What is in a Name?

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The young mare was standing in the shade of the lean-to in the corner of the pasture. I could see that her tail was soaked from explosive diarrhea.

“Winnie looks like she is losing a lot of weight, Doc,” Denton said. “It seemed to happen all of a sudden, almost overnight. One morning she just had this diarrhea, and I gave her a dose of stuff from the feed store, but that didn’t seem to do a thing for her.”

“When was the last time you wormed her?” I asked.

“I gave her one of those syringes of paste from the feed store last fall,” Denton said. “I guess I don’t know what was in it. Do you think this is worms?” 

“That’s a possibility, but it would be unusual for it to start all of a sudden,” I said. “Let’s get a lead rope on Winnie, and I’ll look her over.”

This was a nice young mare and no problem to handle. I noted mild dehydration, and it did look like she had been losing weight. I laid my stethoscope on her abdomen. Her gut sounds were increased. In fact, they were really rumbling.

I pulled on a couple of plastic sleeves before I handled her tail that was soaked with diarrhea.

“Winnie’s gut is really rumbling, and from the looks of this tail, she must be squirting diarrhea,” I said as I inserted a thermometer into her rectum.

“Does she have a fever?” Denton asked.

“Not much of one,” I said. “It is just slightly elevated, and that is a good sign. With how that gut sounds, I almost expected to have a gut infection going on.”

I lubed my left arm and carefully inserted it into her rectum as I braced myself with my right elbow on her hip. The lining of her colon felt inflamed, so I limited my exam to not cause any bleeding. I did sweep my hand along the length of her uterus before withdrawing it. She was not pregnant.

When I pulled my arm out of Winnie’s rectum, the sleeve was covered with hundreds of small, one-half-inch-long, bright red larval worms. I had read about this but had never seen it. In fact, it was supposed to be uncommon in this country. I showed my arm to Denton.

“Wow!” Denton said. “What is that?”

“Those are larval worms,” I said. “Winnie has larval cyathostomiasis, big word, but it means these little worms and thousands like them have been residing in the lining of her intestines. For some reason, unknown to me, they make a mass emergence from under the lining of the colon. This causes a lot of inflammation and, like we see here, explosive diarrhea.”

“How do you remember a name like that?” Denton asked. 

“It was hard for me,” I said. “I don’t hear the difference in many sounds, and I never learned phonics. I just have to hear it spoken a time or two, and then I can remember it.”

“What can we do for her?” Denton asked.

“I am going to tube worm her with some stuff that should take care of the worms,” I said. “Then we have to give her some medication to reduce the inflammation in the gut. Sometimes the damage is so severe in the gut that treatment may not work.”

“How do we if it works?” Denton asked.

“She gets well,” I said. “Now, I want to be honest with you, Denton. I am talking out of a book. I have never seen this before. We are just going to have to trust the guys who write those books.”

“Stan, down at the feed store, told me that you were a straight shooter,” Denton said. “Let’s give her what she needs, and we just hope you read the book right.”

“Now, you sound like Doctor Kainer,” I said.

“Who is Doctor Kainer?” Denton asked.

“He was the freshmen nemesis in vet school,” I said. “He made sure we knew how to read, say, and spell those big words.”

I treated Winnie with a tube worming and a dose of IV dexamethasone.

“I’ll give you a call in a couple of days, Denton,” I said. “I would expect this diarrhea to clear right away. If she does get worse, call me sooner.”

***

“Denton, how is Winnie doing today?” I asked when Denton answered the phone.

“Her diarrhea was cleared up the next day, and she is feeling great,” Denton said. “Is there anything else I should be doing for her?”

“I would suggest that you worm her about every two or three months for the next year,” I said. “It does have to be a tube worming. One of the syringes of paste will be fine. I will put you on a call list to check her next year.”

***

As was often the case, I never saw Denton again for many years. Then quite by accident, I bumped into him when I stopped at the feed store one afternoon.

“Good afternoon, Denton,” I said as I extended my hand.

“Doc, I don’t know how you do it,” Denton said as he shook my hand. “I have you out one time to save my wife’s horse, and that was ten years ago. You must have seen half the town by now. How the heck do you remember my name?”

“Just a good memory, I guess,” I said.

Denton shook his head and went on his way out of the store. I never told him that I had a buddy in the Army with his name. And that made it hard to forget.

Photo by Lucas Oliveira 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.

6 thoughts on “What is in a Name?

  1. Oh, do not undersell your profession, doc! Doctors, for humans or animals, must be able to remember a lot of stuff that they statistically might never encounter in practice just to pass their exams and for the few exotic cases that against all odds DO appear. You had never encountered that kind of parasite infestation before and did not only know that it existed but also could remember the complicated name – and do not try to tell me you had an army buddy named just like that.

    The strange thing about brains is – unlike joints – they get better when used a lot, not worse. And you have used your brain quite diligently all your life and you seem to still do.

    Have you ever revisited Germany after the wall fell, btw? How good is your German still, after not using that much for decades? Because I am sure with a brain like yours “the awful German language” will not have been that awful.

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    1. No Fran, the army buddy was named Denton, and they both had the same last name and I had a couple of professors in school who browbeat me over my spelling and pronunciations to the point that I had to learn things correctly. And thank you for your brain comment, I do try to keep it active.
      And for my German, it was never great, but I was reasonably functional. I still have a reasonable grasp of German grammar but my vocabulary is largely lost. My biggest problem is I tend to capitalize most nouns when I write. It drives my proofreader crazy.
      I haven’t had a chance to return to Germany. I do have contact with a couple of friends who keep me up to date about Schöningen. I had a client who was in Germany when the wall came down and he brought me a bagful of concrete chips from the wall. I always say one day I would visit, but I doubt that it will happen at this time.

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  2. I have a vague memory of individual horses suffering tremendous parasite explosions following the use of certain wormers. Apparently, horses (and other species, I suppose) sometimes reach an epistasis with a particular population of parasites. Then, when the wormer disrupts the environment, remaining worms re-populate, but massively.

    Is this just old wive’s tail talk?

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    1. It is not a wive’s tale, but it is not completely understood. Apparently, there is a certain immunity that develops to parasites. This immunity is very fragile. The old horse that has been in his pasture for the last 20 years and never dewormed, seems to do fine. Then along comes a new vet, or a new owner, who insists that the horse must be dewormed. Once the low population of parasites in the gut is removed, that fragile immunity disappears, and then there is a massive exposure from the pasture and/or the lining of the gut. I haven’t heard a lot of discussion of this in cattle, but it could happen, bt definitely happens in the horse and in sheep.

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