Noodleman: A Life in the Healing Arts (1953-1955)

by Michael Long

Though he died in obscurity from an untreated skee-ball injury, Dr. Carl Noodleman spent his career in the front rank of research veterinarians of the 20th century. With his reliance on statistical analysis, regression studies, and a guy at the track who knew horses, Dr. Noodleman defined hundreds of new diagnoses and treatments for previously undocumented animal pathologies, though his goal of teaching his parrot to whistle Volaré was never attained. His admirers today are divided into camps, many of which have tents. Some praise him as a pioneer of veterinary medicine, while others simply recall his signature treatment of yelling, “Bad dog!” and stomping, and call that good enough. Although Dr. Noodleman was known to keep meticulous notes, his rejection of ink rendered most of his writings useless to all but the most determined scholars. However, a portion of the record remains. In 2002, these journal entries were found at a yard sale in Enid, Oklahoma, after being used as packing material in a crate of vintage Pez (the candy, not the dispensers).

November 1, 1953

The new clinic is open! The crowds of animals remind me of the boarding of Noah’s ark, though I had never really thought about the smell. The free hot dogs and balloons have so far attracted more than fifty canines, forty cats, a handful of goldfish and several little people dressed as Chihuahuas. We shall expand the scope of veterinary treatments for the ages! Interesting sidebar: We were baffled by the lack of patients until my nurse noticed our new facility has no exterior doors. Call landlord!


November 19, 1953

A German shepherd named Cecil presented restless and trembling. I immediately diagnosed restless trembling, and prescribed bedrest and bowls of water. I then invited the attractive coed who owned Cecil for drinks at a fashionable downtown nightspot, which turned out to be my apartment.


November 20, 1953

Patient Name: Mindy

Patient Type: Common house cat

Age: approx. 9 years

Symptom(s): cheating at cards

Diagnosis: sociopathy

Treatment: coax with flattery until she reveals where she hides her chips


December 1, 1953

Animal presented with high fever, depression, and lack of appetite. While this is the textbook definition of hepatitis, I could not apply this diagnosis as I lacked a prescription pad. Diagnosis further complicated by inability of my nurse to classify animal as dog, cat, squirrel, etc. Finally we agreed to call the thing a beaver, but swore not to tell anybody that this was just a wild guess. I attempted again to prescribe treatment, but could not say the word “laxatives” without giggling. Fee waived after I was unable to convince owner that the hot breath to which I repeatedly referred belonged to the animal and not him.


March 2, 1954

Spring, at last! The winter was typically long and bitter, though I wonder how much worse things would have been had the weather turned off cold. A record number of visits to the clinic today, mostly people looking for directions to the new supermarket. Our bottom line is not encouraging. We saw only a few patients, most notably a horse who, when he sneezed, seemed to say the word “impetigo.”


March 31, 1954

Patient Name: Robeson

Patient Type: Gerbil

Age: he’s not 27, no matter what his owner says

Symptom(s): won’t drink from water bottle, aversion to cedar chips, callous disregard for human rights

Diagnosis: abnormal heart rhythm

Treatment: electrical cardioversion (or, as my nurse calls it, “that thing with the paddles”) not having been invented yet, we reminded Robeson that Joe Stalin had passed away in the previous year. Though the shock had no effect on the animal, it upset the owner more than a little, I can tell you that.


April 1, 1954

A decline in business leaves me in the foulest of moods. Also, wasted most of day answering telephone inquiries for Prince Albert in a can.


April 2, 1954

Despair! I am called to a farm to treat some bovine disorder only to find that the farmer has gone holistic. What’s more, it seems to be working: the cow no longer limps, and has improved so much that she is down to 9.4 seconds in the 100-meter dash.


November 2, 1954

Flying to a symposium today to present my paper, New Tracheotomy Procedures For Common Gerbils, And Some Places Near My House That Sell Really Tiny Scalpels. Also looking forward to a discussion about this monkey I saw who knows the lyrics to Jolson’s I Love to Sing-a but refuses to perform them.


December 12, 1954

A milestone: My catalog of new diagnoses and treatments has now reached 400 pages, but I write pretty big.


January 5, 1955

Spent 90 minutes freezing my buns off in the cold today until my nurse pointed out I was looking for a pulse on a snowman.


February 22, 1955

To mend fences, Riebkin has offered to pay our rent next month in exchange for services. While my training did not include doing laundry and washing classic automobiles, I am confident I will soon master the field!


April 14, 1955

All is lost. We (or, as the IRS puts it, “I”) have neglected to pay taxes for the last two years. The clinic has been seized, and my assets now consist of a Niagra Falls T-shirt and a box of cornflakes. I pray that my descendants will find some use in my work, though I can’t say the same for my business plan, which I am using as bathroom tissue, now a luxury. I now retire to the life of the mind, intending to devote the rest of my days to settling the debate over whether when should shave with or against the grain when de-fuzzing housecats. Excelsior!


Michael Long is a speechwriter, screenwriter, and playwright. He also teaches writing at a big university on the East Coast. So there’s that. His short stage play “Catch Pole” is at the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village through Sunday, October 18.