My receptionist was choking, but there was no need for the Heimlich maneuver.
She was barely able to stop laughing long enough to hand me the phone and blurt out, "You are going to love this one, Doc."
It turned out to be Mrs. Featherbrain. (Yes, she was a real loon.)
"Doctor, I hope you can help me," she began. "Our pet duck, Mr. Waddles, is very sick. I think he needs a necropsy. Can you
do one today before he gets any worse?"
I tried to explain that we usually reserve that treatment for our patients who already bought the ranch. (It is a cardinal
"No, Doctor. That's not what our bird book says. According to the book, when a flock of chickens is sick, you can get a good
diagnosis by performing a necropsy on several of the birds. What is that, some kind of shot or something?"
I told her that a necropsy is the same as an autopsy, but she didn't understand. (She was not too swift.) An hour later, Mr.
Waddles was in my office for a pre-mortem examination. He had some mild respiratory congestion that I knew I could clear up
easily. (It was not his swan song. In fact, it turned out to be a myna problem.)
Mr. Featherbrain had a few questions for me. (He had come along on a lark.) "I don't understand why we couldn't get that necropsy
thing, Doc. The book said it's the best way to get an accurate diagnosis." (He found my explanation hard to swallow.)
Eventually, I explained that ducks are not chickens and that something in the DNA called for a different approach.
"He'll be fine," I told them. "You toucan give him his medicine."
That happened more than 30 years ago, and I haven't treated a bird since. The incident came to mind because I recently heard
from a Florida colleague who specializes in avian medicine. He wanted to tell me about his recent experience involving the
autopsy of a goose. According to the owners, "Honkey was lying in the yard with some feathers scattered around, and we heard
another animal run off into the woods. We want an autopsy done so we can know exactly what happened."
Now, to me, this sounded like an ordinary case of Vulpus Munchus. However, our Florida colleague is more methodical than I
am, and offered to do the post-mortem immediately.
"We don't want you to do it, Doc," they explained. "We want to try it ourselves. Can't you just give us instructions over
the telephone? We already tried the Internet, but we couldn't find one Web site that gives autopsy instructions for a goose."
Naturally, he turned them down. Two days later, they called again, proudly announcing that the autopsy was a success. "We
called a couple of you vets, and nobody would give us autopsy instructions. So, today we did it ourselves anyway. We found
out what was wrong as soon as we started. When we cut into him, we saw the most amazing thing. He didn't bleed!" Isn't that
unusual?" (Not as unusual as it would be if a 3-day-old corpse did bleed.)
I mention these two autopsy incidents because they serve to reinforce my negative attitude toward working with birds and bird
people. I will therefore continue to see furry patients exclusively except for that once-a-year occasion when I operate on
a bird right before the Thanksgiving Day football game.
Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.