Reflections on an Anniversary

The 17th of this month is the anniversary of when I started at Lien Animal Clinic.  I have been at Lien for 24 years. I have practiced veterinary medicine now for half of my life. You’d think I’d get it right by now and stop calling it practice. 

I graduated from WSU in 1989, a few months after my 24th birthday. I was very young and desperately wanted to be good at this. I accepted an internship in Rochester, NY at a group of seven hospitals to pursue that goal. I worked the hours. I saw the emergencies all night. I lived and breathed the profession in lieu of all else. At some point, I looked up and it was going well. There were teachers among the doctors, there were staff who helped me learn and there were clients that had faith in me. I walked out of the experience fundamentally changed from when I had walked in. I drove away in my little yellow truck with Dr. Fritzler (then she was just Beth), our two dogs, Camille and Cloie, and “New York is Not My Home” by Jim Croce queued up in my cassette player. We took a month to meander back across the country.  There’s a small motel in Illinois whose baseboards were never the same; Camille was just a puppy at the time and may have needed something to chew on.

Beth still had a year of veterinary school left in Pullman. I moved back to Seattle to work for a year and then we planned to reconsider where we wanted to live. I interviewed at seven clinics. I remember being annoyed at trying to find parking at Lien when I went to interview. Completion of an internship played well and I had offers at all of the practices. Some of them were much bigger. Most of them were nicer facilities.  Anyone who knew the old Lien clinic knows that it was not a place of fantasies. My first desk was in the treatment room next to the only treatment table. Surgery had no windows. The building in general was very dark. The waiting room paneling is somewhere in a museum to the 1970’s next to an avocado colored refrigerator. But, there was something about Dr. King. Larry was genuine. You trusted him instantly and you knew he cared. I liked and trusted his wife Connie as well.  I chose them over glitzier surroundings and I can look back on that decision as one of the best gut decisions I ever made. 

So, on September 17th, 1990 I started working at Lien. It was just Larry and I. He had been by himself for many years.   I still don’t know how he did that. We were busy. I saw tons of cases and we helped each other. We did good work. He and I shared emergency calls 24/7 and it was daunting. When that first year was up, I stayed. I liked my job, the clients and the people I worked with.  Beth came over to the west side after graduation. We moved off and on for several years trying to stay close to both our jobs.  We got married in 1992 and moved to Vashon Island in 1994. On the island, we could have our horses and we planned on raising a family. Our first son, Geoffrey, was born in 1995 and Beth joined Lien part time in 1996. She joined the clinic with the intent that we would eventually buy it from Larry and Connie.

So Beth and I started practicing together 2 days a week in 1996 and it was fantastic.  It has been a positive shared experience. Even in the small confines of that building, it was never too much togetherness.  We each had our own patients and surgeries but we always had each others backs. We could always relate to each others struggles and triumphs. In December of 1997 our daughter, Aubrey, was born. We bought the clinic in February of 1999.

Ownership has brought an enormous set of challenges and required the development of a very different array of skills. Our youngest son, Nick, was born in 2002. While the struggles have been great, so too have the rewards. We were able to replace the old building in 2009.  There are now seven doctors working at the clinic. 

            I grew up here and I have watched the clinic emerge into the bustling entity it has become.  I watched the profession grow and change.  I also have seen my kids grow up here.  Nick wants to be a veterinarian.  Aubrey works now as a receptionist.  Geoffrey just applied to veterinary school at WSU. 

Sometimes one ponders what they have done with all the time.  For me, at least during insightful moments, I can see the years weaved into all that surrounds me.