One Veterinarian’s Musings… Return to Wisconsin, coming home

A couple of weeks ago, as I was driving away from Patty’s Hair Affair, I noticed John Faucher’s camouflaged truck. I did a U-turn. I stopped, hopped out of my truck and enjoyed a long chat with John. It was in a state of gratitude and wonderment that I sat down here at my computer north of Readfield—grateful that John has granted me this opportunity to write a column and wondering “What was I thinking?!”

I left Wisconsin in 1972. Two years ago, in the humble Republic (MI) United Methodist Church I married my beloved, Nancy Schanke (Nancy and I graduated from Neenah High School together in 1972).  I moved from a cabin in the woods in the UP to this cabin in the woods that Nancy built in 1980, not far from her Uecke—later Americanized to Eake—family homestead.

It has been said, “… the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I explored for over 3 decades. I am back where I started. I hereby state with confidence: what we have here in Waupaca County, what we have here in Wisconsin is extraordinarily.

Why do I have a feeling of gratitude (and excitement) about writing this column in the County Post East? The data is in; animals, our relationship with animals, make us better more complete people. I have followed an unusual career path. I have spent all my years as a veterinarian working in universities in biotechnology. For example, I was the Chief of Comparative Medicine at the National Institute on Aging for a time. Like someone who has returned to their home country after having been paid to travel to distant and exotic lands, I feel an obligation to, at once, report back to you from what this far off land is like and to serve as a translator for you—to attempt to make understandable exciting discoveries about animals.

Why do I have a feeling of self-doubting wonderment? When I was a professor of veterinary pathology at Colorado State University (CSU), I had a set method to recruit veterinary students to participate in a Fort Collins citywide athletic competition that was a fundraiser for a Big Brother’s/Big Sister’s type mentorship program. Addressing 130 weary freshmen gonna-be-veterinarians—veterinary school is not easy, not fun—from the podium, I would say:

“No one told you. Veterinary Medicine is a cult. We use time-proven methods of cult formation; sleep deprivation, alienation from society, and learning a new language.”

The antidote I offered the students? “Tryout for the ‘CSU Animal(doc)s’.” I knew from serving on the admission committee that many of our students were talented athletes. I also knew that each future veterinarian in that lecture hall was used to being in the top 1% to 3% of his or her pre-veterinary classmates. It was dawning on them: “I’m likely going spend the next four years in the bottom 99% to 97% of my class.” My recruitment method worked for the most part. Certain students relaxed. Some stopped being single-minded and tried to become a member of the select team of athletic CSU Animals.

I ask again; “Why do I have a feeling of self-doubting wonderment?” After 34 years of speaking med-speak while living within the foreign country that is the Academy (academia or the National Institutes of Health) I must confess; I often get blank looks when I stop going on and on, when I’m certain I’ve just done a good job explaining something new and exciting that I’ve learned. I now realize I often start my gabby mini-lecture on second, or worse, third base. I forget just how long it has taken me to understand the complexities of what goes on under the hood of any given animal. I forget that I have had 4 years of pre-veterinary study, 4 years of veterinary school, 4 years attaining a PhD, followed by, now, 27 years of using specialized big words in an environment that is in many ways alienated from the real world.

My traveling is over. I have dropped anchor. My plan is to live out my life here north of Readfield, here in Waupaca County, here—I can say this with authority after all my exploring—in the great state of Wisconsin!

I look forward to this opportunity to wonder aloud about animals, to taking time each week to write “One Veterinarian’s Musings” as an antidote to the stress of starting a new small business—“One Medicine”, my one-man shelter medicine, comparative medicine, comparative pathology, pet hospice, consulting service—and as an experiment. “How many blank looks will I get as I go about town?”

Published in the Waupaca County Post East newspaper,  4/21/11.





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