A prospective client asked me recently about my background and qualifications.
My first thought was “shall I write a book?” Being naturally verbose… is that part of my background, or is that a qualification? I fought the temptation to start down that line.
So qualifications must be those things that qualify me to be a vet. A BS degree from Clemson back in 76, with a major in Animal Science and minors in music and psychology. Masters work from 77 through 79 at Mississippi State. I taught seventh grade science for one miserable year. Then vet school from 79 through 83. I guess I graduated pretty high in the class, number one ranked in the senior comprehensive exam battery. Not number one in overall class rank… I played softball and volleyball and flag football and competed in horse events. And partied just hard enough to NOT have a perfect GPA. President’s List some semesters, Dean’s List other semesters. A couple of awards. Whatever.
Upon graduation I became a dairy cow vet. For three months. That was a lesson. I won’t do that again. Dirty work and really strange hours. Calves like to be born at 4am. I don’t know why.
Then I established a new hospital in Memphis, working with dogs, cats, ferrets and horses. From 83 through 92 Memphis was my home. My practice flourished. I had a beautiful farm, thoroughbred horses, a loverly home, a grand piano. A tractor! Life was good. But I overworked and got sick. I left Memphis and returned home to South Carolina.
A period of recovery, and then I returned to Mississippi, this time to the Gulf Coast. The “Mississippi Riviera.” I established a 24-hour emergency and critical care hospital in Biloxi. That practice flourished. It was the only clinic open at night from New Orleans eastward to Mobile. We were slammed. One Sunday we saw 52 emergency patients. The work load was incredible. I had a beautiful house on the beach, a successful hospital, an antique sailboat on Biloxi Bay, which I learned to sail alone. That’s whenever I wasn’t working 18 hours a day. But, again, I overworked and got sick. I left Biloxi, just before Hurricane Katrina wiped my house, boat and clinic into the sea. I came home again to South Carolina. Repeat burnout, repeat retreat.
Again, a period of recovery. Then I attempted to work for other veterinarians….for the first time in my career. That didn’t go well. My idea of being a good doctor is to serve. And I was too old at 55 to relearn right from wrong. Apparently corporate veterinary medicine is based on making money. Who knew? I did not fit into any of the practices where I worked. A round peg.
SO…. in September 2009, it occurred to me that my perfect style of practice was a simple concierge house call paradigm. I am slow and measured. I am very much into nutrition and preventive care. These subjects cannot be explored in a 20-minute appointment. So having an hour or more per patient fit my timing. I am also an observer. I want to see a kitty in his own environment, not in a cold exam room, frightened from a car ride . So an hour sitting on the floor is his den made double sense. AND, quite importantly for my soul, my ideal is to serve, not to get rich. I have been rich before… in Memphis and in Mississippi. BUT you can’t live a happy life if you spend all your energy making money. A slow and simple house call practice fit that philosophy perfectly.
After all, there are two ways to approach business and life itself. One is with a warm handshake that says “What can I do for you?” The other is with a hand offered palm up, saying “What can I do you for?” I figured out a simpler practice style and can now live a simpler life. In service. I visit three to five homes a day, in the afternoons and evenings and on weekends. When people can be home. I am often running late. I am in no hurry.
My little red van is equipped with the things I need to be a General Practitioner. I can do physical exams, vaccinations, comprehensive labwork via Antech, EKG’s, digital xrays, blood pressures, ocular pressures, subcutaneous fluids and other medications. I work with local clinics to refer critical or complex cases, anything I cannot handle at the home.
I now live in a simple little cabin on ancestral land near Chester. Where you can actually hear leaves falling from the trees, and the footsteps of deer, and three species of owl in the night. Where a short ice storm creates a crystal forest. Where coyotes echo the distant whistle of the train I knew well as a child. Where spring tree frogs and cicadas are totally deafening. A simple life. Where I belong.
I am still a music freak. I go to hear the Charlotte Symphony often. They rock. I collect vinyl records. I take olde tyme fiddle lessons from my cousin. I still play guitar, piano, organ, standup bass, and sing my heart out at top volume every single night. Ask my neighbors. And my poor cats. You are never too old to sing and to dance.
So my real-life qualifications are probably just age and perspective. It has been quite a ride. But… I finally decided my future lies…beyond the yellow brick road. And it’s a wonderful life.