A Shot in the Dark

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The phone jarred me awake, it took a moment to orientate myself. I glanced at the clock, 3:00 AM. I sat up on the edge of the bed and shiver a bit as the chill of the bedroom air hits me.  I picked up the phone.

It was Jack, “Good morning, he said, I have a call, a downed cow with a uterine prolapse. I would like you to come along so I can show you how we do things. I’ll pick you up in a few minutes.”

I sprang up, pulled on my pants with a quickening heart rate. This was exciting stuff for a new graduate. This was my very first emergency call, and I could hardly contain my excitement.

I had finished vet school 3 months ahead of most of my class due to a new schedule at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine. They had divided the class into 4 groups, each group took their quarter break at different times in the school year. My group had Spring Quarter off. 

Sandy and I had 3 kids, and at this time, we were close to being broke. I got a temporary license and went to work. This was Wednesday night, actually Thursday morning, of my first week in a professional position.

I was a little surprised at my excitement. I was no kid, I was 30 years old. I had spent 4 years in the Army Security Agency. Mostly at top-secret border sites in South Korea and Germany. I had been through some exciting and tense times. I had regularly briefed generals who visited the locations. I had been in the middle of the scramble for intelligence during the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. And here I am,  excited about going out at 3:00 in the morning to look at a sick cow.

Jack was a big man. I considered him an old man. He had been in practice for over 30 years, graduating from Washington State in 1943. He must have been all of 57 years old. 

Jack lived only a few blocks away, but I was dressed and waiting when he pulled up in the truck. The cow was at Fred’s place, only about a mile out of town.  

It is common for a dairy cow to get milk fever around calving time. It results from low blood calcium levels due to a delay in mobilizing calcium from the bones to meet the demand of milk production. Most of the time, it is rapidly progressive, and the cow will be down and unable to rise. If not treated promptly, it will result in death. The uterus can prolapse with or without milk fever.

We pulled into the barnyard. Cows were lined up for the morning milking, and the milker was busy in the parlor. We walked through the loafing shed and found the cow flat out in the straw and manure.  Her uterus was completely everted on the straw. The cow was comatose, suffering from advanced milk fever and probably compounded from shock associated with the uterine prolapse.

I started to collect some vitals on the cow, laying my stethoscope on her chest.

“Looks like we’re going to need some help with this one.” Jack says. He has already seen all he needs to see for his diagnosis. I tuck my stethoscope back inside my coveralls as Jack starts toward the milking parlor.

“We need some help with this cow.” Jack says to Charlie, the milker. “We will need the tractor with the frontend loader.”

“I can’t help, Fred is particular about milking time.” Charlie replied. “You need to get the hired man up to help. He lives in that small house across the barnyard.”

I follow Jack across the barnyard to the hired man’s house. I feel a little like I did in school, following some doctor around waiting to learn something but nothing really to do with yourself otherwise.

Jack knocks hard on the door of the little house.

“Who’s there?” The hired man calls out from inside the house. A light comes on.

“This is Doc,” Jack replies in a loud voice, leaning into the door to make sure he is heard. “We’re here to take care of a cow down with a prolapsed uterus.  We need you to get up and give us a hand.”

There is a short pause.

“I don’t get up at 3:00 in the morning for no damn cow,” the hired man replies. The light goes out.

Jack’s face reddens and he leans into the closed door, almost pressing his forehead into the door. 

“I don’t get up at 3:00 in the morning either if I don’t get any help!” Jack booms at the door.

There is no reply from inside the small house. Jack turns and steps past me, almost brushing me aside. He walks briskly to the truck. I follow, not sure what is next. Jack pulls open the door, reaches under the seat and pulls out a pistol, checks the clip, and chambers a shell. He heads back across the barnyard.

Jack finally calms himself enough to talk. 

“No reason for the cow to suffer because of that lazy bastard.”  

Jack places the gun against the back of her head and pulls the trigger. The cow stiffens and is gone.

”At least she won’t suffer any longer.” Jack says as he heads back to the truck. 

We drive home without talking. Jack drops me in front of the house.

“See you in the morning.” He says as he pulls away.  

Photo by Corinna Widmer from Pexels

Happy Birthday Amy

D. E. Larsen, DVM 

I remember the day well.  The day in that year was a Friday, and I was in my Freshman year in veterinary medical school at Colorado State University. I was excited about your pending entrance into the world.  I was also concerned about missing the Friday afternoon exam in anatomy. Yours was the first birth to occur in the class, and everyone was excited for us. 

We made a trip to the doctor’s office early in the morning (Dr. Voss), and he decided it was time. They admitted your mother to the hospital (Poudre Valley Hospital) and started sublingual oxytocin at about 10:00 AM.

About 1:00 PM, the nurse, decided it was time to call Dr. Voss. They moved Sandy to the delivery room and started her final prep. Changing into to scrubs with Dr. Voss, he was in a casual mood and full of questions about vet school. He shared the same name as a young horse doctor on staff. There were a few stories that Dr. Voss, the horse doctor, liked to tell. I am sure the phone calls got mixed up at times.

We got into the delivery room a little after 1:30. The anatomy test was at 4:00 every Friday, and I was sure that I was going to miss it today. After Dr. Voss did a quick exam, he said he would break the water and get things started. He took a small hook and ruptured the amnion. I was a little surprised at the volume of the fluid rush. Dr. Voss turned away to set the hook aside, your mother did one hard push, and you were presented. He reached back and cradled your head, one more push, and you were out.

Can’t remember your weight, 8 pounds, and maybe some 12 ounces. A couple of stitches for Mom, cleaned you up a little, and you two were in a room by 2:30. I stuck around a bit until everyone was settled, and they moved you to the nursery. You were by far the prettiest baby there.

I made it back to class just before the exam. The entire class was in the amphitheater when I rushed in. Late arrivals were not allowed entry. There was a standing ovation and many congregations but no cigars. Everyone was shocked that I made it to the exam.

Now I am sure someone is going to ask for a story about the Drs. Voss. Sandy’s Dr. Voss was an older (gray hair) OB/Gyn, and Dr. Voss, the horse doctor, was a young man (40 some) and very popular with clients and students. He later became the Dean of the vet school, and the new teaching hospital is named after him. Dr. Voss always had stories to tell in class or on calls. He loved to tell the story of a phone call he received one evening during a porker game he was holding at his house. A large group of senior students was present. 

The call was from a young lady, “Dr. Voss?” She asked.

“Yes, this is Dr. Voss.” he replied.

The young lady then went into a long story about her problems to which Dr. Voss would say “I see” or “oh” or the like. Usually with an eye roll or other expressions to the now interested group.

Finally, after several minutes of listening Dr. Voss says “I’m sorry mam, I don’t think I can be of much help for you, I am Dr. Voss the horse doctor.”

There was a brief period of silence then a distinct and loud click as she hung up.

This was one of his favorite stories and had some truth to it as it was backed up by a large group of students.

Two Down at Once

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The appointment said 1:30. I looked at my pocket watch, it said 1:30. I stood in the driveway, wondering what to do now. At least I wasn’t far from the clinic.

Finally, Paul comes out of the house and down the walkway to my truck.

“Sorry for the hold-up,” Paul says as he extends his hand. “Sue was supposed to be here by now. It is her horse, but I guess I can give you a hand, up until there is blood. I don’t do blood.”

Paul is a big guy, well over six feet tall and well-muscled. He stands and watches as I get my things together. Horse castrations were basic surgery,  but I wouldn’t say I liked the procedure. I guess I was just not a horse vet. A lot of guys did the procedure with the horse standing. But with most owners lacking adequate facilities, I was reluctant to do standing castrations. That, and the fact that I watched a classmate lacerate his arm with a scalpel doing a standing castration in school.  I found that a good dose of Pentathol works wonders. It laid them down comfortably, and recovery was fast enough and smooth for the most part.

“Where is the horse?” I ask.

“He is out in the pasture. Sue thought that would be the best place to do this,” Paul said. “He is not a problem to handle. Sue said, you were going to sedate him.”

“Yes, I give an anesthetic, lay them on the ground to do the surgery. They recover without much of a problem.”

“Are you going to be okay if I leave after you get him on the ground?” Paul asked.

“Yes, I will be fine. I tie a leg up, and the surgery if relatively rapid.”

“I would do more, but blood is just one of those things I can’t handle,” Paul said with some anxiety in his voice.

“Well, there is not much with this, and once we get him on the ground, you can just walk away,” I said.

I handed Paul a few things to carry and stood, waiting for him to lead the way to the pasture. I was hoping that he was correct about the horse is no problem to catch. Often the owner has that story, and when the vet arrives, the head goes up, and there is no catching him.

There was no problem today. I picked a nice level spot in the pasture and sat my things down. Paul brought Pepper over with a lead on his halter, and we were set to go.

Pepper was a nice looking young horse, probably less than two years old. He was a gray roan. That probably lead to his name.

I soothed Pepper a little. I had drawn up three grams of Pentathol into a 60 cc syringe. I stood at Pepper’s left shoulder, and Paul was standing at my shoulder, holding the lead. Pepper was as calm as one could expect. I held off the jugular vein with my left hand, palpated it with the back of my right hand, and then slipped the needle into the vein. I glanced at Paul, and he was doing fine. I drew back on the syringe to ensure I was in the vein. A small flashback of blood came into the syringe. It looked like an upside-down reddish mushroom. With everything in place, I started the injection. Then I glanced back a Paul.

There he was, flat out on the ground behind me. That small mushroom of blood in the syringe was all it took. He was out like a light. At least he had some soft ground to land on. My problem now was I had started the injection and couldn’t stop midstream. I gathered the lead rope in my left hand and delivered a full two gram into the vein.

I was able to guide Pepper’s fall back and to his right side so he would end up well away from Paul. The with Pepper on the ground, I slowly gave the other gram of Pentathol to get him well under anesthesia.

With Pepper under control, I went over to check Paul. He was starting to come around when I got down beside him. I helped him sit up, and then after a moment, I helped him onto his feet.

“I’m sorry, Doc,” Paul said. “It doesn’t take much blood to do me in, I guess. Are you going to be alright here? I think I am going back to the house.”

With Paul under control and gone, I put a sideline on Pepper and took a wrap on his left fetlock. Then I pulled that foot forward and up, securing it out of the way. Then I prepped the scrotum with Betadine Scrub and sprayed it with Betadine.

Everything was set for surgery now. I incised the scrotum over each testicle, extending the incision into the testicle, so the tunic was also incised. Then, hooking my finger in the pocket formed by the everted tunics, I pulled both testicles, and their tunics, out of the scrotum.  This freed all the tunic attachments. 

Then I clamped an Oschner forceps across the cord and removed the testicle and tunic with the emasculator. I held a firm grip on the emasculator for a moment to ensure a good tissue crush. I sprayed the cord with an antibiotic and released the forceps. This allowed the cord to retract into the scrotum. The next testicle was removed the same manner. Then with scissors, I removed the bottom of the scrotum between the two incisions. I stretched the opening to ensure adequate drainage and sprayed the area with an antibiotic spray. I sprayed a large area with fly spray, including the tail.

With everything done, I picked up everything and moved out of the way. I removed the sideline and grabbed the lead rope. While I was waiting for Pepper to recover, I gave him a booster to his tetanus vaccination. And since Sue was usually at work during office hours, I gave him a good dose of Dual Pen. I didn’t use antibiotics following surgery if there were no problems, I just thought this might save me a return trip.

It was not long, and Pepper opened his eyes, then with one motion, he righted himself to rest on his sternum. Then he stood up, I needed to steady him a bit, but he was good to go in no time at all. I removed the lead road and gathered my stuff, putting almost everything into the now-empty bucket.

After getting everything put away in the truck, I glanced out to the pasture. Pepper was grazing, almost as nothing happened. I went to the front door and knocked. Paul was a little slow to open the door but looked okay when he did.

“I was just checking to make sure you were okay,” I said.

“I am okay, Doc,” Paul said. “I will have Sue stop by your office to pay the bill and get any instructions.”

“Good enough, you take care of yourself,” I said. “Pepper is up and eating. You don’t need to worry about him, Sue will check him when she gets home.”

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash.

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