Timeless Spirit Logo     TALES OF A COUNTRY VET

A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. March's Theme: "Communication"
Volume 2 Issue 3 ISSN# 1708-3265

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Tales of a Country Vet
with Dr. Bruce Burton DVM

I was just settling down from a particularly busy day and was about to put on some soothing music and relax when the clinic phone rang. It was late on a Saturday evening, around ten o'clock, if I remember correctly, and I had neglected to turn on the answering machine, and thus was obliged to take the call directly. Outside, the wind was howling. Sheets of rain were driving hard against the windows. "Hello?" I asked solemnly, knowing, in all likelihood that I would soon be heading out into this storm.

As I lifted the receiver I could hear the ear piercing wailing of a hysterical female on the other end of the line. I picked up the conversation in mid sentence " … ohh! I don't know what to do! … Can you please help me? … Ohhhh its our little Frankie … And I can't leave because my 92 year-old father-in-law has just had major surgery and he's unable to get around … What can I doooo?……"

"Hello?" I began. "Excuse me but who is thi…?" I tried to interject but was immediately cut off. "Oh … I need you to come out and help me… right now!" "Just a min…" I tried again. "Please! …If you can't come now,…&#133can you at least tell me who to phone?" "Well, who is speak…" "I need someone right away!……Please?…"

"Hold on!" I finally shouted. My outburst interrupted her tear-filled diatribe long enough for me to deliver a question of my own. "First of all, who's calling?" "Oh … It's me, Frankie's mother, and … I need your help …now!" She started again. "Its an EMERGENCY!" She emphasized loudly. "…It's Frankie! … our dear sweet little Frankie…… You must come right now……"

"I'm sorry but…" I still couldn't block her verbal assault and so she continued. "Frankie ran to the window and peed on the floor and then he pooped all over the carpet and the sofa and then he collapsed on the floor… and I can't leave him and now…" I heard a loud crack then her voice trailed off into muffled, unintelligible sobs. 'She must have dropped the phone.' I surmised. I could hear her scrambling around in the background, and then the phone banged loudly against something solid at least twice before her voice returned to full volume. "…&#133and now I don't know what to do… Please you have to come right away!"

I still had no clue as to whom I was speaking or what was happening. It could have been a home invasion for all I knew. I didn't recognize the voice, but then again, that's not surprising, considering the number of clients I speak to in a week.

At that moment my cell phone rang. "Just a minute, I have to get this call." I muttered lamely as I fumbled with the leather case and flipped it open.

"Are … you … the … vet? … I … mean … are … you … a … vet?" The new voice asked in an agonizingly slow voice. It was a deep, masculine voice. A northern, backwoods drawl. "Yes, I'm a vet. Do you have an emergency?" I said quickly, hoping to get back to the first call. "Well, …… I'm … not …… really …… sure …… but … well …… I was … sort of … going … to … well …… maybe … ask you …… a … uhmm … a …question … about …… but, well … maybe …it's not really …&#133an emergency …"

I was impatiently clicking my teeth together and then interrupted as tactfully as I could. "Sorry, but I'm on the other line with an emergency and…" But he kept right on talking, not missing a beat. "… but … well my … regular vet … well … he has … I guess … well, … he's … sort of … well, … sort of … retired … so … I'm … kinda … lookin' for … someone …… who…"

"I'm sorry but could you just hold on a minute. I returned to the receiver and the female voice hadn't lost any of its original passion. "……so you have to come right away!" She finished.

"Please calm down! … just slow down a minute, and first of all tell me… who am I speaking to?" "I told you already, it's Frankie's mom!" She almost screamed into the phone. Searching the recesses of my increasingly unreliable memory for any animal I knew or had seen recently named Frankie. Nope. Not a one. Then I tried another approach. Were any of my children's friends named Frankie? or Frank? None that I could remember. "I'm sorry, but we don't keep files by the name of the animal, but by the owner's last name. What is your name?"

"Ohhh why do you ask so many questions?" She shuddered with irritation. "That's not important, it's my dog! …my dog!" She wailed impatiently. "I think he's very ill, … why don't you just come out and help me and stop asking these stupid questions? You're wasting valuable time. He's my lovely, precious dog and I'm sure he's dying!"

I mulled over hanging up the phone, but considering the lady was obviously distraught, thought of my veterinary obligations to the animal, and pressed on. (There are times when being listed as a 'Professional' definitely has its down side.) "I'm sorry, but if I don't know who you are I can't possibly know where you live, and if I don't know where you live, obviously, I can't come out to your house to help you. So, please, I need to know who you are and where you live."

"Well, if you have to know … I'm Mrs. Constance. We own Frankie,… you know, Frankie… that great big Bouvier we have as a guard dog for the property." I still drew a blank. "I'm sorry, but I still don't recall any Bouvier named Frankie." "Of course you do … you treated him just last year. He's the one who popped the tire of your car when you came out last time!" I knew I would remember if a dog had chewed my truck tire. "That wasn't me …" I started again. "Well he's sick, I think he's dying, now will you PLEASE stop fooling around and just come out and check on him?"

The voice on my cell chimed in, "Hello? … you … still … there? … Doc? … you … still on … the … uh … you … still … on …… the … phone?" "Yes, I'm sorry, but what was it you wanted again?" I asked, hoping to finally get to the question. "…… well … I … was …… just … wonderin' … if you …… were … well … Its just that … a friend of … mine … well not … really a friend exactly … but … well she said … you were her … vet … and … well …… I kinda need … to … well … to be able … to…" "I'm, sorry, but the other call is cutting in again, just hang on a minute."

"Hello? …… Hello? … are you there? Are you leaving now? … How long will you take to get here?" Mrs. Constance's shrill voice cut through the air like a fork dragged across a china plate. "Yes, I'm here, but I need some answers." I yelled back at her. I wasn't about to head out on a night like this without a little more information. Especially to check on a guard dog that could chew through the tires of a moving car. Furthermore, I still hadn't got the address. Given the level of non-communication established so far, I was obviously going to only obtain this information surreptitiously.

"In what way is he sick?" I asked. Mrs. Constance's voice continued to wax and wane, presumably as she alternatingly talked into the phone then away from the phone as she glanced towards the dog, then back into the phone. She sounded like a French police siren. "Well,… like I said Frankie … an … umm ummummm … then … He ran to the window and he pee … on … th… umm ummm ummm … and … the sofa … and …"

"Just a minute! Please, Mrs. Constance! Hold on! Calm down!" I continued to yell over top of her voice until she finally stopped talking, presumably to catch her breath. Once she was silent, silent, that is, except for her sobbing, I pressed my advantage. "Mrs … Constance … have … you … ever … been … to … my … clinic … before?" I asked, very slowly and deliberately. "Well I don't know… who are you?" I sighed. I am Dr. Burton, I have a practice in Bradner." "Where?" "Bradner, It's part of Abbotsford?" I waited for a sign of recognition, which never came.

Then, in a huff she replied. "Oh,… I thought I was phoning Dr. Springer; he's our regular vet. But my husband's away. So I just called his office number. His answering service, I guess, connected me to you by mistake. Well, I guess you'll have to do,…… please hurry!"

"Hold it, hold it… I need a little more information. Now just tell me what is Frankie doing right now?" "Well Dr. Springer would just come out, he wouldn't ask so many ridiculous questions." "Well, as I've told you, I'm not Dr. Springer and I still don't know where you live. He must be away." I'd forgotten Billy Springer, (another vet in Langley), was away for a week's holiday and he had asked me several weeks back to cover his emergencies for him.

"Okay, so you're one of Dr. Springer's clients. Good! Now, just so you know, I am not, repeat, not Dr. Springer and I am not at Dr. Springer's office. Furthermore, I have never worked on Frankie, so you will just have to bear with me and answer my questions, Okay?…" "Well, okay, but you gotta hurry because Frankie's real sick, I think he might even be dead."

The cell phone battery began to beep. I lifted it back to my ear "… so … if you could … do that … I'd be … mighty … well … I guess … grateful …" The cell phone battery was almost dead and I didn't have the energy to ask him what he'd said so I just continued… "yes that would be fine. Tell you what, I don't have a pen handy. So if you could just phone back on Monday, say after 9:30, we'll sort every thing out then. Hello? … Hello?" The cell had died in mid-sentence so I shrugged, flipped it closed and returned to Mrs. Constance on the landline.

"Well, you said he might be dead. Can't you tell?" I asked, abruptly, since the answer to this question was fundamental to our entire discussion. "How should I know, you're the vet!" She shot back at me. "Yes, but you're in the room with him, and I'm not." I answered. "Now, please, just answer my questions." I was beginning to feel like I'd mentally just gone a round with Mohammed Ali.

"Okay, but I can't do very much because my 92 year-old father-in-law just had major surgery and I have to take care of him." "Is he there with you?" I asked, still trying to clarify the situation at the house. "Yes, … don't you ever listen? I told you he's collapsed on the floor!" "Your Father-in-Law?" I asked angrily.

"Oh, no, he's still in the hospital but it's been such a worry. He's supposed to come home in a couple of days and I have to get things ready." She replied quickly. "So your husband is away and your father-in-law is in the hospital? Is that correct?" "Yes, that's right." "So it's just you and Frankie at home?" "Yes." "And Frankie is in the room there with you?" "Yes, I've told you that already!" "Alright, what is Frankie doing right now?" "Nothing, he's just lying there."

"Where is he lying?" "On the floor beside the window." "Is he breathing heavily?" "How should I know?" "Well, you could look at him, for a start." I said shaking my head with exasperation. "Well I can't see him."

"I thought you were in the room there with him." I said slightly confused. "Yes, that's right." "Okay then, go over and see if he's breathing." I instructed. "Oh, I don't want to get too close to him. I love him but he's a guard dog you know. Extremely vicious, even for a Bouvier! That's why we never take him off the property. He might kill somebody! I'm scared to get too close. …… What do you think's wrong with him?" "That's what I'm trying to find out!" I said, gritting my teeth.

"Okay, let's back up. You say Frankie ran to the window to bark at someone, urinated on the sofa and then collapsed on the floor?" "Yes, that's right." "So, what is Frankie doing right now?" "What do you mean?"

"What is he doing? Is he moving, is he trying to stand up, is he shaking like he's having a seizure?" "I don't know."

"Can't you see him from where you're standing?" I asked, trying to wring the information out of her. "Well, I guess if I move a little I can see him." I heard shuffling sounds. "Okay, now I can see him." "Fine! Then, describe to me exactly what he's doing." "Well, he's not doing anything." "Is he breathing?" "I don't think so." "Well go over to him and check. I'm not driving twenty miles each way in this weather just to examine a corpse!" "Oh, I can't do that. I'm petrified of him, he's extremely aggressive. He might bite me!" "Not if he's dead he can't." I said under my breath.

"You said he was in the house there with you, so how can he be that vicious if you had him in the room there with you? Has he ever bitten you, or growled at you?" "No, he's never bitten anyone!" She answered defensively. "Well except that one time when my husband tripped over him. Frankie did bite him then. But you can't blame the dog! Actually he had to have a bunch of stitches, but other than that he hasn't bitten anyone. Oh, except once he chased the cable guy up onto his truck, and of course when he bit your,… I mean Dr. Springer's assistant… And one time he bit one of the farriers when he was working on one of our horses. But he's really just a big, sweet dog. They provoked him. Normally, unless he's provoked, he wouldn't hurt a fly. But, even so, when he's sick he might do anything…… I'm still scared to death of him…… do you think he might have rabies?"

"So, as far as you can tell, it appears that Frankie collapsed on the floor after a good long bark and hasn't moved since?" "Yes, that's right." "How long ago did this happen?" "Oh, about thirty minutes ago." "And Frankie has not moved for half an hour?" "Yes, that's correct … Maybe forty five minutes now. What do you think's wrong with him?" She implored yet again. "Do you think you could give him a shot or something once you get here, you know, like they do on TV?"

"Well, if he collapsed more than half an hour ago, hasn't moved during that time and he's emptied his bladder and rectum, I would say, in all likelihood he's probably dead. In fact he probably died when he first collapsed."

"Dead?" She shrieked as if the concept hadn't occurred to her before that second. "Oh no! My husband's going to kill me! He loves that dog, even more than I do! … Even more than me!" She began sobbing again. "How can you be so sure that he's dead?"

"Well, I can't be sure over the phone, but if his chest isn't moving, he's not breathing. If he hasn't breathed in thirty or forty minutes, I'd be pretty confident that he's dead."

She collected herself once more. "Can you come out and check? I'm sure there's something you can do." "Look! Just walk over to him and check his eyes. Touch his eyeball with your finger. If he doesn't blink, or react in any way, he's dead. Or at least there's an extremely good chance that he's dead." I hedged. "There's no need for me to drive all that way in this weather just to confirm that your dog is dead when you can just walk across the room and determine that yourself." "What if he bites me?" "He won't bite you!" I repeated forcefully.

"Oh, now that you mention it, I think his chest did move." She said after a moment's delay. "When?" I asked suspiciously. "Just now. Maybe you should come out, just to make sure. Besides, how can I carry him outside, he weighs over a hundred pounds."

"Where do you live?" "Just off 146th Street." My jaw tightened. 'Why didn't I ask this in the first place?' I reprimanded myself. "Well, if you'd have told me this in the beginning, it would have saved us both a lot of time. I'm sorry but I don't make house calls past 200th Street. There are plenty of vets in that area." "Yes," She parried. "But they don't make house calls. And the ones that do are too expensive." "Neither do I in that area!" I answered quickly. But at least now I had a clue as to what I do. "Besides, don't you have any neighbours who can help you?" I tried one final time.

"Well, George, our trainer, lives across the road, I guess if you won't help me, I can get him. I just hate to disturb him this late at night, that's all. He's such a nice man. But he's kinda scared of Frankie too. Blames Frankie for killing his horse. The stupid horse was old any how, so I don't know why he was so upset." She said, more to herself than to me

"Okay!" I said, confident in how to end this. "I'll come out. But with the after-hours emergency fee, the extended call fee, the examination fee, plus the time it takes to move Frankie, it's going to cost you well over three hundred dollars. Maybe four hundred." I purposely inflated the price.

"Examination fee? What do you mean examination fee?" She shot back venomously. "I've already told you what's wrong with him. And if he's dead why would you charge me an examination fee? And Dr. Springer just lives down the road. He never charges me a call fee! And its not even past midnight, so why would there be an after-hours fee? I think what you vets charge is criminal! Forget it! I'll get our George, or Tom, our gardener to help me!" She screamed as she slammed down the receiver.

I glanced at the clock. It was nearing eleven. I snuggled back into my comfy, dry chesterfield. The wind continued to howl and the rain drove even harder. But, as the fire crackled in the hearth and I warmed my hands on a freshly-prepared mug of hot chocolate, I smiled contentedly.

I'd lost the hour, but gained the evening.

Dr. Bruce Burton, DVM, B.Sc., M.Sc., works with the animals at The Greater Vancouver Zoo and with 'animal stars' in the local film industry. He has extensive expertise in domestic and wild animal biology, health care and nutrition, as well as fish and game-farming experience. In addition to his busy practice in Bradner, Dr. Burton teaches at The University of British Columbia, and is often called upon by the SPCA to help exotic animals in need.

He chooses to write down his experiences so they are not lost, but rather shared with others. He wants his children and grandchildren to be able to read them first hand. I hope you enjoy your own sneak peek into his daily routine!

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