BOOKS: All My Patients Have Tales
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2009:
All My Patients Have Tales:
Favorite Stories from a Vet’s Practice
by Jeff Wells, DVM
St. Martin’s Press (c/o MacMillan (175 Fifth Avenue,
New York, NY 10010), 2009.
240 pages, illustrated. $24.95 hardcover.
“A sharp pain shot up my arm,” Dr. Wells says as he describes
a frantic feline named Henry, one of his first patients. “The
familiar sensation of warm blood washed over my palm.” The unhappy
cat sank his teeth into the vet’s index finger during the examination.
So began Jeff Wells’ intriguing career as a country
veterinarian. A graduate of the Iowa State University College of
Veterinary Medicine, Wells worked first at a private clinic in South
Dakota, and later in Colorado, assisted by a short young woman
named Jenny who appropriately wore overalls and boots to work.
Wells slides on long latex gloves, covered with lubricating
jelly, and sticks his hand into horses’ rectums to determine
pregnancies. He performs emergency Cesarian sections on distressed
cows in labor to safely deliver their calves, sometimes with snow
trickling from the sky. Moisture from the ground once froze his
jeans while he worked on a bovine patient.
A traveling circus hired Wells to perform blood tests and
health certificates required for entry into Canada. Wells and Jenny
squeezed blood from an elephant, checked horses for contagious
diseases, and wiped camel spit from their faces.
Most days bring a challenge. Dogs protecting their turf are
a constant menace to visiting veterinarians, encouraging Wells to be
cautious when he checks on livestock whose people are not around.
Once a trio of male turkeys nearly pecked Wells and Jenny off the
premises. As they ran for the safety of the vet’s pickup truck, the
turkeys cut them off, ready for a fight. Wells chased them back by
wildly swinging a stick.
“Jenny and I were a little too embarrassed to tell anyone
right away,” Wells says.
Visits with house pets can be as difficult, and sometimes
sad. Fred the cat was a stubborn patient. Actually a spayed female,
Fred “had grown to hate her trips to the clinic.” So Wells checked
on Fred at home. Fred tolerated examinations on the kitchen counter.
That worked for a few years, until Fred developed an abdominal
malignant mass. Medication bought Fred just a few weeks.
Cats, Wells says, are usually smart enough to avoid painful
encounters with porcupines. Dogs sometimes are not. Three Jack
Russell terriers, for example, roamed their owner’s land in
Colorado. The three Musketeers, as Dr. Wells calls them, pounce a
porcupine together. Hundreds of quills were embedded in each dog.
The trio learned nothing from their first encounter with the
porcupine. Soon after they go home, they found the same porcupine
and finished him off. Back to the vet they went. Their person kept
them inside for the next few weeks.
Wells had a close call with a mutt named Bingo. Owned and
adored by a bank president, Bingo was left at the clinic for a
simple neuter, but wanted no part of Wells or Jenny. Just as he
raced out of the exam room, into the office, someone opened the
door. Fortunately Wells and Jenny were able to find and net Bingo,
after a long search.
All My Patients Have Tales honors in title the prototypical
veterinary memoir, All Creatures Great & Small, by “James Herriot,”
the pen name of British country veterinarian James Alfred Wright.
Like All Creatures Great & Small, All My Patients Have Tales offers
a delightful perspective on the demanding, challenging, and often
rewarding life of a country veterinarian. Each story is unique and
illustrates the many different roles of animals in our lives.
I would have suggested that the roaming Jack Russell terriers
live on property fenced to keep porcupines out. But maybe Wells did
and their person ignored his advice.
-Debra J. White