Fans of James Herriot and the PBS series All Creatures Great and Small have a new veterinarian to cheer for, with her equally zany and heartwarming adventures. American vet Dr. Melinda McCall has penned a memoir entitled Driving Home Naked, And Other Misadventures of a Country Veterinarian, set to be released in August.
Horse-Canada spoke with Dr. McCall about what inspired her to write her story, and some of the more unusual situations she’s found herself in.
Horse Canada: Let’s start with the basic question all authors get asked: what inspired you to write the book?
Dr. Melinda McCall: Initially, I didn’t really have any intentions of writing a book, but I loved to tell stories of my veterinary adventures to clients and friends. One of my clients strongly encouraged me to write my stories down and turn them into a book. I knew there really hadn’t been a veterinary memoir in the spirit of the James Herriot tales written by a female, and now the veterinary industry is nearing 80% female. I also wanted to share with the world how rewarding it is to find your calling, which is where your gifts and talents meet the needs of the world. And most importantly, I felt it was time for the country to understand how few people are producing our food and to help them gain an appreciation for the agricultural community who is working hard every day to feed the world.
What made you want to become a large animal vet and practice in rural Virginia?
I grew up on a dairy farm nestled in the foothills of the mountains in Southwest Virginia. I loved working on the farm and I was especially fond of helping cows and sheep deliver babies. From a young age I was thirsty for knowledge about the anatomy and physiology of animals and I had great respect for the veterinarians who worked on our farm. I have always been a part of a small community and really enjoy the rural lifestyle, so I was delighted to end up back in rural Virginia.
You run an all-female practice at Louisa Veterinary Service; was that a choice of yours?
Haha, it’s not that I wouldn’t hire a man, I certainly would, but in the entire existence of this veterinary service it has been all female. I did hire a male relief vet once to work for a few months while another vet was out for an extended period of time. We loved Dr. Jim and so did the clients, and he didn’t even seem to drown in the estrogen pool.
I believe when you have a workplace that is accommodating to women, the word gets out through the small community and you attract more women. I realize women have responsibilities to spouses, children, and animals of their own and I’m willing to work with that if they are a good team player. There have been several times when one of the girls in the office has had to run out to meet the farrier or pick up a sick kid from school, and that’s fine with me because I have been there myself.
“I once saw a T-shirt that said, ‘Veterinary medicine is like riding a bike, except the bike is on fire, and you’re on fire, and you’re in Hell!’”
Have you had any push-back from clients about the practice being all-female?
We actually have several clients who hired us for our service because we are all female. That always makes me smile. The thing I’m most proud of is that our veterinary service provides top-notch service to all of our clients all across the board and most of them forget that we’re an all-female team. These days with shortages of rural veterinarians nationwide, the clients are just happy to have qualified vets in the area who will take good care of their animals.
All Creatures Great and Small and the other James Herriot books and TV series have a devoted following. How much do your own experiences mirror his?
As a young girl I read all the James Herriot books and yearned to be a country doctor just like him. There are many of my experiences that mirror his because I make farm and house calls and I’m passionate about what I do. I love the ability this job gives me to help people and animals and I believe Dr. Wight (James Herriot) felt that way as well. I always laugh when I watch the All Creatures Great and Small series on PBS about how clean they stay. I’m always getting dirty and slogging through manure in barnyards. That’s my only beef with the television program, it’s a bit glamourized.
We must discuss the book’s title!
Driving Home Naked is in fact a true story – and it didn’t just happen once! In this particular story I was called to replace a cow’s prolapsed uterus, which is larger than a five gallon bucket and bloodier than a chainsaw massacre. By the time I wrestled the cow’s uterus back in (twice) I had no water left to clean myself and the blood and birthing fluid had soaked through every layer of my clothing. I was forced to strip so that I drive home in my truck, wearing only a pair of muck boots. If you read the book, you can see what happens when I go through the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home…
Sounds like you’ve had your share of injuries – what makes you keep pushing through pain to do your job?
I definitely have had my fair share of injuries and illnesses, and I have been lucky to heal up each and every time. I suppose growing up working hard on the dairy farm and knowing how much those animals depended on me every day conditioned me to push through pain to get the job done. Most people in agriculture are very dedicated and are built tough. I believe two things helped me get through my toughest times: first is my faith, and second is resilience, which is built up over many years of surviving minor injuries and illnesses.
“Foster a good working relationship with your veterinarians. Ask them how they are doing, be patient with them if their arrival is delayed, give them a cold drink after they finish working, and just tell them thank you!”
What can readers can expect from your book?
Each chapter is a story and most of them are quite funny because humour can get you through most any situation. Readers will learn fascinating details of production animals and hopefully feel like they are riding in the truck with me watching me work. Readers will also learn a lot and possibly gain an appreciation for where their food comes from.
What are some of your most memorable experiences working with animals featured in the book?
1) Taking a sheep and two goats to a kindergarten class in inner city D.C.
2) Having to strip down and drive home naked after replacing a uterine prolapse and almost getting the cops called on me at the drive thru because of all the blood on me.
3) Taking a baby alpaca and its mother to Ohio State to the vet school and running out of gas.
4) Swimming out in the middle of a pond to try to save a cow from drowning.
5) Replacing a cow’s uterine prolapse while I was heavily pregnant.
You clearly have a sense of humour – why is that so vital in your job when poor mental health in vets is well-documented?
In my business some days are tough mentally and physically, and if I couldn’t get a chuckle out of the crazy situations I get put in sometimes, I probably wouldn’t last long at this career. I once saw a T-shirt that said, “Veterinary medicine is like riding a bike, except the bike is on fire, and you’re on fire, and you’re in Hell!” Somedays feel a bit like this, but once the day is over and you look back on it, some of the events of the day are pretty funny.
Many veterinarians struggle with mental health issues nowadays. It’s a problem the veterinary industry is well aware of and is trying to address. As animal owners, the best way you all can help is to do your best to foster a good working relationship with your veterinarians. Ask them how they are doing, be patient with them if their arrival is delayed, give them a cold drink after they finish working, and just tell them thank you! It’s the little things that will keep us vets sane and keep us doing this job for a long time.
Driving Home Naked is available for pre-order from Amazon.ca HERE and other book retailers.