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Veterinary cases - both triumph and disaster

A cat and a penniless lady

For 35 years I practised veterinary medicine as a general practitioner. My first post after qualifying was with a mixed practice treating both large and small animals. The practice was also consultants to Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire

It only took a couple of weeks for me to realise that despite passing the final examinations, I was no more fit to practice veterinary medicine than fly to the moon. I got better as time went by. So much so that after 3 months I felt that I was God’s gift to the pet owning public – until I met the ginger cat.

This tom cat was the pride and joy of his two elderly owners in spite of the fact that he terrorized most of the other cats in the neighbourhood. They brought him in to see me one Tuesday evening surgery with a nasty abscess on his rump. I lanced the abscess, gave it a penicillin injection and dispensed five days of penicillin tablets.

“Oh, we can’t give him tablet,” they said. “He won’t let us.”

In a superior voice, I told them that the process was quite simple. Simply pull down the lower jaw and pop the tablet into the back of his throat. Massage the throat and when you feel a double ‘swallow’ the tablet will have gone. I asked them to come back and see me in two days’ time.

They returned on Thursday evening with the cat looking rather sheepish.

“We have not been able to give him the tablets,” they said.

“Oh, ridiculous. Let me show you,” I said, as I took hold of the cat and a tablet.

For the next five minutes, that cat spat, bit, hissed kicked, and clawed while bringing me tumbling down several rungs of my superior ladder. That cat taught me of the most memorable lessons of my life.

Years went by and I treated many different species from large farm animals to smaller household pets including geese, goldfish and a baby hamster with a broken hind leg. It was enjoyable and challenging work much of which I felt proud but the case that lasts longest in my memory did not involve the treatment of an animal.

By this time I had my own practice, employing three more vets and seven nursing staff, I was still enjoying the medical and surgical challenges thrown up at me. During one afternoon surgery, I went out to the waiting room and invited the next client into the consulting room. This was a lady in her mid-sixties who normally came in a couple of paces behind her bombastic husband and remained silent throughout the whole consultation. Her husband was one of those men who wore a small bristly moustache, a blazer with a regimental badge but probably never rose above the rank of corporal. He was a bully.

“Come in, Mrs Perkins, “I said, inviting her into the consulting room. She brought in her two Cavalier King Charles spaniels and immediately burst into floods of tears. I grabbed a chair and got her to sit down before asking about her problem.

“I can’t pay your bill,” she whispered through the tears.

“Never mind my bill. What about you?” I asked.

“I owe money to everyone and I don’t have any money. I don’t know whether my house is paid for or where my next meal is coming from.”

She was at the end of her tether and I asked her what had happened. Three weeks previously her husband had died of a sudden heart attack. He had complete control over their finances to the extent that she had no access to the funds in the bank – not even a cheque book or credit card. It was long before the days of the debit card.

“You don’t need a vet, you need an accountant.”

“But I don’t know people like that,” she wailed.

“But I do,” I said. A very good friend, whose office was on the other side of town, was an accountant who specialised in such cases. More importantly, he was a kind man. I called him and explained the problem.

“Send her over, Adrian,” he said and I got my receptionist to call a taxi for her.

“But what about the dogs,” she cried.

“Leave them with me. We will make them comfortable in the kennels. You are the most important person to them at the moment. They can’t look after themselves without you.”

She climbed into the taxi still not quite believing me and I returned to the clients waiting patiently in reception.

It was 5.30 when the taxi returned Mrs Perkins. When I saw her in the waiting room, I could swear she was six inches taller. Her eyes were clear and there was a smile on her face.

“Thank you so much,” she said - and I felt a million dollars.

There was very little wrong with the dogs.

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