In my forty years as a veterinarian, there were some things I envied among those of my more esteemed “real doctor” colleagues, not the least of which was their patients could talk and tell them where it hurt. That is, except for pediatricians, who I believe deserve a lot of kudos for a profession paralleling that of veterinarians, save for their much higher income. Another thing I envied, particularly among “real doctor surgeons,” was they didn’t have to contend with fleas in their surgical fields. At least I hope they didn’t.

But back to treating patients who can’t talk. More than once I wished for the ability of Dr. Dolittle to “talk to the animals.” I thought I should have been endowed with this skill as my maiden name was Little, which is close enough to Doolittle. It is always frustrating to be presented with an animal in which the complaint is “he’s not doing right.” We even have an acronym for this in veterinary medicine—ADR, which stands for “ain’t doin’ right.” Another common presentation was “he’s not himself.” I always had to stifle the urge to ask, “Well, if he’s not himself, who is he?” Then, of course, we were expected to use our mystical powers to ferret out the cause of the problem without aid of being able to question the patient, fix the problem in a fifteen-minute appointment time slot, and do so at a reasonable fee, because, after all, it’s only a dog (cat, bird, rabbit, or what-have-you.) And trim the nails. Plus, all veterinarians love animals and are independently wealthy, only practicing medicine as a hobby.

Still, there were so many times I longed to get into the head of the animal. What were they thinking? Why couldn’t they just cooperate so we could get the blood sample, radiograph, ultrasound, etc., the first time without bodily injury and wailing and gnashing of teeth? (Usually mine.) Why was it that trimming toenails often evoked a response similar to what one might expect with having the whole foot amputated without anesthesia? I just wished I could communicate and speak their language.

There were, however, a few occasions in which I knew exactly what my patients were thinking because they told me. These patients were talking birds.

Once, when I first saw my patient, I said, “Hello, pretty bird.” It responded with an obscenity that made my toes curl, leaving no doubt as to what he wanted me to do. Another time, as I walked into the exam room, the bird was sitting on the table outside his cage. When he saw me, he said, “I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay,” and ran back into his cage, pulling the door closed behind him. One bird called me a “heifer.” Once, while at Alaqua Refuge, a macaw ran up and down his overhead perch admonishing me to “Stop it!”  I’ve even had birds bite me and then laugh. But the funniest one of all was a bird I was restraining for a nail trim. He screamed, “Help! Murder! Police!” I could only imagine what went on in his house.

On further reflection, it is probably best I didn’t know what my patients were thinking. That way, I can fool myself into thinking they actually liked me.