There is Gold in Them Hills

D. E. Larsen, DVM

It was 11:10, and Bob should be coming through the door any minute. He was sort of the highlight of our morning in the office. Bob had been our Postman ever since the office opened. He was older, probably getting close to retirement, but he was a joy to talk with.

I think he must have us as a scheduled break on his route. He always seemed to have several minutes to talk. Bob was a Sweet Home native or as close as one could be to a native. He knew everyone in town. If we wanted to know about someone, Bob could give a pretty good synopsis. 

Bob could talk gold. He knew where to look in every stream, and he shares that information only to a trusted few. I liked to think I was one of those entrusted few. Bob had lost a son who was my age, a Lieutenant in the Army. In those years of the Vietnam War, Bob was probably preparing himself for his son serving in the war. Instead, he was driving home from the East Coast, and died in an auto accident.

The reality of the thing was he knew I was too busy to chase any of his stories.

We bumped into Bob one afternoon when he was panning gold with a friend. Bob took the time to give the kids and me a lesson on how to work the pan. We came up with a lot of black sand but no color. Bob truly enjoyed teaching his hobby to the kids, including myself. Hobby was probably the wrong word. I think gold was Bob’s true vocation. His postal job and any other work in his life only allowed him to pursue his real life’s work.

Bob told me a story one day about one of his trips to the California goldfields. He and a group of friends would make an annual trip to the areas out of Sacramento, California to pan for gold. This was a working trip for this group of guys. They would rework some of the same streams that were the site of the 1849 gold rush.  

Bob said that on one of these trips, they had a new guy along. He was always underfoot and trying to learn every little thing he could from these old guys. Bob finally tired of putting up with this guy. Bob pointed to a distant sandbar up the creek.

“Why don’t you go up there and work that sandbar,” Bob said.

The guy took his shovel and pan and headed up to the sandbar that Bob had pointed out. Bob and the rest of the crew continued to work with the dredge where they had been all morning.

“That was the biggest damn mistake that I ever made,” Bob said to me. “Just before quitting time that afternoon, this guy comes down the creek with a gold nugget the size of the end of your finger. I was so mad at myself after that, I almost couldn’t eat dinner.”

One August afternoon, we had a new client, Rob, came in with his dog, Yoda, a pit bull cross. Yoda had a pretty severe laceration on his large pad on his right front foot. Yoda was camping with his owner way up the Calapoolia River at the mouth of State Creek.

“Yoda spends most of the day in the river with me,” Rob said. “If he is not in the river, he is chasing a squirrel somewhere up the creek. I don’t know when this happened, I noticed him licking his foot last night, and then this morning he was limping on that foot quite a bit.”

Yoda was an excellent dog, and he didn’t flinch while I examined his foot. This was a deep laceration that extended halfway across the carpal pad, front to back. It was deep also. This was going to be challenging to get healed. Especially in a dog who was used to spending a lot of the day in the river.

“Pad lacerations are difficult to manage, in the best of circumstances,” I said to Rob. “In a dog who is spending a lot of his time in the river, it might be impossible.”

“I can keep him out of the water for a couple of weeks,” Rob said. “I am not on any schedule, I am just spending the summer up there panning for gold.”

“I suture most of these,” I said. “By suturing them and keeping them wrapped for a couple of weeks, most of them will heal. If we can’t keep a dry wrap on the foot, there is little chance that the sutures will hold.”

“When can you do this?” Rob asked. “Keep in mind, I am a long way from camp.”

“I can probably do it shortly,” I said. “But it is going to take a little time from Yoda to wake up.”

“This dog is the toughest dog I have ever owned,” Rob said. “You could probably sew this up with giving him anything. Is there any chance you could do it with local anesthesia?”

“We can try,” I said. “Yoda will let us know if that is an option or not.”

We moved Yoda into the surgery room. Laid him down on his side. He did not react as we started scrubbing the wound. Rob stood on the opposite side of the table from me and scratched Yoda’s ears. 

I drew up a syringe of Lidocaine and looked at Rob.

“We are going to find out right now, this stuff stings a little, I hate it myself,” I said.

Avoiding the laceration, I slid the needle through the skin at the front edge of the pad. Injecting a little at a time as I advanced the needle under the pad. I injected half the syringe here and then repeated the process from the back edge of the pad.

After a few minutes, I parted the edges of the laceration. There was no response from Yoda. Spreading the wound wide, I scraped the deep crevice of the wound. I applied some Neosporin to the in the wound and wiped it out with a sterile sponge. Then I draped the wound.

Taking a deep breath, I stabbed the pad with a suture needle. There was no response from Yoda. I glanced and Rob and smiled as I continued to close the wound. In this type of deep pad lacerations, I would use a deep vertical mattress suture using stints, made from IV tubing, on each side to spread the tension across the wound edges so the stitches would not tear the tissues.

Closure only took a few minutes. And then I applied a wrap that extended halfway up the leg. 

“The key to healing this wound is the wrap,” I said. “If it gets wet, it needs to be changed. Otherwise, we will change it every 3rd day. Is that a schedule that will work for you?”

“I can work with that schedule,” Rob said as he let Yoda stand up on the table.

“I will put him on some antibiotics just to make sure we keep the infection down as much as possible,” I said.

With that, Rob and Yoda headed back to camp. We started on their schedule of regular visits. Rob did a great job of keeping the wrap dry, and the wound looked better with each wrap change. After two weeks, we had a decision to make.

“We could go without the wrap starting now,” I said. “This wound looks good, but I really would like to go one more week.”

“The squirrels are going to love you, Doc,” Rob said.

The following week we removed the wrap and the sutures. This wound healed as well as any pad laceration that I had managed. I patted Yoda on the head when I set him down on the floor. 

“It has been fun working with Yoda,” I said as I shook hands with Rob. “It has been good working for you too. How long are you going to be around these parts?”

“I will probably break camp in a couple of weeks,” Rob said. “You never know about a guy like me, I might back next year, or I might be in Colorado.”

As the days passed, Rob and Yoda sort of slipped to the back of my mind. I was a little surprised when Rob was in the reception room one afternoon. He motioned to me, indicating he had something to show me. I invited him back into the exam area, and he looked at an empty exam room and stepped into it.

“I have to show this, Doc,” Rob said. “I saw this under a large boulder, and it took me three days to get to it.”

Rob had something wrapped in a square of rawhide in his left hand. He held his hand out as he peeled back the folds of rawhide. There, in the palm of his left hand, was the largest gold nugget that I had ever seen. I didn’t have words.

“Wow!” I said.

“This is what keeps us guys with gold fever going,” Rob said.

It was a few days later when I had time to meet Bob when he came through the door with the mail.

“Bob, I have a story to tell you,” I said.

“Will now, that is a switch,” Bob said, “you telling a story.”

“Bob, I just spent a few weeks working on a dog for a guy who was camped up the Calapoolia River at the mouth of State Creek,” I started.

“I know the area,” Bob said.

“He came into the clinic the other day with a nugget wrapped in a piece of rawhide,” I said. “This nugget covered the palm of his hand and was over an inch thick.” 

I motioned on my hand the size of the nugget. Bob grabbed my forearm, his eyes wide open, and his pupils expanded as wide as possible. 

“No!” Bob said, “I have been all over that river and that area. There is gold there, quite a bit of the stuff. But it is all small, tiny stuff really. I have never seen a nugget come out of the Calapoolia.”

“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “That was the biggest nugget I have ever seen.”

“That is a $20,000 nugget, maybe $30,000,” Bob said. “But, I can’t believe it came out of the Calapoolia.”

“I guess, when I think about it, he never specifically said it came out of the Calapoolia, I just assumed it,” I said. “He has been camped up there most of the summer.”

“Now you have done it,” Bob said. “I am not going to be able to sleep until I can get up there and start looking through the place myself.”

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.

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