Old School New School: Three rounds with Codger

Old School New School: Three rounds with Codger

Dr. Greenskin drags her boss into a boxing match of wit and wisdom. But did she underestimate the crusty old veterinarian?
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Apr 20, 2017

Illustration by Ryan OstranderDr. Greenskin steers her worn aquamarine Ford Taurus into the hospital’s gravel parking lot on a gorgeous spring morning and lowers the volume on her Harry Potter audiobook before coming to a stop next to Dr. Codger’s shiny diesel pickup. “The boss is always at the office before I arrive,” she mutters while hand-cranking her window shut. “Does he live here? Do I really want to be a practice owner if it means waking up with the chickens every day?” Greenskin yawns at the thought.

Today is Dr. Codger’s surgery day, so the young associate begins bracing herself for the endless barrage of rushed appointments. Yet there’s an upside to having the boss captive in the operating room or treatment area: She knows right where to find him if a question arises.

With seemingly straightforward morning slots, Greenskin decides to have a bit of fun taking swipes at the crusty Codger. By this time she knows her opponent pretty well and cautions herself not to underestimate the guy. He’s been through anything and everything, and there’s a reason he’s still thriving in his job after so many decades. And yet …

DING! DING! The two docs enter the ring

Greenskin pokes her head into the treatment area. Codger is about halfway through docking the tails and removing the dewclaws from a substantial Labrador litter when she interrupts: “So tell me again how much student debt you had when you finished school?”

Codger looks pensive as his assistant picks up the next squealing pup. “We couldn’t really get a lot of student loans back then,” he answers. “I had been saving all of my college job money, and my parents let me borrow a few thousand dollars to fill in the gaps. At about $2,000 a semester, vet school wasn’t cheap, but I got through it.”

Dr. Greenskin feigns sympathy. “That must’ve been really rough, sir!” she laments. “A friend of mine just graduated from vet school with $300,000 of student loan debt. Her out-of-state tuition alone was $19,000 a semester.”

Codger coughs and drops a hemostat as Greenskin sprints off to her next exam.

DING DING! Greenskin: 1, Codger: 0

For the next jab, the young associate accosts Codger in the OR, where he’s trimming up a piece of exposed x-ray film (he’s held onto two metric tons of the stuff for this very purpose) to finish off his aural hematoma repair.

Greenskin, full of fire and starting to regret the third espresso shot she requested in her morning latte, delivers her blow: “So, Doc, I just saw Sammy the Pomeranian. I noticed you’ve had him on Lasix and enalapril for the past five years with no change to the murmur. He’s also still coughing. We got some radiographs, and it looks like tracheal collapse. His mom was happy to stop the meds.” She pauses for effect. “Don’t worry—I smoothed things over by telling her you were just doing your best.”

Though most of Codger’s face is hidden by a surgery mask, Greenskin takes delight in watching his brow wrinkle in that familiar way and in hearing his muffled grunt. She dashes off, leaving the old doctor to trim another foot of Braunamid off the reel. Her white coat trails behind her, and she imagines she must look like a veterinary superhero.

DING! DING! Greenskin: 2, Codger: 0

At the beginning of round three, Greenskin feels she has the old fella right where she wants him. With her opponent on the ropes, she enters the dental area to deliver the coup de grace.

Mallet and chisel in hand, Codger’s working on another pesky carnassial extraction. Greenskin seizes the rare opportunity for real-time, in-the-trenches, no-holds-barred critique. She starts, “So remember the high-speed drill we were—” but the young associate is interrupted by Codger’s booming voice.

“Dr. Greenskin! I’m so glad you’re here!” Doc Codger exclaims, ready to unleash what he’s been holding back all morning. “I actually got a bunch of emergency calls last night, and guess what? Three were cases you saw in the last 48 hours! In fact, the evening was so busy I decided to go ahead and stay here overnight. Good thing I installed that comfy couch and shower back in the '60s, eh?” He pauses his work just long enough to look up and see that the smug smile has disappeared from the associate’s face.

“Anyway,” he continues, shaking his head, “that poor standard poodle—the postop mass removal? Well, I really wish you would’ve suggested an e-collar even though you bandaged the leg. Having to make that poor dog vomit so soon after your surgery was just heartbreaking, but the clients were relieved the bandage came up in one piece!” Greenskin meagerly starts to open her mouth, but Codger holds up his hand to silence her. “No need to fear,” he assures her. “The bandage I put on will stay on.”  

Codger is on a roll now. “Oh, and that old golden retriever—the one that was depressed? You started him on carprofen yesterday afternoon, but can you believe he had a hemoabdomen? I was able to get him stabilized and his owners decided to take him to the specialty clinic. You may want to check in with them as well as with the owners!”

A feeling of nausea creeps over Greenskin. That golden is one of her favorite patients. She starts to explain but Codger talks right over her mumbles. “There are some others, but I’ll just let you sift through the ER stack up front. I would’ve called you but I know "Game of Thrones" was on last night, so I didn’t want to bother you!” The low jab delivers its desired effect, and the old fighter goes in for the final blow.

“It’s been a long 36 hours for me, so I told my family you’d be happy to cover emergency call for the rest of the week. I gave you my afternoon appointments today as well—just double-booked you, in fact,” he chuckles. “But I know you can handle it. I’ll be heading home as soon as this patient recovers.” Greenskin exits the ring, defeated.

DING! DING! Codger wins with a knockout!    

Was Dr. Codger a bit too hard on the young doc? Perhaps, but Greenskin did start the fight, after all, and she’ll be back in the ring soon enough. Next time, she’ll be even stronger and may even have enough vigor to go a full 12 rounds!

Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in general practice in California’s Sacramento Valley. He is an avid kiteboarder.