Dr Barrie Grants Story

Chris Steele’s Memorial Jan 15, 2011

Welcome to a Celebration of Chris Steele”s life!

Thank you for coming and joining in this gathering of Chris’s personal family and her professional family. It is only fitting that we are having a lovely sunny day. Having Chris in our lives at San Luis Rey Equine Hospital made every day sunny.

I would like to be able to share some of our experiences regarding Chris so her family will be able to better know their mother , grandmother , great grandmother and sister and sister in law as we knew her.

I came to SLREH in 1990 on a temporary basis to allow the owners (Jay and Ethel Rose) to have some professional time off to tour the world. At that time the hospital manager was Claire Ellis and the techs were Mindy Davis , Jan Sargent-Beach and Peggy Ells. The barn crew consisted of the Calderon family headed by Jose (who is still at the hospital), Saul, Salvador and Hignio. Robin Peterson and I covered not only surgery but all the medicine cases as well. At the time of the good years in the late 90’s and up to 2006 and 7 the practice had grown to 4 surgeons , Tina Kemper doing all the medicine , 4 interns , 5 techs , 5 barn crew and a night barn man and a tech., plus 4 support people in the office. Dr. Rantanen was in residence there as well reading radiographs almost daily.

I believe that Chris joined the practice as Claire’s assistant in the fall of 1990. She was the perfect person for the position. She was a horse owner and understood and had empathy for the owners and their horses. By understanding, I mean she instinctively knew that horse emergencies usually happen when the owner has a sick child , has just been hospitalized themselves , has to go out of town, the husband didn’t leave the keys for the pick up truck or the horse trailer was stuck or had a flat tire –all the stresses none of us need – so when they finally get to the hospital they either need to get rid of emotions by being upset with the first person they meet, or more often, they found a friendly smile from someone who understood: who could get the horse attended to right away and get paper work done later , who could get the doctors and barn crew right there to assist and get some fresh coffee going and most of all comfort them with just the right words and just the right inflection to let them know that we shared their concern , that the entire staff was dedicated to solving problems just like their horse was having right now. While they were waiting for the radiographs or word on how the surgery was proceeding she might offer photo albums she and Claire had assembled on other cases to encourage the owners and give them hope.

She had an incredible memory for cases and all the trainers and owners associated with them, and which doctor or intern had worked on the case, so when she was transferring an incoming call she could refresh at least my old memory – which is so important in letting the caller know that at that time they are the most important .

Her pleasant Salutation on the phone “ San Luis Rey Equine Hospital – this is Chris – can I help you?” has charmed more people – she was the voice of San Luis Rey ! I know many referring veterinarians, van drivers and insurance adjusters who so enjoyed talking to Chris more than me and the other doctors! Somehow she knew about new babies , engagements , medical problems , how horses were performing from every caller. She just made everyone have a nice day.

While she gained all this information she respected privacy, and if there were any tales to tell it was only the good ones! This professionalism was very important with high profile cases requiring absolute confidentiality. Paul and Linda McCartney’s horse and Seattle Slew were some of the best examples.

When Seattle Slew first became ataxic in January 2000, we were talking daily to the Taylors and Dr. Morehead. We had to get Norm and I on the chartered plane and make all the phone calls for arrangements. Chris handled everything with such poise and professional bearing it made the whole saga a most unforgettable and feel good story for all of us. After the first trip she had to organize another solo chartered flight for Norm to reinject the other side of Slew’s neck, and then two weeks later (when Norm was overseas) and I was at a conference in Mexico, she made the arrangements for Joe to travel to repeat the injections.

When it came time for Slew’s surgery in Kentucky, my wife Vaughan recommended that Chris be one of the vital team with Jan, Sandra, Rich Pankowski and Norm. From her nursing perspective, she knew there would be a lot of accurate & caring communication needed immediately post op and in future. It was important that she have a good idea of what went on during the surgery & the recovery to develop a close rapport with the White Swan natives – Mickey and Karen Taylor (the main owners and stud manager of Slew). She was a very trusted liason. Over the next 2 years there were almost daily phone calls while Slew’s recovery would modulate day by day. She could tell from Mickey’s voice if we needed to be connected immediately or if it could wait until a procedure was completed. Mickey and Karen sent flowers on the anniversary of the surgery for the next 5 years and they were beautiful arrangements that Chris enjoyed on the reception counter.

As we all know not every day is a sunny day but Chris did her best to make them sunny when organizing the Barrie’s Beer Chili luncheons. Then on sunny days in the spring and summer Jose & Miolo had the Bar B Q fired up at least once a month for the marinated carne asada taco days – with green onions also done on the BarB Q and marinated in lemon and salt and served in the tacos with refried beans.

For over 10 years we had a great family at SLREH and Chris was the matriach. She was the filter for family information, career decisions , sick and injured pets. We came away comforted and ready to do the right thing. She was especially fond of getting to know all the new interns , their families and background – and I see some of the interns in attendance today. The former interns loved to call and talk to Chris to let her know about their residency or new job or share the news about an engagement or a another baby on the way. She was always a big part of of our family celebrations during weddings and anniversaries and births of our grandsons!

I doubt Chris had a vast veterinary education before she came to SLREH but she sure did catch on fast and knew the ins and outs of all the diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and how the surgeries and recoveries were going – and if it was a serious colic surgery with lots of dead smelly bowel – without anyone saying anything to her, she would light scented candles in the Reception Area! Nothing more needed to be said!

Chris reminded me many times that her all-time devastating experience was walking into the restroom/shower next to her office and catching an 80 year old human physician _ Dr. George Bagby coming out of the shower.! George was the orthopedic surgeon who helped us develop the wobbler surgery and is a tall 6ft 3 inch lean old man with a long white hair and always had a thing for Chris! George, true to form, had not bothered to lock the door of the “public” bathroom!!

One of the traditions carried on for years was calling the hospital when we traveled away to many different parts of the world to let Chris know that the surgery had gone well and the horse was standing. It was our talisman! We loved to call her and have her be involved. She would always remind me to buy Jan “a better meal at the airport”! Now she is the one who has gone ahead of all of us, making plans. Can’t we all benefit from a call ahead to hear that voice and see that beautiful face in our minds and hear “ Saint Peter”s Gate – this is Chris – can I help you?”

Written by Dr. Barrie Grant
Sunday, 23 January 2011 14:07

Equine Wobblers