‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

D. E. Larsen, DVM

My first experience with a sick pig occurred during my senior year in vet school. At Colorado State University, we would only see an occasional pig. If you were not in a midwestern school, your swine medicine instruction came mostly from the book. During one of my weeks on night duty, I accompanied the intern on a farm call to look at this sick sow.

It was the night before Christmas in central Colorado, 10:00 PM and very cold, meaning about -20° F. The wind was blowing hard, and the blowing snow was obscuring the highway’s surface as we headed east out of Fort Collins.

“I hope she’s in a warm barn,” I said as I snuggled down into my parka.

“Don’t bet on it. We wouldn’t even be on this call if it wasn’t for Dr. Voss. He is apparently friends with this family. We have never seen them before.” Young Dr. Sanders explained. Dr. Voss was one of the horse doctors at the teaching hospital and carried a lot of weight, especially with the young interns.

We pulled onto the small farm and were met by two young boys. Their parents were not at home. The boys had found the sow in trouble and called Dr. Voss. The cold was almost unbearable, with the wind blowing like it was.

“Where is she at?” We asked, hoping to be lead to the barn.

“In the back of the pigpen.” The older boy replied, pointing to the low sprawling shed on the north side of the barn.

This pig pen was a fenced area with about a four-foot roof covering it. The entryway was in the middle of the shed, on the roof. 

Hanging his head through the hatch, the young boy pointed to the far corner.

“She’s laying over there,” he said, pointing with a weak flashlight.  

We went back to the truck and loaded our pockets with everything we thought we might need. Hoping we would not have to spend any more time exposed to this weather than necessary.  

Dr. Sanders handed me the flashlight after I jumped into the pigpen. Then he scrambled in after me. The wind still stung our faces as it blew through the wide slats in the fence. We duck walked back toward the corner the boys had pointed out to us. At least all the manure was frozen solid. “This would be just as interesting in the summer,” I thought.

We found the sow right where the boys said she would be. We could see the older boy hanging his head through the hatch, watching our progress. The sow was flat out. She had some mastitis and, obviously, an advanced pregnancy. The chance of helping her in this situation was nil. The possibility of getting her out of here tonight was did not exist.

“What do you think?” Dr. Snyder asked me as we examined the sow on our knees. He was trying to maintain a teaching situation, but we were both freezing.  

“I think we should give her a big dose of penicillin. Tell them to bring her into the hospital in the morning.” I replied in a typical cold student fashion.

“I agree.” Dr. Sanders said. “Let’s do it and get the hell out of here before we freeze.”

We both knew this sow needed more care than a couple of shots, but there was no way we could do anything for her in this situation. This treatment would at least give her a chance of living through the night.

“I wonder how they found her?” I asked as we headed back to the hatch. This would prove to be a question often on my mind in the years to come as I would treat animals in the middle of the night in all sorts of situations and environments.

“You guys did a good job to find her and call Dr. Voss.” Dr. Sanders praised the boys. “If she’s alive in the morning, you have your dad bring her into the hospital.” He instructed.

We jumped into the truck, it was cold, but we were instantly out of the wind.

“Get that heater going,” I said as Dr. Sanders started the truck.

It would take the whole night to warm up. We probably were close to hypothermia that night. I never heard if the sow lived through the night. I doubt very much that she did.

Photo by Ibiza Ibiza Ibiza on Unsplash

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.

6 thoughts on “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

  1. Why do emergences happen at Christmas during the night…You and Sandy were beyond kind answering your phone for help the evening after Christmas when you both had arrived home. My westie Duncan was in distress and I knew he couldn’t hang on any longer. You both met me at the clinic and the deed was done..I say this through the tears I still shed…Thank you so much for helping my dear boy that night..You went out of your way to help an animal who need help to cross over..That sad kindness will never be forgotten by me…My best to you both…Merry Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Animals sometimes have a way of picking the worst time and circumstances to have a problem. -20 is pretty cold. Sometimes all one can do is the best they can under the circumstances and hope for the best.

    I remember too, you and Sandy were always good at answering those after hours calls. Rick and I were both grateful for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Merry Christmas Lavinia. Easter always seemed to be the holiday with the most emergencies. It just seemed like we had an emergency surgery every Easter for a lot of years.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wishing you both a Merry Christmas, too. We are glad you were there all those years. You took good care of all the animals. The clinic’s record keeping was also far above and beyond what one normally sees, detailed, readable and informative, not just a receipt. I can look back through any animal’s records I have and say. “And that’s the way it was.” No questions. I hope you get a chance to at least be a guest lecturer at OSU. You have at lot of knowledge and general protocol to impart to younger veterinarians.


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