When I was getting my home visit business rolling, I had a part time job in a town about 45 minutes drive north of the sleepy little beach side village I lived in. Two days a week, I would drive through the canefields, tall swaying canes blocking out the scenery on both sides of the road for miles and miles. The clinic was set back a little from the main street, underneath an old wooden home, in which the boss and his family lived.
One day a very blokey bloke wandered in, brown as a button in a faded old blue singlet, shorts and well worn thongs flip flopping on his feet.
“G’day,” he said, in a broad Aussie accent. “Me dogs off colour, doc, I’m wonderin’ if you could sort him out for me?”
“What’s up with him, then?” I asked – he was a big, rangy pig dog, a bull arab cross, white with brindle patches, wagging his tail lazily.
“Well, he’s just been a bit off colour for a week or so, and he’s started twitchin’ like, you know… Otherwise he seems ok – he was off his tucker a bit for a couple of days, but he seems to be eating ok now. I’m buggered if I know what’s going on with him!”
I took a moment to look at him – and sure enough, a muscle in the dogs face, near his eye, had a semi-regular twitch going on, every few seconds. I had a good look over him – gums nice and pink, heart and lungs sounded fine, not painful anywhere, though he did look a bit dull and flat in his coat. I took his temperature, getting his owner to hold the head end. Few dogs enjoy the thermometer intruding, that’s for sure!
There was something nagging at me, a hint that I should know what was going on here. I looked at him again, gently twitching away, and suddenly an idea snuck into my mind.
“When did you last have this big fella vaccinated?” I asked him.
“Aw jeez, let me think…” He screwed up his face as he tried to remember. “Let’s see- the old buggers about 10 years old now, so it must be at least 7 years, I reckon.”
“I think I know what’s going on – I’m just going to get a textbook and check up on something.”
I brought the book back into the consult room, put it on the table, and flicked through to “distemper” – the picture fit, especially the twitching, or myoclonus, that the dog was so spectacularly exhibiting.
“I reckon your dog’s got distemper,” I told him. “It’s as rare as hens teeth these days, because nearly all dogs are vaccinated – but seeing how long it’s been since your dog has had a vaccination, I’m almost certain that’s what’s going on with him. I can’t get a definite diagnosis, because he has been vaccinated in the past, and the only way to test for it is to check for antibodies in his blood. The vaccine will have caused antibody production, but it’s so long that the protection has waned.”
“What can you do to help him then?” he asked.
“Nothing, with the regular veterinary medicines, but I have some homeopathic medicines in my van that would be well worth a try. D’you want to give it a go?”
“Sure thing, doc, you’re the expert!”
I went out to my van and carefully made up the remedy, then brought it back in and showed him how to give the dog the drops, asked him to give them 3 times a day, and told him I’d see him next week to see how the medicine was working. He picked up the tatty old bit of rope he was using for a lead, and wandered back out into the steaming hot tropical sun.
I was hanging out to see how things were going with this dog, all week. Distemper is so rare in Australia (except in stray dog populations right in the outback) that I had never seen another case in 15 years of practice. And the use of homeopathics was very new to me at the time also, so I was agog to see if they helped.
“G’day doc,” he drawled. “Look at the old bugger- good as new! He’s back to hoein’ into his tucker like there’s no tomorra, and that bloody twitch sorta faded away 2 days ago. Them bloody drops did the trick, I tell ya what!”
I had to have a quiet smile to myself after I showed him out the door – both at how terribly ocker he was, and because I’d got such a great result!