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AN UNSPOKEN ART by Lee Gutkind

AN UNSPOKEN ART

Profiles of Veterinary Life

By Lee Gutkind

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8050-3321-1
Publisher: Henry Holt

 Admiring, vivid portraits of a handful of veterinarians from Gutkind (Stuck in Time, 1993, etc.). Start with an obvious though essential point, suggests Gutkind: Veterinarians deal with patients who can't speak to them of their pains and worries. So vets, the good ones, have to communicate in other ways. They practice the ancient art of the laying on of hands, offering a gentle caress, a soft murmur, establishing a link that Gutkind finds missing in much human medicine: a devotion to the psychological well-being of the patient (though it might be argued that doctors of human medicine--the good ones, at any rate--haven't lost that touch). As Gutkind makes the rounds of various veterinary climes--from tony, high-fee Manhattan practices to mucky farms, from cutting-edge animal hospitals to zoos and exotic wildlife menageries--he encounters an extraordinary group of doctors, all of whom possess quick wits (on isolated farms, one must excel at improvisation when treating very sick patients), special diagnostic skills (animals often mask symptoms- -in the wild it is best to hide one's handicaps), and a shrewd awareness of the people, often superstitious or eccentric, in the picture. He tags along as the vets go about their tasks, watching as they repair a reindeer's hernia and diagnose a racehorse's displaced palate. He visits a village of HIV-infected chimps (they enjoy watching Geraldo on TV); he witnesses gut-wrenching scenes in ICUs; he mulls over the act of euthanasia and the question of whether vets should specialize or remain ``doctors for all seasons, all maladies, all species and breeds.'' Gutkind did his homework and has come away with a good story. His writing, while it can be dramatic, has the same soothing, inspiriting effect on the reader that a veterinarian--a good one- -has on a patient.