Recently, during a routine office call, I mentioned to Mr. and Mrs. Panic that their cat might have worms.
(Illustration: Ryan Ostrander)
The news hit them like a sledgehammer. They were horrified. Mr. Panic had to sit down for a few minutes while the initial
shock sank in. His wife's head tilted, her jaw opened, and she turned a sickly white. The look on her face reminded me of
one I had seen before. It was the same expression of the woman who was confronted by that man with the hockey mask and chain
saw. Apparently, the worm diagnosis was just as powerful as a Hollywood horror film.
This reaction came as no surprise to me, of course. We veterinarians are used to witnessing the occasional over-reaction on
the part of clients.
I have often wondered why Hollywood tries to scare people with chain saws, monsters and air disasters when they could simply
visit a veterinarian's office and focus on something like ... worms.
I have proposed other horror movies in this column before. My favorites were "The Flea" and "Hairball." I think maybe it's
time for another hair-raiser. We can just call it "Worms." Or, for those of you who prefer a catchier title, how about "Helminths
In our opening scene, we are treated to a picturesque view of some sewer workers sitting around an open manhole enjoying a
cold spaghetti lunch. All is peaceful — until one of the workers happens to look down to see a writhing and twisting wormlike
figure float by. He trembles with fear. By the time he calms down enough to speak of this horror, he focuses the flashlight
in the general vicinity of the sighting. The worm has vanished.
Soon enough, we are treated to other scenes of sporadic sightings from different locations throughout our country. Rumors
begin to spread and, before long, the United States finds itself gripped in the icy fingers of vermifobia.
The real shocker awaits, however. It will be a surprise close-up in which one of our tubular devils fills the silver screen.
Even though they are only 3 inches in length, the worms in our sewer system gross people out so much that our country falls
into a state of helpless ineptitude.
Politicians scramble for solutions. Local governments issue bulletins. In a nationally televised news conference, the President
asks each American to call his or her grandparents to see if they know of a good home remedy. Some, such as a dose of gunpowder
or garlic, are tried, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, the supermarket tabloids are reporting that the worms are actually from outer space and cannot be destroyed. Several
"experts" claim to communicate with them and reveal that they are superior life forms. The Department of Health urges all
10-year-olds to scour the Internet for possible solutions. Homeland Security mobilizes. Twitter freezes. The Secretary of
Interior gathers input from credible advice columnists.
And, after all of these attempts fail, Congress passes a special appropriations bill which allocates the expenditure of $30
to consult a veterinarian.
Using an Olympic-sized diving tank to run a giant stool sample from our nation's sewage system, our hero veterinarian diagnoses
the problem and prescribes the appropriate medication.
Every veterinarian in the United States is instructed to prescribe and dispense medication to all of its citizens. At noon,
everyone in the country simultaneously flushes the medication, despite strong objections from the EPA. (After all, the safety
and fate of the world hangs in the balance.) It works, and the tubular menace is purged from our infested sewer systems. People
rejoice. The economy becomes stable once again.
Best of all, veterinarians are not only seen as heroes, they all make a tidy profit on the deal.
I love a happy ending.
Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.