The Battle of Ping-Li, From the Archives

D. E. Larsen, DVM

It was the end of a busy afternoon when I leaned into the reception desk to check on what remained of the day.

“I’m beat, how close to being done are we?” I asked.

“You poor man,” Sandy replied. She seldom gave me any sympathy. “Your last appointment is in the exam room. It is just a nail trim on a cat, you should be able to handle it okay.”

I stepped into the exam room and met Al and Vivian. They were new clients, but I had met Al when I was on a farm call out on Upper Berlin Road some weeks before. Al was a short guy, stocky, and with white hair and mustache. Vivian was taller than Al by several inches. 

Vivian was in immediate command of the conversation, Al would add a quip every now and then. They were parents of a long time client and had just moved to the area from San Francisco. Al had retired from a machine shop some years earlier but continued with his passion as a western cartoonist and illustrator. 

“Ping-Li is in the carrier,” Vivian said. “We just need his toenails clipped. I am on this blood thinner, and he doesn’t seem to understand that I can’t be his scratching post anymore.”

“And, Doc, he doesn’t really like to have his feet messed with,” Al said. “That is why we are here. We didn’t get one nail clipped last night.”

“Well, let’s get him up on the table and see what he thinks of us,” I said as I started to pick up the rather large carrier setting on the floor. 

I was surprised at the weight of the carrier. I leaned over and looked into the carrier as I set it on the exam table. 

Ping-Li was a large cat, well over 20 pounds and not fat at all. Ping-Li made his feelings known from the start, with a loud hiss at my face.

“I am not sure he wants to be friends,” Al said as Ping-Li hissed and jumped at the cage door.

“I think we will get some reinforcements before we get him out of the kennel,” I said. “You guys might want to wait out front.”

“He is pretty much a baby at home, but it is just the two of us most of the time,” Vivian said. “If anybody comes over, he generally hides. I am hoping this won’t be too traumatic for him.”

“Once we get a hand on him, we should be able to handle him okay,” I said. “I have a couple of gals here to help who are real cat ladies.”

“I don’t think I want to have him sedated for this,” Vivian said. “If it comes to that, we will rethink things.”

“He is one of the larger cats that we deal with around here,” I said. “But I think we can get him under control without sedating him.”

With that, Marilyn, Joleen, and I closed ourselves into the exam room with Ping-Li. The first task was to get him out of the kennel. He made it very clear that nobody was going to reach in and grab him. 

We opened the kennel door, and Joleen and I tipped it up to dump him onto the exam table. Good idea, but Ping-Li had himself braced against the sides of the kennel with all four feet. We shook the kennel several times before finally getting Ping-Li onto the exam table.

I attempted some soft talk and petting to calm him down. He hissed and swatted at the air close to my chest. Joleen made a quick grab for the back of his neck, and that got him a little under control. Using the extra-large cat sack, it took all three of us to get him stuffed inside and zipped up. He was almost too large.

Once secured, I did a quick once over. Everything looked okay, every time I came close to his head, I was greeted with a hiss. Using the scale on the tabletop, Ping-Li weighed in at just under 25 pounds. I looked at a couple of cats that weighed a couple of pounds more than that, but they were very obese. There was no fat on Ping-Li.

Once we had him in the sack, clipping his nails was no problem. We would just unzip a bottom opening by each foot, fight with Ping-Li to get the foot out of the sack, clip the nails and move to the next foot. By the time we were done, the hiss had become a loud growl. I think Ping-Li was indeed mad.

Marilyn checked with Al and Vivian to make sure there was nothing else. They came back to see Ping-Li in his sack before we returned him to the kennel. Vivian wanted to pet him to calm him down a little, but her efforts were met with hisses and growls.

We pointed Ping-Li into his kennel and started unzipping the cat sack. He was squirming out of it before it was half undone. He hit the back of the kennel, turned and hissed.

“Oh, I think he is mad,” Vivian said

“It will probably be more difficult next time,” Al said. “He is a pretty smart cat, and he will remember you, Doctor.”

Ping-Li became a regular visitor to the clinic. On most of the visits, he was much more manageable than he was on this first visit. But he continued to hate having his nails clipped, and it almost always required a cat sack to get the job done. 

I liked to think most cats became our friends, or they came to tolerate our invasion of their space. Ping-Li probably came to tolerate that invasion to a degree, but he never became our friend.

Some months after that battle with Ping-Li, Al came by with the cartoon at the top of this story. It still hangs in my study.

Surgical Anatomy, Fall Quarter, 1973 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Our junior year of veterinary school started with a bang. This was our first exposure to clinical medicine, and this was why most of us were here. But the rigors of the curriculum came as a new reality for some. 

We were at the clinic a full forty-hour week. We had classes that were sandwiched in between clinic responsibilities. Depending on your clinic rotation for any given week, it often meant arriving at seven or before and getting home sometimes well after six.

Some classes were elective, but the surgical anatomy class was required for the entire class. It was a full-hour lecture, twice a week in the old classroom upstairs over the clinic. In the early fall, it was always hot and poorly ventilated in this classroom. The seating was cramped, and the old wooden seats were hard.

“I know that most of you feel you know your anatomy pretty well,” Doctor Boer said. “But this class will concentrate on the specific anatomy you will encounter doing the common surgical procedures in veterinary medicine. I plan to hand out detailed notes so we can concentrate on the material and not have to worry about taking notes.”

“That sounds interesting,” I said to Ben, seated next to me. “I am not sure how that will work for me. I learn best when I write things down.”

“Ha, I’ve seen your notes,” Ben said. “I don’t know how you can read them.”

“I generally don’t have to read them,” I said. “If I hear the lecture and write down the important points, I will remember it.”

“Yes, but remember it for how long?” Ben asked.

“Well, I’m twenty-eight years old, so, for at least twenty-five years, I guess,” I said.

“You’re saying you don’t forget anything?” Ben asked.

“Pretty much, sometimes I need something to spark a recall, but if I can recall it, it is there,” I said. “Definitely, for the three months of this class.”

I collected my three pages of notes, poured the last half cup of coffee out of my thermos, and settled back in my seat. Doctor Boer started the lecture.

The room was hot, and we were at the end of the day. And Doctor Boer’s lecture just involved him standing up there and reading the notes. 

“What the hell,” I said in a low voice to Ben. “Does he think we can’t read?” Ben tried to frown. He remembered me getting him in trouble in Doctor Kainer’s class in our freshman year.

I sat quietly and followed along with Doctor Boer’s reading. I figured he would give a highlight or a side point somewhere along the way, but no such luck.

When class was over, we gathered ourselves up and headed downstairs, either to go home or to finish up things in our clinic rotation.

“I think I will have to save some more of my coffee to survive those lectures,” I said as we started down the stairs.

“It will be better when the weather gets a little cooler,” Ben said. “That room must be at the far end of the air conditioner duct system.”

The weeks wore on. The class would file into the classroom, pick up their notes packet, and take their seats. We were not assigned seats, but out of habit, probably starting in our freshman year, we always seemed to sit in the same seat, surrounded by the same group of friends.

I sat down and poured a full cup of coffee from my thermos.

“I’m beat,” I said. “At least tonight is the last night of my night duty.”

“That night duty makes for a pretty long week,” Chuck said.

Doctor Boer came into the room and picked up his packet of notes from the pile. He stood behind the podium and started reading. No small talk by this guy.

It was the middle of October, and the room was still hot. I sucked down the last of my coffee and tried to concentrate on the notes.

I woke with a jolt. Ben had elbowed me in the ribs.

I looked around the classroom, and everyone was looking at me. Some of the guys were trying to control a laugh. 

I looked at Doctor Boer. He was glaring at me, silent. He had paused in his reading.

“You were snoring,” Ben whispered.

After a full minute of constant glare, Doctor Boer started reading again. It took me a minute to find my spot on the page. I must have been asleep for several minutes.

The following week, when we filed into the classroom, there was no pile of notes.

Dr. Boer came in with his notes in hand. He assumed his position at the podium.

“Thanks to Mister Larsen, I have decided to do away with the printed notes,” Doctor Boer said just before he started reading.

Everyone in the class was scrambling to get a notebook out and start taking notes. 

“I think you’re going to be in the doghouse for a while,” Ben said.

“Everyone will function better taking notes,” I said. “This guy can put anyone to sleep.”

“They won’t be happy,” Ben said.

Ben was right, of course. As we filed out of the classroom and down the stairs, it seemed everyone had the same comment.

“Thanks, Larsen.”

Photo by Wokandapix on Pixaby.

Cold Weather Delivery 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

When I turned off the highway onto Liberty Road, my headlights flashed across a field that was white with a heavy frost. 

“It’s going to be a cold one tonight,” I said to myself as I corrected for a slight skid of the truck’s rear end. “At least Scott Mountain Road will be gravel.”

Pat had said the ewe was in the barn. It won’t be heated, but it will be out of the wind. 

If I had a call for dystocia in a backyard ewe, I could figure it would be a simple problem. Pat has been sheep ranching for many years. When she has trouble delivering lambs, it is probably a major problem. 

I slowed down for the last mile of pavement and made the turn onto Scott Mountain Road with care. The gravel surface was welcome, and it will make the twist on turns on this mountain road a lot safer than if it was paved.

Pat was waiting on her front porch when I pulled into her driveway.

“You will have to park here,” Pat said. “In this weather, you can’t get closer to the barn.”

The cold wind stung my bare arms when I stepped from the truck. I reached into the truck and grabbed my fleece jacket to wear to and from the barn.

I filled a bucket of warm water and grabbed my OB bag. 

“Lead the way, Pat,” I said. “Tell me what’s going on with this gal as we walk.”

“I noticed her with a bubble hanging out of her just before dinner tonight,” Pat said. “We ran her into the barn, got her in a pen, and then went and ate dinner. Nothing had happened when we checked her after dinner. I cleaned her up, like you always show me how to do, and ran my hand into her. All I could feel was a bunch of legs. I felt around awhile, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so we figured you needed something to do tonight.”

Pat’s barn was old, and the siding boards were weathered to a steel gray. Pat pushed the door open for me, guided me through it with her flashlight beam, and followed me into the barn.

“Things are a bit cluttered in here,” Pat said. “When you get a little older, there is always something left to do, but the days are just too short.”

Sheep barns were always a bit of a wonder for me. There seemed to be pens everywhere, and there was no specific order to their arrangement.

“She is way in the back of the barn,” Pat said. “You follow me, and I will try to keep the light so both of us can see.”

The barn was only slightly warmer than the outside. Most of the pens were empty, so there was no body heat from the sheep to warm things up. The best thing was we were out of the wind.

I stepped over the fence into the pen, and Pat put a halter on the ewe. I took off my fleece jacket and tossed it over to a couple of hay bales.

After washing up the ewe, I got down on my knees behind the ewe and ran a well-lubed bare hand into her birth canal. As I pushed through the cervix, I ran into a bunch of legs. 

It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what was going on. Then I counted legs.

“I count five legs right here,” I said. “That means we have twins, at least.”

“Twins are great,” Pat said. “But don’t try to tell me that there are triplets.”

“First thing, I need to find a head or a butt,” I said. “Then I can get one of them out of the way and then figure out what’s left.”

I reached deeper into the right side of the uterus and found a tail. I stuck a finger in the butt, and it cinched down on my finger.

“At least there is one of them alive,” I said as I gathered up the hind legs associated with the tail. Once I jiggled the other lambs out of the way, I pulled the hind legs and pelvis of the lamb into the birth canal. With a pull, I delivered the lamb in a posterior presentation.

The lamb landed in the straw and shook his head. Pat quickly dips his umbilical cord in iodine and gives him a Bo-Se injection. Then we shoved him up to momma’s nose. She immediately started licking the new lamb, even as I went back for the next one.

I reached into the left side of the uterus and found another bunch of legs. I fished through these legs and found a head. Grabbing the head like I would grab a baseball, I pulled the head up to the birth canal. Then finding the correct set of front legs, I pulled her with simple traction.

“I think there is one more, Pat,” I said as I pushed her over to the edge of the pen so Pat could take care of it.

“I don’t get triplets very often,” Pat said. “Do you see them much?”

“Triplets are uncommon for me, but I have seen quite a few in sheep, a few in goats, and one set in a cow,” I said. “I have seen three sets of quads, two in ewes and one in a goat.”

“Quads sound like a chore,” Pat said. “I would think you would have to bummer one or two of them.”

“They take a little extra work, but I had them leave them all with their mothers and just supplement them with a little extra milk,” I said. “That worked out well for all of them.”

I reached into the ewe, and the third lamb was lined up, ready to get out of there. Had I talked a little longer, momma would have pushed him. One little tug and he was out.

“I have always heard that in twins with mixed sexes, the females are sterile,” Pat said. “But that doesn’t seem to be a problem with lambs.”

“Yes, it is almost always a problem in cattle, but it’s rare in sheep,” I said. “It probably occurs less than one percent of the time in sheep.” 

The lambs were shivering when I stepped out of the pen, and my wet arm was suddenly icy.

“You might need to rig up a heat lamp for this bunch tonight,” I said. “It is going to get pretty cold tonight.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Pat said. “We don’t have electricity in this old barn. But there is an outlet in the shed behind the house. I will have to string a couple of extension cords together, but I think it will be fine.”

I washed up with the warm water in my bucket that was no longer warm, I pulled on my fleece jacket, and it felt a little warm. The truck heater is going to feel good.


It was several weeks later when Pat stopped by the clinic.

“You should see those lambs,” Pat said. “They are growing so fast and doing so well. I am so glad for your suggestion of leaving them all with mom. I had to supplement them a little for the first couple of weeks, but that was all. I would be feeding a bummer for another month.”

Photo by Matt Brown on Pexels.

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