The Old Goat

The Old Goat 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I had joined this practice in Enumclaw when I finished school in March of 1975. This was only my second weekend to be on call for emergencies.  

The phone rang as I was helping Sandy clear the table after lunch. It had been a quiet weekend so far, and I had promised Sandy I would go shopping with her and the girls, something I really looked forward too. I winked at her as I picked up the phone.

“This is Doctor Larsen,” I said. “How can I help you?”

“Doc, this is Joe, and I have an old goat that I just bought at the sale, and I think he needs some help. Could I get you to look at him this afternoon?”

“Old goats aren’t worth much,” I said. “Are you sure you want to pay an emergency call to have him looked at this afternoon?” 

“He is a neat-looking old guy,” Joe said. “If I can help him, I would like to do it.”

“Okay, I will meet you at the clinic,” I said. “How long is it going to take you to get there?”

“I’m waiting in the parking lot right now,” Joe said. “I have the goat in the back of my pickup.”

“It will only take me a few minutes to get there. We don’t live far,” I said.

Joe was right about the goat being a neat-looking old guy. If he had been wild, his horns would be a trophy. They were more than a full curl.

I grabbed my stuff and climbed into the back of Joe’s pickup. This old goat was skin and bones and covered with lice. And when I opened his mouth, he didn’t have a single incisor tooth.

“Joe, did you look at this old guy before you bought him?” I asked.

“Nobody bid on him, Doc,” Joe said. “I got him for five dollars. I figured I couldn’t go wrong.”

“Do you have any idea why he was being sold?” I asked.

“I guess I didn’t give that any thought,” Joe said.

“The owner was selling him so he wouldn’t have to be the one to bury him,” I said. “I would say he was on his last leg, but he probably left that leg back at the sale barn. 

He doesn’t have any incisor teeth, and he is skin and bones and is covered in lice. If we do a fecal exam, he is probably wormy as hell. It doesn’t matter much what we do today, this old guy probably isn’t going to live to see summer.”

“So if you worm him, treat his lice, and give him something to pep him up, do you think that will give him a chance?” Joe asked.

“Joe, the parasitism is there because of his debilitated body condition. It is the end result of his poor condition, not the cause,” I said. “We can take care of those things, but he still doesn’t have any teeth upfront. That means he can’t eat grass or hay, and there is no chance he can browse on the brush.”

“You don’t sound like you want to treat him,” Joe said. 

“I think it borders on being cruel to keep this guy going,” I said. “Joe, there are worse places to be than dead.”

“Do you think if you treated him and I took him home and fed him grain, that he would have a chance?” Joe asked.

“You’re grasping at straws, Joe,” I said. “If I treat him, will you agree to bring him by the clinic at the end of the week for a recheck? And, if he isn’t showing improvement, then we put him to sleep.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Doc,” Joe said. “By the time I pay this call and then the recheck, I could have bought a young doe.”

“You could have looked in his mouth before you bought him,” I said. “That old saying about a gift horse has cost people more grief than anything else. I would say the only thing worse than a free horse is a five-dollar goat.”

“Okay, Doc, you win. I will bring him by next week,” Joe said. “What are we going to do for him today?”

So now I had worked myself into a corner. Nowhere in my training or experience was there anything dealing with the geriatric care of a toothless old goat. I could not believe that anything we could do would buy this old guy any more than a few weeks or months.

“I’ll give him a dose of Resorb. That is some oral fluids mixed with some energy stuff,” I said. “Then I will give him an injection of Levasole for his intestinal parasites and powder him for lice. He will need a little more than grain. You will need to pick up some pelleted feed. Alfalfa pellets, if they are are small enough for him to eat. I don’t know; you might end up feeding him rabbit pellets.”

“You think that will work?” Joe asked.

“When you say work, I am not sure your expectations match up with this old guy’s situation,” I said. “I think this guy is going to die. If we do nothing, that is going to happen this week. We might buy him a month or two if we do all of this. I will be amazed if he makes it through the summer, but who knows.”

Now I just needed to figure out how to get a half-gallon of Resorb into this old goat. I didn’t have a speculum that I could use on a goat, and I didn’t have a drench gun. I was stuck with using an esophageal feeder that we used on calves. This was a plastic tube with a rounded bulb on the end that would prevent the feeder from entering the windpipe and would deliver two quarts of liquid into this old guy’s rumen. 

So I mixed up the Resorb and filled the bag connected to the esophageal feeder. I handed the bag to Joe and instructed him to hold it as high as possible when I got the feeder tube inserted and opened the clamp on the hose.

I thought I would have no problem getting this feeder tube into this old goat. Boy did I have some things to learn.

Here we are in the back of a pickup with shakey side rails, the old goat, Joe, and myself. The old goat has figured out that things will not be to his liking. Joe is no young buck, and he is holding this bag of fluid that is connected to this esophageal feeder that I plan to shove down the old goat’s throat.

I pushed the goat’s butt into the corner by the passenger side of the pickup bed. Joe doesn’t quite know where to stand. I try to position him in the other corner on the driver’s side, not wanting him near the tailgate where he could fall. 

With everything in position, I grab the goat by the horns. This skinny old goat, on his last leg, was having nothing to do with this business. I was surprised at his strength. But at thirty years of age, I was no weakling. I pressed his neck against the side rails with my hips, and with my elbow between his horns, I lifted his nose up with my left hand. 

I pulled on the tubing to get more slack, and Joe bumped into me as he repositioned himself. I insert the esophageal feeder tube into the goat’s mouth with my right hand. 

All hell broke loose! The goat bleated and bucked as if he was being strangled. Joe was right behind me now, and I nearly knocked him off his feet as I struggled with this bucking goat.

And then there was a loud crunch. A really loud crunch.

I pulled the feeder tube out of the goat’s mouth. He had bitten off the plastic ball on the end of the tube, and there was just a jagged end now.

“What happened?” Joe asked.

“He bit the end of the tube off,” I said as I held up the plastic tube for Joe to see. “And he swallowed the plastic end.”

“What do we do now?” Joe asked. “Is he going to be okay?”

“If you remember from your comics, goats eat tin cans,” I said. “This won’t bother him. It will just settle in his reticulum and stay there. The reticulum is the little pouch in the front of the rumen that catches things like this. It is just going to make getting this fluid into him a heck of a lot harder.”

I considered removing the plastic tube and drenching the old goat with the tubing coming out of the bag. But considering the trouble I had with the esophageal feeder, I didn’t think that would work. 

“I think we are going to do this the old-fashioned way,” I said to Joe, who was looking a little concerned about the situation.

I got a bucket and emptied the fluid out of the bag into the bucket. Then I started to fill a sixty cc syringe out of the bucket. While I struggling to maintain the old goat cornered and fill the syringe, the goat sniffed the bucket. I moved it in front of him, and he stuck his nose in the bucket and drank the whole thing.

“I think he is smarter than the both of us,” Joe said as he watched the goat drink down the Resorb.

“Yes, he probably likes it,” I said. “I will send you home with a box of packets, and you can give him one twice a day.”

I gave the goat an injection for worms and powdered him for lice.

“You need to powder him once a week for the next month,” I said. “This powder kills the lice but not the eggs. Remember to pick up some pellets to feed him, and I will check him next week.”

***

Joe was right on time for his appointment on Friday morning. Although he was still skin and bones, the old goat was still with us and looked a little brighter.

“I have named the old guy,” Joe said. “I call him Billy. He eats grain and those rabbit pellets really well, and he just sucks down those buckets of Resorb. I think he is doing great.”

“I agree, Joe,” I said. “Billy looks like he is going to be with us for a time. Just don’t get your hopes up about celebrating Christmas with him.”

***

I lost track of Joe and Billy for a time and assumed that things must be going well. It was in late November when Joe came into the clinic to let me know that Billy had passed away.

“He was doing pretty well all summer and fall,” Joe said. “But he never seemed to put on any weight, and when the weather turned cold these last couple of weeks, he just seemed to give up. But I want to thank you for helping me give him a few good months. And you were right; I ended up spending a lot more than the five dollars I gave for him.”

Photo by Boris Hamer from Pexels.

Dinner With Roy, From the Archives

D. E. Larsen, DVM

We moved to Sweet Home in June of 1976. Or at least Sandy and the kids moved in June, I still had some contract obligations in Enumclaw Washington so I sort of came and went for a few weeks.  The clinic was scheduled to be finished in August but there was one delay after the other and it was obvious that it was going to be months after August before it was completed.

When I finally moved to Sweet Home it was obvious that we were going to have to have a plan B while we waited for the clinic to be completed. Clinic equipment was arriving daily and the small apartment we had rented was bursting at the seams. We had finally put earnest money down on a house, so there was light at the end of the tunnel.

I had enough equipment to start a house call practice. The phone had been ringing with the growing community awareness that we had moved to town. I was not swamped, but I was generating some income so we were not going to starve just yet.

In late July I took the time to visit all the other veterinarians in the county. Most were surprised that I chose to start a practice in Sweet Home. They were cordial but not extremely excited.  There is an old saying in the profession, “The difference between a colleague and a competitor is 50 miles.” That was probably reflected in their responses.

Dr. Craig was completely different.  He had started a practice on Golden Valley Road out of Lebanon just the year before.  He had moved from Nebraska. He was a large man, very friendly and with a firm handshake.  Roy was a generation older than I, both in age and in education.  The profession was beginning to change and Roy and I reflected the fulcrum in that change. Roy was a WWII veteran and had been older when he graduated from vet school. My age and military experience gave us some common ground outside of the profession.

We discussed my situation and Roy expressed concern. He was going on vacation for 2 weeks and would not be around to lend a hand if I needed help.

“You are going to need a clinic to fall back on sooner or later,” he said with genuine concern. 

“House calls are okay for routine stuff but sooner or later you are going to need a clinic. Here, you take a key to this place. Use it like it is yours if you need it and we will see you when we get back.”

Roy hands me a key to his clinic after a half an hour of conversation. He really didn’t know me from Adam. Try to find a man today who would do something like that for a colleague. I don’t think Roy had heard the old saying or at least it didn’t mean anything to him.  I tried to decline but he would have none of it. This was the way it was and there was no further discussion.

Roy, of course, was right. There did come a time in those weeks when I needed to use his clinic. A small dog with a ruptured bladder after being hit by a car  needed abdominal surgery. Most people can relate to cooking in someone else’s kitchen where you don’t know where anything is at.  You ought to try doing surgery in someone else’s surgery suite sometime.  But I got through it, and I was forever in Roy’s debt in my view of the world.

After they got home Sandy and I took Roy and Jenny to dinner at the Hereford Steer in Albany.  In those years, the Hereford Steer was about as up scale as one could get in Albany. It was a small payment for their generosity and allowed us to build on a new friendship.

Sandy and Jenny got along well. Roy was much more of a talker that I but dinner was just beginning when the story telling started. I had not been in the profession nearly as long as Roy, but I was in a busy dairy practice in Enumclaw so I had my share of stories also. People often complain about how veterinarians can talk shop and tell stories over dinner but for us it is just the way it is. Veterinary medicine in the 1970’s was a life style as much as it was a career. Solo practice was the normal. That meant many long hours of work in professional isolation with few speciality people to send difficult cases.  If it was going to get done, it would be done by my hands. Family plans were often dashed due to a last minute phone call, and the phone often started the day as early as 3:00 AM.

Roy’s voice was loud in normal conversation, and after a couple of drinks I would guess it probably got really loud. With dinner over we continued the story telling and relaxed over a little Kahlua on the rocks. The evening wore on. We told stories of difficult deliveries, gaping wounds, abdominal surgeries, maggots and pus.

It was in the middle of one of Roy’s stories, he was describing how he was laying in the mud with his arm buried in the vagina of this heifer, trying to get some traction with his toes so he could reach just a little deeper, when I looked around and realized that we were alone in the middle of the large restaurant. The other folks and their tables had been moved as far away from us as possible. Some of the people were trying to ignore our discussion, and some where watching with horrified expressions.

It had been a great evening in our view. New friends and a colleague who I knew I could always depend on.  My only concern was how was I going to be able to repay this man.  The waitress, on the other hand, was very prompt when I raised a finger for the check.

Image by Devon Breen from Pixabay.

I Presume?

I Presume?

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The auditorium class quieted down as the professor took the stage. This was an entirely new experience for me. This class filled the auditorium, maybe 500 students.

The professor was a large man, and he looked like he could have been a linebacker in his college days. Not fat, just tall and well built, and very muscular.

He picked up a piece of chalk and, in a giant cursive script, he wrote ‘I presume?’ on the board. Then he returned to the podium.

“For those who don’t know me and have not figured it out yet, my name is Doctor Livingstone.”

The Fall of 1964 found me searching for some spark of inspiration to get my education back on track. I had been admitted to Colorado State University, and I was determined to pursue admission to veterinary school. 

Just how I ended up in Doctor Livingstone’s botany class was a bit of a mystery to me, even at the time. It was a science course and could have been in the pre-veterinary requirements at the time. Or possibly, an astute advisor recognized that Doctor Livingstone could be helpful for this farm boy.

Doctor Livingstone’s lectures were as intriguing as was his initial introduction. I always preferred to sit in the back of the class, and I initially picked a seat near the back and closest to the exit, and I had a full view of the auditorium. When Doctor Livingstone was speaking, he held the full attention of the entire class.

This class of hundreds was broken down into smaller groups of about thirty students for the laboratory portions of the course. Graduate students conducted the lab classes, but seeing Doctor Livingstone dropping into the lab was not unusual.

This system had pluses and minuses. For one thing, it allowed for a personal relationship with the graduate student. But with that relationship, I would learn that the lab class had an assigned row of seats to use and that attendance would be taken. That wasn’t too bad, but I lost my perch in the back of the auditorium.

In one of our Thursday afternoon lab classes, Doctor Livingstone stood behind our small group as we were discussing the microscope slide we were working on that day. As was typical for me, I stumbled over a few scientific words.

Doctor Livingstone corrected my attempts at pronunciation and helped the four of us complete the exercise. Then I noticed he went and talked with the graduate student and checked the grade book.

As the class was cleaning up and I put my books into my pack, Doctor Livingstone came over and sat beside me.

“Mr. Larsen, you’re a pretty good student, at least in this class,” Doctor Livingstone said. “Do you always have trouble with these long words?”

“I just have to hear the word a few times before I can get all the syllables to come out right,” I said.

“I will give you a couple of tips that helped me a lot when I was your age,” Doctor Livingstone said. “I had a lot of problems also. Maybe I am a bit dyslexic, I don’t know, but I just had problems with the big words. It doesn’t matter what you call it in your mind. You just need to learn to spell it correctly. And then, when you do have to pronounce it, you should do so with utter self-confidence. You will find, if you do that confidently, after a short time, everyone around you will be using your pronunciation.”

It was sometime later before I wondered what it was that prompted the doctor to spend those few minutes with me. But it was advice that I follow to this day, and there are still words that I stumble over.

My stay at Colorado State in 1964 was brief. My classroom performance was less than stellar. This was primarily due to the lack of maturity to apply myself to necessary classes that did not interest me. The fact that Colorado sold three-point-two beer to eighteen-year-olds could have had some influence on my school work.

I experienced the best in professors in Doctor Livingstone. And I watched the worst professor in my educational experience in my History of Western Civilization class, but that is a different story. Friday night dinner with my roommates was always five hamburgers, purchased for a dollar, something new to me. My PE class was swimming, and it took several weeks for me to adjust to the altitude. I spent way too much money that term, but it was fun. And then there was a brief encounter with a wild preacher’s daughter. All life lessons, some better than others.

It took me seven years before I returned to Colorado State University. I was admitted to the College of Veterinary Medicine in the Fall of 1971.

There are lessons to be learned here, and they don’t involve the preacher’s daughter. I have always been concerned about all the advanced placement available for students coming out of high school today. It is hard to argue against because of the high cost of higher education today. But suppose you are placed above some classes. In that case, you may lose the opportunity for a great professor, like Doctor Livingstone, to influence the rest of your life. And perseverance pays off. Not everyone is made to fit the mold educators plan out for kids, some of us have to find our own way.

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