Adam’s Rib

So our school held a softball banquet for the team. Parents were asked to provide potluck. We brought ribs. Which somehow reminded a physician friend of her med-school days and the particular anatomy class when one of her classmates suddenly realized that both male and female human beings had the same number of rib bones. Every time. He counted. He was so distraught that he had to leave the classroom. How to account for Adam’s rib?

That story put me in fine mood to remember another story which I read in a sort of can-you-believe–this column written by veterinarians for other veterinarians.

An elderly client was bereft when her cat went missing. After several months passed, she showed up at her vet’s office grinning from ear to ear, delighted to have recovered “Tiger.” The veterinarian exhibited great delicacy and restraint, gently pointing out that this couldn’t be her long lost Tiger, because her cat had been an orange tabby and this one was a black tabby. Her Tiger was an old cat and this cat was much younger, which he could tell by looking at the cat’s teeth. The woman countered his remarks with comments of being in the sun and the dental benefits of hunting mice for a living. Triumphantly, the veterinarian pointed out that this clearly wasn’t Tiger, because Tiger had been neutered and this one was an intact tomcat! His client nodded back at him, flashing a brilliant smile as she indulgently explained what had happened. Tiger had always liked to sleep on top of the television set. (Note: This story is way before “flat screen” TV’s. I suspect it had “tubes” in it and bunny ear antennae for reception, not digital mother boards. The tops of these TVs were broad and flat and warmed up nicely after a little use. Perfect for napping cats.) There was a Christian evangelist she especially enjoyed watching. She suspected that Tiger had never really liked having that neuter surgery done, and she believed his prayers were answered as he lay on top of her TV, listening to the Word of God. So, she shrugged happily, they just regrew.

Like the client who brought their mother dog into me a couple of weeks after a C-section delivery of her puppies. Her pups were doing well and, they assured me, they had been very happy with my services and skillful surgery. But, and here they paused, glancing at each other, but, Doc, you missed a puppy. I was extremely puzzled myself. This was impossible, as after delivering the puppies I had proceeded to perform an ovariohysterectomy, or spay, so had not left any reproductive tissue behind. They plopped their dog on the table and turned her onto her side, revealing a large, engorged and rather angry breast that was inflamed with infection, called mastitis. In size and shape it did look about the size of one of her newborn puppies. They believed that this “puppy” had slipped through the belly button into her breast! Only their sincerity and kindness saved my composure, as I explained what was happening and how glad I was to be able to treat the mastitis, an infection that can quickly turn ugly and is very painful.

I care for pets belonging to people from all walks of life. They come from a variety of faiths. It is humbling to be allowed to be a partner in the caregiving for their beloved pets. I do not presume to explain the myriad mysteries found in daily life. There is an art and a science to medicine. Scientifically, I know that once neutered, a cat stays neutered. I know that wasn’t the original Tiger. But I do believe in miracles. Why not?

Christine McFadden, DVM

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