April 02, 2020

Maine animal doctor tells all Memoir a ‘hoot’

WHILE YOU’RE HERE, DOC: FARMYARD ADVENTURES OF A MAINE VETERINARIAN, by Bradford B. Brown, Tilbury House, Gardiner, Maine, 2006, 192 pages, $15.

If you have any doubt that a veterinarian’s life is adventurous, think again.

Consider being bitten through a protective glove by a maniacal monkey and still heeding the hysterical owner’s command to help the wretched beast. Imagine driving through 20-degrees-below-zero blizzard conditions only to discover the farmer has not rounded up his pig to be treated but expects the vet to wade through a slop of mud and feces to chase down the impatient patient. Consider consenting to undertaking additional tasks, including major surgery, just because you’re on the scene and someone says, “While You’re Here, Doc….”

Retired Vassalboro veterinarian Bradford Brown’s memoir of animal doctoring, “While You’re Here, Doc: Farmyard Adventures of a Maine Veterinarian” proves it took incredible mettle in mid-20th-century Maine to rescue animals from medical emergencies, to surmount extreme weather conditions en route to barnyard calls, and to deal with some of the most eccentric animal owners one could ever expect to meet.

Brown’s medical skills, physical stamina, courage and especially his strong senses of perspective and humor made him ideally suited to the rigors of his chosen profession. They also make him the perfect narrator of a volume that succeeds as an “All Creatures Great and Small,” Maine-style.

Much of Brown’s perspective regarding Maine farmers came from his own hardscrabble 1930s boyhood spent on his family’s farm in Vassalboro. He was 11 when his father committed suicide. Brown’s mother managed against all odds to keep her five children in school at Higgins Academy in Charleston. In the summers, Brown worked for the railroad, on road crews and at other physically demanding jobs. When he followed his elder brother to veterinary school at Cornell University, Brown delivered milk and worked in pathology lab to support his studies. After graduating, the brothers practiced veterinary medicine together and then Brown worked solo out of offices in Belfast until 1978.

This book is a record of some of Brown’s most demanding, fascinating, and downright amusing cases. Each is anchored in setting and season. Brown is adept at explaining, for the layman, the medical fixes he must urgently solve. He is a dab hand at describing Maine’s most severe weather. And he is nothing short of superb at providing character sketches of Maine farmers.

In one amusing account, Brown performs surgery on a horse that had flung itself through a plate glass window into a general store. After pushing the pickle barrels out of the way, he saves the animal’s life in the makeshift operating room. In another adventure the vet sees to a sick horse belonging to a family who live on the slopes of remote Frye Mountain. The men, who resemble figures on old Smith Brothers Cough Drop boxes, are so unused to interacting with strangers that one of them never speaks. The others barely spit out a few words about the horse’s problem. Finally, an episode about a love-sick moose is an absolute hoot.

Rosemary Herbert can be reached at rherbert@bangordailynews.net.

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