Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Veterinary Medicine: It's All in the Journey

I was blessed by a great beginning to my veterinary neurology career. I became hooked on the nuances of a vast, complex system that was an enigma to most, but a rather straight journey through every neuron and pathway that controlled an animal's body, envisioned and shared through the eyes of a great teacher, Dr. Skip Averill.

This journey, though, didn't solidify until I was exposed to a mentor who was truly in awe of what he didn't know and what at the time was unknowable. A mind that was able to avoid the pitfalls of oversimplification but with an efficiency of language on the edge of the sacred, he produced short concise sentences that avoided faithfully an unknown or unproven thought. This, my greatest teacher, mixed language skills and knowledge in a way that made those in his presence self-conscious of their own communications. This ability was lost on most and incomprehensible for many. In a setting, where too many were in awe of what they knew, this was a fresh way of projecting knowledge that was too unique for many to grasp. This was my second teacher Dr. Sheldon Steinberg (no relation to me).

The slide from studying and grasping the intricacies of what was known to the arena of appreciation of what wasn't known, ignited a passion in me to try to recognize the truth when available and feel the power of what wasn't understood on a continual basis. I have yet to put my arms around these topics with clear and efficient language but the groundwork for the thought processes is strongly in place. Every known becomes shrouded in the uncertain. Every diagnoses is challenged. Every truth is held up to the light, looking for that crack that shows its insides to be different than expected.

Many think that we in veterinary medicine are hamstrung by patients that can't convey by language the simplest of facts but this is a total misconception. Our history taking skills are well honed, our powers of observation must be strong, our hands must be determined, our senses on edge but ask any veterinary clinician if they miss verbal communication with their patients and they will invariably state that they hadn't even noticed it was missing.

The "toys of medical science" have brought a new dimension to our quest to discover but have not hardly replaced our most basic of tools. In this state of transition we have made some serious missteps. We often confuse the paperwork with the patient. We often convince ourselves that we have a diagnosis when we may be simply close to one. We often believe the patient recovered because of us, when in fact it was in spite of us.

Mastery of a skill, it has been said, takes about ten years. Those of us who are in the hands-on professions know what dues have to be paid to become skilled, but there are few joys that can compare with holding a beloved pet in ones hands and through skilled manipulation determine the most productive next direction and from that step determine the most productive treatment options and from that step see the most beautiful gaze of thanks from an owner and their animal friend, who now have a diagnosis and hopefully a successful treatment ahead of them.


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