One Needle Poke Or Another

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Critter was Karen’s problem child. He hated the clinic. And he was almost impossible to control on the exam table without the help of Karen.

Critter was a Sheltie. He was well cared for, and Karen and her family thought the world of him. It helped that he was on the smallish side for a Sheltie, but even the small dogs were difficult to control if they were convinced that you would do them harm.

With both Karen and Ruth struggling to control Critter, I worked through the exam as fast as possible. Getting a worm pill down him was a little like feeding an alligator, all teeth and jaws were snapping. The little plastic pill gun saved my fingers but suffered some fatal bites.  It would have to be retired. Then came the vaccination. There was real fear in Critter’s eyes as he eyed me out of the corner of his eye.

“Make sure that it is Critter that gets the injection,” Karen said. 

“Yes, that would be an unwelcome ending to this ordeal,” Ruth said.

“Let me tell you a little story,” Karen said. “Just to justify my concern.”

Karen was not much larger than Ruth. She was a nurse at the Lebanon hospital. Her short dark hair had a few streaks of gray, but she was probably close to my late 30s.

“I was getting ready to flush a catheter in the hospital one afternoon,” Karen said. “The patient was not as bad as Critter, but he was a little jumpy. Just as I had the needle to the catheter, and he jumped. Not a little jump, he really jumped. The needle and syringe flew into the air. Instinctively, I reached out and caught it. The needle pierced two of my fingers. I was lucky that it was a sterile needle, and not much came of it. Not much except for a hole through two fingers. I think about that every time I flush a catheter now.”

“I have to admit, Karen, that I poke myself every once in a while,” I said. “But, I have never stuck a client.”

With everything completed with Critter, I set him on the floor and watched him dance around, happy as could be. He took a treat from my hand, a completely different dog.

“I was going to see if you guys would clip his nails,” Karen said. “But I think he can only tolerate so much at one time.”

Ruth smiled, “I think he is not the only one who can only tolerate so much at one time.”

“So now, before you go, I have to tell you a real needle story,” I said.

“You probably work with some large needles when you work on those cows and horses,” Karen said. 

“I was working a herd of cattle, doing pregnancy checks, and doing some booster vaccines at the same time. In the 1970s, we commonly used automatic syringes when working a herd. I never liked them and seldom used them, but it allowed me to work a little faster. Pregnancy checking with my left hand in a sleeve and using an automatic syringe in my right. I would work several cows before changing sleeves and refilling the syringe.”

“That sounds like it would be difficult to keep everything clean,” Karen said.

“Yes, I could do three or four cows and then stop to clean up,” I said. “For some reason, I was working by myself, I am not sure I remember why.”

These pistol grip syringes were large, chrome, and glass syringes. The handle allowed you to stick the cow with the needle and pull the trigger to administer the vaccine. The benefit was not having to load a syringe with each dose.

“I was using needles that were one and a half inches long and 16 gauge. That allowed less resistance to the plunger. And I would change needles every time I stopped to clean up. So a needle would be used on three or four cows.”

“I had been working most of the afternoon, and I was probably tiring a little,” I continued. “But as I neared the end of the herd, I tried the hurry along a little. I checked this one big old Brahman cross cow and injected her with my right hand, a subcutaneous injection, behind her right elbow. I turned back toward the table to get ready for the last few cows. As I turned, I sort of let the syringe swing in my hand. When I stepped with my right leg, I buried that 16 gauge needle to the hub into my right thigh.”

“Did you inject yourself?” Karen asked.

“No, I would have really had a problem had that happened,” I said. “It was a clostridial vaccine for subQ use only. As it was, I had one sore leg for a few days.”

“I would guess you made some changes after that,” Karen said.

“I had been looking for an excuse to get rid of those syringes for some time,” I said. “They were becoming a thing of the past with all the single-use products coming into use. That was the last time I used them. And the last time I worked a herd without some help.”

Photo Credit: Photo by Ademola Adebowale 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.

One thought on “One Needle Poke Or Another

  1. An old pathobiology professor I knew back at UCONN told the class he once accidentally injected himself. He was working on a research project with chickens and Rous Sarcoma Virus, and had a squirmy chicken. He got the injection of virus instead of the test subject.


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