Local veterinarian relates personal ‘Tales’ for project

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
By Ben Beagle, bbeagle@batavianews.com 

BATAVIA — Dr. Keith Carlson offered an insider’s view – at times, literally – of his daily work as a large-animal veterinarian.

Carlson offered his insight as part of a special program at Genesee Community College for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

This year’s selection, “The Call” by Yannick Murphy, is told from the point of view of a large-animal veterinarian who is trying to maintain his family’s stability after his oldest son is seriously injured in a hunting accident. The book is written in the style of daily entries by the veterinarian as he goes about his daily rounds.

“So we thought, why don’t we step over to the non-fiction section, and find out what a real life large animal veterinarian’s life is like,” Nina Warren, director of Alfred C. O’Connell Library at Genesee Community College, said in explaining Carlson’s program.

Carlson, of Attica Veterinary Associates, P.C., has made presentations to medical, technical and dairy audiences, but his March 8 program at GCC was his first to a general audience.

“After admitting to being reticent to do this talk, something so outside of his normal comfort zone or areas of expertise, he then went on to really give a wonderful talk with information, stories and humor,” Warren said. “He has a clear passion for his career, his family and the animals and the people that he works with and for sharing this with the community.”

About 40 people, including community members, attended the program called “A Day in the Life: Tales from a Large Animal Veterinarian.” Another five watched the presentation via live streaming at GCC’s Dansville Campus Center.

At GCC, Carlson shared reflections and stories about his own work.

He began at the start of his day and “the dashboard of his truck, which is his traveling office and needs to be stocked with everything he might need during the day’s rounds for both the expected an unexpected services,” Warren said. (The truck has logged 400,000 miles in 10 years, he said.)

Carlson talked about his family and how he works long and unpredictable days – “5 to 14 days a week,” he said. He acknowledges bringing some work home each night, but said he has also learned to devote his off time to be present with family.

The presentation included an interesting array of medical devices. Carlson shared such tools as sleeves and protectors, a huge cow calcium supplement pill and the tube used to deliver the pill to the animal. He showed ultrasound images of calves in utero, and photographs of a stomach surgery he performed in a barn, a necropsy of a 3 month old calf that died as a result of an infection of fluid around the heart, and pre- and post-operative photographs of a calf with a typical umbilical hernia. That calf, he said, recovered and went on to a long, healthy life.

Carlson’s talk “emphasized the pleasures of developing lasting relationship with the owners, managers and workers at both small and large farms and how these personal relationships develop because of their close and frequent interactions,” Warren said.

Carlson also talked about the variety of routine reproductive services, preventative health care and surgical and medical cases he handles, among other technical aspects of the job. The most challenging calls can also be the most unexpected such as when he gets a “While you’re here, Doc,” question after taking care of the original call. These situations, he said, can lead to a great deal of learning and gaining experience.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, ‘I’ve never seen this before,’ and in our profession it is very common,” he said. “And it’s one of the challenges and rewards for me personally because we’re constantly having to reassess and improvise” to meet the challenge of the unexpected.

It’s been an interesting career path for Carlson. While he grew up on a small family farm that raised beef and pigs in Louisville, Ohio, he told his parents “he’d never be a vet.” Instead, he pursued a math-oriented career in mechanical engineering. After six months, Carlson transferred to The Ohio State University for dairy science and was accepted in OSU’s veterinary school. After graduation, he moved to New York and started working in Attica in 2000 where he serves farms from 10 to 3,000 cows. His presentation also included photographs of other animals that he has treated, including elk and buffalo.

One of his many mentors, Carlson said, once advised him to start a journal. Carlson said he now wishes he had done so “because there are so many interesting stories each day, and it becomes hard to remember them all.”

“A Tale for Three Counties” is an annual reading program organized by libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. The 10-year-old program encourages people in the three counties to read the same book, attend a series of discussions and special programs, and then meet the author. Yannick Murphy is scheduled visits March 22 to 24.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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