Ollie the dog

Ollie the dog Credit: Courtesy of Bill Etzel

My daughter and son-in-law came down from Boston to visit and introduce the family to their new addition — a 12-week-old rescue puppy. Ollie is a Lab mix, full of curiosity, as puppies are, and at this stage ready to eat almost anything that’s on the ground. His favorite seems to be sticks, although clumps of leaves and acorns also are held in high regard.

Sarah and Chris are devoted to Ollie and take joy and pride in his every achievement. “Sit” and “stay” are two commands Ollie has mastered (mostly), and his proud human parents take pride in how quickly he has learned them. Ollie, at this stage, is also “big” for his age — which is also a source of pride for his human parents. They do acknowledge they have no genetic responsibility for his size but are proud of it anyway.

Dinnertime came and went for both humans and pets. Kibble was consumed by Ollie very quickly (none was offered to the humans) and he chased his empty dish around the kitchen to make sure he didn’t miss a morsel. We saw to Ollie’s after-dinner needs, and we all settled in for a quiet evening, but that’s when Ollie decided otherwise.

He proceeded to visit several rooms and deposit his partly digested dinner on the rugs and carpet. Sarah and Chris sprang into action, wiping up the mess, spraying carpet cleaner and drying up the wetness. Worried that Ollie was sick, they hovered over him, watching his every move. Ollie continually licked his lips, as if something was still bothering him. Concern was voiced, Google was consulted, and a mild concern quickly escalated into a major worry. My daughter was close to tears with worry and, while my son-in-law tried to put on a brave face, it was obvious he desperately wanted Ollie to feel better and felt helpless because he had no idea why Ollie was so sick so suddenly.

Sarah’s aunt, a retired veterinarian, was called and given details of Ollie’s symptoms. Aunt B realized that a phone consultation was not going to assuage the parents’ fear, so she closed her book, grabbed her doctor bag and made a house call. Ollie was placed on the kitchen table, and the family veterinarian went to work as the anxious parents stood by. A stethoscope magically appeared and the exam started. Throughout the exam, Ollie gave no hint of being worried — unlike his human parents.

All of this reminded me of my boyhood experiences with our family doctor. He did something that today would seem almost revolutionary — he made a house call. He would arrive after my mom called his office. The “receptionist” was a nurse who would sometimes dispense some medical advice about actions that should be taken before the doctor arrived. I’m sure the “nurse- receptionist” screened the calls to make sure the illness was worthy of the doctor’s visit.

Of course, the house was straightened up, vacuumed and dusted before his arrival. As I recall, Dr. Citron was very distinguished-looking: salt-and-pepper hair, clean-shaven and tall (most adults seem tall to a 7-year-old). He always wore a tweed sports coat, white shirt and tie, and smelled of tobacco and antiseptic. He was a regular visitor to my house that year. The mumps (no vaccine yet), chickenpox (again no vaccine), whooping cough and a broken wrist all brought the good doctor to the house. My sister and I shared a bedroom, so it was almost guaranteed that whatever illness one of us got, the other would soon get.

For the serious illnesses, my parents’ bedroom became the sick room. Their bed seem enormous, me being used to the top bunk in the next room (I never asked who got to sleep in my bed while I used their bed or what their sleeping arrangements were). Dr. Citron would arrive, doctor bag in hand, his coat would be taken and I would hear his footsteps in the hallway. He would enter the room, pull out his stethoscope and proceed with his exam. His hands seemed huge to me (almost as big as my dad’s) — they covered my entire chest.

Coming out of his little black bag was a seemingly endless supply of “doctor tools.” Temperature was taken, chest thumped, eyes and ears looked at and throat peered into; all the while my parents standing at the foot of the bed, anxiously waiting for the doctor’s update on my condition. Sometimes, medicine was dispensed or shots administered. There wasn’t much talking during the exam, I guess so the doctor could concentrate on the task at hand. The exam over, he would pat me on the head, talk to my parents in whispered tones as he left the room, get his coat and move on to his next home visit or back to his office, which was on the second floor, over a drugstore and insurance office.

Ollie’s exam being done, his head was patted, ears scratched, and he was lifted off the table. He scampered off, happy to be back on the ground, free to explore again. Aunt Barbara looked at her niece and husband and went into her doctor mode. Reassurance was given, symptoms explained and treatment prescribed for Ollie’s upset stomach. Sarah and Chris were visibly relieved and grateful that it was nothing serious. Hugs and kisses exchanged, the doctor packed up her bag and went home, Ollie headed back to his bed and the very exhausted parents made their way to the couch — almost exactly the same as how those “at-home” doctor visits went so many years ago.

Bill Etzel,


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