The Dreaded Pox

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“Gary, let me look at that sore again,” Mom said to my brother as he was getting ready for school one Spring morning.

Gary had a blister-like sore that had developed on the back of his hand. After a couple of days, it had scabbed over and was not bothering him much. 

“I don’t know how you can stand it,” I said to Gary as Mom was looking at the sore. “I would pick that scab.”

“This looks just like this sore that has popped up between my fingers,” Mom said.

Gary was 4 years older than me. He and Mom did most of the morning milking when Dad was working, as I had not started school yet. We milked a small herd of cows, but it was enough to pay most of the bills in the early 1950s.

“I think this is a cowpox sore,” Mom said. “Grandpa said he had seen these before.”

Cowpox is a viral disease of cattle caused by a virus that closely resembles the smallpox virus. In 1796, Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had contracted cowpox never had smallpox lesions. After some experimentation, he published his findings in 1801. Cowpox virus was used to vaccinate people against smallpox for many years in the 1800s. The vaccine was changed to another virus sometime in the 1800s, but that date is not known.

“I will call Dr. Whitaker and have him look at the cows,” Mom said.

The next morning the cows were left in their stanchions after milking. Mom and I waited at the barn for Dr. Whitaker to arrive. I was excited because our farm’s rare visits by veterinarians were always filled with mystic and intrigue. 

Doctor Whitaker was a tall, thin, young veterinarian who had just moved to Myrtle Point. He moved from cow to cow until he found a sore on the teat of the 4th cow. 

“Yes, this looks like cowpox to me,” Dr. Whitaker said to Mom. “I will go ahead and vaccinate the entire herd.”

“David can stay and watch, and he can show you where everything is located if you need anything. I have chores to do at the house. You can stop there when you are done,” Mom said as she left the barn.

“Will David, let me show you how we vaccinate cows for cowpox,” Dr. Whitaker said as if he was conducting a lecture.

Dr. Whitaker returned to the cow with a large scab on one teat. He carefully picked the scab off the teat and placed it into a small tin container that looked like a lid off a jar. Then he added a little sand to the container and some water. 

With a knife, he cut the scab into tiny pieces. Then he placed it all in a mortar and pestle and ground it into a fine suspension.

“There, that should be good enough,” he said as he showed me the finished product. “Now we just have to scratch some of this into each cow. We will do this on the edge of their tail. That way, the sore that develops won’t be a problem for them.”

We moved from cow to cow, working down the milking string. Dr. Whitaker treated each cow the same. Lifting the tail, he would grab the web of skin on the side of the tail. Then he would scratch the skin with a knife blade until it bled. He had a small stiff brush in the solution he had made from the scab. He dipped the little brush and then rubbed it into the bleeding scratch he had made on the tail.

Each cow took a few minutes to complete the process. It must have taken close to an hour to finish the entire herd. 

“Do you guys have any heifers that are going to calve soon that are not in this bunch,” Dr. Whitaker asked?

“No,” I said with confidence. Although, I doubt if I had any real awareness of that status.

“Okay then, let’s clean up, and I can get out of here,” Dr. Whitaker said.

“I better turn the cows out first.”

“No, you come with me to the milk house, and we will wash up first,” Dr. Whitaker said. “Then you can turn the cows out.”

“But I didn’t touch anything.”

“It is better to be safe than sorry,” Dr. Whitaker said.

Dr. Whitaker washed my hands like they had not been washed before. I would have complained had it been Mom doing the washing, but I sensed that it was time to show how tuff I was.

“Okay, you can go turn those cows out. They will be ready to get out to the pastures.”

I opened the large door on the side of the barn. All the stanchions were connected with a set of boards along the top of the stanchion. I pulled the wooden pin that was holding them closed and pulled hard on the first stanchion. That pull, plus all the cows pulling back with their heads, and the stanchions came open. The cows backed out, and with some degree of order, turned and headed out the open door. 

Just as Dr. Whitaker had said. As soon as they were clear of the barn door, they would buck and kick their legs as they ran toward the pasture.

“This barn is a big mess. Those extra couple of hours with the cows in here makes it a big job to clean,” Dr. Whitaker. “I suppose your mother does that job.”

“I do some of it,” I said. “I can scrape and sweep the floor into the gutter. When the gutter is this full, I have difficulty pushing it out to the manure pile. When my brothers get home from school, we will clean it then. My sister never has to work at the barn.”

“I hear that a lot,” Dr. Whitaker said as he put everything back into his truck. “Sisters seem to get out of a lot of barn work. But most of the time, they do plenty of work around the house.”

Dr. Whitaker stopped and talked with Mom.  

“You should notice a scab on the right side of their tail,” he said. “And you shouldn’t have any more problems. You might want to have a doctor look at your sores if they get worse. Most of the time, they are no problem, but once in a while, they make people sick.”

“Thanks for coming so soon,” Mom said.

“Thanks for the call, and thanks for the help David,” Dr. Whitaker said as he departed.

Photo by Michael Gane from Pexels

Note to My Readers, #4

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I almost missed it entirely. My first blog post was on Dec 14, 2019.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of

In that time, I have posted around 160 stories, a few notes, and a couple of Guest Author stories (more are welcome, by the way).

I have my first book compiled from that bunch and several more planned. There seems to be no end in sight for new stories, at least at this point, so the blog will continue.

I am open to any suggestions and/or criticisms, as long as it is constructive.

I am also open to any suggestions, tips, or cautions on my first book’s publication.

Christmas falls on Friday this year, so my blog post will publish on Thursday. It was about an eleven PM farm call on Christmas eve when I was in school. Sort of welcome to the profession. Then, on Christmas morning, I will post a kind of summary of the four Christmases I experienced while I was in the Army for those who need a little to read.

Thanks for reading my blog this past year, and I hope to keep you entertained for another couple of years.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Maybe next year will prove better.

Dave Larsen

Meat is Life

D.E. Larsen, DVM

“What would you say if I told you I thought you ate too much red meat,” Dr. Goddard asked?

This was my first appointment with Dr. Goddard. He was trying to get a new style of practice off the ground, and I needed a new primary care doctor.

“I don’t think your profession knows squat about nutrition.” 

“That is sort of blunt,” Dr. Goddard says with a surprised look on his face.

“First eggs are bad. My mother-in-law lived for her eggs in the morning. Her doctors put her through hell for the last few years of her life. Now eggs are fine.”

“Okay, I will give you that one,” Dr. Goddard said. “But let’s get back to the red meat.”

“I am not sure you have looked at my file. I am a veterinarian. At heart, I am a cow doctor. Except for my 4 years in the army, my entire life has been involved with cows. I eat red meat, and that is not a discussion topic for this visit.”

“I don’t understand how you guys can feel good about caring for animals and then sending them to slaughter,” Dr. Goddard said. “The saying, meat is murder, comes to mind.”

“I think you are trying to bring this appointment to a close,” I said.

“No, I am sorry, I just don’t understand,” Dr. Goddard said with an apologetic tone.

“Do you want the long story or the short story?”

“I guess I better hear the long story,” Dr. Goddard said.

“How far are you removed from the farm? I mean, did your grandfather live on a farm?”

“No, my roots are in the city for a whole lot of generations,” Dr. Goddard said.

“So when you drive down the freeway and see hundreds of sheep grazing on the grass seed fields, how many of those sheep to you suppose would be there if they didn’t sell lamb chops in the store?”

“I hadn’t given it any thought,” Dr. Goddard said.

“Not even considering the expense of maintaining a flock of sheep for a year, the labor is considerable. People wouldn’t do it for fun.”

“I see your point,” Dr. Goddard said.

“But you wanted the long story. Those lambs that go to market probably live less than a year. But my profession ensures that their year on earth is good. And we ensure that the meat that reaches the market is the best available in the world,” I said.

“A short life is far better than no life. And the market lambs sacrifice themselves to give their mothers and some of their sisters a long life. So I would change your little quip to be more like meat is life,” I said.

“And the story goes on. I place at least some of the blame on your profession for the family farm’s demise in this country. You guys have been in cahoots with the food industry in your drive to reduce consumption of meat and dairy. Not only the egg issue, but butter is another one. You pushed margarine to replace butter. So you had your patients consuming trans fat instead of butter. Your understanding of Cholesterol metabolism at the general practitioner level was way under my training.”

“I am not sure I will take the blame for the demise of the family farm,” Dr. Goddard said.

“It was a complex issue, but you guys were cheering from the sidelines, at least. And what was the result of that loss? You guys make your recommendations and do your heart surgeries and your drugs, adding a few years onto the life of an old man. With the loss of the family farm, you also lost a whole cluster of farm kids. Farm kids served as stabilizing influencers to their peer groups. Without the farm kids, we have seen drug use spiral out of sight. We lose far more years of life to overdosing than you save in the old men. We lose probably more years yet to the pits of addiction. That all happened at the same time, I don’t think you can convince me there is not a correlation.”

“You give me something to think about,” Dr. Goddard said. “And I guess you are not much interested in my spiel on red meat.”

“No, but I want you to know, every time I throw a steak on the grill, I give silent thanks to the animal who provided it. And in a couple of seconds, many animals flash through my mind. The cows I pulled from a creek or saved from death, the calves who I worked so they could be conceived, the steers in the feedlots, and the ones going through the slaughter process.”

“So, after all of that, do you still what me as your doctor,” Dr. Goddard asked?

“When I was playing ball in high school, I was told that it was a good thing when a coach chewed you out. If he didn’t think you were worth his time, he would say anything. You just need to mark that file to not discuss red meat.”

Photo by Julia Volk from Pexels

A Veterinarian’s Legacy

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Mrs. Dannele stood at the front counter with Dixie in her arms. Well over six feet tall and muscular. She was a large and very proper lady. My guess is she was descended from some good pioneer stock.

Dixie was a black and white Boston terrier in a pink harness. Dixie was excited and squirming in Mrs. Dannele’s arm. But Mrs. Dannele had her locked in the crook of her left elbow, and she didn’t even notice Dixie’s struggles as she filled out the new client sheet with one hand.

“We were Dr. Campbell’s patients before he died,” Mrs. Dannele explained to Sandy.

I did not get a chance to meet Dr. Campbell before his recent sudden death, but I had heard stories of him. He was well-liked and well known, even to my clients in Sweet Home. Veterinarians who die while they are in practice always seem to walk on water for many years following their death. I knew that from the stories about Dr. Story, who practiced in Lebanon and died several years before I arrived. 

I did have dinner with the young veterinarian who assumed his practice. At least more youthful than me, he was young, well educated, brash, and felt that he knew everything. In the dinner at a local veterinarian association event, I learned everything I needed to know about the guy. And none of what I learned impressed me. On the way home that evening, I had told Sandy that he would have trouble filling Dr. Campbell’s shoes.

“Dixie is having some chronic diarrhea, and the new doctor that took over for Dr. Campbell has not been able to solve the problem,” Mrs. Dannele said. “We have heard good things about Dr. Larsen and would like him to look at her.”

“We were sorry to hear of Dr. Campbell’s death,” Sandy said. “We never had a chance to meet him, but we have heard nothing but good things about him.”

“Yes, he was a super veterinarian and a good man,” Mrs. Dannele said. “Dixie loved him, and so did we.”

“Let’s get you into an exam room, and Dr. Larsen can get a look at Dixie.”

When I entered the exam room, Mrs. Dannele was quick to take command of the conversation.

“Good morning, Dr. Larsen, I am Mrs. Dannele, and this is Dixie. Our daughter gave us Dixie because she thought I needed some companionship when I was away from home on business. That was a good thought, but she might be more than I want to deal with away from the house.”

“I understand that Dixie is having some diarrhea problems,” I said as I laid my hand on Dixie’s head and rubbed it a little. 

Dixie was wiggling all over the table. And trying to jump up to lick my face.

“We were Dr. Campbell’s clients, and we loved him. This young doctor who took over his practice is a world apart from Dr. Campbell. We just don’t know what our options are at this point.”

“You don’t have any commitment to the new doctor,” I said. “You are free to go where you would like.”

“That makes me feel better,” Mrs. Dannele said. “We almost felt like we were sneaking behind his back when we came here today.”

“There are many factors that go into a selection of a veterinarian, or any professional, for that matter. Actually, location, or proximity, is the number one factor. But it is important for you to feel comfortable with the relationship. And you should not feel guilty about making a change. People do that all the time.”

“But let’s get a look at Dixie,” I said. “Is she eating okay?”

“Yes, everything is fine except for her nasty diarrhea, and it doesn’t go away. We have changed diets, and he has given us a lot of different medications. And now he wants to do some testing to check her pancreas.”

“Will, the pancreas is sometimes a problem, but that is pretty rare,” I said. “I was always taught that when you out around a barn and you hear hoofbeats, you should look for a horse, not a zebra.”

I worked through a clinical exam and found nothing out of order except for diarrhea. There was a large drop of loose stool on the thermometer when it was removed from Dixie’s rectum. I placed that on a microscope slide.

“I am going to get a real quick look at this under the microscope,” I said. “And then we can talk about what we can do for Dixie.”

Taking the slide to the microscope, I placed a couple of drops of floatation solution on the small sample. I mixed it a little before dropping a coverslip on the liquid.

When I focused the microscope on the sample, the field of view was covered with roundworm eggs. I would expect to see a few, maybe, but nothing like these numbers on a simple smear. Dixie had a massive roundworm infestation.

“Mrs. Dannele, when was Dixie dewormed last,” I asked?

“I don’t know for sure, probably when she got her puppy shots.”

“She has a massive roundworm infestation. If we deworm her, it will undoubtedly solve her diarrhea problem.”

“Now, why didn’t he find that? It only took you a couple of minutes,” Mrs. Dannele asked?

“That is the difference between looking for a horse instead of a zebra.”

“What do we do now?”

“We will send you home with some liquid worm medicine,” I said. “You will see Dixie pass a surprising number of roundworms. It will gross you out, I am sure. It might cause her a little distress, but it will be for a short duration. I would expect her to have a normal stool in a day or two. When her stool is back to normal, we should check a sample to make sure she doesn’t have some other parasite. The medicine we give her will take care of roundworms and hookworms, but there are other worms and parasites, and we need to check to make sure she doesn’t have those.”

“Is she going to take this medicine at home,” Mrs. Dannele asked? “Maybe you should give it here.”

“This stuff most dogs will lick off the spoon,” I said. “The deal is, Dixie has a massive number of roundworms. On that microscope slide of a tiny sample, there must be a hundred roundworm eggs. That type of sample is generally not a good way to make a diagnosis. I might expect to see an egg or two in a puppy with a heavy infestation. I am afraid that if we give Dixie medication here, you might have her passing worms before you get home. There is a possibility that she will vomit worms also. You don’t want that going on in the car.”

“We will take the medicine home and give it there,” Mrs. Dannele said.

“We will give you a call in a couple of days. I expect Dixie to have a normal stool by then, and we will ask you to bring a sample in to have it checked.”

When Sandy called, Dixie was back to normal. Mrs. Dannele was already on her way with a sample.

“We are so pleased, and Dixie is pleased also,” Mrs. Dannele said. “Now, we would like to know what we have to do to move Dixie to your clinic.”

“From our view, it is done. You may want to call the other clinic and have them send her records. There is nothing more you have to do.”

“I think something should be said to the new doctor,” Mrs. Dannele said. “He needs to know that he missed a simple diagnosis.”

“You could make a statement to the receptionist when you ask for the records to be sent. The doctor would get the message.”

“Do you think that would be enough or appropriate,” Mrs. Dannele asked?

“It is appropriate, but to be honest with you, I have met this young doctor, and he is well educated. His problem is he thinks he knows all there is to know. I doubt there is anything you or I could say that would teach him anything.”

“Thank you for your honesty. We will just leave it at that. We are going to be far happier here.”

Photo by Erik Mclean from Pexels

Isabelle, Saved by a Bite

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The two girls standing at the counter were holding something bundled in a sweatshirt. They were young girls, probably 16 or 17. 

“I hope you can help us,” the young blond girl, Sidney, said. “This cat was hit by a car out in front of our house, and she is hurt pretty bad.”

“Whose cat is it?” Sandy asked.

“I don’t know, we have never seen it before. But we couldn’t just leave it lying in the street.”

“Are either of you 18,” Sandy asked?

“No, but this is not our cat.”

Joleen ushered them into the exam room and sat the bundle on the exam table.

“Let’s look at what you have here,” Joleen said.

“She is pretty scared,” Sidney said.

Joleen said. “I think I had better get the doctor.”

Joleen and I unwrapped the sweatshirt with care. The young calico cat poked her head out of the sweatshirt. I grabbed her by the nape of the neck. With some petting and some soothing words, she calmed down and relaxed under my grip.

When we got her out of the sweatshirt, she was bleeding from her right hindfoot. The foot was mangled. Mangled well beyond repair. Most of the skin was gone, and broken bones were sticking out everywhere.

“Whose cat is this,” I asked?  

“We have never seen it before,” Sidney said. “It was hit out in front of our house.

“We will check around, but if we can’t find an owner, we will probably have to put her to sleep. We can’t let her suffer from that foot.”

The girls said their goodbyes to the cat they thought they had saved, and they collected their bloodied sweatshirt.

“You guys give Sandy your contact information and a parent’s name. In case we need to contact you for some reason,” I said as they departed the exam room.

At the front desk, Sandy was busy getting their information.  Sue, the little brunette, held out her hand and showed Sandy a deep bite wound at the base of her thumb.

“Did that cat bite you,” Sandy asked?

“Yes,” Sue said. “She is not mean. She was just scared and in pain.”

“This changes the whole thing,” Sandy said. “Just a minute while I get the doctor.

“Dave, one of those girls was bitten when they picked up this cat,” Sandy said.

“Great,” I said, looking down at the little cat. “You just got an extension on your death sentence.”

“Did you make sure we have all the necessary contact information of these girls and on a parent of Sue’s. We will have to hang onto this cat for 10 days. That probably means I will need to amputate this foot unless the County Health Department authorizes another option.”

I stepped out to the front office to look at Sue’s hand.

“Sue, that bite wound is a major injury. A cat is the only animal that has put me in the hospital. And that was from a bite wound not too different from yours. You want to call your doctor and get some treatment instructions as soon as you get home. We will report this bite wound to the County Health Department. They will probably contact you. You probably gave us some extra time to try to find an owner. We have to keep the cat for 10 days to make sure it doesn’t have rabies.”

“What are you going to do with her foot,” Sidney asked?

“I will probably do a modified amputation at the joint. Just removing the injured part of the foot. If we find an owner, I will do a full amputation. Either way, we will hold this cat here for the full 10 days.”

“That makes us feel better,” Sue said.

The girls left feeling as good as could be expected. They were going home to search for an owner of this little calico cat. We were left doing surgery with little or no chance of getting paid.

“Set up surgery for just a simple amputation,” I said to Joleen. “This is a contaminated wound, and I am going to remove this foot through the hock joint. I won’t need anything other than a standard surgery pack.”

We finished the appointments for the day and then took the cat to surgery. In that time before surgery, Sandy had the cat calmed down and purring.

“What do we want to call her for the record,” Sandy asked?

“It makes no difference to me, you pick a name, and we will use it.”

“I think we will name her Isabelle,” Sandy said.

The surgery was brief. There was enough skin to cover the stump with no problem. I removed the foot by cutting through the tarsal joints, ligated the bleeding vessels, and closed the skin over the stump. Now we just had to recover her, control the pain, and wait out the 10 days.

“What is going to happen after 10 days,” Joleen asked? 

“If we don’t have an owner, she gets put to sleep.”

The days passed slowly. Sandy spent more and more time with Isabelle. She was labeled a Rabies Suspect because she was on the County watch list, and the staff was supposed to limit their contact with the patient. I mentioned that fact to Sandy.

“Do you consider me staff,” Sandy asked? “I don’t consider myself staff.”

I think it was the third day when Sandy said, “I don’t think I want you to put Isabelle to sleep. She is so sweet, I think we should make her a clinic cat.”

There was little reason for me to respond. I was probably the only person in the entire community who thought I ran this clinic. 

“You are probably right. It will make those girls feel better. And I can watch to see how well she does with a low leg amputation.”

And so it was written, when the 10 days of isolation were up, the County Health Department and the two girls were both notified that Isabelle was alive and well. Isabelle took up her new residence on the front desk, close to Sandy at all times.

Isabelle was a friendly cat. If she was away from the desk when a client came through the door, she would come running and jump up on the counter. Most people were surprised to see she only had three feet if they noticed at all.

Her residence at the clinic was over a year. Much longer than Newt’s and nearly as long as Blackjack’s. Her problem started softly. When some clients would pet her, she would nip at them. The nips soon became a soft bite, where Isabelle would grab the offending hand with her teeth and hold it for a second. Never breaking the skin, but the threat was there.

“I think the risk is too high to keep Isabelle here. We are going to have to take her home. One of these days, she is going to nail someone.”

Sandy agreed, and Isabelle made the trip to the house with us. Newt was still with us in those days. I always wondered if they compared notes.

As the years passed, Isabelle turned up missing one day. After some searching, she was found on the neighbor’s porch. We brought her home, and the following week, the neighbor called to tell Sandy that she was back on his porch. Sandy insisted on her becoming an indoor cat after those episodes.

As a three-legged house cat, Isabelle became a little overweight but still lived a long life in the Larsen household.

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