A Shot in the Dark

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The phone jarred me awake, it took a moment to orientate myself. I glanced at the clock, 3:00 AM. I sat up on the edge of the bed and shiver a bit as the chill of the bedroom air hits me.  I picked up the phone.

It was Jack, “Good morning, he said, I have a call, a downed cow with a uterine prolapse. I would like you to come along so I can show you how we do things. I’ll pick you up in a few minutes.”

I sprang up, pulled on my pants with a quickening heart rate. This was exciting stuff for a new graduate. This was my very first emergency call, and I could hardly contain my excitement.

I had finished vet school 3 months ahead of most of my class due to a new schedule at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine. They had divided the class into 4 groups, each group took their quarter break at different times in the school year. My group had Spring Quarter off. 

Sandy and I had 3 kids, and at this time, we were close to being broke. I got a temporary license and went to work. This was Wednesday night, actually Thursday morning, of my first week in a professional position.

I was a little surprised at my excitement. I was no kid, I was 30 years old. I had spent 4 years in the Army Security Agency. Mostly at top-secret border sites in South Korea and Germany. I had been through some exciting and tense times. I had regularly briefed generals who visited the locations. I had been in the middle of the scramble for intelligence during the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. And here I am,  excited about going out at 3:00 in the morning to look at a sick cow.

Jack was a big man. I considered him an old man. He had been in practice for over 30 years, graduating from Washington State in 1943. He must have been all of 57 years old. 

Jack lived only a few blocks away, but I was dressed and waiting when he pulled up in the truck. The cow was at Fred’s place, only about a mile out of town.  

It is common for a dairy cow to get milk fever around calving time. It results from low blood calcium levels due to a delay in mobilizing calcium from the bones to meet the demand of milk production. Most of the time, it is rapidly progressive, and the cow will be down and unable to rise. If not treated promptly, it will result in death. The uterus can prolapse with or without milk fever.

We pulled into the barnyard. Cows were lined up for the morning milking, and the milker was busy in the parlor. We walked through the loafing shed and found the cow flat out in the straw and manure.  Her uterus was completely everted on the straw. The cow was comatose, suffering from advanced milk fever and probably compounded from shock associated with the uterine prolapse.

I started to collect some vitals on the cow, laying my stethoscope on her chest.

“Looks like we’re going to need some help with this one.” Jack says. He has already seen all he needs to see for his diagnosis. I tuck my stethoscope back inside my coveralls as Jack starts toward the milking parlor.

“We need some help with this cow.” Jack says to Charlie, the milker. “We will need the tractor with the frontend loader.”

“I can’t help, Fred is particular about milking time.” Charlie replied. “You need to get the hired man up to help. He lives in that small house across the barnyard.”

I follow Jack across the barnyard to the hired man’s house. I feel a little like I did in school, following some doctor around waiting to learn something but nothing really to do with yourself otherwise.

Jack knocks hard on the door of the little house.

“Who’s there?” The hired man calls out from inside the house. A light comes on.

“This is Doc,” Jack replies in a loud voice, leaning into the door to make sure he is heard. “We’re here to take care of a cow down with a prolapsed uterus.  We need you to get up and give us a hand.”

There is a short pause.

“I don’t get up at 3:00 in the morning for no damn cow,” the hired man replies. The light goes out.

Jack’s face reddens and he leans into the closed door, almost pressing his forehead into the door. 

“I don’t get up at 3:00 in the morning either if I don’t get any help!” Jack booms at the door.

There is no reply from inside the small house. Jack turns and steps past me, almost brushing me aside. He walks briskly to the truck. I follow, not sure what is next. Jack pulls open the door, reaches under the seat and pulls out a pistol, checks the clip, and chambers a shell. He heads back across the barnyard.

Jack finally calms himself enough to talk. 

“No reason for the cow to suffer because of that lazy bastard.”  

Jack places the gun against the back of her head and pulls the trigger. The cow stiffens and is gone.

”At least she won’t suffer any longer.” Jack says as he heads back to the truck. 

We drive home without talking. Jack drops me in front of the house.

“See you in the morning.” He says as he pulls away.  

Photo by Corinna Widmer from Pexels

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

2 thoughts on “A Shot in the Dark

    1. Later in the year, when I was working at the auction yard, I heard a comment about Jack’s diagnosis of lead poisoning. I never heard any other fallout from the call. I don’t know if Jack sent a bill or not.


Leave a Reply to ruth4131 Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: