After James Herriot wrote his immensely successful All Creatures Great and Small, I was the first of what I hoped was an unending series of veterinarians to emulate him by publishing Most of My Patients Are Animals. Consistently, the comment I received from readers was, "It made me laugh, and it made me cry." I would respond with, "Yes,
and that describes my profession."
In the years that followed, more and more colleagues produced books about their practice experiences. I have reviewed some
of them on this page. Without exception, like Herriot's book and its wonderful sequels, and like my book, the stories made
you laugh or made you cry.
Now, however, a veterinarian has written a book, I Wanna See a Veterinarian (Tanos Books, Coffeyville, Kan.*), that will only make you laugh. The author is Dr. Steve Swaim, a retired professor from
Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine, surgeon, researcher, and textbook author.
Dr. Swaim's humor reflects his Kansas rural origins. It is earthy and vivid and will be enjoyed by any veterinarian who reads
it as well as by most lay people, providing that their backgrounds are not excessively cosmopolitan and their values not too
fastidious. Dr. Swaim tells it like it is—the practice of veterinary medicine, I mean. Those too delicate to cope with reality,
Dr. Swaim is a master of simile, which left me wondering whether he concocts all of his analogies or simply collects them.
Let me give you a few examples.
- "...grinnin' like a possum eatin' persimmons."
- A Chihuahua "had the disposition of a constipated rattlesnake."
- "It was colder than a brass commode on the shady side of an iceberg."
- "...she was as white as an albino polar bear."
- He was "as sharp as a marble."
- "...as frightened as a frog on the freeway."
- "...chicken had been selling like Pepto-Bismol at a south Texas chili cook-off competition."
- "I'm gonna disappear like deviled eggs at a church picnic."
Some of the stories just cracked me up. I especially related to the one about the veterinary student who was engaged to a
campus queen who came from an urban background. She went into the large-animal clinic one day, and there was her fiancÚ with
his arm completely in a cow, both of them spattered with manure. This ended the romance!
By contrast, I met my wife, Debby, three months before we both graduated, me with a DVM and she with a BA. We had been dating
for about one month and were getting serious when the veterinary school held an open house. All sorts of exhibits had been
set up for those brave enough to attend. I proudly escorted Debby through the school. She, too, was from an urban background.
We stopped to view a big Holstein cow that had a rumen fistula, created, I think, for some sort of scientific study. I held
a flashlight so Debby could peer into the rumen of the cow through the four-inch surgically created window and watch the churning
Just then the cow coughed mightily, and rumen contents exploded into my girlfriend's face and all over her clothes.
She calmly straightened up and said, "Well, guess I'm going to have to clean up."
I knew then that she was for me.
Thank you, Dr. Swaim, for your "Swaimisms" and for reminding me of so many experiences similar to yours.
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 website at
* Available at