Sometimes It Makes You Wonder - Doc's 2nd Book


Just Gotta Know
(Chapter 10 ~ Sometimes It Makes You Wonder by Doctor Oz)

The wife: [in tears] “Doctor, Sweet Little Muffy (a long-haired, orange tiger cat) has been favorin’ her left front paw for about three weeks now. My husband and I checked it out really close, and we can’t find anything wrong. We want you to fix it.”

The vet: [struggling to control Sweet (?) Little Muffy in order to give her a thorough exam] “No problem ma’am, I’ll give her a good exam to see if I can find anything wrong just as soon as I get this wad of gobbed-up goop and hair that’s stuck to her paw. What is this junk, anyway?”

The husband: [proudly] “We’ve been puttin’ the old udder balm salve on it every couple of days, Doc. That stuff will cure anything!”

The vet: [looking up, slightly irritated, at the husband and wife as he struggled to clean the snarled-up, dirt and kitty litter—permeated blob of hair that used to be a cat’s paw] “Why in the world did you put udder balm on it?”

The husband and wife: [together in harmony] “I don’t know.”

The vet: [after getting the paw clean] “It looks like a simple abscessed wound in between the toe pads. It’s probably no big deal. I’ll just clean it up real good and put Muffy on antibiotics. I’d also like you both to resist the temptation of putting any more udder balm on it.”

The wife: [with a slightly perplexed look] “How do you think it could have happened, Doc?”

The vet: [smiling apprehensively, because he knew what was gonna happen next] “Ma’am, it appears to be a puncture wound of some sort, maybe from a nail or a thorn. We’ll probably never know exactly what happened, nor does it really doesn’t matter.” [The vet wanted to nip the whole discussion in the bud before it got out of control.]

The husband: [equally bewildered and maybe even just slightly defensive] “No way, Doc. Sweet Little Muffy is too smart to do that, she would never step on a nail. It’s gotta be something else!”

The wife: [in an equally huffy tone] “Yeah, Doc, no way would she ever step on a thorn. I know we got thorn apple trees out by the old barn, but she only goes there in the daylight.”

The vet: [smiling, because, as he expected, the old round and round and round was about to begin, and there was no way in the world he was going to stop it] “A lot of times, these lesions could also be a simple bite wound from a mouse or mole.”

The wife: [Her stern look and tightly pursed lips signaled to all present that this not knowing exactly what happened was starting to drive her crazy.] “No way, Doctor [with great emphasis] would our Sweet Little Muffy ever kill a mouse.” [The vet chuckled to himself.]

The husband: [equally flustered by the whole situation] “Doc, do ya think she could have stepped on some broken glass? A few of years ago my brother-in-law got drunk and dropped a beer bottle out by the old outhouse.”

The wife: [turning toward her husband with just a touch of rage] “My brother wasn’t drunk; he just had one of his spells because he had too much to drink.” [Turning toward the vet] “Doc, do you think Sweet Little Muffy could have stepped on an old toothpick? During our son’s birthday party ten years ago, my mother-in-law insisted on throwing the toothpicks that held her martini olives onto the ground all over the yard. Do you think that’s what happened?”

The vet: [enjoying this immensely] “I guess anything’s possible.” [He added, jokingly] “Maybe when that comet slammed into the planet Jupiter a few years ago, a sharp fragment flew off into space, then fell to earth, and Sweet Little Muffy just accidentally stepped on it.”

The wife and husband: [staring at the vet in openmouthed disbelief ] “Huh?”

The vet, seeing that his attempt at humor achieved nothing but scowling stares from the husband and wife, and knowing in his heart of hearts that this conversation would just go on and on and on, decided to bring out his famous secret strategy.


As a new veterinarian, just fresh out of vet school, and on my own in private practice, it didn’t take me very long before I stumbled upon two monumentally important discoveries. In fact, the first discovery actually took place during my very first patient’s visit in my brand-new clinic. The second discovery, which turned out to be even more important than the first, took about a week longer for me to finally understand. I would later call these two revelations, The First and Second Undeniable Truths of Veterinary Medicine. And although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, these two absolute and immutable laws, in all of their infinite forms and degrees, would affect everything I’d do and say for the remainder of my professional life.

In moments of quiet reflection, when I look back on those chaotic and exhilarating early days of my new career, I remember that my discovery of these truths took me somewhat by surprise. Indeed, if I had to be perfectly honest, I was, at first, almost overwhelmed. However, when I finally calmed down and came to terms with them, I realized they wouldn’t be all that bad to work with. I also came to the conclusion that perhaps if I’d paid just a little more attention in vet school, I would have seen them coming, and I might have been a little better prepared.

During those grueling years of trials and tribulations in my quest to become a veterinarian, there were the occasional subtle hints, the vague insinuations, which suggested to my beloved classmates and me the existence of these two problems. These rumors and hearsay would then be discussed and debated—always in hushed and reverent whispers—among ourselves during the rare, quiet moments in the anatomy laboratory or in the dark and distant lonely hospital corridors. The facts were staring us in the face, but none of us dared to admit it.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, not one of us lowly students dared to approach any of our cherished professors for the purpose of sharing our feelings with regards to these mysteries; because to us pilgrims, it all seemed just too bizarre to be true, and none of us wanted to be embarrassed. Likewise, for reasons known only to themselves, none of these kind doctors ever brought the subjects up. This reluctance on their part to say anything bothered me at first. But my feeling now is that these master teachers, with all of their infinite wisdom, probably just felt it would be better for us students to discover these dilemmas on our own.

The First Undeniable Truth of Veterinary medicine is that, as doctors of veterinary medicine, our patients will never, ever, tell us, in words, what is wrong with them. They’ll never tell us that all they have is a splitting headache and they just want to be left alone to rest; never will tough old Spike, the Pekingese, ever be able to tell his mommy that he wishes she’d occasionally tie up his topknot with a pink bow (instead of the usual blue bow) because the pink one not only goes better with his bulging red eyes, but it also would help him get in touch with his feminine side; nor will Little Angel, the Siamese, ever be able to tell her daddy to please take that smelly canned tuna, which he insists on giving her with every meal, and which she absolutely loathes, and carefully but thoroughly shove it up where the sun don’t shine, and just give her plain old Meow Mix.

Of course, there will always be cats who now and then might snarl and slash at me if I accidentally rub a painful wound the wrong way. There will always be dogs who’ll try their darnedest to bite my face off if I painfully tweak a strained muscle or a broken leg the wrong way. And there will even be the occasional cow who will bellow out—and try and give me a swift, roundhouse kick to the head—if I mishandle her bruised, stepped-on tit. But these would be the rare exceptions.

(I would later on learn of certain gifted people, most of whom are from California or the high mountains of New Mexico, who claimed an ability to talk to and become “one” with animals. But as of this writing, I’ve not had a need to consult with any of them.)

When I first discovered the fact that none of my patients were ever going to talk to me, my first thought was that maybe the animals coming into my clinic may have been stuck up or, perhaps, just a little bit snooty. I sort of expected this because I was, after all, the new doctor in town. But when I asked their owners about the possibility of their little kitties or doggies being that way, I was assured—in no uncertain terms—this was not the case; no pets of theirs would ever act like that.

Then I thought that maybe they didn’t speak the same language I did. Since I’d learned a little French in high school many years ago, I tried laying a few “parlez vous Francais?” on them. This question brought absolutely no response. Undaunted, I rushed down to the nearest Barnes & Noble superstore and purchased several different foreign phrase dictionaries. But this, too, was to no avail; neither Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Tagalog, nor Burmese would evoke a response.

Next, I came up with the thought that maybe all of my patients were deaf. Perhaps some bizarre experiment being performed at a U.S. Army base located twenty miles to the north of my practice had gone awry, causing all pets in my area to lose their hearing. Or maybe they could all hear, but because of some mysterious substance in the groundwater, they couldn’t speak. To get to the bottom of this quandary, I performed a few medical tests—with the owners’ permissions, of course—and came to the conclusion that neither of these possibilities were the answer to these mysteries.

Despite all of my efforts to do so, I just could not find any answer as to why my patients wouldn’t talk, and if the truth were to be told, it drove me crazy!!! And so, in utter desperation, I gathered up my courage, got into my car, and decided to make a pilgrimage back to my revered veterinary college. I’d made up my mind to go and ask the Master himself for a possible explanation to my predicament.

The Master, who has been teaching young skulls full of mush the noble art of veterinary medicine since the days of Noah and the ark, held court in his office next to the dairy barn every weekday afternoon but Thursday.

After arriving on campus, and as I found myself standing at the door to his office, I was suddenly overcome by a great fear; for several minutes, I wavered as to whether or not I should continue. But after a short prayer in which I asked our precious Lord for the strength to carry on, I raised my hand and knocked upon the exalted threshold.

From deep within the hallowed chambers arose the Master’s booming voice: “Come in, can’t you see the damned door is open?” I beamed with relief because my prayer had been answered; the Big Guy was graciously going grant me an audience.

I walked through the door and found myself standing there on that sacred ground. And as I stood there, amid his entourage of coffee klatchers and hangers-on, he watched me for several seconds. When he was satisfied that I was worthy of his consideration, he spoke.

With the benevolence and tenderness of a cornered rattlesnake, he demanded, “What the heck’s [heck was not the exact word he used] your problem, Orzeck?”

After a minute or so of sufficient adulation and praise, I said, “Master, I’ve come to you with a problem that’s been driving me crazy. My sincerest hope is you have the answer.” For a second, I found myself again wavering; this whole subject of my patients not wanting to talk to me just seemed so overwhelming. But I was determined not to back down. I had to know!

And so, mustering up the remainder of what little courage I had left, I looked him in the eye and just asked the question outright: “Sir, why is it that none of my patients ever talk to me?”

A great hush settled over the assembled multitude. The chamber became so quiet you could have heard a cat walking on a feather pillow in the next town. Everyone present was in a silent state of disbelief. It was my opinion then—and it still is to this very day—that in the whole history of the human race, there had never been a new veterinarian who’d ever dared ask this question in such a direct manner.

A couple of seconds passed—it may have even been a couple of hours for all I know— before the Master spoke. With the loving compassion of a starving she-lion ripping into the hind- quarter flesh of an African gazelle, he looked me square in the eye and let me have it with both barrels: “Orzeck, are you mentally impaired in some way? Of course, your darned [darned is not the exact word he used] patients aren’t going to talk to you. They’re animals, and animals don’t talk.” And that was that.

The second discovery I made as a new veterinarian was the existence of an insatiable, unrelenting, and seemingly uncontrollable human need to know why or how something happens: “Doc, why did my young kitty get kidney cancer?” “Richard, why did my dog get hip dysplasia?” “Sir, why did my old Siamese get a bladder infection?” “Why does my expensive purebred Lhasa apso have only one testicle?” And on and on and on.

At first, when I encountered this phenomenon of my clients’ overpowering need to know why or how (and until I learned better), I did my utmost to speculate on these questions as thoroughly as I could. I would go through exhaustive lists of every known cause or theory of their pet’s particular disease or ailment I could remember in an effort to answer the client’s concerns.

But I soon learned that carrying out such an extensive rehashing of medical facts and figures accomplished nothing more than just plain wearing me out. I’m dead serious when I say this: after two or three of these encounters in the course of an afternoon’s office hours, I’d have to go home and take a nap. But the most frustrating thing about having to explain in great detail the infinite number of possible causes of their pet’s ailments is that, most of the time, the owners just weren’t listening. They didn’t listen because ninety percent of the time, they had the cause already figured out in their minds.

I’d know this because, after having just spent ten minutes compassionately telling them what I thought the reasons were for their pet’s malady, the client would then bombard me with questions like: “Doc, what you say could be so, but do you think it could have been our well water? When my husband is hungover, he always gets the runs if he drinks our water straight from the sink.” “Doc, do you think it could have been the yellow dye #3 in his dog food? I saw something on Jerry Springer about a woman who went berserk after she ate some Christmas cookies with yellow dye # 3 in ’em.” “Doc, do you think it could have been the fact that my nephew dropped him on his head when he was a pup? My cousin from Maine was dropped on his head when he was nine years old, and he ain’t never quite been right.” “Doc, do you think it had anything to do with her being born on a Friday during a full moon?” And on and on; around and around and around. Clients will drive themselves crazy trying to find out why or how something happened.

I still try my best to help my clients with their need to know a reason. But I don’t let it wear me out like it did at first, because I’ve learned of a few techniques to prevent these question- and-answer sessions from getting out of control. I’ve also learned that most of the time, when you really get down to it, there never really is an answer. A lot of people don’t like to hear that, but that’s the way it is. But even with all of my medical expertise and experience in dealing with an owner’s need to know, I still occasionally run into a client or family who insists on going back and forth, knocking themselves out with their questions. For these folks, I bring out my secret weapon response.


Getting back to the conversation.

The vet: [Seeing that his attempt at humor failed miserably and suspecting there were private family issues between this husband and wife that would best be brought up somewhere else besides his waiting room, he decided it was time for his secret weapon.] “Folks, I agree that all of your theories are quite possible. But I got a better idea; let’s just ask the cat.”

The husband and wife: [momentarily shocked out of their seething rage] “Huh?”

The vet: [again] “Since she’s the only one who knows exactly what happened, let’s ask Muffy.”

The husband: [still in disbelief] “What do you mean, Doc?”

The wife: [likewise in doubt] “Yeah, Doc, what are you talking about?”

The vet: [lowering his head to the cat sitting apprehensively on the exam table and looking it directly in its eye] “Please, little kitty cat, tell us what happened.” [And then he lowered his ear to Sweet Little Muffy’s mouth, just in case she wanted to whisper her answer.]

Muffy: Blank stare and total silence.

The vet: [one more time, just to freak out the clients] “Sweet Little Muffy, please, for the sake of your mommy and daddy’s peace of mind, tell us all what happened.”

Muffy: Blank stare and silence. [She thought about taking a swipe at the vet’s ear but graciously chose not to.]

The husband: [calmer now] “I get your point, Doc. Thanks.”

The wife. [also calmed down] “Me, too, Doc. But I have to tell you something: you are really weird!”

Copyright 2006 by Richard Orzeck, DVM.


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