From Chicken Soup for the Cat & Dog Lover's Soul

More Than Medicine

Hear our humble prayer, O God. . . . Make us,
ourselves to be true friends to the animals and so
the share the blessings of the merciful.

Albert Schweitzer

Tuesday was my day to make the housecalls in our multidoctor veterinary practice—not my favorite thing to do. I felt isolated working outside the safety of the clinic, yet having to make crucial medical decisions on my own. The cats always hid, and the dogs were always meaner at home. And the people? Well, you never knew what sort you’d run into. I was uncomfortable dealing with the people on their own home turf. As a new graduate depending on textbooks and medical notes to get me through, Tuesdays were definitely a pain in my calendar.

This wasn’t what I had envisioned when I’d decided to become a veterinarian. I’d had noble dreams of healing animals, which I felt at least semiqualified to do. But I was at a loss having to deal with people. Somehow my professors had failed to mention two very important facts: Every pet comes with an owner, and every case costs money. My boss, who always had one eye on the bottom line, constantly reminded me of the second.

Cheryl, our technician, had our schedule for the day and plotted our route. Handing me the clipboard, I could see she had saved the best for last, a sick dog in the not-so-affluent end of town.

Cheryl packed our supplies for the day, I packed my insecurities and a medical text, and we both piled into the house-call van for another day’s rounds. The first several calls went relatively smoothly with the exception of one junkyard dog with a torn toenail. I was surprised we left with all our fingers intact.

As we parked in front of our last stop for the day, I sighed.

The house was old and rundown, and the lawn hadn’t been mowed for a very long time. “Hope this dog isn’t too sick.” I said, “ It doesn’t look like these people can pay for veterinary services.”

We knocked on the door that was presently answered by Mrs. Johnson, an elderly lady in a flowered-print house-dress. “Oh, doctor!” she exclaimed. “I am so glad you’re finally here. Blackie just ain’t doin’ right. He can hardly pick his head up. He’s back in the kitchen. Come right this way.”

Mrs. Johnson led us through a remarkably neat and tidy home to the kitchen. It was a pleasant room with flowerpots in the window and fresh-baked bread on the counter. Blackie, a black furry Heinz 57, lay on a pile of blankets in the corner.

Cheryl got the necessary information from Mrs. Johnson as I took a look at Blackie. His gums were pale, his pulses were thready and his heart was rapidly beating. This was one sick little dog.

I explained to Mrs. Johnson that Blackie was very sick and would need to be hospitalized. “The hospital stay and the tests could be very expensive,” I told her. “And I can’t be sure that we’ll be able to save Blackie.”

“Doctor, I want you to try,” she replied. “I just know you will be able to help him. You see, I’m gonna be praying for Blackie—and for you too, doctor.”

Cheryl took a twenty-dollar deposit from Mrs. Johnson. It was all the old lady could spare, but she promised to come up with more in a few days and to pay the rest over time.

We carried Blackie out to the van with Mrs. Johnson calling “God love ya!” after us.

I shook my head wearily as I pulled away from the curb. Here I was with a hopeless case and an owner that couldn’t possibly pay the bill. I guess the clinic will just have to eat this one, I thought. I wasn’t looking forward to telling my boss. And Mrs. Johnson was a Bible-thumper to boot. I didn’t place much stock in faith healing. Either we could cure the dog or we couldn’t.

Back to the clinic we went and began treatment, running the necessary tests. The results were discouraging at best. I called Mrs. Johnson and told her that Blackie had a condition called autoimmune hemolytic anemia—his body was destroying its own blood cells.

At the time, dogs rarely survived this disease; I asked her as gently as I could if she wanted to put Blackie to sleep.

“No, doctor,” she said. “You keep him going overnight. Tomorrow I have prayer group and we’re gonna pray for you and Blackie. Just trust God on this one.”

The next day Blackie began showing signs of improvement.

His blood cell count was up a bit, and he now sat upright in his cage. I felt my skepticism slip a notch as I phoned Mrs. Johnson with the surprising news.

“Oh, I’d no doubt he’d be better today. You just keep on doing what you’re doing, doctor. Me and the girls will keep on a-praying.”

With each day that passed, Blackie showed more and more improvement. Humbled, I had no explanation for it. And Mrs. Johnson and the girls just kept on praying. After a week of hospitalization Blackie was back to his normal happy self, eating and wagging his tail.

I was shaken. Maybe there was something to this praying Mrs. Johnson and the girls had been doing. Many other dogs I’d seen had received the same treatment as Blackie and had died. Did God really care about this little black mutt?

We brought Blackie home to a jubilant Mrs. Johnson. “God bless you, doctor,” she said. “God bless you.”

I felt blessed. My experience with Mrs. Johnson and Blackie gave me the pieces I’d been missing—healing wasn’t just about textbooks and medications. If it were, Blackie would never have made it. Now I knew healing was a team effort that involved God, me, the animals and the people who loved them. It was about compassion and faith and serving others.

The next Tuesday I found myself humming as I helped Cheryl load the van for our house-call rounds. What would the day bring? I didn’t know, but I was ready to start on this week’s adventure. I knew I wouldn’t be alone.

Liz Gunkelman, D.V.M.

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