July 9, 2010

flecks of dried mud

We've praised here before the wonderful care our dog received at a student veterinary clinic. Today I want to share a valuable lesson I learned there.

One day I took in the puppy because he needed inoculations. As a responsible pet owner, I had kept track, and knew it was time for some shots. When the vet trainee asked me what was wrong with the dog, I replied that nothing was wrong, and that I had brought the dog in for scheduled inoculations.

Well, the student took my claim that nothing was wrong with the dog as a personal challenge. He performed the most thorough veterinary exam I have ever seen, using a stethoscope, two small flashlights, and, yes, a fine-toothed comb!

Finally, after perhaps twenty minutes, he was elated. "Do you see this?", he asked me, triumphantly holding up one of the dog's pinnae, and pointing to some tiny brown flecks in the ear. "Yes," I acknowledged.

"That's dried mud," he explained. "The next time your dog is playing where there is mud, when you get him home, you should moisten a washcloth in warm – not hot, not cold, but warm – water, and gently remove the mud before it dries."

And then, his professional existence justified, he made preparations to provide the inoculations we'd come in for.

From this, I learned that many professionals see their job as fault-finding. And indeed, when a manuscript goes to journal reviewers, or a grant application goes to a grant review panel, or a research protocol goes to an institutional review board, it is a near-certainty that among the reviewers will be some who will not be satisfied until they find the dried mud.

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