity of off-leash dog parks is preventing BD-LD from declining as quickly as HBC. Cat fights are far less common though than they once were. (Unfortunately we do not have an acronym for those.)

So now that you know what not to worry too much about, what should you worry about? When should you call "Pet 911"? The AVMA has provided a useful list. I will summarize an amended version here:

1. Severe bleeding or bleeding that doesn't stop within five minutes.
2. Choking, difficulty breathing or nonstop coughing and gagging.
3. Inability to urinate or obvious pain associated with urinating.
4. Eye injuries.
5. You suspect or know your pet has eaten something poisonous such as antifreeze, xylitol (in sugar free gum), chocolate, grapes, rodent poison, etc.
6. Seizures and/or staggering.
7. Fractured bones, severe lameness or inability to move leg(s).
8. Obvious signs of pain or extreme anxiety.
9. Heat stress or heatstroke.
10. Severe vomiting – more than two major bouts in a 24-hour period, or combined with obvious illness or any of the other problems listed here.
11. Refusal to drink for 24 hours or more.
12. Unconsciousness.

I worked in an emergency clinic for a little while after I graduated, which is a story unto itself, and I can tell you that 90% of what called and came in was not on that list. But that's absolutely ok. A good emergency service provides peace of mind. They can often triage on the phone whether your pet needs to be seen or not. Consequently I can give you a greatly simplified list of when to call:

1. Your pet appears to be in distress (or, conversely, very lethargic).
2. You are in distress about something regarding your pet.

Don't hesitate to call. You're not bothering someone. It's their job to help and they are happy to do it. Unless you are drunk and it's 2:00 am and you want to ask why your cat is staring at the wall (true story). Then reconsider.





Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pilling The Cat



For your amusement I invite you to type “pilling the cat cartoon” into the image finding feature of your favourite search engine. Have you looked at a few? Lots of lavsihly bandaged people, right? Ha ha ha, right? Yes, all very funny unless you have actually tried to administer a pill to your cat and have sustained multiple lacerations in the effort. So in the interest of public service I'm going to offer you two different injury-free strategies for pilling the cat.

Strategy #1: Don't. Don't pill the cat. No, I'm not telling you to toss your veterinarian's prescription in the bin and hope that thoughts and prayers will cure the illness instead. Rather, I am telling you that there are alternatives. Sometimes. People often assume that liquid medication is the main alternative, but I don't actually recommend that in most cases. There are a few drugs on the market that are flavoured with cats in mind and that require only small volumes to be administered and these may be realistic, but many others are disastrous. At least with a pill you know where you stand – either it's in or it's out. With liquid, if they spit some out you don't know how much of the dose they got. And it's messy. And your cat will hate you even more because the flavours of liquids are often more intense.

No, instead I suggest you ask whether the recommended medication comes as a long acting injection (mostly applies to antibiotics), or whether it can be made into a flavoured chewable treat. Quite a few drugs can be reformulated as treats in a surprising range of flavours. Tuna and chicken are the most popular in our practice. There's also beef, liver, bacon, salmon and the curiously non-specific “seafood”. These can then be crumbled into similarly flavoured soft food if the cat doesn't take it directly as a treat. The main downside of flavoured chews is that they need to be made by a compounding pharmacist, so there can be an extra wait and some extra expense.

Some people have luck with a product called “Pill Pockets” which are ultra-tasty soft treats with a hollow part you hide the pill in when your cat is not looking. Incidentally, just hiding a pill in food very rarely works for cats. Some can tell even when you're just thinking about putting a pill in there and will refuse to eat until you stop thinking about it. Even if this works at first, they usually catch on fairly soon, so it's only really feasible to try for short courses of medication.

Another don't-pill-the-cat solution is trans-dermal gel. Some drugs can be made into a gel, again by a compounding pharmacist, which is then applied to the ear and absorbs through the skin that way. This would be absolutely ideal if it weren't for the fact that skin absorption varies somewhat between individuals, so more monitoring is often needed. Also, it only works for a few medications. Nonetheless, it's worth asking your veterinarian about this option, especially for chronic meds.

Strategy #2: If you have to pill your cat, or for some dark reason actually prefer to pill your cat, there is a trick to it. I'm right handed, so I'll put the cat up on a table on my left side, with my left elbow keeping him against my body. I will have the pill ready between the thumb and forefinger of my right hand. I will then hold the top of his head with my left hand and gently tilt his head up. Next I will use the middle finger of my right hand to pry his mouth open by pushing it into the space behind his fang teeth. (Stop laughing, I'm being serious.) As soon as he opens his mouth you need to put the pill as far back over his tongue as you can and then immediately close the mouth. You should have a syringe or eye-dropper ready with two or three mls of water. Squirt that in quickly by pushing it into the corner of his mouth, into his cheek. Blowing on the nose sometimes encourages him to swallow. And sometimes it encourages him to swat you. But the water is important, not only to make him swallow, but also because pills can otherwise sometimes become lodged partway down the esopahagus (food tube), which can lead to serious complications.

Incidentally, as you are probably aware, most dogs are totally different. An article entitled “Pilling The Dog” would be exactly four words long: “Wiener. Cheese. Peanut Butter.”




Monday, March 12, 2018

Hogwarts on the South Saskatchewan




Should you ever find yourself in Saskatoon you must make a point of visiting the University of Saskatchewan. It is widely considered one of Canada's prettiest universities with its leafy riverside setting and its hundred year old neo-Gothic limestone clad buildings clustered around a lovely central green. And while you're there, please wander over to the northeast corner of campus, past the Physics building, towards the College of Agriculture, where the more modern buildings squat in exile. There you'll see it. Just past the grey cement bunker of the College of Engineering you will see a castle. You will have to squint a little and you will have to use your imagination a little, but take note of the bridge, and of the turrets, and of the asymmetrical wings. It is a castle, a modern castle. And, in my view, it is not just any castle. In my view this is what Hogwarts Castle would look like had it been designed by the mid-century modernist architect, Le Corbusier*. This castle is actually the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

At this point in the story I should offer a disclaimer. It doesn't matter at all if you have no idea who Le Corbusier is, but it probably does matter if you don't know what Hogwarts is, in which case you should probably stop reading here as the rest of this is not going to make any sense. In fact, it will seem like the very opposite of sense - it will seem like nonsense.

I came to Harry Potter later in life than many people, courtesy of my daughter, so the resemblance between WCVM and Hogwarts only occurred to me recently. In fact, as it happens, JK Rowling had her famous inspiration on that delayed train from Manchester to London at almost the exact same time as I was graduating from vet college, so the stories weren't written yet when I was there. Once I made the connection though I realized that it's not just the vaguely castle-like exterior that evokes Hogwarts. The interior has dungeons (pathology and necropsy labs), a great hall (the cafeteria), dark labs and lecture halls, curious things floating in jars and set on dusty display shelves, skeletons mounted on pedestals, a maze-like layout, several confusing winding staircases, a remote headmaster's (dean's) office in a tower, strange smells and sounds, and a library with a separate mezzanine level that resembles the restricted section of the Hogwarts library.

As soon as I had this epiphany several other pieces rapidly fell into place. It felt a bit like looking at that optical illusion where, depending on your perspective, it can either be a young woman looking away or an old hag looking down. I had been seeing the old hag all my life and then suddenly I saw the young woman.

Pharmacology class was Potions. Animal Science was Care of Magical Creatures (Care of Agricultural Creatures), and I suppose Parasitology was also Care of Magical Creatures. Toxicology was Herbology. Small Animal Medicine was Charms. Anesthesia was Defence Against The Dark Arts. And Clinical Pathology was Divination. Clearly we had some classes that weren't offered at Hogwarts (Large Animal Surgery, Immunology, Histology etc.) and vice versa (Flying, Transfiguration and History of Magic come to mind), but the parallels are still striking given that one school was turning out veterinarians and the other witches and wizards. In retrospect, even the faculty and staff were eerily similar with their idiosyncrasies and strong personalities. And there were more than few with English or Scottish accents.

Hogwarts students (and fans...) are sorted into four houses**, while WCVM students come presorted from the four western provinces. I haven't worked out all the equivalents, but Manitoba is clearly Hufflepuff. Even the fact that the great majority of the students are from elsewhere, often away from home for the first time, sets WCVM apart from the other university colleges and puts it more in line with the Hogwarts experience. In my year only four students were from the city of Saskatoon itself. Although most students didn't actually sleep in the building (note - I said "most"), we all felt like we essentially lived there and many did live together nearby, sharing rent.

And then when you graduate you feel like you belong to an obscure and semi-secret separate society. There is an arcane lore, a special language, specific skills, weird knowledge and, at times, an air of mystery when viewed from the outside. When you meet other veterinarians there is an immediate feeling of kinship, of sharing something that outsiders will never really understand. And honestly, sometimes the rest of you seem like muggles to us. But I say that with abundant respect and affection. Most of us are far more Arthur Weasley than Lucius Malfoy...


*WCVM was not designed by Le Corbusier, but I mention him for those of you who know him so that you have approximately the right mental image.

**I am apparently in Ravenclaw.

That is the very last I will mention of Harry Potter. I promise. You can safely keep reading this blog.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Bread and Ears


Whack, whack, whack - the metronome of Timmy's tail kept striking the wall beside him, speeding up as I approached with the expected liver treat. You know how some dogs smile? Timmy definitely smiled. An ultra-wide happy black Labrador retriever smile.

"He really loves those treats!" Mrs. Singh said.

Timmy doesn't just love these treats, I thought to myself, regarding his beer keg shaped torso. But he was a happy dog and a good patient and we weren't going to discuss his weight again today. Today we were going to discuss his ears again.

"So, his ears are bugging him again?" I asked as I crouched down to scratch Timmy's neck and then carefully lift up his right ear flap. The tail metronome slowed down a little.

"Yes, he started shaking his head again yesterday and I don't have any drops for him anymore."

Timmy's right ear was bright red and the ear canal was filled with a sharp smelling black substance. I gently inserted the tip of my otoscope to look a little deeper down the canal. The whack, whack, whack of Timmy's tail stopped entirely. He wasn't smiling anymore either, but he stayed still and let me perform the examination. When I was done I straightened up, gave Timmy another treat and told Mrs Singh, "I'm afraid it's a yeast infection again."

Often I will swab the ear and look under the microscope to make sure that I know what is growing in there, but in this case it was so characteristic and it had happened so many times before that it wasn't necessary. Mrs. Singh was horrified the first time Timmy developed a yeast infection because she associated it with yeast infections in people, but it is a very different situation in dog's ears.

Yeast are normally resident on their skin and in their ears in low numbers. We all have a beneficial ecosystem of bacteria and yeast living on us in balance with our system. The yeast are however similar to baker's yeast in that they will multiply rapidly in warm or moist conditions. If a dog's ear canal becomes inflamed it is like turning the oven on when you're getting ready to bake bread. This is especially true for dogs with big ear flaps (closing the oven door!). Dogs with more erect ears do occasionally also get these sorts of infections, but they are much less common. As the yeast multiply they create that strong smelly waxy discharge and they further inflame the ear, creating a vicious circle of ever worsening inflammation and yeast infection.

Ok, you say, that makes sense, but why are the ears inflamed in the first place? In a word - allergies. While there are some other triggers, allergies account for the great majority of these. This sometimes surprises people because they we were unaware that dogs could get allergies and they are surprised that the allergies would only affect the ears. Regarding first surprise, indeed dogs do get allergies. Do they ever! Allergies are in fact extremely common, especially in some breeds. There is a whole separate lengthy conversation that can be had about allergies, but for the purposes of the ear discussion, suffice it to say that they are usually environmental allergies to house dust, pollen or mould, and occasionally food related allergies to the primary source of protein in the diet. Allergies can come on at any age and can change over a pet's life. And with respect to only affecting the ears, in part this is because the ears have the most sensitive skin in the body, and in part it is because the closed-oven-door feedback loop makes allergies there far more obvious.

Incidentally, you'll recall that I mentioned that moist conditions can also encourage yeast to grow, so occasionally we will see these infections after a dog has been swimming or been bathed.

I had explained all this to Mrs. Singh before, but she found she just couldn't stick to a diet for Timmy to try to address a possible food allergy, and she wasn't that interested in going down the more complex path of pursuing environmental allergies. The drops worked well and she prefered to just refill them as needed. I explained again the need to clean the ears regularly as the normal self-cleaning mechanism had been damaged by the repeated infections. And I explained again the need to finish the entire course of drops rather than stopping as soon as the symptoms subsided, but I could see that she was beginning to tune me out. I was refilling the drops and that's what she came for. And you know what? To be honest, do I follow each and every piece of advice my doctor or dentist gives me? Just ask me about flossing... Everyone just does their best. All we doctors can do is try to nudge the definition of "their best" a little further along.

Now that the poke, poke, poke and the blah, blah, blah had stopped, the whack, whack, whack began in earnest again. Timmy knew we were done and he was wagging and smiling and so clearly hoping for a good-bye liver treat that I had to smile right along with him.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Naming


One of the unsung minor perks of being in small animal practice is the exposure to the ever-changing landscape of pet names. This might not seem like a "perk", but I enjoy learning the names and, for the unusual ones, asking how they came up with them. For obvious reasons people allow themselves far more latitude for creativity with pet's names than with their children's. That said, there is also a lot of overlap and there has been more than one family where I have had to be very careful not to refer to the dog by the daughter's name because, honestly, Bailey is a far more common dog name than human name (with all due respect to you wonderful human Baileys out there).

The range of pet names is breathtaking. I normally change all the names in the blog, but for the purposes of this discussion I'm sure nobody will object if I just list the names of all the animals I saw at work yesterday as an example of what I mean:
Tikka, Snerkle, Junie, Gunner, Silvester, Kayne, Kirby, Annabell, Maggie, Milkshake, Poppy, Stewie, Ben, Wimbley, Rico and Castle.
This is absolutely typical. Nothing crazy, but clearly a lot of thought and some creativity there. And each of them an individual perfectly suited to their name.

Some common names are presumably easy and quick to give - Tigger for a tabby cat, Blackie for a black Labrador - but many probably involved a lot of debate in the family. For those of you for whom this was the case, isn't it interesting how a name that was so difficult to come up with, and that you were a bit uncertain about at first, now seems so inevitable and perfect in retrospect? This even happens for objectively inappropriate names. I had a cat patient named Bob for a number of years. Bob was a girl. They had been told that she was a he when they got him/her and didn't think to double-check. I had to break the news to them when they brought Bob in for the first shots, at which point the name had already stuck. They didn't try to feminize it to Bobbie or Roberta, saying that she still "looked like a Bob". And you know what, they were right. I now can't imagine her being called anything else.

My own dog's name of Orbit came about after trying on several others that just didn't feel right. One day we were watching him rocket around the house in circles and we started saying Sputnik. Yeah, I know, that would have been wrong so many ways, but it did get us going on that theme, from which Orbit emerged. It also helped that he ate everything in sight and that roadside trash containers in Manitoba when we were growing up were called "Orbit", as in "Put your trash in Orbit!" (see photo above). Our one cat, Lucy, was named by my daughter after a second cousin in Germany who had made a strong impression on her. We got the second cat shortly after and Isabel though she should have a German human name as well. For fairness and symmetry you know. Many were considered and rejected until she settled on Gabriella, which instantly became Gabi.

But of course the best part of discussing pet names are the weird ones and the funny ones. Unfortunately although my memory is generally really very good, it has a glitch when it comes to names. They appear to reside in the mental equivalent of a sock drawer. So, while I originally intended to present something like a "Top Twenty Fun & Wacky Pet Names I Have Encountered", sitting here right now I can only come up with three... In no particular order then:

1) Russell Bertrand - As in, the cat's name was Russell and the owner's last name was Bertrand. The fact that this amuses me speaks strongly to my geekness. The reverse, Bertrand Russell, was an important English philosopher, writer and Nobel prize winner who lived from 1872 - 1970.

2) Maximillian Samba-socks - Another cat. I don't know why, but this one still cracks me up years later. Even this bizarre name suited him perfectly. Maximillian Samba-socks could only be Maximillian Samba-socks.

3) Satan - They thought it was hilarious naming their their little black poodle Satan. At least they thought it was hilarious until they found out that he had a habit of disappearing deep into their big yard at night and often had to be loudly and repeatedly called back to the house, "Satan! Satan come here!"

As I can only offer you three of these right now, I will crowd-source a longer list. I'll solicit comments from colleagues and friends on Facebook and paste their responses below. Also please feel free to leave a comment on the blog!

Thank you!


From Facebook:



"Morsel the mouse is one of my favourites. A 15 gram mini hamster named Jaws. 60kg Rottie named Peanut. A stray taken in named Spare Cat all come to mind . Oh, and a female pug named Frankie. Owners last name is Money. Frankie Money... sounds like a rock star to me."

"Daycare hamster named by committee - Princess Monster Truck."

" I had a dog by the name of "Porsha"... Everyone wants to "Porscha"! Had a dog called "Nad"... when they wanted the dog to leave the room they thought it was hysterical to say go- Nad. I personally thought the name I gave my dog was awesome it was vetoed by my receptionists though... Called the dog "Bumpkin" one of the characters in The Hobbit. When the dog behaved well I said "good bum" when the dog misbehaved I said "bad bum" ... Probably just as well with the me-too movement. My receptionist brother's dog is called Askem... when you ask for the dog's name he says Askem... people always give you a funny look!"

"My favorite are the ones where the kids don't agree so they have two or three names strung together."

"for a short while we had a Rabbit we named Stewie, we also had a mouse called Morsel, 2 rats named Stinky and Tim (Brothers) and two budgies named Bert & Ernie"

"Piggy, Puddles and Potato the pugs. Alliterative AND descriptive"

"Whenever this question comes up, my mind always goes to "Stirfry" the cat."

"Deeogi the dog. Get it? D-o-g spells dog. When I saw that written on the file I was all,"oh...what an interesting name. How do you pronounce it?""

"I also really like the cat named Pierre Trudeau (PT for short)...when I enquired why, the owner replied that the cat was handsome and arrogant"

"Not so much the name of the pet but an oops moment as a third year student at the Portage Animal Hospital. Small cards were easily misread. The inappetent Iguana came in for a recheck and I asked "Raymond" "How is your lizard:? Turns out the lizard was Raymond!"

"Also a favourite...a cat named "Franz Joseph" (named after an Austrian emperor) which also happened to be the name of my late grandfather who immigrated from Austria."

"Deefor (D for dog), Mimi the cat (after the tragic character in La Boheme, but should have been Me me, because that's all she cared about). A common human name, but unfortunate dog name, is Jack. I was at the offleash park when a dog started jumping up on me. His owner was yelling from far away, "Jack off!" Over and over...  At the age of 5 I named our first dog Sally Anne Stephenson. She just went by Sally."

""Airmail" The Airedale.. Usually known as the whole phrase "Look! Here comes 'Airmail the Airedale'". A Chow, "Mr Kurt Russell". I was told when we first met that it is MR(!) Kurt Russell " ! (No "Kurt" or "Russell" or even "Mister" ). A budgie named "Lil' Shit". I always laughed thinking if the owner had to call for him loudly..."

"The Chihuahuas win out for me - Princess Taco, Mr Timothy Bits (although the owner said she might have to shorten his name after he was neutered)."

"Cat named Quincy Turtle!"

"Saw a Pug yesterday called “We Z”"

"A cat named Hey You."

"A sweet Golden Retriever named 'Dexter'... after the serial killer."

"A rabbit named Bunny and her owner’s last name is Hopp."

"My very favourite: Seiko, "because she's a watch dog", said my friend who named her. Also: Matic, a black Lab. As in "dogmatic" for those not quite in the zone. For a while we gave our barn cats names beginning with "cat", therefore Catalpa and Catalan. There are endless ones to choose from in that category (sorry): Catastrophe, Catalina, Catamaran...We drew the line at Catamite. When we named our black and white tuxedo cat Orca (pretty obvious, but irresistible), our daughter was a little disappointed, but pointed out that he could still have a "cat" name by adding a "t" to the end: Orcat."

"I don't know if I ever told you what a fiasco it was getting to the name Gibson! I had had a name in mind that I was set on and it became clear I should've used 'executive order' and not asked anyone else....but....I didn't...sigh.... A day and a 1/2 of calling this little puppy "Puppy...come here, Puppy!" while my young adult children rejected every name I offered up (and some of them were REALLY good ones, in my mind! ie: Griffin, short for Griffyndor!) and gave a laundry list of 'reasons' why each name was no good...too common, too lame, too much reminding them of this, that and the other thing, too this, too that...GRRRRR! If I went thru 50-100 names that would not be an exaggeration! Then my parents got in on rejecting each name...And of course, each person offered up all their own names, none of which I liked because they were from favorite shows (Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones) or from the 50's - Rusty, etc. There are few things MORE "fun" than trying to name MY new dog, with 3 different generations, lemme tell you! LOL Exasperated and ready to drink the basement bar dry after 36 hours of this and no end in sight, as I was standing in the basement declaring "oh my God, you 2...this poor puppy needs a name before he thinks his name IS "Puppy"!! what should happen? A beam of light suddenly shone thru the bottle of Gibson rye sitting on top of the bar,(that I might've been greedily devouring straight out of the bottle in my mind at that point! lol) and the color of the rye? Almost identical to the color of my puppy! I suddenly and excitedly said "Gibson!!" He's the same color as that Gibson rye, his name should be Gibson! It's not common, it's different but not insane and it has a hard letter sound!" (which was important to me for reasons I don't fully understand!) They shrugged and made faces, I said next time I took him out, I was going to try it out...just like I tried out all THEIR names - Magnus and other ill-fitting names. We made our trek outside, I called him by a few other names still being considered but which I didn't love at all and the minute I called "Gibson" he stopped and turned and came right to me....and in that moment, he became Gibson! I marched inside, told EVERYONE, every opinionated person that I was making an executive decision on the spot - he shall be known as Gibson! The End! And while the boys were ambivalent, they didn't hate it..my parents didn't really like it (in fact, my dad insisted he'd call him by the name HE liked better! So that had to be stopped before starting!) but now.....1 yr later - no one can imagine him being anything other than Gibson..inspired by how much I was eyeing that bottle of rye that morning! ";)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Fiddling With The Dials


I remember clearly the first time it happened. It was about two years ago when a good client who I had known for a long time told me that she had heard I was retiring. I was touched that she looked concerned, but disconcerted by the question. Since then I have been asked at least a half dozen times about my alleged imminent retirement.

First things first, no I am not retiring soon. Quite aside from any question about how long I want to work, the plain mathematical fact is that I am very unlikely to be able to afford it for at least another ten years. If I retire now we are moving into a trailer and the kids, and possibly the pets, will have to find jobs. Also, I am only 52 years old after all! Yes, that's right, I said "only".

At first I was quite taken aback by these rumours, thinking that they related to my grey hair and my admittedly at times somewhat haggard appearance. It honestly feels like no time elapsed between the last time I looked too young to be a doctor and the first time I was asked whether I qualified for a senior's discount at Shoppers Drug Mart (to be fair to myself, the clerk was so young that I'm sure anyone over 30 looked impossibly ancient to him). From Doogie Howser to Marcus Welby overnight. And before anyone makes any snide remarks, no, I am too young to have watched Marcus Welby MD on TV - I just happen to know who he is.

But when I calmed down I realized it probably wasn't my appearance so much as it was my schedule. Two years ago I cut back to three days a week. At the same time I adjusted the shifts so that in those three days I work 70% of full-time. I had gone to working four days a week a long time ago and back then the transition from five to four hardly attracted any comment, but at three I seem to have crossed a line. Now it looked to some like I was beginning the process of easing my way out of practice.

That is, however, not the case.

The reason has far more to do with my work-life balance than with my career trajectory. When I worked four days a week the one day off was designated for errands, appointments, housework and childcare. Although both children are teenagers now, both have some special needs that require additional attention. Consequently this day off is as busy as my work days. Therefore I took the additional day off when I turned 50 to have a day to pursue other interests, such as writing, and to go for long walks, and to have delicious stretches of unscheduled unplanned hours. I am well aware that a "me day" like this is a luxury that few people enjoy, and I am very grateful for it. And this finally brings me to my point. My point is that one of the great beauties of veterinary medicine as a career choice is the freedom to chose your hours and thereby also, to a limit, chose you income.

It's like there are two linked dials: one for hours and one for income, and in many multi-doctor small animal practices you have the ability to fiddle with these dials. You want to work less? You turn the hours dial down and the income dial turns down automatically. You want to earn more? You turn the income dial up and the hours dial turns up automatically. In theory you could work as little as eight hours a week or as many as eighty. Not many people have that sort of freedom. To be accurate though, some veterinarians don't either. In smaller practices you may be forced to work full-time just to be able to keep all the shifts covered and for many large animal veterinarians freedom and flexibility, or the lack thereof, is tied to the dramatic seasonality of the practice. But many of us now work in practices where flexible scheduling is possible. For those wanting to start a family this can be very attractive (so long as the spouse earns enough...). And for those greyhairs like me who want to do the things they put off for decades but don't want to (or can't) leave the profession, this can be very attractive too.