By Bill Stork, DVM
Asif it were the gold standard in feline diagnostics,I flicked Pumpkin's paralumbar fossa firmly with my middlefinger. The fur was so tight she thumped like an over-ripe Georgiawatermelon. Food could get in; how it got out, I have not a clue.Listening to heart sounds, feeling lymph nodes or abdominal organs would be asfruitful as a ferret in a drainpipe.
Clearlyemotional, Paula stood next to the cat that she loved as her onlycompanion. As she looked to me for help, she stroked her locks absentlywith a plastic comb, futile as a toothbrush on the hull of the USS RonaldReagan. From her brown polyester pants and nylon jacket to the slope ofher shoulders and lack of expression, it was clear that Paula was doingthe best she could for Pumpkin.
Fouryears of veterinary school could not have prepared me for this exactsituation. However, a few months previous I had turned my tassel andpinned the Staff of Aesculapius to my chest. I raised myright hand and took an oath to help animals like Pumpkin and people likePaula, and that was what I was going to do. At least I would try.
Recognizingthat her needs may be well beyond the obvious, yet impossible to evaluateuntil she was shorn, I stalled to make a plan. We knew her teeth were bad we could smell them. Under normal circumstances, we would take hertemperature or swab something. In the absence of an available orifice,I creased my brow, stroked my chin, and "ummed" more thanPresident Obama before Congress.
Onething was abundantly clear: this was more than even Lynn and I couldhandle. We needed to get Pumpkin to HQ. Recalling my near-death experiencewith a particular Australian Blue Heeler named Jack, I was reluctant tovolunteer to transport Pumpkin.
Searchingfor a tone that was neither condescending nor bewildered, I explained wewould need to take Pumpkin to our main hospital. To treat her skincondition would first require finding it, and we would need to sedateher. The room filled with a heavy, awkward silence.
Areal measure of competence in a service provider is how andif they ask your concerns. A confident doctor will face yousquarely, arms extended, eyes open widely and brow raised high to connoteengagement. I, on the other hand, turned half to the door, trying toescape the situation, if not the profession, as I asked "do youhave any questions?"
Pumpkinstood between us, her eyes turning from me to Paula like a small child in aninflatable sumo suit. Paula asked, "how far is it to the Lake Mills clinic?"
Ianswered with the first certainty of the day, "thirteen minutes from wherewe stand."
Herfirst expression was moderate disgust. "How FAR?"
Onceagain failing to absorb the gravity of the situation, I responded, "Oh'bout 11 to 14 miles, depending on whether you take A to S, or 134 toKroghville."
Speaking insyllables so the guy with the flattop haircut and collegedegrees could understand, Paula asked, "What-is-the-short-est-way-from-the-Shell-sta-tion-to-your-cli-nic?And, once I get there, how close is the nearest gas station?"
Searchingfor simplicity and feeling a bit foolish, I volunteered to take Pumpkin toLake Mills.
Ittook hours, but our ace technician Sheila was able to help Pumpkinshed the dreads. The matted fur had resulted in a Staph infectionthat would respond nicely to a medicated bath and antibiotics. We cleanedher teeth, her ears and trimmed her nails. We were able to make specificgrooming and nutrition suggestions and, like a prisoner freed fromsolitary confinement, Pumpkin soon gained weight, vigor and personality.
OncePumpkin was back in Paula's arms, I couldn't contain my curiosity, "Thoughit's none of my business, why did you need to know exactly how far itwas to our clinic?"
"Ican only go 15 miles," she answered. "I have a hole in my gas tank. IfI put in more than a gallon, it pours right back out."