Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tick Talk

There are a million stories in the world of veterinary medicine. It seems a fertile ground for tales of all sorts, and while it has its share of horror and sorrow and general weirdness, it is also a world bursting with stories of goodness, of kindness, of humor, of redemption and grace and amazement and joy, of miraculous recoveries and abiding love, of forgiveness and healing and the best that is to be found of both humanity and nature.

Sometimes, though, it's a strange combination of several of the above.

One day, when I was an intern working in Sacramento, I went into a room to see a German Shepherd for ticks. In Alaska a tick is a rare thing - I've seen eight in 13 years, and am surprised I've seen even that many - but in California it's not an uncommon complaint. In fact, it was common enough that the clinic where I worked had several tick spoons, little devices designed to remove an embedded tick without (one hopes) leaving the head behind.

All unsuspecting, I walk into the exam room where I find a lively, attractive Shepherd bitch and her owner, accompanied by the owner's good friend. The two women are friendly, happy salt-of-the-Earth sorts, and they look up smiling when I walk in. The dog echoes their demeanor, bright-eyed and cheerful, panting happily and waving her tail gently at me to telegraph her good will.

"So, you're here because Sasha has ticks?" I ask. The owner nods vigorously.

"Yes, and I can't get rid of them. They're all over her. I tried burning them off with a match, but it didn't work."

Ignoring for the moment the idea that on an animal that is nearly entirely covered in hair, tick removal by match might not be the safest route, I take a history and do an exam. Everything seems normal.

"Okay, now show me these ticks," I tell the owner.

"They're all along her belly," she says, inducing her dog to lie down and roll on her side to display her trim and barely-furred belly. "They're just disgusting, I can't stand them being on her. See? Look at them all! I tried burning them with a match, like I do when I get a tick, and it never hurts me - but every time I try it on her, she squeals and jumps up. Why do you think she does that?" she asks, looking at me anxiously.

"Because those aren't ticks," I tell her. "Those are her nipples."

The owner's eyes spring wide with shock. She looks at her friend, who is equally goggle-eyed.

"But... but they're all black," she says. I refrain from mentioning that so might hers be, if someone kept applying a match to them.

"Yes, well, sometimes they ARE black," I say. "That's perfectly normal. Sometimes the skin pigments itself in areas where it gets a little more impact from cold or friction, like a nipple might." I do not mention heat as a source of hyperpigmentation, in part because the nipples were pigmented before heat became an issue; the pigmentation, after all, is what decoyed the owner in the first place.

"Are you sure they're her nipples?" the owner asks doubtfully.

"Yes," I say patiently. "See how they're lined up in symmetrical pairs, in two strait lines along her belly? Ticks don't line up strait like that, but nipples do."

The owner looks at her friend again, who is this time biting her lips and giving her friend a sort of "well, that makes sense" kind of look. The owner looks at the dog, still laying with her tummy exposed, fanning her tail gently against the floor in appreciation of our attention. The owner looks at me.

"You mean I tried to burn my dog's ninnies off with a match?" she says, her eyes wide with horror.
"Well, yes," I agree, somewhat nonplussed at the term - which I might have applied to something in the room other than the dog's nipples - but catching her meaning.

The owner turns her round-eyed and horror-stricken gaze on her friend for a moment, upon whose lips a smile is being firmly suppressed. Suddenly the owner bursts out laughing. The friend starts laughing too. Sasha, getting into the spirit of things, gives an agile twist and leaps to her feet, wriggling happily and grinning at everyone. The owner hugs her and kisses her and rubs her ears, apologizing through her laughter for the matches, which earns her several kisses from the dog. I can't help but smile a bit too; the dog's reaction to the matches had fortunately prevented the owner from injuring her, so in the end no harm was done, and now the owner has new knowledge with which to arm herself against future errors.

I counsel the owner that there are safer ways to remove ticks than with matches, and if she's ever in doubt she can either check with a vet or look to see if the structure of concern is represented symmetrically on the opposite side of the animal. Things that are symmetrical from one side to the other are generally normal structures, I advise her, and best not approached with matches. The owner agrees that she'll never go near her dog with a match again.

The little trio marches on out to the front desk, paying their bill with much hilarity. The dog is of course not quite sure of the nature of the joke, but she's perfectly happy to enter into the spirit of the thing, eeling between the two women for attention and wagging her entire body with happy excitement. The last I see of her, she is prancing out the door between her owner and her owner's friend, still dancing with delight at their ongoing chuckles.

A week later I get a card in the mail, addressed to me at the clinic. On the front is a pretty scene, and inside it reads, "Dear Dr. H, thank you for taking care of me the other day, and thank you for telling my mommy not to try to burn my ninnies off any more. Love, Sasha."

I notice that Sasha has spelled my name accurately and given the correct clinic address. She has also included correct postage. Smart dogs, German Shepherds.

No ninnies there.


MaskedMan said...

Ooh, I admire your restraint!

Of course, good natured ninnies might make it a lot easier, even if they are playing pyrophiliac with the poor dog's ninnies - A sense of humor covers for a lot of sins.

Mutt Gal said...

Aren't dogs the most incredibly forgiving creatures? I will tell you: If anyone came near MY ninnies with a match, I'd do more than squeal and jump away. Thank goodness the woman at least had the good nature and the sense to consult a doctor before she tried to twist the tick off, or anything like that! Yikes!

goatgirl said...

I am always amazed when people are surprised that male dogs have ninnies.....the ninnies.

goatgirl said...

BTW it was interesting going through your blog list and seeing you a Diana Gabaldon fan. I devoured her books and then when my son brought his girlfiend home I gave her Outlander to see if she liked it. She loved it so I gave her the whole series. She read every one during her senior year in college. I told my son, "She's the girl for me"
I am excited to find her blog. Thanks.

Holly said...

*headdesk laughing so hard I'm crying*

A book, a book please, though reading it here is free....there should be some compensation for you!

Rattitude said...

That's just priceless.

Tatyana said...

hehehe :P

Sad part is I've had a similar discussion with my mother. About my *male* dog's ninnies. She thought they were bugs or dirt or something. Good thing she didn't try to scrape them off with her nail or something...

AKDD said...

Well, I did quite like this owner for her good nature, her willingness to laugh at herself, her willingness to be corrected onto a better course of action in service of her dog's well-being, and just her general warm, good-hearted, down-to-earth cheer. So if I was thinking "ninnies" in any way, I assure you I was thinking it with humor and a certain sort of empathy. After all, we've all had those moments where the brain isn't quite hooked up and we have a Homer Simpson moment (D'OH!). God knows my line of work provides me an opportunity to look like a complete moron at least three times a week.

Fortunately, I will say, most of my clients do NOT go this far to get rid of things that they've mistaken for non-body parts. Sometimes quite the opposite, in fact. :p

Entertainingly, we did just this week have the male client who got in a fight with his wife over whether or not male dogs have nipples. (His position was "not".) I'm always tempted to ask these guys: Well, do YOU have nipples? (And then to fix them with A Look, hoping that they get the point before we proceed to the demonstration portion of the program. YIKES!)

Holly, thank you for saying that.... I am rather touched that you think I should have compensation. Your [collective] enjoyment is certainly one compensation! - but I admit I would not be averse to some published and/or financial appreciation. I really should try to figure out how that works.

GG, I am a long-time Outlander fan. I just wish DG would write faster...!

Barb said...

I needed a laugh today - thank you for this story!!

goatgirl said...

I know...the sixth book just screamed for a seventh.

BCxFour said...

My husband and I read this post the other night and about died laughing. Yesterday when we were cleaning the dogs off after herding my husband says "Hun, I think Beth has ticks!". Like a 'ninny' myself I fell for it and had to look - he was quite pleased with himself. Isn't it nice to know that your words and experiences will always be a part of our lives? I am sure that my husband will never let me live that one down...

We love your writing! I am a published author of three books. Find a good literary agent that will take you on - I am sure there will be many! I look foward to buying your first book!

AKDD said...

Okay, this is interesting. I'll bite: How or where does one look for an agent? Do you call them? Write to them? Email them? Do you have to have a finished manuscript, or just a proposal?

(Man, am I ignorant about this! I'm not even shure what else to ask!)

Oh, except this: What do you write? (I have a discount card for the bookstore that might need some excersize...)

Thanks for telling me that I've entered your family culture, even if in a small (and somewhat bratty! :D ) way - that's quite touching, actually. I'm very flattered. And while I would never wish to cause any harm, I am kind of gratified that you both about died laughing! (Not the worst way to go, I suppose...) :D

BCxFour said...

I am way behind in my reading, sorry it has taken me this long to answer your question regarding a literary agent.

How do you find one? My best advice - find a book or two you like in the genre you are aiming for. Then contact the authors of the same books you like - ask them to refer you to their agent. Sometimes agents are fiercely protected in this industry - so be prepared to be ignored.

Other tools to help you, go to Amazon and search for the current "Guide to Literary Agents" or "Writers Guide to Book Editors, Publishers & Literary Agents". Here is a handy dandy website that can be a good start as well

This gentleman has a nice blog and outlines the steps to getting an agent & manuscript published - enjoyable read and spot on advice.

Finally you asked what type of books I have written? Trust me you wouldn’t want to read them. They are dry art instruction/academia. My last book was published in 2001 and is since out of print. I relieve writing frustrations on my blog now. Perhaps, one day, when I am not working full time, have one husband, five kids, three border collies (one foster) and one creaky old cat living under my roof - I might take another stab at writing. Till then I am just to damn tired and will live vicariously through your success!

I look forward to seeing your first book in print!

AKDD said...

BCx4, thanks for that input; I really appreciate it. I'll start working on it... and I'll be sure to write a post about it if/when I have something in the works, because I'll be so excited I won't be able to keep my mouth shut about it! :D