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Indecent Exposure in Vet Medicine: Human Flesh Is Not Our Thing

Posted Mar 17 2010 1:35pm
I’ll bet you didn’t know this, but veterinarians are in a unique position to see things they wish they hadn’t. I’m not referring to the obligatory blood, guts, and gore ― that’s acceptable, and usually fascinating, as a matter of fact. I’m referring to the unnecessary exposure to human flesh that occasionally mars a vet’s idealistic vision of his or her clients.

 
 
Yes, it’s true. Occasionally they disrobe.
 
Why would this be a subject for discussion among vets? Because for some reason our clients get so comfy around us that they often confuse us for their own physicians. That’s the only explanation I can come up with right now, so it’ll have to do.
 
You say you’d like some examples? I've got a mess of them  
Dermatological maladies are by far the most common: "Is this ringworm? Mange? Lice?" (Please pull your shirt back down, Mrs. X!)
 
The occasional scar or healing surgical incision is fair game as well: "Can you believe what this plastic surgeon did? If you were me, would you sue him?" (I’m sure I don’t know anything about plastic surgery yet, but it suits you. Really.)
 
There’s the dental display: "I had this dental abscess that turned out to be the result of a little improperly filled tooth. Would you look at that?" (No thanks. In my humble opinion, human dentistry has to be the medical profession with the highest yuck factor.)
 
Not to mention the podiatric exposition: "When I had my corns removed…" (OK, I've changed my mind. Podiatry beats dentistry on the grossometer.)
 
And by all means, let’s not forget the amputation sites with their attendant prosthetic appliance demonstrations. I have one client who loves to recount the story of his near fatal limb cancer, subsequent legal battle, and state-of-the-art prosthesis with nerve-powered mobility. He never fails to update me on the progress of his visually demonstrated degree of daily swelling. Thoroughly interesting but somehow equally icky.
 
Everyone wants to show you his or her gout, goiter, mass, and mole: "Doctor, does this look like melanoma?" (For the love of God please see your physician!)
 
I guess we’re just lucky. People place an astounding amount of trust in our medical opinions. And they’d be right to assume we’d voice one were they non-human. Once that species line has been crossed, it’s indisputably unethical to involve ourselves in their medical care at any level. Can you imagine the physician’s eyes roll when the patient says, "But my vet thinks…" Incidentally, that’s how our eyes roll when we hear, "I’m a physician, so I think…"
 
There’s also the possibility that people who love animals are just a little more carefree than others. Or perhaps when faced with a pet’s challenges, they lose their inhibitions.
 
Consider the following anecdote: A woman is showering in her home when she hears her beloved chow-chow yelp. Peering out the bathroom window she catches a glimpse of Fluffy caught in the fence. With no thought to her own person she rushes out of her home to find her (male) neighbor helping to free the distressed dog. It’s only when her pet is finally released does she turn her attention to her complete butt-nakedness, as it were. She’s wearing no towel, just a bright red, full-body blush. She told me this hysterical story as I sutured up Fluffy's wounds.
 
Lest you think young(ish) female vets have all the luck, or that my experiences are unique, let me quickly disabuse you of this notion. My in-hospital colleagues (both males mid-way through their sixties) have seen more than their share in recent years.
 
One woman actually removed her pants (along with her undergarments) in one fell swoop to reveal a nasty reddened lesion at her bikini line. Which raises the metaphysical question: Can one have a bikini line when one weighs over 200 pounds?
 
Sorry. I’d like to try to remain soberly clinical, but the circumstances preclude professional sobriety. It’s just too darn funny sometimes. Like last week’s tank-top strap snap during a waiting room discussion. One well-endowed headlight exposure was enough to send the staff into ill-concealed titters (especially after a search for safety pins came up short and this vet had to use suture material to surgically anastomose both ends of the flimsy garment). The woman was unperturbed. "Thank goodness it happened in a doctor’s office!" she said. "Otherwise, I might feel embarrassed." Somehow I find that hard to believe.
 
 
Dr. Patty Khuly
 
 
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