Mind Over Miller: There go we all


Mind Over Miller: There go we all

Apr 01, 2008

Robert M. Miller, DVM
The panel moderator acknowledged the elderly, silver-haired gentleman at the microphone. "It's a pleasure to have you with us again, Doctor." The old man, professor emeritus, famous veterinary surgeon, author of a text that was required reading for most members of the audience during their schooling, nodded, smiled, and waved his hand toward the stage.

Nearly a thousand veterinarians filled the auditorium. Veterinarians from North and South America, nearly every country in Europe, and from Africa, Australia, and New Zealand leaned forward to hear the respected professor's comments regarding the paper that had just been read.

"And it is a pleasure for me to be here with you all again," he beamed. The voice was old but not quavering. He spoke softly but very clearly and firmly. "I regret that my health has not permitted me to attend the last two meetings, but I am grateful to be here today.

"I was most interested in the excellent presentation just made by Dr. Sinclair. The final case presented was especially significant to me because I recall seeing an identical case some years ago."

He looked down for a moment and put his hand on his chin, recollecting. The hand was large, strong, gnarled; the hand of a man who had spent a lifetime working with large animals.

"Yes!" he said. "It was in 1929, I believe...or maybe it was '30. A colt was brought to the clinic with an identical lesion. A big, good 3-year-old." Then he added, brightly, "Out of the great mare Isabella, you will recall, by Keen Saint, son of Saint Bernero!"

He looked around silently for a moment. Nobody around him nodded or otherwise indicated recognition of the horses he named. He seemed surprised. Disappointed. "You remember the Saint? Until he fractured a sesamoid, his racing record was probably..." His voice trailed away, and he seemed to be lost, or listening.

Except for a nervous cough here and there, the room was silent. Two men, one on either side of the old teacher, looked up at him and at each other, uncomfortably. They seemed to have accompanied him to the meeting.

Finally, the professor cleared his throat and began again. "I think I am confusing this case with another case. Oh yes, of course! If you will all please refer to page 59 in your books, you will see a photograph of this most interesting lesion. Yes, I remember he was brought to us with a complaint of..."

Now he looked about him distressed. He peered at the faces surrounding him. Some looked at him. Others looked away. Many looked down at their notes or at their hands. Deep silence filled the room.

"You know," the professor said earnestly, "you just have to try! I want you boys to remember that! Always try!"

Then he stood quietly. He lowered the microphone and just stood there, silent, until one of the men at his side gently touched him on the arm. The professor looked down at him inquiringly, then around the room again, perplexed, confused. And then, stiffly, he sat down.

The audience remained silent, but you could hear many people releasing deep breaths.

The moderator leaned forward. "Aah...thank you, sir. Thank you for your comments," he said. He spoke softly, and his voice cracked a little. Then stronger, he added, "It's time for our noon break."

A few people got up quietly and started to move out of the room. Most still sat. Near me a man said, "God, wasn't that awful!" A young woman asked, "Who is he?" An older man in front of her turned around. He had tears in his eyes. He identified the professor and added, "He taught me most of what I know, more than 30 years ago."

I looked at the man sitting at my right and shook my head compassionately. Almost reverently, he said, "There, my friends, go we all in a few years."

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://www.robertmmiller.com/.