Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Farewell to Autumn

Yesterday we said good bye to our good friend Autumn, the cat. She had kidney disease and at 19 years and 11 months, her kidneys wore out and she just couldn’t do it any more.

She was our loyal clinic cat at our LeSueur office for 15 years. When we closed the office we were very concerned about finding a home for her. When she lived with us we knew she loved us but she didn’t ever want to be held and she hated (notice I said hated) being worked on by us. She complained loudly about her exams and we could barely hold her still for her blood draws. So we were concerned about finding her a home when she was so stand-offish. She couldn’t come with us because we already had 3 cats at the Belle Plaine office and we knew that would never work for her or for them.

Just by chance Kathy mentioned to the courier for our labs that we needed to move and were looking for a home for the cats. The courier thought that maybe her sister would be interested in having a cat since she was petless at the time. So Nancy took Autumn home. The next time that Nancy’s sister stopped by she was telling us what a great pet Autumn was for Nancy. How she sat on her lap all the time and would follow her all around the house. We were like “Autumn??? You sure you’ve got the right cat?” When we saw Nancy and Autumn for Autumn’s next check-up, she was telling us what a godsend Autumn was for her. It turns out that Nancy had cancer and was having a tough time and Autumn turned out to be her healer cat in a way, always with her and looking out for her. It turned into a remarkable relationship.
So we were all very sad that it was time to say good-bye to her yesterday.

I have this personal theory that many animals are higher spiritual beings than most humans. These healer animals come to this life partly to help their owners heal. To that end they offer their services selflessly. There is no thought of reward or praise for their services. They just do it often unbidden and mostly unnoticed. We all know the stories of animals sacrificing themselves for their owners and the stories of animals rescuing people or staying close by their side when the people are sick or dying. I’m saying that happens every day, all the time and we don’t even notice it. If the definition of a higher spiritual being is giving selflessly of your gifts without thought of reward or praise or what it might cost you, then our pets fill that bill every single day of the year. So give your pet a hug today and thank them for what they do for you.

I’m thinking I want to come back in my next life as a pet….

Friday, August 5, 2016

Chicory: The Plant That Waits

This may look like a crazy lady frolicking in a field of wild flowers, but.. Well, actually, that’s exactly what it is!

This isn’t just any old flower, though. These little blue guys are called Chicory, and there’s more to them than meets the eye. Chicory has many medicinal properties. It can be used for many liver and gall bladder problems and also helps with nervous tension and insomnia. Many parts of the plant are edible and the roots can be made into a coffee substitute. It can be used for some heart problems as well.

I love Chicory. I love how it adorns the roads at this time of year. I love how it grows in poor soil where nothing else will grow and how it makes those spots so beautiful and colorful and alive.  

It’s fitting that Chicory helps the heart.

When I was a little girl my mother told me a story about this plant that stuck with me all these years. She said that in Germany, where she comes from, there is a legend about a woman who lived in the times of the Crusades. She was engaged to her love, who was a knight. He was sent  off to the war, and she accompanied him out to the road to see him off. Every day she went out to the road to see if he was coming back. He never did. He died in some far off land, but she never stopped waiting for him to come home.  Eventually she turned into a flower that is the Chicory we know today. In German the plant is called Wegwarte (the one who watches at the road side).

My mother emigrated to the United States from Germany after World War II. Her father (my grandfather), a school teacher, was conscripted into the German army. Like the knight in the story, he too never came home. To this day, we don’t know what happened to him, how he died, where he died. My mother was a young girl at the time. I picture her like the girl in the story, eternally waiting by the side of the road for her dad without knowing he was lost forever.

Karl-Friedrich, my grandfather
My mother out for a bike ride with her father and brother

For me, Chicory embodies that aspect of waiting that is present in my life, and maybe all of our lives. As I drive down highway 19 and see the Chicory in bloom, I wonder:

What are we all waiting for?

Are we waiting for our loved ones to come home? For our lives to change? Are we just waiting, hoping things will get better?

This is just my own personal connection to Chicory. I don’t often use this plant when treating animals because it needs to be made into a decoction, which is used in volumes too big to be convenient. But I do use tinctures of other plants, like dandelion, prickly ash, and nettles, many of which I make myself.  All of these can be found on my prescription shelves: dandelion alongside doxycycline, prickly ash alongside prednisone.

In our complicated modern world, I think we often forget our own very visceral connection to the Earth, that we are living beings just like frogs and flowers and prairie grass. We hear a lot these days about our effect on the natural world (case in point: global warming). But I think it is just as important to remember that the natural world has an effect on us as well (example: using Chicory to treat your insomnia). The natural world is totally enmeshed in our lives, from our legends and stories to our innate biology. It reconnects us with ourselves.

Funny how a little flower can inspire all these musings, isn’t it?

One final fact: my grandfather was an amateur naturalist of sorts; he also studied the medicinal properties of plants. I guess I know where I get it from..


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Welcome to my World!

I’m Ricci Kelso, a veterinarian with a mission.
Welcome to my new blog.

I wanted to write a blog that lets me talk about something more than the nuts and bolts of being a vet. I want to talk about some of the things I experience in this job that have very little to do with traditional medicine and much more to do with healing, which I find to be, at least in part, a spiritual experience.
In the last few years as a practicing veterinarian, I have begun to focus on holistic medicine—particularly, how animals and people heal together. One of the really cool things I have noticed is that people and animals share the same conditions. For instance, if a dog comes in with a bad knee, the owner often has a bad knee also. Allergic dogs often have allergic owners. It is apparent to me that there is some sort of healing circle going on here. Part of my interest is in exactly how this healing system works. I’ve asked myself:
How can people help their pets heal and, by doing so, help themselves heal?
Questions like these have brought my attention to herbal medicine as well. A friend of mine once said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we got all the medicine we needed within a 50 mile radius of where we live?” That comment really intrigued me. It got me thinking that maybe someday I will be able to practice veterinary medicine that way.

I wasn’t always so into this herbalist / energy / cycle of healing stuff. That’s really evolved over the past 27 years I’ve been practicing veterinary medicine. I actually knew I wanted to be a vet from the time I was 12 years old, growing up on a hobby farm just outside of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Curly, our cow, was suffering from a vaginal prolapse, where the vagina gets pushed out of the body during pregnancy. The vet let me help him put it back in and then told me I was responsible for taking the stitches out in a couple of weeks since he would be too busy to visit our farm again.

I was taking out the stitches with my mom’s help, and in that moment, realized that as a veterinarian, I could help people and animals too. I always have loved animals, but the other, equally important part is the people on the other end of the leash or stall. That, for me, is the most rewarding part of this job—being able to help people by helping their animals.
My family on the farm in 1974 (I'm second from the right)

I had the passion from a young age, but it was my stubborn streak that wouldn’t let me take no for an answer where this career was concerned. Despite a devastating F in second semester physics, I kept on keeping on and eventually made it through veterinary school at the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1989.
For years I did mixed practice—dogs and cats and cows and horses—but eventually the livestock got too sparse to make a living at it. Plus, my shoulders and back were starting to wear out. So after 15 years of mixed practice, I limited my focus to small animals. I do miss the farmers and the farms, but somehow I don’t miss pulling calves at 2 a.m. on icy January mornings.
Back when I was a 12-year-old aspiring vet, my biggest mentor was a man by the name of James Herriot. Jim was a veterinarian who practiced in rural Yorkshire in the 1940’s and chronicled his many adventures in the All Creatures Great and Small book series. And I read them all. In a way, I hope that Jim’s spirit will be flowing through some of this blog, and that you will be able to experience some of the joys and sorrows of being a veterinarian in the 21st century. I can’t imitate his style or sense of humor, but I hope I can let you get a glimpse of the wonderful world of people and their pets.

Me in 1973, suffering through the mumps with the help of a furry friend

My younger brother Julian with our dog Leo and a passel of kittens

My brother Julian playing around with our cow Rosie

My first dog, a rat terrier mix named Cal