By Bill Stork, DVM
I was recently asked to speak to Mrs. Haviland's Health Professions class at Lake Mills High School. Sue and her miniature dachshund, Ilse, are among our favorite people and pets at the clinic. My son is a freshman and my daughter is a junior, so I thought it might be an excellent opportunity to get a peek into their world. Ask a high school kid how their day was, and if you're lucky you get a monosyllabic grunt.
Being genuinely proud of my profession, our clinic, Lake Mills and all wrapped up in this folksy veterinarian-writer persona, I could not wait. With the help of my son, I prepared my very first "power point" presentation. I consider myself realistic, but with a high-tech presentation that started with the Staff of Aesculapius displayed on a 4 foot screen, how could they not be stomping, clapping and waving the lights of the cell phones in unison when I finished with the all-inclusive wisdom of the Web Wilder Credo?
I had a vision of walking out of the classroom with 13 new followers of our blog, and not a business card left in my pocket. As it turned out, I was able to keep nine of twelve mostly awake for 40 minutes, and was eternally grateful that school regulations prohibit texting during class.
The obligatory question in any such presentation is, "how did you become interested in (insert profession)?"
"Well kids, when I was even younger than you, I had a collie dog named Sugar, and we had a vet named Dr. Van Alstine…"
What I did not tell them, is that what got me through school and has allowed me to survive 21 years of practice is not so much my keen analytical mind. It is my ability to sleep.
With a tip of my John Deere cap to my dad, the ability to sleep anywhere, under any circumstances, is some part genetic and to some extent learned. As with most things, it is perfected and adapted to your particular profession, situation and life-style. Nothing makes one appreciate a good night's sleep like knowing when you lie down that you have an excellent chance of having to spring from bed and ear tag 150 calves.
My first day at the Lake Mills Veterinary Clinic was June 15, 1992. Somewhere in the hand-shake contract between the old school Purdue graduate and the rookie, I missed the clause about emergencies. As it turned out, it is simply "understood" that while on call, you live in town. This was a bit awkward, as I had already set up my stereo and paid a damage deposit on a farm house on a beautiful rolling drumlin on Switzke Road, just east of 'Crick.
Not only was I squarely in the geographic center of our practice area, but I could be to the clinic in 8 minutes. Unfortunately, the extra 5 minutes could mean the difference between life, and death. Though the nice lady at the phone company assured me the clinic phone could be forwarded to a "699" number just as easily as a "648", Dr. Anderson knew otherwise. In 1992 cell phones were in their infancy, and they were hard wired into the dash of your truck. Being on call meant within earshot of a land-line. If you needed to mow grass, you had to hop off the tractor and check the answering machine every couple rounds.
Dr. Anderson was a former military man defined by his German persistence. Not to mention, he signed my paycheck. So we reached a compromise: for $80 a month, I found a bed 6 blocks from HQ for my every third night on call. Imagine being a 28-year-old recently graduated veterinarian, renting a room in an assisted living facility. Left to do over again, I may have been more charmed and made an attempt to get to know my octogenarian roommates, and probably had great stories to write about them. As it were, I snuck in, slept, and got out as fast as I could.
Back to the calves needing ear tags… Don and Larry Boutros were among the nicest folks you could ever meet. They were always polite, and even brought Arthur Bryant's Barbecue from Kansas City. They hailed from southern Missouri, and based on their drawl and demeanor, their home must have been not too awful far from the Kentucky border.
The Boutros were order buyers. They traveled throughout Wisconsin on Mondays, buying Holstein calves, and then delivered them to producers in the South and West. The last stop out of Wisconsin was Equity Livestock Auction in Johnson Creek. In order to track the movement of the animals, they required identification and documentation.
To keep the brothers rollin' and get the calves to their next meal, the goal was to move through Equity as efficiently as possible.
Their travels were dictated by the markets. Long before GPS and cell phones, we had no way of knowing if they would be calling just before the late local news, or 20 minutes before CNN came back on the air. Some Mondays, they did not come at all.
It can be said that anyone's greatest strength, can at times be their weakness. So, at 2:15AM one Tuesday I sat bolt upright in bed, trembling. The Boutros Brothers had called, and I had fallen back asleep. Long before cell phones and call logs, I had no way of knowing whether 10 minutes or two hours had passed, so I dove into my Pella green coveralls and tore out of the old folks' home in a streak. My powder blue Chevy "WT" was a half-ton 6-cylinder, but she had snort.
I slid into the gravel lot, scrambling the drugs in my vet box like Bo and Luke in the General Lee. In my rear view I saw a 1-ton diesel with a 35-foot stock trailer and Missouri plates. Convinced they had waited for hours, I pulled alongside and stuck my head out the window to launch my apology.
Before I could say a word, Don drawled, "W' hey Dawk, what're you doin' here? We just had a bite t'eat up at the Pine Cone and was fixing to give y'all a call, and here you is!"