And the second place winner is...
From the editor: In January we invited readers to submit their own versions of "Where Did I Go Wrong" in the second Mike Obenski Writing Contest. More than 200 entries poured in and among them Mike Obenski found four worthy of appearing with "the master." This month, Dr. Mark Peter's entry, "The Terminator," garners second prize. Next month the third prize winner will appear; in September, the honorable mention.
By Mark E. Peters, DVM, PC
It was in the summer of 1984, about a year after I'd opened my solo small animal practice, that it began.
On a fine June afternoon, my front door was wrenched violently open and in strode a fellow with a very bloody Pit Bull Terrier in his arms.
When I say "fellow," I want you to picture the bad guy in the movie, "Raising Arizona-a huge, long-haired, bearded, black-leather-clad, fingerless-glove-wearing, metal studded, um fellow. He was followed closely by five or six companions of more or less the same description.
"Hey, Doc," he growled. "Ah need yuh ta tek cara mah dawg!"
Unsettling as this situation was, especially having erupted so suddenly, I summoned my best calm and professional demeanor (which I'd been practicing a lot lately) and said, "Fine, sir, bring him into my examination room."
In truth, just then, I didn't feel like I had much choice. Into my exam room he came, bloody dog and all, crowded closely by his minions. My exam room isn't very big, and I soon felt that it had been invaded by a herd of curious, if somewhat menacing, buffalo.
'Gee, Doc, I dunno'
The dog in question, whose name I don't recall, had suffered a large number of lacerations, macerations and puncture wounds-the origins of which were baffling and mysterious to his presenters upon questioning.
In spite of his injuries, the dog was amazingly stable and unconcerned, though all of you who have worked with the breed know you practically have to shoot them to kill them.
In any event, I anesthetized the brute, dealt with his punctures and lacerations, placed a few drains, gave him a big shot of antibiotic and in a day or two, sent him home with his scary owner.
Hoping to discourage further visits, I charged what I thought was an inordinate amount. I think it was more than 300 bucks. He paid it happily, drawing a hairy paw from a pocket and peeling the cash off of a thick roll. He was wearing a sort of horrible gap-toothed grin and I construed this as gratitude. This was reinforced by a number of bone-jarring thumps on the back, administered upon his departure.
In the beginning
Before I go any further, I think a bit of background is in order.
I was born and raised in Council Bluffs, Iowa, but was new back in town after a seven-year stint in undergrad and veterinary school at Iowa State. It was widely rumored, I came to find out, that a certain part of town, roughly "down by the river," was home to lawless and immoral behavior of all kinds-gambling, drug-dealing, dog fighting, girls you wouldn't take home to meet your mother and who knows what else. Of all such, I was happily ignorant, content mostly with trying to avoid foreclosure on my small enterprise.
Back to our story
Getting back to the hairy cabal described earlier, it seems they took a shine to me and a pattern developed that continued throughout that summer. The "Terminator" or one of his henchmen would barge in about once a week with a chewed up, to one degree or another, dog. I even devised my own evaluation system grading them on a kind of triage basis, Mangle 1 through Mangle 5, the last being, obviously, the worst. We got used to it. I'd say to my vet techs, "OK girls, henchman in Exam 1, Mangle 2, you know the drill. Stat!"
To those readers, presumably colleagues, who are intently frowning at this moment, let me say that I had, from the outset, an ethical problem regarding this matter.
The dogs were obviously injured from fighting, but I was fresh out of school, unsure of which authority I should contact, and whether if I did so, it would violate doctor/client/patient confidentiality. I sought out an older practitioner in the community whom I'd always respected. I sat in his office and explained the situation, of which he was mostly already aware.
He looked wearily over the top of his glasses and said, "Hells a matter with you son? You'd best just stick to veterinary medicine; keep you in one piece."
So that's what I did. They brought 'em to the clinic in whatever grade of Mangle, I patched 'em up and they paid handsomely in cash.
Until the last one.
Late that summer, a #4 Mangle was brought in, not by the Terminator, but by one of his associates who seemed to be in a big hurry. I performed my usual ministrations, and the same henchman picked up the dog the following day. Oddly for them, he said he had no money just then and "The Boss" would be in to settle up the next day.
Well, the next day came and nobody showed up. There were rumors of a big police bust "down by the river" with lots of arrests and all those implicated headed to The Big House for a long state-funded vacation. After that, it got pretty quiet.
Three years later, in the summer of 1987, I went, late on a Saturday afternoon, to a small butcher shop in the neighborhood to purchase a steak to grill that evening. As I exited, the steak in hand, and started to get into my car, a very ominous looking car pulled in tightly behind me, blocking me in with no conceivable route of escape. It was a very grubby white Cadillac lowrider, about a '63, and it was absolutely bristling with big, hairy motorcycle guys. There were at least a dozen of them jammed in there, yelling and throwing stuff and chugging beers. In the rear view, I see the driver heave his considerable bulk from the seat, and after a cursory weave to get his bearings, make a beeline for me.
He was just huge, truly the stuff of nightmares, and as he bore down on me, I began to panic. The driver's window was open and for some reason, perhaps violent trembling on my part, it wouldn't roll up. Ham-sized fists grabbed the top of the driver's side door and this apparition stuck his whole head through the window. We were about an inch apart and his breath smelled like stale beer, tobacco and something dead.
In a flash, I recognized him! It was the Terminator! His bloodshot eyes got all narrow and as he poked me in the chest he growled, "Wal, if it ain't the Doc! I b'leve I got a bone to pick with you, Mister!"
At this point, I just wanted somebody to shoot me and get it over with, but then the Terminator extracted his head, took a step back and so help me, started to giggle!
"Hee, hee! Skeered ya didn't I, Doc! Truth is, haw, haw, I b'leve ah owe yuh some money, and you ain't even had the decency to send me a !!##%$! bill!"
'You OK, Doc'
Immensely pleased with himself, he pulled out the usual roll of cash, whipped off some hundred dollar bills and dropped them in my lap. He cuffed me then, playfully, on the head like a momma bear would her cub. As he lurched away, he stopped and turned. Waggling a hairy finger at me, he said, "By Gaw, Doc, you OK!"
Shortly, the lowrider pulled away in a kind of flurry, empty beer cans flying in every direction and all the boys giving me a vigorous thumbs up shouting, "Hell, yes, Doc! You all right!"
I haven't seen 'em since. Truth be known, I kinda miss 'em.
I was born and raised, happily in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I entered Iowa State University in the fall of 1975 and graduated from veterinary school there in 1982. I worked for a year in a multi-veterinarian practice in Lincoln, Neb., then opened my own practice in Council Bluffs in the summer of 1983. My wife, Diane, and I live on 57 acres in the Loess Hills, north of Council Bluffs with three dogs, lots of wildlife and a pet raccoon named Tinkerbelle. Don't ask.