D. E. Larsen, DVM
It was December seventh in nineteen-seventy-six, Pearl Harbor Day, when we finally moved into our clinic in the Safeway shopping center. This was a leased space built to my specifications and budget.
The practice had been growing steadily in our garage, but we were definitely outgrowing the garage. The new clinic gave us a new life. We suddenly had a full appointment book almost overnight.
We certainly needed the cash flow. But there were also some problems with it. We needed time to learn how to manage the workflow in the new clinic. And that lack of management of the workflow was challenging to get ahead of for us.
By nineteen-seventy-eight, we needed the help of a technician.
Nan was recently engaged to a graduate student at Oregon State University. She had been working at a clinic in Portland following her graduation. Now she wanted to be close to Corvallis.
“Nan, we know you are busy, but if you can stop by Sweet Home, we will do our interview over dinner,” I said into the phone as we were trying to get a few minutes to make our pitch to Nan.
Veterinary technicians were few and far between in the nineteen seventies. Sweet Home was considered a fringe community in the Willamette Valley. We needed her to see what the community had to offer. If we had to throw in dinner to get her to town, it was a small price to pay.
“Nan, we are prepared to make you an offer that will be difficult to refuse,” I said to Nan as we wound up our initial interview. “That includes an insurance package, sick leave, and vacation pay.”
“I have several offers to consider,” Nan said. “But I was not expecting all these benefits. I am going to have to do some figuring on just what they add up to dollar-wise. Can I give you an answer in a couple of days?”
Ultimately, Nan took our offer and came to work for us in nineteen seventy-eight. Being from Portland, Sweet Home proved to be an outdoor paradise for her and her fiancé. Nan moved into a small house in Lebanon, so she was close to work and not far from Corvallis.
In the clinic, Nan was able to shoulder tasks that made my time more efficient. Her personality made her an instant hit with clients, and she enjoyed my casual relationships with my clients.
“I don’t know how you do it,” Nan said. “The doctor in the last clinic I worked for wouldn’t come out front and talk with clients if his life depended on it.”
It didn’t take long for Nan and David to start enjoying the great outdoors offered by this area. They did long hikes, and then they got into river rafting.
“You need to talk to Nan about wearing a life jacket when she is on the river,” Sandy said to me one afternoon. “They floated the river the other day and didn’t even have life jackets in the raft.”
“What section did you float?” I asked Nan.
“We were with friends in their six-person rubber raft,” Nan said. “We drifted from the boat ramp at Pleasant Valley bridge down to Waterloo. There was no real rough water, but some fun rapids in spots. It turned out to be a lot longer than we thought. We were a little worried that it was going to get dark on us.”
“Well, if it gets dark and you’re still on the river, you need to pull over and get out,” I said. “This river can lull you to sleep at times, and then you hit a rock, and bam, everybody is in the water. That is why life jackets are a good idea. And the law says you have to have them in the boat, you don’t have to wear them, but everyone has to have one in the boat.”
It was a couple of weeks later when Nan quietly told me of another trip on the river. She now knew that Sandy’s fear of the water was nothing to mess with, so she waited until we were alone in the surgery room.
“We did another float on the river,” Nan said in a hushed tone.
“What float did you do?” I asked.
“We floated from the dam down to Pleasant Valley bridge,” Nan said. “It was so much fun and a whole lot shorter than the trip to Waterloo.”
“It has a couple of dangerous spots for the casual drifter,” I said. “I hope you listened to us about those life jackets.”
“Those are such a pain,” Nan said. “We talked about it, and I’m guessing that we are going to buy a couple, but I hate wearing them.”
“I floated the Rogue this summer with a bunch of friends,” I said. “I was in a little four-man raft. It was probably too small for that river. I ended up in the water twice. One time was just a nuisance flip in a little eddy, but the second time was in big water, and I could have easily drowned without a lifejacket.”
“I will tell Dave and see what he thinks,” Nan said.
“Just don’t talk to Sandy about it,” I said.
“I know, I learned my lesson on that last time,” Nan said with a smile on her face.
All good things must come to an end. Sometimes they come to an end because of other good things. Nan and Dave were married, and Nan moved to Corvallis. She got a job at a clinic over there, and they lived another year in Corvallis. Then Dave took a graduate school appointment at Washington State, and they moved to Pullman, Washington.
At Washington State, Nan worked in the Animal Research Lab, and Dave was in a Ph.D. program. They had been in Washington for several years when a note from Nan’s mother arrived at the clinic.
Fred Briggs was in the clinic when I opened the note.
“I remember Nan,” Fred said. “She worked here and then over in Corvallis or Albany somewhere. She was sure a nice tech to talk with.”
I opened the note.
“It is with such great sadness that I have to tell you about Nan’s tragic death. She always loved you two and your kids. And she so enjoyed her time in Sweet Home. Nan and Dave were rafting the Clearwater River in Idaho, and Nan fell from the raft in the Big Eddy Rapids. Her body has not yet been recovered.”
“I guess she never learned. I scolded her several times about not wearing a lifejacket,” I said.
“I grew up on the Clearwater,” Fred said. “During a flood, I watched a big Ponderosa pine tree, root wad and all, come into the Big Eddy Rapids. It stood up on end, and the whole thing went under. It was hundreds of yards downstream before it popped up again. My guess is that if Nan wasn’t in a lifejacket, she didn’t have much of a chance.”
“The note goes on to say that they haven’t recovered her body yet,” I said.
We were all in a bit of shock with the unexpected news. They finally recovered Nan’s body, about 2 weeks following the accident and some ten or twelve miles downstream. If any good came of Nan’s death, it served as a reminder to wear a lifejacket when on the water.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash