I have been a veterinarian since 1969. Within a week of graduating from vet school I was working in a general practice in a rural area of New Hampshire. Cell phones did not exist. Most vets had a wired- in Motorola radio mounted under the dashboard to talk with their office. An antenna with a spring base was mounted on a front fender. The base unit in the office was the size of a big bread box, and there was a 20 foot antenna supported by cables on the office roof. The office unit could communicate with its vets on the road, and vice versa, but not with anyone else. Each truck and the office had its own assigned call letters. There were FCC rules on proper procedure such as how to sign in and out. A log was supposed to be kept on all conversations. That rule was mostly ignored. Talk was supposed to be limited to business with no socializing. We didn’t pay too much attention to that rule either. In my vehicle I would hear a burst of static, and then over my speaker:
“KCC323 this is KCB 434, come in please.” KCC323. That was me. I reached down, picked up the microphone attached to the unit by a curly wire, pushed the switch and held it down.
“KCB434 this is KCC323 , come in.” Release mic switch. More static, and then: “Elmer Loring has a lame horse over in Monroe, can you get there?”
Hit mic switch and hold it down. “OK. Tell him I’ll be there late this afternoon. KCC 323 over and out.” Release mic switch.
Reception was spotty, and when you got a call you often had to drive a few miles to find a high hilltop with minimal trees to call the office back. Transmission followed the rule of line of sight. If there were hills between you and the base station, you could only get static. There was a knob on the unit called the squelch, and if you turned it one way or the other, you could sometimes make the transmission clearer. Talking to a client directly meant driving to the next gas station with a pay phone in the lot. Today they are a rare sight, but back then there was at least one phone booth in every small town. I would pull up and if I saw two or three teenagers crowded into the booth with all ears collected around the phone, I drove on, knowing this was going to be a long wait. I am still amazed by how easy it is to talk directly to a client while in my truck. The only down side I can see is the huge number of accidents attributed to their use. After seeing so many people pay more attention to their phones than the road, I decided to never talk or text when driving.
Texting is a remarkable spin off of cell phones. It was teen age clients texting me, that forced me to learn how to do it. Of course, many prefer texting to talking. I think that misunderstandings are more apt to happen in texting, just like face to face conversations are probably better than phone ones. A few years ago I was in a horse barn with an owner and two teenage girls. As I was talking to my client, I noticed that both of the girls were listening to our conversation but at the same time were each texting. I thought they might be texting each other and saying something they didn’t want us adults in to hear, but no, they explained that they were texting two different people in two different locations. I still think that’s a little nutty.
Having cell phones doesn’t mean that communication is always what you would like it to be. Here’s an example: Erin is driving the truck to our next call. My cell phone rings, and I pull it out of my pocket.
“This is Carol Green. My old gelding is sick. Can you stop by?”
“We could probably get there in about an hour. Is he running a fever?”
“I don’t know, I can’t find my thermometer.”
“Are there any gut sounds, and is he restless like he might have colic?”
“Oh, I didn’t think to listen, and I’m not sure he’s restless, but he just doesn’t seem normal…”
You probably can guess the rest of the questions and their non-answers. I wonder what amazing devices we will be communicating with in 5 years, but I’ll bet some conversations won’t get any better.
About 8 years ago I saw my first cell phone with a built in camera. It was a Nokia, and I said, “this will never catch on.” Now I find it a great help in practice and would never consider getting a cell if it couldn’t take a picture or a video. Veterinarians often get calls about a horse with some lacerated body part. When I hear the question: “Do you need to come out and suture it? “, my automatic response is always, “grab your cell phone and send me some pictures.” With these images we can usually tell whether a horse needs to be sewn up. Some wounds do, and some don’t. It’s awesome that we can take a very detailed picture and send it air to someone else miles away, all in less than a minute.
Two weeks ago I was asked to look at a horse with a perplexing lameness. We took digital X-rays, and noticed an unusual area in the coffin bone that made me wonder if it was the problem. We sent the X-rays by phone to a referral hospital for some advice. What a cool thing that is! Up until a few years ago I would have taken flat films, brought them home to be developed and then sent them via the US mail for that second opinion. The referring vet would get them two or three days later instead of the minutes that it took. That day we had an expert opinion for the owner before we left her farm.
My wife Bonnie and I just got back from a Florida vacation in Florida. One day we had been on the beach and had enough sun. We agreed that an ice cream cone would taste good. I got behind the wheel and started driving. Within minutes Bonnie said,
“ You missed your turn, you should have gone left back there.” I knew she was wrong, so pretended I didn’t hear her, and kept on going.
“David, are you listening? You are on the wrong road.” I insisted that we were going the right way and kept driving. It got a little testy in the car. I pulled up to the ice cream stand a few minutes later. Bonnie said,
“I thought we were going to Larry’s ice cream.” I replied, “Oh, I assumed we were going to Super Scoops.”
There we were, in the same car, talking live, not texting, and still had a communication issue. In the years I have been in practice there have been huge advances in our ability to communicate with each other. Yet, misunderstandings still happen, and perhaps even more so when we talk via high tech. Is it because it’s so easy to get in touch that we don’t take the time to think first?
If you have a problem with your horse, I have a few suggestions before you call, text, or email your vet. First, calm down and assess the situation. Temperature, pulse, and respiration are always great information. If it looks like colic, check gut sounds and the color of the gums. If it’s a breathing problem, count the respirations per minute. If your horse has been cut, be ready to describe exactly where is it, how deep and if it’s bleeding. If you have a smart phone, take a picture of it. If there are discharges, be ready to describe them. If you don’t supply this information, I guarantee you that you will be asked to go back to your horse and get it. We have these incredible instruments at our fingertips. See if you can be as smart as your phone.
–David A. Jefferson, DVM