Lou Anne Wolfe
Dr. Lou Anne Wolfe practices at Marina Animal Clinic in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A graduate of the Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine, she previously worked as a business and political reporter at newspapers in Oklahoma City and as a special-projects writer at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.Read Articles Written by Lou Anne Wolfe
A short time ago, I stood at one side of a surgery table and watched with rapt attention as Dr. Sherry painstakingly placed intramedullary pins into the mandibles of a dog I had saved. The jaws of Tiger, a little blonde poodle mix, had been snapped in half by a pit bulldog having a bad day. I knew Dr. Sherry would help me fix Tiger one way or another because she is my mentor and is game for anything. Threading the pins to link together the broken bone pieces on one side and then the other, Sherry tried, hit a wall, tried again and finally prevailed.
Tiger was the beneficiary of what I call surgical courage. Dr. Sherry was determined to reunite those broken jaws, and I was determined to participate. I live for that camaraderie and the journey into veterinary frontiers.
Never underestimate the impact of your willingness to teach another veterinarian something you know well. You might be surprised that your generosity brings you greater satisfaction than the person you help.
Indeed, the most memorable moments of my veterinary career are those when another veterinarian offered a hand of friendship and support. What follows are some of my favorite stories.
As a new graduate, I reluctantly worked the night shift at a small animal practice after realizing that swine production medicine wasn’t my destiny. I was hungry for surgical experience, but surgery was mainly the domain of the day shift. However, there is a special place in heaven for the two senior veterinarians I worked with one night, Donna and Chet, because they generously allowed me to do minor emergency procedures while they manned the front lines.
Dr. Donna stood up for me with a client. Fresh out of school, I had taken the temperature of a toy breed dog before attempting to vaccinate it. The client was holding her dog. I tried twice to inject the little patient, who screamed, and the client snatched it away. “Can I see another vet?” she finally asked.
Her question crushed me, and I left the exam room in dejection. I was sobbing with shame, so Dr. Donna took over. When the client complained that an earlier doctor hadn’t checked her dog’s temp before a vaccination, Dr. Donna replied, “Well then, I guess he didn’t do a thorough physical examination.” I felt vindicated.
The other veterinarian, Dr. Chet, ended up doing contract spays and neuters for the local animal shelter. He later brought me on board. I stood at a surgery table and spayed patient after patient, getting practice upon practice.
A Lesson in Compassion
One of the biggest deals of my life was euthanizing Marshall, my first pet pig. I had met Dr. Dan while working at the Tulsa State Fair’s animal birthing center, and I chose him for this crucial mission. Accompanied by a fellow veterinarian, I took Marshall to Dr. Dan’s clinic. He sedated Marshall, and I cried and reminisced with my pig until he went to the rainbow bridge. I left that day with an empty heart, but I cannot think of another person who equals Dr. Dan’s compassion.
Our friendship continued, and one day I lost a pig in surgery that belonged to the granddaughter of a former employer who believed in me. Devastated and unwilling to face porcine surgery again, I attempted to steer a potential client to Dr. Dan for a pet pig’s castration. He wasn’t having it. “Why don’t we do it together,” he suggested, and we did.
Laughter Is the Best Medicine
Bulldogs are my second special interest. Early in my career, I worked with Dr. Carl, my bulldog mentor. He taught me that the soft drink Sprite could cut a bulldog’s foamy phlegm and keep the patient from choking. When my first personal bulldog needed a partial tail amputation, Dr. Carl came to the clinic where I worked and taught me how to do the surgery.
Meanwhile, Dr. Janine was a new graduate who came to our clinic shortly after I started. I remember watching in amazement as she dumped sugar on a dog’s prolapsed vagina and placed it back where it belonged. One night at the end of a long and stressful shift, I was joking around and became so tickled that I wet my pants. I was a little mortified, but thankfully the night was over. Dr. Janine set a bottle of Proin, a drug used to treat canine urinary incontinence, on the counter. It was great comic relief. She called me later to make sure I was OK. My dignity was intact.
Mentors aren’t always warm and fuzzy. My boss at my first job was a gifted surgeon whose experience was broad. Dr. George intimidated me, guided me and backed me when I faltered. I was young and sensitive, and we got along like oil and water. Then, one day, I left him for good. It was a bridge I figured I’d burned.
Two jobs later came shocking news: Dr. George’s teenage son had been killed in a car wreck. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Working at the clinic with his parents, I watched Caleb grow up under their loving care. The tragedy was unimaginable, and I wondered how they would go forward. I sent a card.
A month or two later, I attended a continuing education lunch and found a seat on the upper level of a split-level dining room. I arrived alone, greeted the doctors I knew and waited for the program to begin. Suddenly, I noticed Dr. George sitting alone at a long table on the floor level. Everyone was chatting and laughing, but he sat quietly in the middle of it all.
My heart quickened as I asked myself if I should go down there. The idea was scary, and I hesitated a beat until something inside pushed me to my feet and propelled me over to the table, where I sat down next to Dr. George.
“Hi, Wolfie,” he said, smiling sadly.
“How are you doing?” I asked. He said something about doing OK or what someone says when walking through unimaginable grief.
“I saw that you’re starting a pit bull appreciation month in memory of Caleb. That’s really neat,” I ventured.
With shiny eyes, he said the subject was difficult to discuss.
I changed the subject and talked about horses. Anything. But I was there, and that was what counted. We ate lunch together and watched the program on heartworm disease.
What I took away that day is indescribable, but I would have missed something profound if I hadn’t taken the risk. Dr. George was a mentor, leader, critic and role model. I was a former employee, but I learned I also was an enduring friend and ally that day.
Don’t underestimate the value of workplace friendships. According to Gallup research, “Having a best friend at work positively affects a woman’s engagement and her social well-being.”