Dinner with Roy

D. E. Larsen, DVM

We moved to Sweet Home in June of 1976. Or at least Sandy and the kids moved in June, I still had some contract obligations in Enumclaw Washington so I sort of came and went for a few weeks.  The clinic was scheduled to be finished in August but there was one delay after the other and it was obvious that it was going to be months after August before it was completed.

When I finally moved to Sweet Home it was obvious that we were going to have to have a plan B while we waited for the clinic to be completed. Clinic equipment was arriving daily and the small apartment we had rented was bursting at the seams. We had finally put earnest money down on a house, so there was light at the end of the tunnel.

I had enough equipment to start a house call practice. The phone had been ringing with the growing community awareness that we had moved to town. I was not swamped, but I was generating some income so we were not going to starve just yet.

In late July I took the time to visit all the other veterinarians in the county. Most were surprised that I chose to start a practice in Sweet Home. They were cordial but not extremely excited.  There is an old saying in the profession, “The difference between a colleague and a competitor is 50 miles.” That was probably reflected in their responses.

Dr. Craig was completely different.  He had started a practice on Golden Valley Road out of Lebanon just the year before.  He had moved from Nebraska. He was a large man, very friendly and with a firm handshake.  Roy was a generation older than I, both in age and in education.  The profession was beginning to change and Roy and I reflected the fulcrum in that change. Roy was a WWII veteran and had been older when he graduated from vet school. My age and military experience gave us some common ground outside of the profession.

We discussed my situation and Roy expressed concern. He was going on vacation for 2 weeks and would not be around to lend a hand if I needed help.

“You are going to need a clinic to fall back on sooner or later,” he said with genuine concern. 

“House calls are okay for routine stuff but sooner or later you are going to need a clinic. Here, you take a key to this place. Use it like it is yours if you need it and we will see you when we get back.”

Roy hands me a key to his clinic after a half an hour of conversation. He really didn’t know me from Adam. Try to find a man today who would do something like that for a colleague. I don’t think Roy had heard the old saying or at least it didn’t mean anything to him.  I tried to decline but he would have none of it. This was the way it was and there was no further discussion.

Roy, of course, was right. There did come a time in those weeks when I needed to use his clinic. A small dog with a ruptured bladder after being hit by a car  needed abdominal surgery. Most people can relate to cooking in someone else’s kitchen where you don’t know where anything is at.  You ought to try doing surgery in someone else’s surgery suite sometime.  But I got through it, and I was forever in Roy’s debt in my view of the world.

After they got home Sandy and I took Roy and Jenny to dinner at the Hereford Steer in Albany.  In those years, the Hereford Steer was about as up scale as one could get in Albany. It was a small payment for their generosity and allowed us to build on a new friendship.

Sandy and Jenny got along well. Roy was much more of a talker that I but dinner was just beginning when the story telling started. I had not been in the profession nearly as long as Roy, but I was in a busy dairy practice in Enumclaw so I had my share of stories also. People often complain about how veterinarians can talk shop and tell stories over dinner but for us it is just the way it is. Veterinary medicine in the 1970’s was a life style as much as it was a career. Solo practice was the normal. That meant many long hours of work in professional isolation with few speciality people to send difficult cases.  If it was going to get done, it would be done by my hands. Family plans were often dashed due to a last minute phone call, and the phone often started the day as early as 3:00 AM.

Roy’s voice was loud in normal conversation, and after a couple of drinks I would guess it probably got really loud. With dinner over we continued the story telling and relaxed over a little Kahlua on the rocks. The evening wore on. We told stories of difficult deliveries, gaping wounds, abdominal surgeries, maggots and pus.

It was in the middle of one of Roy’s stories, he was describing how he was laying in the mud with his arm buried in the vagina of this heifer, trying to get some traction with his toes so he could reach just a little deeper, when I looked around and realized that we were alone in the middle of the large restaurant. The other folks and their tables had been moved as far away from us as possible. Some of the people were trying to ignore our discussion, and some where watching with horrified expressions.

It had been a great evening in our view. New friends and a colleague who I knew I could always depend on.  My only concern was how was I going to be able to repay this man.  The waitress, on the other hand, was very prompt when I raised a finger for the check.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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