Mind Over Miller: Radiographing dogs, dolphins, and cowboys


Mind Over Miller: Radiographing dogs, dolphins, and cowboys

Nov 01, 2009

It's common sense to unite the human and animal medical professions because we humans suffer illness as do all other animals, because many diseases are transmitted from animals to people and vice versa, and because we're inexorably linked.

When I opened a house call mixed-animal practice more than 50 years ago, Thousand Oaks, Calif., was a small town. I was there before we had a physician, a dentist, or a lawyer. I did mostly large-animal house calls for three years, but eventually I opened a 500 square-foot clinic and purchased a radiography machine. Finally, a young physician came to town and opened a house call practice. I did radiography for him.

About a year later, another physician, Dr. Irving Schaffner, established a house call practice. I also did radiography for him. One day, a cowboy got bucked off a horse and dislocated a shoulder. Dr. Schaffner and I struggled to radiograph him while he writhed in pain. "If he was a dog, I'd sedate him with morphine," I observed. "Good idea," Dr. Schaffner said. Interestingly, the patient had a canine reaction to the morphine, retching and vomiting before narcosis set in.

At about the time Dr. Schaffner got an office, Dr. Roy Larson, another recently graduated medical doctor, opened a house call practice. I did radiographs for him, too, until he opened an office equipped with a bigger radiography machine than mine. During this time, I served as a veterinarian for the mammals at Pacific Ocean Park, 55 miles away in Santa Monica. A dolphin swallowed a foreign body, so we took it to Dr. Larson's office so we could do a barium radiographic series on it.

Our town was growing, and Dr. Larson soon had a partner, Dr. Joe Brisbane, a board-certified surgeon from Los Angeles who decided that he preferred a rural family practice. We had a large private zoo in town that served the movie and TV industry in Los Angeles. When a trainer got chewed up by a tiger, Drs. Larson and Brisbane called me and said, "You've treated a lot more cat bites than we have. Should we completely close the wounds?" I told them no, sepsis was inevitable and it occurred despite prophylactic antibiotics.

I consulted with the physicians a lot more than they did with me, especially when it came to the zoo's large primate population, which included gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees.

When Thousand Oaks got its first dentist, Dr. Ross Case helped me do dentals on chimps. And a Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Les Cohn, performed a knee surgery for me on a young chimp. I assisted him. Conversely, when Dr. Brisbane's Labrador retriever swallowed a bunch of rocks, he assisted me when I operated on Sam.

Thanks to my excellent veterinary education, I've even helped diagnose a couple of cases involving my clients. One of the dolphin trainers had an ugly carbuncle on his hand that baffled his physician. I knew that when he fed his dolphins, he handled raw fish every day, so I suggested erysipelas, which is what it turned out to be.

Another time, a client who owned a horse farm seemed ill and weak when I arrived to treat a foal. She said she had a mysterious form of arthritis for many years. It recurred periodically, accompanied by fever and aching joints. She had seen several physicians in Los Angeles but they never made a definitive diagnosis. I asked if she ever drank raw milk. She said, "Are you kidding? I was raised on raw milk." Of course she had undulant fever—brucellosis—once a common disease in veterinarians.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his Web site at http://robertmmiller.com/.