Being in a Veterinarian Family

Barry Whitworth’s children including Lauren and Madison Whitworth had a unique childhood. (Photo courtesy of the Whitworth family)

By Barry and Lauren Whitworth

The holiday season will soon be upon us. I hope that this time of year is full of happy memories spent with people you love and hold dear. As all of my children but one have left the nest, the holidays are a special time when I tend to reflect on memories of past experiences with my kids. Although I look back on our holiday memories and experiences with much happiness, my most treasured moments with my children are when they were working with me side by side.

Being the child of a veterinarian might be a curse or a blessing, depending on how you look at it. My kids had a unique “growing up” experience and were used to having plenty animals around. Even to this day when my oldest daughter Lauren sees a new puppy, the first words out of her mouth are, “I want one!” During her college days, when she would spend the summers working in my practice, she would say the same thing about the little “cute” white baby pigs at some of the farms that I would visit on calls. She quickly changed her mind when I finally showed her the sows!

Like most other jobs, I inevitably ended up taking some of my work home with me. My kids never quite knew what they might find inside of our house. On a recent visit home, Lauren walked in to discover that a newly born bottle-fed lamb had taken up residence in our family room.

She smiled and said, “A lamb in the living room; it is good to be home.”

Aside from farm animals in the house, the Whitworth home has some other unique quirks. One holiday tradition that my children were accustom to was the practice of Christmas morning kennel duty. My children were awaken Christmas morning to the words, “Christmas can begin as soon as the dogs are walked and cages are cleaned.”

As are most, my kids were extremely curious about the world around them and ask lots of questions while working with me. Veterinarian kid questions may seem a little bit out of the ordinary for most parents. The questions tended to be about how much blood an animal can lose and still live or about the fairly foul odors that accompany veterinary practice. My son Walker was particularly offended by those smells.

Once on a highly distressing farm call, Walker was holding the tail of a steer with an infected scrotum that both smelled horrid and had a large amount of purulent material. As I proceeded, the smell became too much for him and he began to gag. I laughed and instructed him to “toughen up and hold on to the tail.”

Pale faced, he replied, “You may be used to this, but I am not.”

Life of a veterinarian is messy, but mess is not always a bad thing. Some of my favorite memories are those spent performing C-sections with the help of the whole family. I am not sure why dogs with dystocia tend to occur after hours when help is scarce, but they do. Being the sole veterinarian in my practice, I relied on my family to assist in these late-night cases.

When the distressed patient would arrive, my wife and I would get everything ready for surgery. Then just before administering the anesthesia, Mom would make a call to the house for reinforcements. I am not for sure why my teenage children were tone deaf to the landline phone ringing, but they were. After several rings, my wife would hang up and call one of their cell phones. An almost immediate answer would follow. Mom then gave the instructions, “It is puppy rubbing time!” Reluctantly my teenage children would pile out of bed and file through the clinic doors.

Once the surgery began, my helpers took their positions. Mom would be waiting like a big league baseball player preparing to catch a fly ball. Her hands were covered with a towel ready for me to hand her that first pup. She then handed off to one of the kids who began vigorously rubbing the life into these little dogs.

The procedure was repeated until all the puppies were born. In my many emergency C-sections, it never failed that some puppies were reluctant to wake up and join the world. We usually assigned the stubborn puppies to my middle daughter Madison. She was always up for the challenge and worked tirelessly to stimulate their breathing. We surmised that she was gifted at irritating her brother and sister, so she should be able to irritate the pup to wake up.

After all the puppies had nice red noses, were crying, and mama dog was being stitched up, my wife would dismiss the troops with instructions to get to bed because it was late. As my assistants headed home, most of my clients would comment on what hard workers my children were and how proud I must be of them. I would simply smile and say, “Yes, I am very proud of them.”

I hope that as you go through life that you are making memories with your children. In my experience, they grow up and leave home. Do not wait for special occasions to spend time and share life with your kids. Every day is a good time to make a memory. My family and I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas. May God bless you with good health and happiness in the New Year.