The Patient Who Wouldn't Get Naked

By Bill Hall

How would you like to be a doctor to patients who won't take off their clothes?

And I don't mean at parties. I mean in the doctor's office.

I learned the hard way the other night that veterinarians have that problem all the time.

Hardly any of their patients will take their clothes off and let them see the bruises.

Lyle, one of our young cats, came through the door, yowling with pain. One front leg was swollen. He had a cut under his chin. He was unsteady. And he was drenched with rain. He had obviously lain out in the weather unconscious for a time before rousing and staggering inside.

We rushed him to the cat doctor. (Oddly enough, the cat doctor is also the dog doctor, which is a little like working for the Republicans and the Democrats at the same time.)

Normally, when you rush yourself or a kid to the doctor, the doctor starts grilling you, asking where it hurts. A vet can't really do that. Well, he can do it. But it won't do him any good. You ask a cat where it hurts and it will look at you with that same blank stare it does when you ask it the way to San Jose. Cats, sick or well, aren't great communicators.

That doesn't mean a vet and an owner can't learn a few things from the cat, providing they are exceedingly clever, as the vet and I are. For instance, Lyle's eyes were clear. Indeed, his eyes were bugging out of his head, darting here and there as the vet approached with the familiar cat thermometer. Lyle knows from experience that it is not the kind of thermometer that a doctor sticks under your tongue. So a listless Lyle in the presence of a rectal thermometer would have been an ugly sign. But the clear eyes gave us some hope that he had not been crumpled in ways that had lethally altered his innards.

The vet could also learn something from Lyle by what the cat didn't say. The vet felt and poked him all over. And there was only one place that leg where the probing resulted in attempts by Lyle to rip the vet's lungs out. That narrowed it down.

And of course, there is the trusty X-ray. The picture of Lyle's leg revealed that the bone was unbroken. It did not reveal why the leg was so swollen. And he wouldn't take his pants off. So we don't know how thoroughly bruised or punctured or mashed the leg was, let alone how it got that way.

You could tell in a minute with a person simply by saying, "Take your pants off." You say that to a person and he will quickly shed his store-bought fur. People are quick to take their pants off for a doctor and for most other professionals, especially the rich ones.

But Lyle kept his skivvies on all the way through the exam. So a person can only surmise what was wrong. The leg looked flat, so I think it was run over by a wheel or a foot or a bulldog, somehow without breaking the bone.

For good measure, Lyle acted giddy for several days and he had that wound under his chin. That and being soaked in the rain tells us he was not only knocked unconcious but probably had a concussion. My wife had a concussion in an auto accident a few years ago and was giddy for days, though she is a college professor and it is sometimes hard to tell when people in that line of work are giddy and when they are not.

We assume Lyle had a knot on his noggin somewhere, but we couldn't tell for sure because he has always had a lumpy head. And we couldn't find any bruise because he wouldn't take his hat off either.

It makes a person realize once again how much easier it is to be a doctor to humans who are quick to take off anything you ask, if you offer to cure them or merely promise to respect them in the morning.

Meanwhile, Lyle is back on his feet, no longer giddy and once again chasing his brother around the house.

I have asked them both repeatedly what happened. But they remain too stupid to answer. They just stare at me each morning as I crawl out of bed, wondering why anyone would be fool enough to take off his fur for the night.



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