REVIEW: Drinking from the Trough by Mary E. Carlson, DVM
Mary Carlson didn’t start out to become a veterinarian, let alone the owner and caretaker of cats (many), dogs (two, both huskies), and horses (some with manners, some without) in Colorado. She was a suburban Chicago girl; all she knew of the American West came from the stories her uncle, who had settled in northern Colorado, told her during his annual visits. But thanks to him, she ended up moving to Fort Collins, Colorado for college—and after falling in love with a man she’d become friends with in her final year of college, when he was a student at the CSU School of Veterinary Medicine, she remained there.
Watching the work Earl did as a veterinarian inspired Mary to eventually leave her tenured teaching position and enter vet school, after which she opened her own, feline-exclusive clinic. Along the way, there were numerous pets, grueling years of vet school, a shattered hip, an enduring love, illness, and death—and the rediscovery that life, especially a life full of delightful animals, is worth living.
I requested this book because I love animals and I enjoy reading autobiographies. Seeing “behind the scenes” is so interesting and I can vicariously live a profession or job that I’ll never do in real life. I should have paid a bit more attention to the second paragraph as the book was a lot more than just life as a veterinarian.
Usually the books I’ve read about veterinarians start with a bit of the grueling education and segues into the first challenging days of practice. Something light and amusing to get the story going. After a while, the bittersweet and heartbreaking moments of the profession appear. This book turns that upside down in the first chapter. We get one of her first experiences as a vet and it’s tragic. For anyone contemplating this profession, it’s a reminder that it’s not all fluffy bunnies and happy owners. Death is always lurking as it is in any medical profession. Then it shifts to Carlson’s childhood, education as a teacher and what drew her out to Colorado from her hometown of Chicago.
Not having started her college education with vet school in mind, it takes years of part time effort to get all the needed classes out of the way before applying to Colorado State University. And then reapplying. Success at last and now the challenges of learning veterinary medicine begin. Some of this is funny – chasing pigs, some is hard – learning neural pathways, some is gross – pregnancy testing cows and determining why a heap of sheep died, while some is nerve wracking – equine surgery rotations.
But much of the book turns out to be Carlson’s life outside of being a vet. I was dumbfounded to see that vets can make errors in judgment about leashing their dogs – or not. And the actions of a breeder she and her husband buy two dogs from made me wince. With her insider view and passion for learning vet medicine, I can understand going to watch the necropsy of a deceased beloved pet even if I couldn’t stomach doing that myself. And frankly I’m amazed by how much work she and her husband could pack into one day.
There’s a lot I wasn’t really expecting though referring to my opening paragraph, I shouldn’t have been. Her own medical challenges and trying family relationships abound. I learned a little about CSU’s vet school and am in awe of anyone who can make it through. Carlson also managed to fit other work into her busy schedule maintaining her passion of educating (human) students in local schools. I do wish that there had been more about her daily vet experiences. My favorite chapter? The one from the POV of Best Cat – because I ♥ the kittehs. B-