My back was hurting again, and my neck was so sore that I could barely turn my head. Trying to load my heavy X-ray unit into the back seat of my SUV was torture. If I balanced the equipment just right, I could walk for a few steps, but if I torqued my back even slightly, the stabbing pains would stop me in my tracks. And my assistant was out with a back injury, ironically, so I was on my own.
This was no good. I set everything down and lurched back into the house like Quasimodo and grabbed the ibuprofen bottle from the bathroom. It was the only thing that was going to get me through the day, and I thought about calling the doctor but knew I probably wouldn’t.Photo by Ksenya_43/Shutterstock
I’d had my lower spine fused two years previously and after healing up, had both hips rebuilt, so I wasn’t particularly keen on more doctor visits. Like many others in the workforce, I’ve dealt with the occasional flare-up as best as I could and kept on working.
I gingerly pulled the seatbelt around me, switched hands and clicked it into place without twisting my torso. Then I started the truck and set off to do a full day of calls. Most were pretty easy—blood draws, vaccinations, health certificates and an eye exam—and I checked each call off hoping the clients hadn’t noticed my misery. Despite the ibuprofen, I was still moving like Quasimodo, and I just wanted to go lie down with an ice pack.
I finally pulled up to the last farm of the day, my back throbbing badly. How on earth was I going to get through this call?
My client was waiting in the driveway and waved cheerily.
“Thank you so much for coming to see us today!” she said. “Little Quasimodo needs you. I’m afraid his back is hurting him.”
I stared at her, then quickly rechecked my daybook, which read, “Geriatric donkey wellness exam and check Miniature Horse with dental issues.”
The owner, Lillian, was smiling expectantly at me, so I threw a few things into my tote, and we walked over to her little red barn together. We walked up the slate pathway, and she opened the barn door for me, a hand-painted welcome sign gently swinging from brass hooks.
There was a little table in the barn aisle with a tea service laid out, and Lillian picked up a steaming mug and handed it to me.
“I know you’ve had a long day, Dr. Diehl, and I thought you might like some tea before we get started!”
I sipped the fragrant tea gratefully, and Lillian smiled.
“I make it myself with herbs from my garden. It helps with aches and pains.” Then she winked. “I put a bag of it on your front seat when you were collecting your equipment, and also some of my bath blend. I want you to pamper yourself a little when you get home tonight!”
She patted my shoulder kindly.
I took another sip of Lillian’s tea. It might have been my imagination, but my back was feeling a little better, and when I set my empty cup down, the pain seemed to have eased to a manageable level. I thanked Lillian, and we moved down the barn aisle to the stall where little Quasimodo and his elderly donkey companion waited.
Quasimodo was not only a Miniature Horse, he was also a dwarf, and his lower jaw protruded monkey-like from his domed head. He pinned his ears flat when he saw me looking at him and turned his rump to me.
Lillian slipped a soft halter over the old donkey’s head and stroked her head gently.
“We’ll do Lilac first—she’s the easy one.”
I examined Lilac, and we discussed her medical issues and worked out a treatment plan. Now it was Quasimodo’s turn, and Lillian pounced on him, managing to get the rope around his neck as he spun in angry circles. He sulked as she drew the halter up over his crooked muzzle and secured it, then stamped his little feet as I approached him, his eyes bulging furiously.
There was a big fluid-filled swelling over his withers with some teeth marks visible where someone, probably sweet Lilac, had obviously chomped him.
I finished Quasimodo’s exam, cleaned him up, drained and poulticed his injured back and prescribed some medicine to help him heal. His teeth were awful, and I took some X-rays. He was going to need a dental specialist to do all of the necessary work, and I gave my client a few numbers of veterinarian dental specialists to call to take care of his issues.
“Isn’t it wonderful to know that great doctors and specialists are available when we need them?” she beamed. “I’m so grateful for all of your care, Dr. Diehl, and for helping my animals to feel better. Now you get home and go take care of yourself!”
As I drove away, I called a good back doctor in town and was able to get an appointment scheduled right away. That night, I enjoyed a hot bath with Lillian’s special bath mix and some more of her wonderful tea, and the very next day, I went to the doctor.
How Lillian had known that I needed her help that day remains a mystery, but I believe that there are angels that walk among us on this earth to give us assistance when we desperately need it, even if that means the client takes care of the veterinarian. It was an important reminder for me to stop neglecting my health, and ever since that visit, I’ve been careful to see my doctors regularly and take better care of myself.
This Vet Adventures column about a client taking care of her veterinarian appeared in the February 2020 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!
Courtney S. Diehl, DVM, has been an equine veterinarian since 2000. She is the author of Horse Vet: Chronicles of a Mobile Veterinarian and Stories of Eric the Fox, first place winner of the CIPA EVVY award. She is currently working on her third book.
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