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Tell Me Where It Hurts
Broadway, 304 pp., 2008; $22.95
Tell Me Where it Hurts

The first time I read Dr. Nick Trout's book, I curled up in a corner at my local bookstore, chin on my chest with his book in my lap for hours. It was the second time in my life I’d fallen for a veterinary surgeon.

It’s not hard to conclude, then, that what follows will be a largely positive review of Tell Me Where It Hurts. Sure, the subtitle’s a mite contrived, as is the day-in-a-life format Dr.Trout practically apologizes for in his opening bid for his readers’ sympathies. And even if he seems overly eager to make us fall in love with his brand of quirky wit, in the end it’s okay…he’s a surgeon, after all, and even those of the veterinary variety temper their legendary surgical egos with no small dose of charisma.

I mean that as no sly slur, really. All vets love to be loved—present company included. This flaw is part of our innate charm, I think—a forgivably innocuous Achilles heel borne ofmuch client adulation and early success in life. If surgeons offer a bit more bluster than most, well, that’s quite all right—especially if their pomp lives up to its promise.

In his post as veterinary surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, the subject of this memoir, Dr. Trout is uniquely qualified to lead an informative expedition into veterinary medicine’s heart of darkness. After all, his day job is a taxing amalgam of interpersonal skill, medical expertise and technical talent played at the profession’s highest levels.

Instead, Trout trades what might have been a trip down a river of gloomy reality for a veterinary romp in the tradition of the genre’s undisputed genius, James Herriot (of the “All Creatures…” series fame). Exchanging bucolic, 1950s England for 21st-century suburban Boston, UKborn and educated Dr.Trout convincingly recalls everything we ever loved about his countryman, while never letting us forget that this is a thoroughly modern read.

In fact, it would seem that in his urgency to update the master, Dr. Trout manages to raise every notable issue affecting contemporary veterinary medicine—from the feminization of the profession to pet health insurance and the risk of suicide that comes with the territory.Chapter by chapter, he crams it all in, leaving no pet medical stone unturned and no newsworthy animal issue behind.

In the end, Trout relies on his scathing humor and glorious British irreverence to pull out a surprisingly insightful, often hilarious take on himself, his profession, his colleagues, his clients and his patients —in that order. That he does so without raising hackles speaks to his prodigious gift for being downright, self-deprecatingly funny. Yet, in so doing, I can’t help feel his bantering style cuts far from the bone.

But perhaps this more critical opinion is the casualty of a second read. The first go-round breezed by like a busy day at work—one free of responsibilities, as in the voyeuristic, somewhat sadistic pleasure we guiltily succumb to when listening to a smart colleague rant cathartically after a very rough day (preferably over beers at a nearby watering hole).

The second read? I guess I wanted more than a colleague’s easy dissection—some bite, if you will, no matter how droll—if I was going to have a go at the same material again. “Gimme dirt, buddy!” I yelled at the pages (rest assured, in the privacy of my own home this time).

But then, I’m a vet and Dr. Trout’s experiences resonate so well with my worldview of veterinary medicine that I guess I can’t help it if I want a little more Conrad and a little less Herriot in my literature. And, truth be told, I get the vet surgeon spiel every night from the first one I fell for. Thus, I’ve since learned to be critical, even of genius.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 50: Sept/Oct 2008
Dr. Patty Khuly practices in Miami, Fla., and blogs at dolittler.com. dolittler.com
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