Mind Over Miller: Upon closer inspection
INSPECTOR: I'm from the State of California Animal Hospital Inspection and Veterinary Staff Competence Evaluating Committee (S.C.A.H.I.V.S.C.E.C., for short), and I'm here to inspect your facility.
DOC: Well, here I am. My wife works here part-time, as do most of my kids.
INSPECTOR: Let's begin with your record-keeping system.
DOC: Oh, we just upgraded that. No more pencils! We write everything in ink.
INSPECTOR: Ah, yes. Where is your autoclave?
DOC: We boil our instruments. See the big pot on the hot plate?
INSPECTOR: And is this your kennel?
DOC: Yes, we converted one of the box stalls for small-animal use.
INSPECTOR: Why are the animals all loose in here? Don't you have individual cages?
DOC: No, we believe in pack socialization. It's more natural.
INSPECTOR: Doesn't that cause injuries?
DOC: Sure, but we have everything we need to treat them.
INSPECTOR: You do have provisions for fluid therapy, of course?
DOC: Oh sure, we have another stall set up as an enema room.
INSPECTOR: Do you have disposable enemas?
DOC: Nah, too expensive. We use tap water and laundry soap.
INSPECTOR: Do you refer your difficult ophthalmology cases?
DOC: We don't need to refer. We've got an eye ointment that has everything in it: a local anesthetic, antibiotics, cortisone. It fixes any eye problem.
INSPECTOR: OK, let's see your radiology department.
DOC: We have a pre-World War II fluoroscope that I bought from a shoe store. The owners used it to fit shoes on kids. Got a good deal on it, too.
INSPECTOR: What's in the barrel?
DOC: Turpentine. It's a lot cheaper by the barrel.
INSPECTOR: Is this the crematorium?
DOC: No, we make our dog food here. See, if we lose a large-animal patient, we butcher and cook it for the small-animal patients. We bury the dead dogs and cats out behind the barn.
Did this exchange make you laugh? Well, it made me cry because I just described the practice where I worked as a kennel boy in the 1940s when I was a preveterinary student.
Perhaps that's why in the 1950s when I started my own practice I ran it with the utmost of professional decorum. I wore a cap, mask, and gown in the operating room when no other practitioner I knew did. I wrote prescriptions, referred to my assistant as a nurse not as a kennel girl, and worked by appointment. I refused to board or groom pets or to sell pet supplies. All of these concepts were radical back then, but this policy of professionalism is the reason, I am sure, that three decades later I was able to retire from the largest group general veterinary practice in the United States.
One more thing: Not long after I started veterinary school, I visited my former employer so I could examine skin scrapings from my dog. But I was unable to focus his microscope. Doc finally confessed, "I just keep it on the counter to impress the clients. It never worked."
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 www.robertmmiller.com.