When high-tech high-tails it

How shoe scrapings and wet paper towels turn into lab samples.
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May 01, 2012

I entered the exam room just in time to see Mr. Pulver take off his left shoe and get out his pocketknife.

"Don't worry, Doc," he said. "I've got the situation under control." He scraped at the bottom of the shoe as he explained that he'd forgotten a stool sample and was going to run home until he remembered he'd stepped in a pile last week. As he spoke, a smattering of petrified poop dust formed on the exam room floor.

"This'll be good enough, won't it, Doc?" he asked.

I was forced to disappoint him. The proposed sample was too small, too old and too dry. He begged to differ.

"I can hardly believe what you're telling me," he said. "I saw on the Discovery Channel that they can get dinosaur DNA from million-year-old bones." (We don't get many dinosaurs in my office.)

I explained that shoes are not considered the most efficient method of poop sample transport and sent him home with a more suitable container.

CSI: Wherever

Mr. Pulver is one of many clients who suffer from television toxicity. Mr. and Mrs. Viewer provide another example. The last time they came to my office, they brought a urine sample, as I had requested.

It was a small piece of a damp paper towel. I told them the sample was worthless, but they knew better: "We saw on the show CSI: Miami that you can get a medical history, DNA profile and drug addiction analysis from a sample smaller than this."

Mrs. Viewer expressed her disappointment in my abilities and vowed to deal with a hospital with more modern equipment. Afterward, I called my friend and colleague Arnie to tell him about their visit.

"I can top that one, Mike," he said. "This morning I had a couple in here with a dog that had cut himself on a wire fence. There was an open wound about an inch long with dried blood on the fur around it. When I told them I was going to shave off the bloody fur by the wound, they argued with me."

"How can you be sure that's blood?" they asked. "On CSI: New York they always spray a stain with luminol to see if it's blood. It doesn't seem like you're being very scientific. What if that dried red stuff is something else?"

Arnie explained to them that red liquid coming from an open wound has a high probability of being blood. They decided to get a second opinion.

Arnie's practice is close to mine, so it looked like we were each about to pick up a new client.

However, unrealistic these two clients seem to be, their behavior is far surpassed by the Puffer family. A colleague from Florida called me recently to share the story of his encounter with the Puffers. They came into his office one morning to drop off their cat for surgery but refused to have pre-op tests taken.

"We knew you would want to take tests before surgery, Doctor," they said. "So we had our cat, Spitty, lick a cigarette butt this morning."

After it was pointed out to them that they weren't making any sense, they continued with a more detailed explanation.

"We saw an episode of CSI: Las Vegas where they got a criminal's DNA, home address, phone number, age and two fingerprints from a used cigarette butt. Spitty doesn't smoke, but we figured you could get lots of test results from this butt without making him give a blood sample. Besides, if you didn't take blood samples, wouldn't that save us a lot of money? We don't like to spend more than is necessary."

They were disappointed to hear that a test would be required. However, our Florida colleague did offer to store the cigarette butt in his hospital just in case it would be needed for future reference. Naturally, a substantial fee would be associated with such a service. They jumped at the opportunity.

Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Obenski, visit http://dvm360.com/obenski/