Sunday, December 28, 2008

Glenda the Goat

I am sure when Mrs. Jones and daughter came to the clinic with Glenda there was a fair amount of excitement in the preparations. Glenda was due to give birth for the third time. They thought she had started into labor the evening before. After some time passed and no kids arrived, Mrs Jones tried to give assistance but was unable to determine the orientation of the offspring and opted for more experienced hands.

Somehow the case came to me. It may be due to the fact that I have by far the smallest hands and arms of any of the doctors at our clinic, and have had success dealing with goat dystocia cases before. Either way, after discussing the history with Mrs. Jones I began working my hand and arm through the very small pelvis, while daughter Susie looked on with rapt attention. I soon had two feet with twine string around them ready to begin moving but was having some trouble getting the head into the right position. An uncooperative head is often not a good sign and this case was no different. I determined that the kid was already dead and had very sharp teeth that were jutting almost straight out. I decided to pass on the news and mother began to discuss with Susie to help prepare her for the possibility of not taking home bouncing babies and instead focusing on saving Glenda. In the meantime I was able to manipulate the head and had two front feet and a head all pointed in the right direction. I made several applications of pressure on the legs but things were not moving out like I would have liked. To make sure I had good positioning and didn't have front legs from two different kids I pushed the head back into the uterus to explore more deeply.
I extended my arm farther in than on previous manipulation and knew pretty quickly that something was very wrong. On the right side of the body, forward of the pelvis, where the uterus should have been holding everything tightly I could move my hand all too freely. As I continued to explore I could feel the bladder, small intestines, and the body wall. All told the uterus was torn from the right paralumbar fossa (the right side of the body right in front of the hip and just below the backbone) all the way down and across to half way up the other side of the body.
Sharing this news brought expected tears from Mrs. Jones and an understanding of why there had been so much bloody discharge through the night. The most likely culprit in this case was the jutting teeth of the baby against the pressure of the pelvis after the protectvie layers of the amniotic sac were no longer intact. After options of an abdominal exploratory with a poor chance of success was discussed the decision was made to euthanize. If one good thing could be found from the experience, the euthansia was very routine and Glenda went down very quietly and peacefully while mother and daughter watched on.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A hectic day in the life

First of all I have to qualify this by saying normally we have one vet work on Saturday and one on back-up. Unfortunately, on this particular Saturday, with holiday travel and events, I was on my own.

First appointment, 9:30 am: pregnancy check 211 cows and heifers, look at some cows that had died in the recent storms, then vaccinate 3 cats and a dog. Check back into the clinic to find out emergencies are waiting. Drive 40 miles back to the clinic to get necessary supplies and directions to head out on emergency run.
1:40 pm. Look at sick cat with repiratory problems. 3 pm arrive at dairy farm to treat cows with severe grain overload. 4 head were down and one was unable to rise. The farmer asked "They'll be all right won't they?" I had to be honest and say you never know how they are going to do. Though I am not a pessimist, I don't think all of them will make it. 4 pm I pulled into another farm to check on a heifer thought to be aborting. She was also down and in a very bad way. She was breathing hard and did not respond to me at all. The calf's nose was sticking out without any legs. I pushed the head back in to find that the calf was dead and bloated. The nails of the toes came off in my hand. Several minutes of manipulation combined with lubrication and the help of the son in law on the end of the chains the dead calf was deliverd. Mom only lasted a few minutes more. The combination of cold, dead rotting calf inside, inability to deliver the calf after laboring for at least most of a day, and then the stress of having it pulled finally did her in. Then it was back to the clinic for a quick wash and a look at a dog with a corneal ulcer on its right eye at 5:30. By 6 pm I was off again to another farm to perform a necropsy on a calf that had just died and the owner wanted looked at before it froze solid. Severe pneumonia and emphysema were determined to be the cause of death. The -9F temperature was determined to be the cause of my numb fingers. By 7 pm it was driving back to the clinic (I drove just short of 200 miles today) to enter medical records into the computer while waiting for the final (hopefully) emergency of the night. A rectal prolapse was fairly easily reduced, sutured, and on its way home. I was able to clean up and get home by 8:15 pm. I guess the animals haven't received the memo that we are only supposed to work till 3 pm on Saturdays.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Porcupine encounters

Many people have heard of or seen dogs that had a run-in with a porcupine. While in truth any animal curious enough to check out the slow moving porcupine can earn some new facial piercings (I have also pulled quills out of cattle), dogs seem to do it best.

One dog I will call Snapper was seen on emergency by me early on in the summer for porcupine quill removal. Snapper was a Jack Russel terrier mix who rightfully earned the name that I have given him. Owner Jane had several dogs that occasionally found porcupines that she pulled quills out of, but Snapper, would live up to his name and was in need of chemical persuasion. On this occasion he only had a handful of quills that were easily removed after anesthetic administration and he was on his way.

A short few days later I noticed owner Jane on the book for quill removal again and felt sorry for her because I knew she drove more than 40 miles to get to the clinic. Sure enough Snapper was back at his mischief again, only this time it was a mere 2 quills on the tip of his nose.

Some time passed and I saw Snapper was yet again on the book for another round of quills and I could not believe it. You would think if you touched a hot stove once and it hurt you would probably not touch it again on purpose. Perhaps if you were a very slow learner you may try it a second time, but I would be hard pressed to believe that a third such learning experience would be necessary. I certainly could not count out the possibility of an accidental burn occurring, but I don't know of too many dogs that accidentally brush up against a quill pig.

After another passage of time I happened to mention Snapper to our technician. A quick check in the records showed a half dozen visits for quill removal over a few months time.

For individual event quill load Snapper was far from impressive. To date my most impressive porcupine quill patient was a very large collie named Fluffy. Late one night I received an emergency call to get quills out of a dog's mouth and nose and met owners Fran and Jack. Fluffy was the largest collie, with the most magnificent coat I had ever seen. Sure enough Fluffy had some quills in both his nose and mouth, although there were not many. Fran and Jack reported that they had pulled some at home but he was losing patience and they felt he needed to lie still to complete the job quickly. While injecting the anesthetic into Fluffy's leg, I poked my hand on some other quills and now knew he was hiding more than I had initially suspected. A quick inspection of his body revealed quills extending from his nose and mouth, along his neck, on his chest, up and down both front legs and back almost to the middle of his stomach. As far as I could surmise Fluffy must have attempted to give the porcupine a bear hug. After searching inch by inch through his thick fur for an hour and a half, the job was complete. A total of 250 quills were removed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two toes

Right now we are in a cold spell in North Dakota so I like to reminisce about the warmer days of summer. One of the things that I thought was the strangest service that we offered as a clinic is what we call doing a "cap-chur" for cattle. (disclaimer "Cap-chur" is a trade name and I don't know who the trademark goes to). This fills up a lot of the slower time in summer and makes for all kinds of adventures.

First I must describe a cap-chur. It is essentially anesthetizing cows with a dart gun. We use a CO2 gun that shoots a dart containing 3-7 mL of whatever we want. In our case we use Xylazine (old school name is Rompun) which in cattle is a fairly potent sedative. We shoot the cows somewhere in the muscle....I try to get in the neck when I can for beef quality assurance...and the impact sets off a small charge (like a 22 shell size) in the base of the dart that pushes a lubricated plunger forward to inject the Xylazine into the cow. This is follwed by waiting for 3- 15 minutes for the sedation to take effect and the cow (hopefully) deciding to take a nap. Next comes tying up the cows legs so she can't decide to stand up and walk away, then doing whatever procedure or treatment is necessary. Last, and very importantly, we reverse the effects of the anesthetic with a reversal drug called Tolazine. We give it in the vein and within 30 seconds the cows usually begin to stir and are ready to stand and stumble away within 5 minutes.

Just like any anesthetic the effect of the drug is highly variable from one animal to the next. Without question calves are the easiest to sedate, followed by bulls and then comes cows. They are by far the worst and I could make some gender based comment about females not liking to be told what to do, but I will avoid that temptation. Occasionaly either the charge does not go off, or the sedation doesn't have the desired effect and the cow needs to be shot with an additional dart. Sometimes we get good sedative effect but the stubborn animal just will not lay down and we have to demonstrate our astounding cowboy skills and rope the animal and physically encourage them to lay down. We fondly call this adventure going on Safari because we never know what we may encounter before the job is done. Now for one of many good darting adventures.

I was called out to a very hilly pasture (yes we do have some of these in North Dakota) to look at a cow who had been lame for some time. As the owner informed me as we were driving that he had already darted her three times with antibiotics and she was not better but had just gotten worse to the point that whe wouldn't even put weight on the one foot. Not surprisingly, when we got near enough for her to see us she was off like a shot. I know people say that cattle aren't athletic but I beg to differ. She was flying across that field so fast on three good legs that her calf even had a hard time keeping up with her.

When I finally got close enough to get a shot at her, you generally need to be within 20-30 yards, my gun fired an unusually strong burst of CO2 and the dart went high, glanced off her backbone, and the cow was gone. Another part of the fun when darting is the inconsistent nature of the CO2 cartridges. When they are new they fire extra strong and tip the dart up, and when they are almost used up they fire very erratically, sometimes normal, and sometimes very weakly. After luckily finding the dart, we were back on the hunt again. After about 20 more minutes we finally caught up to the cow and got a good dart into her. As stubborn and wild as she was she required yet another dart but still wouldn't lay down and I ended up roping her and with the help of the farmer pulling her down with the rope.

As we were laying the cow down I was discussing treatment options with the severety of the lameness and non-response to previous antibiotics. I began to talk about toe amputation, and started into my usual explanation about how most cows heal well and do just fine; many are able to rebreed and can even stay in the herd for a year or two. This is often a hard thing for farmers to accept especially those who have never had one done before. As I start into this and begin to tie her up he says. "Oh, yeah, I know they do fine, she already is missing a toe that had to be amputated...
.....6 years ago".

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Agility training

I asked my wife what would be a good story to start introducing myself and my work and this was it.

Some day last week I was on my way to the third farm stop of the day. As a fairly new person to the area I often have to get directions to the farm from someone at the clinic before I leave. This particular time I got directions to the place that according to Susan, "It must be there because that is the only place with decent cattle working facilities". Upon arrival there was not a soul to be seen and only one set of tire tracks in the snow that had fallen the night before. Obviously I was not in quite the right place and after some radio and phone communications I got directed just across the road to a larger farmstead.

As is almost always the case the farmer was not quite ready when I arrived and I got to shiver in the cold wind while the Farmer Joe and helpers proceeded to break the frozen manure out of the bottom of the chute to allow for proper function. In order to appreciate my the experience we need to understand the set up of the working facility. The squeeze chute was set at the end of an alley approximately 20 yards long. At one time this had all been new but that day was in the long past and as a result the farmer had remodeled by placing portable metal panels on the inside of each side of the alley for the entire length of the runway as I like to call it. Thanks to the remodeling the man gate to allow easy access to the back of the chute for preg checking was rendered unusable and, instead, I got to scale the 6 foot fence after each heifer came into the chute to be checked and then follow her out through the chute and then let the next heifer in. As the system went, 2-4 head were brought in to the alley and one was brought the length of the alley into the chute, while the remaining heifers waited at the far end of the runway with a helper keeping watch to make sure that the didn't come forward. In other words from north to south in the alleyway this is how everything was layed out: 2-3 heifers waiting in the north end of the alley, 15 yards of empty space, me standing directly behind a heifer that is wondering why my hand and arm are shoulder deep inside her rectum.
Now if all the heifers had been willing to co-operate and stand in their appointed places then all would have been well and I would have just had plenty of excercise for the day. Instead, as is generally the case with animals, some have a better idea of how this should work. One heifer in particular was unwilling to wait her turn and came running and pushing up on the heifer in front of her to get in the chute. It took plenty of persuasion to get her moved back, as each time she would back up a few steps and then come charging and smash into the rear end of the heifer in front of her. After several of these attempts we finally got her to back the entire length of the alley and stand quietely. In a hurry to get done with the poor heifer in the chute I quickly scaled the fence and went to work. Not trusting the heifer in back I was watching behind myself the entire time, and just as I inserted my arm the heifer charged and the helper yelled. In an earlier life I competed in many of which was gymnastics. I took one step back, jumped and grabbed the top rail of each side of the alley like a set of parallet bars and swung my feet up and over as 1100 lbs of angry angus heifer rushed underneath me and collided with the back of the heifer right where I had been standing.
Though that was the major incident of the day, before we were done I scaled a pile of 3 heifers checking each one as I went, becasue none of them could wait and they were jammed in so tight that none of them could move and somehow ended up standing completely on top of the chute. The icing on top of the cake was when we were almost done one helper said, " We should have done this at the Jones place, there is a new chute with a good alley, and a palp cage door that locks and lets the vet in".
"Oh, " I said, " Where might that be?"

"It is the old Jones place...right across the road."


I have been inspired to start writing some of my more memorable, and not so memorable experiences as a rural veterinarian working in a mixed animal practice. Along with being a veterinarian in our current world come some specific rules especially with regard to client confidentiality. As a result all names of clients and animals will be changed or made up...everything else...will be as real as can be.