Monday, October 24, 2011

10 Things Your Veterinary Staff Person (Probably) Won't Tell You

I have a subscription to Reader’s Digest magazine.  Yes, the paper version.  Call me old-fashioned.  I am an avid reader, and Reader’s Digest makes for good bathroom reading.  One feature they have been doing recently is “50 Things Your ______ Won’t Tell You”.  For example, “50 Things Your Nurse Won’t Tell You” or “50 Things Your Airline Pilot Won’t Tell You”.  I find these fascinating, because they lift the curtain on certain professions.  Often, a professional, because they must act professionally,  is rarely able to directly explain why they do things the way they do, what rules they have to follow, or how they feel about certain things.  Nonetheless, those factors impact all of us as consumers in one way or the other.  It's not that they won't tell you, it's mostly that they really can't, for one reason or another, though they'd like to.

I work in a veterinary hospital.  There are some who think that my job is nothing more than glorified play with doggies and kitties.  There is more, much more to it than most people outside the profession could ever know.  Almost every single thing we do (and don’t do) with you and your pet is due to a law, a professional protocol, or from some past experience that has influenced our practices.

Instead of clogging this blog with 50 things your veterinary staff person won’t tell you, I am going to limit it to ten for now.  This posting, for the record, is NOT sanctioned by my employer!  It all comes from little old me and the observations and experiences I have had.  And while these are based on my veterinary clinic, I feel safe in saying that they apply to almost all of them, wherever you are.

1.       Your cat may indeed be the sweetest feline known to mankind.  However, with the stress of a vehicle ride and the strange sights, sounds, and smells of the vet’s office, they may not be themselves.  Please put them in a cat carrier for everyone’s safety, especially theirs.  You can even borrow one from us.

2.       And your dog may indeed be the sweetest canine known to mankind.  However, with strange sights, sounds and smells of the vet’s office, they also may not be themselves.  (Plus, the other animals they could go up to greet in the waiting room might not be as friendly as they are.)  Please keep your dog on a leash for everyone’s safety, especially theirs. We have leashes on hand if you don't have one or forgot yours.

3.       If the veterinarian recommends blood tests or x-rays, it is not a way for us to get more money from you.  If anything, it is more work for us.  However, the veterinarian would only order them if she didn’t have enough information to make the best possible medical decision for your pet.  And after all, isn’t that what you want for them?

4.       If you sense that there is something seriously wrong with your pet, don’t wait until 4:55 on a Friday afternoon to call us, especially if it has been going on for a while.  It will save you money, save us time, and save your pet needless suffering if you nip a problem in the bud when it first emerges.  And please, don't call the vet at 1:30 in the morning because your dog is itchy. That's not an emergency. (It has happened more than once!)

5.       Ours is a real medical facility, just like your own doctor’s office.  Unless it is an emergency, we probably won’t be able to schedule you for an appointment the same day you call, just like your own doctor’s office.  That day’s appointments were made by people who called several days before.

6.       We know that prescription diets are often very expensive.  We are embarrassed by it ourselves. The prices are set by the manufacturer, and we make virtually no profit on them. However, they are “prescriptions” and are therefore medically necessary for treating whatever condition your pet has.  The upside of them is that they contain higher-quality ingredients and less filler (No eyeballs and toes in there!), so your pet should be eating less of it to meet their nutritional needs.  

7.       Unpredictable animals, medical emergencies, unpredictable animals, equipment troubles, unpredictable animals, lack of staff some days, and unpredictable animals are going to cause delays.  (And did I mention unpredictable animals?) We like to avoid these things, we really do, but that’s just not always possible.  We don’t like making you wait any more than you like waiting, rest assured.

8.       By law, only a licensed veterinarian can diagnose your pet, give a prognosis on the possible outcome of their condition, do surgery, or issue a prescription.  The other staff members are there to assist the vet in doing these things.  They cannot legally do them on their own, no matter how easy it might seem.  Our vet's license is on the line, even if we hand out a simple tube of ear cream without following certain protocols.

9.       Veterinary care can be expensive, so you might want to have a rainy-day fund in case of an emergency.  There are supplies, salaries, utilities, equipment, upkeep of the facility and numerous other things whose costs are out of our hands.  Our small business must pay for all that stuff before even a penny of profit is made.    We’d love to be able to provide our services for free, but it just isn’t realistic.  And don't get me started on people who stiff us on their bills!  After all, you wouldn't walk out of the supermarket saying "I've only got $10 on me to give you, but I'll bring the rest of the money for all this at the beginning of the month."  (At least I hope you wouldn't.)

10.   Every member of the veterinary staff is in this line of work because they really and truly love animals.  They love your animal, but they also must adhere to laws as well as medical and safety protocols in order to maintain everyone’s best interests, especially your pet’s.  Things are not always as obvious and simple as they may seem.

      ***One more thing...paperwork.  You hate it.  We hate it more.  Dogs like to chew it.  Cats like to shred it.  It is, however, absolutely necessary in any medical office, I'm afraid.  We know it seems cumbersome and repetitive at times, but it is one of those things that covers you, us, and your pet from something potentially bad happening.  Humor us.  Please, just fill it out.  And don't whine.

      Okay, so technically that's eleven.  Who's counting?  Hopefully by letting you in on a few of these things, it will make your pet's next visit to the vet go a bit more smoothly, wherever you take them.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hooray, Sports!

Ahh…sports!  Baseball in the summer, football in the fall, basketball and hockey in the winter, competitive mosquito swatting in the spring.  Love them or hate them, you can’t deny that sports play a significant part in our culture.  (Well, you could, but I wouldn’t believe you.)

I consider myself a sports fan.  I don’t come from a particularly athletic family, and have no major athletic accomplishments to brag about, aside from five goals scored in one game of floor hockey back in sixth grade.  Nonetheless, I follow the sports world every day in one form or another.  I have ESPN’s Mike & Mike sports talk show on every morning as I am reading the other news of the day in the paper or online.  I also check sports websites for scores several times a day in-season and subscribe to two sports magazines.  In the evenings during the summer, I like to have a baseball game on as background noise.  There’s a kind of comfortable rhythm to it, even if I am only half-paying attention.

Baseball is my favorite sport, and the Boston Red Sox are my team.  It wasn’t always that way, and sometimes I wish it wasn’t like that now. 

As a very young kid, I was actually a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, oddly enough.  I think it was in part because Los Angeles seemed so far away and cool to a kid like me from rural Maine.  Surely their baseball team was populated with only the best players, I reasoned.  And back then, in the late 70s to very early 80s, the Dodgers were actually pretty good.  Steve Garvey, Fernando Valenzuela, Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero, Steve Yeager…they were winning pennants most years and even took the World Series in 1981, when I was 11.  Trouble was, hardly anyone in my hometown knew anything about them, much less followed them.  Being a young Dodger fan in northern Maine was a lonely business.  The girls all thought the L.A. logo on my baseball cap (as pictured below) meant “love always”, since that was what it had been appropriated for in notebook doodles and so-called “love notes” by young girls at that time. 

While the media juggernaut that is the Boston Red Sox was not nearly then what it is now, they were still the “local” professional baseball team.  Their games were on the radio every night, their highlights were on the local sports reports, and their caps and t-shirts were in the stores.  In time, I gradually moved my loyalties over to the Red Sox.  In my mid-teens, part of my frequent responsibilities at the radio station where I worked was to play the commercials between innings of Red Sox game broadcasts.   I was there behind the operating board when Roger Clemens struck out 20 batters in a game.  I was also there when that ball went between Bill Buckner’s legs during the 1986 World Series.  Joe Castiglione is still calling games for the Sox.  His is one of the few voices still left in broadcasting that instantly take me back to my youth when I hear it.  Almost all the others are gone.

NOTE: I have to be careful when addressing the topic of the Red Sox right now, since they are in the midst of scandal and turmoil, and it would be very easy for this posting to degrade into an angry rant.  Let’s not go there.

I like football too, but admit to not understanding a lot of it.  You see, here in northern Maine, we didn’t have football teams growing up.  For the most part, we still don’t.  The area is mainly agricultural, and when I was a kid, school let out for three weeks in the fall so students could work in the potato harvest.  Harvest break fell right in the middle of what would have been football season, and the students who were most likely to have played on a football team, the big, strapping guys, were working on the farms.  So the local schools and recreation departments never really established football teams.  Sure, there were football fans around, but for most of us, who didn’t play it or see it in person like we did baseball, basketball, and hockey, there was a bit of distance there.  Unless you really applied yourself, it just looked like big guys in tight pants lining up, falling into a pile, and then lining up and doing it again.

I understand a lot more about football now than I did as a kid.  It all started when someone explained it to me as “a game of acquiring territory”.  While I always knew this at a basic level, that explanation somehow opened my eyes and helped me open other doors.  I still do best during a football game if I have Google on standby for looking up oddball things like "fair-catch kick" or "Terry Bradshaw".

I am a passing fan of other sports too. 

In my radio days, I did color analysis for local high school basketball games on the radio.  I saw MUCH more of that brand of ball than professional basketball, though I did catch the occasional Celtics game.  However, professional basketball seems so slick and polished compared to the high school ball I was so exposed to growing up and the street games I took part in with my very limited skills.  I’ll tune in when the Celtics are on TV once in a while, but for my money, the amateurs are the best show in basketball.

And hockey is a terrific sport.  Fast paced, action-packed, physical.  It sucks on TV though.  I can’t see the puck.  Fox Sports tried to use a technical trick on a TV broadcast about ten years ago where they had a computerized “tail” that swept behind the puck on the screen, making it easier to see.  I loved it.  The rest of the world apparently did not, and that experiment was considered a failure.  If I am going to watch a hockey game, I want to be there in person.  At least then I can see the damn puck.  Looking back on local pond hockey, it’s a flipping miracle that my friends and I didn’t break more teeth, bones, etc., given the wild abandon with which we played and the complete lack of protective gear.  And absence of rules.  Pond hockey for my friends and I as kids was fast, brutal, totally exhilarating, and would probably have scared the bejeezes out of our moms.  It was great. 

I came to NASCAR most recently…around ten years ago.   I’ve figured out that the best way to watch a NASCAR race is to tune in during the last 10-20 laps.  That’s when things really get shaking.  Come to think of it, that rule applies pretty well to basketball and football games too.  Tune in for the last quarter, and you’ll see most of the best stuff live.  The other highlights will be shown ad nauseum on ESPN for the next 24 hours anyway.

And I LOVE the Olympics, summer or winter, but really could care less about most of those sports at any other time.   ABC’s Wide World of Sports was a very popular weekend afternoon program when I was young.  I remember watching it quite often, pretending to be interested in bowling and the like, since there was absolutely NOTHING else to do on a January Saturday afternoon where I lived.  My most enduring memory of that program has to be that poor sap on the skis who wipes out big-time in the “agony of defeat”.  

Other sports:  Tennis? Boring.  Golf? I've shed my blood for it, so I am done with it.  (A topic for another post) Curling?  Great after a few drinks.  Heck, what sport isn't?

At 41, I don’t play many sports these days.  I like to toss a baseball around once in a while or shoot a few hoops, but that’s about it.  However, I think sports play an important part in modern life, one that is sometimes overlooked.  

You see, they are one of the few things left in our culture that are not totally fragmented.  Back in the old days, there were only three or four radio stations to listen to, only three or four TV stations to watch, more people went to church and joined community organizations, and our worlds in general were a lot smaller.  Consequently, we had a lot more in common with the people we ran into every day.  Chances are, they DID watch the same show you did last night, or they DID hear what that announcer said on the radio this morning.  They were at the same church service as you last weekend or the same lodge meeting last night.  Those shared experiences are a lot fewer and farther between today.  Most things are fragmented.  Hundreds of television and music choices are out there, not to mention the vast array of “stuff” that is available on the Internet.   However, sports is still relatively compact.  There’s one major league in each of the five professional sports of baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and car racing, which is more compact than many other diversions in our world today.  

Anything that bring us together, that helps us share our passions and feelings in a positive way, that lets us see each other as pretty much being in the same boat...well, that's a good thing.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On Being A Geek

I’m kind of a geek.

At my age, however, it is much easier to admit it.  I never would have said that when I was, say, 23 years old, even though it was true then as well.  Actually, anyone at this point in time can admit to being a geek and not have a whole lot of self-esteem issues.  Over the past twenty years, as science and technology has reached ever more deeply into almost every aspect of our lives, it has become more socially acceptable to be labeled as one of the geeky.  Even the thickest skulls can see that the things once stereotypically associated with being a geek (computers, electronic gizmos, science-fiction, robots, etc.) have made life immeasurably easier and much cooler.

Of course, not all geeks are science and technology geeks.  Take me for example.  I can find my way around a computer to some extent.  I can install software and empty my recycle bin.  But if you asked me to reformat a hard drive or do anything that requires taking the plastic casing off the machine, I would likely break into a cold sweat and have to go lie down. So “computer geek” is not really what I am.

Nor am I a “gadget geek”.  I have a cell phone.  I hate it.  I rarely have it on my actual person (it lives in my chariot), and it has not been off “vibrate” in months.  My current phone has been with me for three years now, and I have racked up a grand total of (are you ready for this?), 47 minutes.  The only reason I even have it is for emergencies.  Living in a rural area as I do, breaking down on the road can be a major problem.  It’s possible to not be within walking distance of any civilization.  Really.  And there’s no Triple A around here.  If you break down, you have to get hold of someone you know, and a cell phone is usually the only way to do so.  Otherwise, you could be eaten by a yeti.  Or so I’m told.  Also, I have several older relatives for whom I do a lot, and I want them to be able to reach me if there is a pressing need.  Trouble with that is, they don’t believe in cell phones, much like most of us don’t believe in the tooth fairy, and would not even think to call me on mine, even if they were starving to death and I was the only person able to bring them oyster crackers and sugar-free chocolate crème pie.

Ok, I DO have an iPod Touch.  I haven’t had it for very long, and it kind of scares me.  I can do so many things with it, and I know I am only scratching the surface.  I can convert  millimeters to bushels (or whatever), I can find the cheapest gas (usually 140 miles away), and have recently learned how fling upset avians at green porkers (that’s the game “Angry Birds” for those of you who have been vacationing in the Himalayas for the past two years).  Beyond that, the only use I have for it is my music.  (More on that coming up.)  I am afraid that if I am not careful, I might inadvertently launch a nuclear missile on a small foreign country with it, and starting an international incident can seriously throw off one’s day.  Can’t be too careful, you know.

I wouldn’t really consider myself a “sci-fi geek” either.  Sure, I’ve seen all the Star Wars movies, and had lots of the action figures (NOT dolls!) when I was a kid.  However, my interest in Star Wars as an adult doesn’t really go beyond having enjoyed the movies.  And I have never “gotten” Star Trek.  I’ve never been a fan.  It probably stems from childhood.   Back when Saturday morning programming was a HUGE deal to kids, Star Trek was the last show before the boring grown up stuff came on and the day grew exponentially less exciting.  It meant it was time to actually get dressed and go entertain ourselves.  Often outdoors.  Can you imagine?  So Star Trek, which was also the only non-cartoon on the Saturday morning slate (if you don’t include H.R. Puffinstuff, which I don’t), was the signal that the fun was over.  I developed kind of an aversion to it that remains to this day.

I am definitely not a “comic book” geek.  I associate comic books with waiting my turn at the barber shops to which I was taken as a child.  Believe you me, I had some damn unfortunate haircuts back then.  Plus, I’ve always been a fast reader, so a comic book to me would be like eating one jelly bean.

So, what kind of geek am I?  I am a music geek.  Big time.  Ever since I got hooked on rock music by the Eagles in the late 70s, I’ve loved music.  My first record, the big vinyl kind, was Freeze Frame by the J. Geils Band.  Since then, I’ve accumulated literally hundreds of albums in progressing formats: records, cassettes, CDs, and now MP3s.  I even had a few 8 track tapes.  At this point, my MP3s alone add up to more than ten days’ worth of listening without a repeat.  In my teens and twenties, I was lucky enough to have worked in broadcast radio, which was a dream job for a music geek like me.  To this day, radio is the road not taken in my life…the great “what if”.

If I am playing a trivia game with friends, they all steer way from the music questions, because I dominate.  If someone at work wants to know the name of a song based on a few lyrics, I am the go to guy.  If “Name That Tune” was still on the air, I’d clean up.

For me, the best way to unwind is to strap on my iPod, hit shuffle, and then lie back and vegetate for about an hour.  Nothing clears my head nearly as well. While a rock guy at heart, by collection is all over the road.  I’ve got rock, pop, metal, some folk, some blues, and even a little country, not to mention a smattering of new age, classical, hip-hop, and jazz.  These days I average about one new album a week.  (When I use the term album, I mean a collection of songs released by the artist together, not a vinyl LP.)  My latest is Nine Tonight, a live album by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.  Bob's stuff has only recently been released in the MP3 format, so I've got some catching up to do with him.

There was one other person I knew growing up who was a comparable “music geek”.  I won’t mention his name without his permission, but he took it to a whole new level.  We lost touch after high school, but I recently reconnected with him to discover that he taught himself to play the guitar (something that I am only middling at, at best), and then drove himself to follow his dream.  He’s now a big-time heavy metal guitarist in New York City with a number of albums under his belt.  He’s still the same guy though.  I am friends with him on Facebook, and every once in a while I see the notice that “Insert Name Here now likes Bananarama” or some such thing.  He may be “metal”, but his musical taste is all over the road, just like a true music geek’s should be. 

Like a true geek, I could go on and on about this topic, which is probably of only marginal interest to most of you, but I need to end it here.  I just noticed that I can download a rare Bay City Rollers double album at half price.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Scapegoats Are People Too

Ours is a society that loves to beat the snot out of someone.  We have become Scapegoat Nation, mainly because we have more to worry about, and thus more of a need to blame things on someone.

When you think about it, the amount of information that we in western culture have literally at our fingertips is monumentally massive compared to that of similar people living just thirty years ago.  Information that would have taken years to gather back then can be pulled up in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.  Who won the first Cricket World Cup? The West Indies.  You think I knew that 30 seconds ago?  Nope.  Now think about what I would have had to go through to find that tidbit out in, say 1984.  It would have required a trip downtown to the library at the very least.

I think back to when I was a kid, spending vacations with my grandparents in the country.  My grandmother spent years and years researching basic family history for her family and that of my grandfather, using what she knew personally as a starting point.  She wrote letters.  She made phone calls.  She dug around old records in courthouses and libraries. I yawned a lot and asked when we would go get ice cream.  By the time I was a teenager, after years of work, she had fleshed out her family tree and my grandfather’s to the point from when their great-grandparents came over from Ireland.  She wrote most of it down in a notebook, but kept a lot more of it in her head.  She died in 1995.  The notebook has been lost and what was in her head remains with her.  I am kicking myself that I didn’t take more of an interest and do something to save that information.  I’ve been able to reconstruct some of it, but a great deal of knowledge was lost forever when she died.

Nowadays, I could do some of the research that took my grandmother many years in a fraction of the time.  Though I doubt I could ever do it with the dedication and love that she had.

But I digress.

My point is, we just know more stuff now.  The quality of that stuff varies a whole lot, mind you.  One of the upsides of the pre-Information Age was that a lot of crap was filtered out before it got before the masses.  If you don’t believe me, just think back to what was on prime-time TV in the mid-70s and then look at it today.

There have always been pretty, brainless heiresses like Paris Hilton.  We just haven’t been able to know as much about them as we do now.  There have always been idiot politicians acting more in their own interest than ours.  We just didn’t get as much of the lowdown.  There have always been horrific accidents and terrible crimes, probably more so then than now, but the only ones we heard about were those in our general vicinity.  Some psycho shooting up a daycare center in Asia would not have likely made headlines back in the 1950s, for example.  Today, it would be global news.

You can discuss amongst yourselves whether this is good or bad.  I personally don’t think it is one or the other, but a mix of both.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the stuff.  Murders, rapes, gangs, dog attacks, corruption…it seems like it’s everywhere.  Our world is falling apart.  What happened to the good old days?  Right?


The same things were happening back in the good old days, only we didn’t hear about them as often.  They probably occurred even more frequently, since the degree of public scrutiny was much less, so getting away with them was easier.

In response to this, however, I feel like we have become a scapegoat society.  We want someone to pay the price for the bad things that happen out there. The origin of “scapegoat” goes back to biblical times, when a goat, symbolically laden with the sins of the people, was left to wander in barren lands (presumably to starve or be eaten by predators).   Often now, it is one person that is symbolic of the problem of whom we want the figurative blood.  Sarcasm alert!: Music stinks these days?  Blame Lady Gaga, because I don’t like her.  Professional athletes are lazy and overpaid?  Blame Alex Rodriguez, because he seems kind of arrogant anyhow.  People do stupid things?  Blame the local school superintendent.  He's supposed to be able to fix stupid, isn't he? End sarcasm.

There are countless examples I could give, but I’ll use the one that is most accessible to the majority of us is the presidency.  No matter WHO is in the Oval Office, whether it is a Republican or a Democrat, that person carries the weight for all of the ups and downs of our country.  (Who in their right mind would want that job?)  I can’t remember a single president in our lifetime who was not treated with disdain over things that he simply does not control.  After all, our leader is a president, not a dictator.  He (or someday she) cannot simply decree that there be good jobs or less crime.  The constitution lays out certain powers, and he has to stick to them.  But, because he is a single individual, with his own personality and opinions, the president becomes a lightning rod, rightly or wrongly.  Our current economic woes are not the fault of Barack Obama.  Nor are they the fault of George W. Bush.  They are the result of a myriad of factors, not the action or inaction of any one person.

And it runs in reverse as well, where a single person’s plight results in arguably inordinate action.  One pretty blonde teenage girl from an upper middle-class family (whose pictures look good on news reports) is kidnapped and killed, which is a true and genuine tragedy, and a law in her name gets passed to help prevent such a thing from happening again.  Maybe that law was indeed needed, but I can’t help but wonder about the families of the many others who may have met the same fate.  Why wasn’t a law passed when their loved ones were taken from them?  Weren’t they just as important as the more photogenic person who came from the “right side” of the tracks?

Most things today are complicated, shades-of-gray kinds of things.  They always have been.  There is nothing new here at all.  But we are faced with more knowledge of bad things, and it’s just easier to wrap our minds around things that are black and white.  It’s simpler to blame a person (or a group, like religious zealots, opposing political parties, or Justin Beiber fans), instead of trying to address the array of things that led to the problem in the first place.

I have to admit, this post was not inspired by some great philosophical problem of our times, but by the dismissal of the manager of my favorite baseball team due in large part to the apathy of his players, in spite of his best efforts.  What can I say?  I am deep as a paper plate at times.

I am not going to change a whole society’s way of thinking with a single blog post.  (It may take at least two.)  But hopefully, at least a few of us can start to look a little more carefully at all sides of a situation before we hang someone out to dry.