Friday, December 25, 2009

Moving on

I don't remember the exact saying but the gist of it is that one thing in life stays the same; everything changes. For myself and my family that is true as well. There are some big changes coming in my professional life. I am going back to where I grew up and going into practice ownership. This means that I will be leaving behind the North Dakota that I have come to love.
It is going to be a bittersweet change for us. In many ways it will be exciting to move back near family and old friends. At the same time it will be sad to leave behind the many wonderful people that have been clients, friends, and even our family away from home. We will cherish the memories made here.
I am sure I will continue to have many exciting, interesting, sad, and funny experiences in my new practice and, of course, I will continue to write them down from time to time.
For any of the North Dakota friends we have made, you are welcome any time you want to come to Canada to visit.
You will be missed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Of all horses that I deal with I would have to say that stallions come with the most baggage. I think this stems from many things. First of all they are ruled by testosterone; probably more so than any male of another species that I deal with on a regular basis. Rearing, striking, kicking, biting, fighting, aggressiveness, and all kind of unpredictable behavior around other horses, as well as people would be all in a days work for the average stallion. Also, they are amazing athletes. Power and agility combine in a body that can weigh well over a thousand pounds performing the previously mentioned antics. Add to that the financial aspect of them generally being the most valuable animal in the herd and every interaction with a stallion becomes exciting. I have two stallion stories that occurred during approximately parallel time periods with similar conditions.
The first stallion came to me with this written on the book "old cut on leg". We will call this stallion Bob since that is a very masculine name. Bob was not your typical stallion in that he was not led off the trailer on a halter. He was let out of the trailer and then put into the cattle handling facilities for his tranquilizers. Then he was released to lay down and take a nap so that I could examine the wound. Bob was a very successful rodeo horse...not the kind that the cowboys ride, but the kind that they get bucked off. Bob had gotten in a fight with another stallion about 10 days prior. The problem was that there was a fence in between them and he got his leg stuck through the rails of the fence and was torn up pretty bad.
Once he was sleeping peacefully my first thought was, "This doesn't look good". But, as has happened more than once in my career as a veterinarian I was wrong. My second thought was, "This looks awful". After exploring the wound more closely my third thought was "This horse is going to be euthanized". The reason for such a bright outlook was the fact that the wounds went down to the bone and the pastern joint was sub-luxated (2/3 of the way dislocated) and open to the clean fresh air. The clean fresh air was a joke. The wound was very dirty and infected and any infection in joints in horses is very, very bad. Time is your worst enemy and this horse was 10 days past a good chance. That is how I met Bob.

Fred will be the made up name of stallion number two. Opposite of Bob he was a very well trained and well mannered stallion, highly valued by his owners to produce similar well mannered foals, carrying his good bloodlines and performance ability. Unknown to us was the initiating cause for his run in with the fence. Unfortunately for him he picked a windbreak fence made of corrugated tin to kick his back leg through. Sharp metal edges and a horse's leg doesn't require much imagination. He had three large lacerations over the fetlock joint, cannon bone, and the hock. If you thought he got lucky and the cut were superficial not involving any of the thought wrong. Both the fetlock and hock were open and draining joint fluid. If you didn't get the memo before, joint infections in horses are bad to the point of being career and sometimes life ending.

Both owners decided to treat the stallions as best as they could. After consultation with surgical specialists for Bob the recommendation was made to see if we could get the infection to clear up, then reevaluate to see if surgery was even an option. The plan for Fred was to try and keep an infection from starting to see if we could save the function of the limb enough for breeding purposes.

After several weeks of antibiotics both stallions were checked again and you will never guess...they both looked awful. Not hardly improved. Radiographs of Bob showed severe arthritis and the limb was still huge and infected. Fred had one ray of hope in that the bacteria that had infected his joints were for a lack of a better term "wimpy" and susceptible to almost all antibiotics. Unfortunately he was still severely lame, barely touching his toe on the ground and both joints still draining fluid.

Let pass another couple of months on antibiotics and finally some progress was made. Both stallions were improving. Starting to use the leg some and wounds actually looking like they were healing. Go another two months down the road and both owners report marked improvements although Bob's leg is still quite swollen and Fred is just starting to really put weight on the leg.

Neither owner held out great hopes for breeding season but turned the stallions out with a pasture of mares and waited on luck or fate or whatever you believe in.

At the end of the summer, Bob's owner reported that the leg is still swollen (arthritis caused the joint to be about three times the size as normal) and slightly lame but that he bred the few mares that he was with just fine.

Fred's owner was much more concerned. Checking him all throughout the summer he said that he was moving around the pasture just fine, but that he never saw him breed a single mare. Fred's owner had me come out at the end of the season to ultrasound all of the mares including the nine that were Fred's responsibility. All I can say is that someone must be living right because every single mare was pregnant and Fred looked great.

These two horses illustrate one of the main reasons why I like fixing animals and hate trying to fix my car. Animals, regardless of what we try and do to them and for them can sometimes do amazing things to fix themselves. My car does not ever fix itself.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sometimes people make me wonder

Today was a funny people day. As a veterinarian I hear this a lot, "Oh it must be nice working with animals, and not have to worry about working with people." I think they forget that the animals don't drive themselves to the clinic. There is usually some form of human attached to each animal that comes in. So here are my two funny people things today.

First, people need to learn to count. I went out to a farm to pregnancy check 200 cows according to the schedule in the book. I know that this was written down correctly because I was the one who made the appointment and I remember particularly the farmer saying about 200 head. Well, as we were working I came to the conclusion that I was either a particular wimp today or just really tired, or really slow, or a combination of all three because my arm and shoulder sure felt like they had done over 200 head and it was definitely past lunch time. When we were finished with the cows one son said,
"Do you want to do the bred heifers or the prolapse next?"
I was thinking to myself 'Bred heifers? You mean we haven't even done 200 yet? I really am a wimp.'
Well we did get done, eventually, and as I was leaving I asked the farmer what the head count was.
He replied, "350 head." !!!

Second funny people story. This was not my case but I was at the clinic and got asked for a second opinion. A llama came in for an ultrasound to see if she was pregnant. The doctor came to get my opinion on the case. As we were walking back to the chute he filled me in on the story. The owner had purchased the llama recently at a sale barn. He was told it was a female and just wanted to know if it was pregnant or not. The doctor wanted to know if I also thought it was a male. A very quick exam of anatomy revealed that I was in agreement with the other doctor and he was trying to ultrasound a neutered male llama. My first thought was, "Don't the people at the sale barn look to see if it is a male or female?" Then come to find out this llama was brought into the ring by the owner with "her" baby at her side. Either the owner was really clueless or really shady. With people you just never know.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Top Ten

If it is not number one then this day has to be close. Number one worst day ever, that is. It started out with food poisoning trips to the bathroom from 2 am to 7 am, but I won't go into details. After laying on the couch for a couple of hours without further problem I decided to go into work. Since no one else at work wanted to be locked in the same room with me I was sent out to "look" at some lame cows. After being told that they were all in the corral I wondered aloud why they were not bringing them in. "Because it isn't convenient for them and they won't do anything that is inconvenient for them." Great. Just to understand my displeasure a little I will describe the options.

Option One:
Bring the cows in and look at them at the clinic. We have a hydraulic chute that we can tip each cow up on her side with straps that go around each foot so that they are unable to kick and we have easy, clear access to all four feet to perform whatever type of foot work the cow is in need of. I think it is a wonderful invention that is safe, easy, and allows for the optimal result from a medical standpoint.

Option Two:
We regularly look at lame cows on the farm when they are out on pasture (often many miles from the home place) and the owner is unable to get them in to bring them down to the clinic to work in the wonderful hydraulic chute. In the case of the pasture cows we tranquilize them with the dart gun and work on their feet while they are heavily sedated and laying down. Although not as good as the clinic, this is still a generally effective diagnostic and treatment system.

Option Three:
Look at the cow on the farm in their working facilities. In other words, standing in whatever kind of chute they have, tying up the leg in question and trying to get a decent look with the cow kicking and fighting the whole time.

Yes, I was going into option three with a group of five lame cows. The first cow was brought into the chute and the hired man put a rope around her hind leg and tied it up to the side of the chute lifted about 18 inches off the ground. After repeated kicking convinced her that her foot was there to stay she stood quietly and I began my exam. Reaching down I began to move the toes to have a better look and suddenly a sharp blow sent me reeling. I rolled backwards out of the chute area, laying on the ground with my hands over my face trying not to black out.
"Do you need an ambulance? Do you need an ambulance? Go call the ambulance. Are you knocked out? Are you okay? Wow, you are really bleeding. Do you need an ambulance?"

"No, don't call an ambulance yet. Let me just lay here for a minute."

With my brain in slow motion I figured out what had happened. The cow had kicked me in the head (I still don't know how she was able to get enough slack in the rope and reach high enough) my head had bounced off the back end of the chute palp cage and then I rolled back out of the way. I had a small gash in the bottom of my eyebrow about a quarter inch from the side of my eye that had half of my face covered in blood and a large goose egg on the opposite side of my head where I had bounced off the chute. My brain did not take long to ask itself, "Why did I ever come into work today?"

Some warm water, surgical soap, bandages, and several Ibuprofen later I was ready to take charge of the situation. Each cow came into the chute for her IV injection of Xylazine and then she was released into the pen to let the tranquilizer take effect. I wasn't about to get kicked in the head again and I wasn't concerned about the added expense to the farmer for sedation of all the animals. Not surprisingly I didn't hear one word of complaint out of the farmer either. Two hours later, after lots of sweating and unpleasant words being thrown in the general direction of the two more stubborn cows, our project was complete.

The best words I heard as I was getting ready to leave the farm were, "Next time we will bring them down to the clinic."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Not always Rabies

Living in North Dakota brings with it some unique experiences. One thing very common here that I haven't had to deal with anywhere else is Rabies. It is a big problem and we have several cases a year. I know you are all having flashbacks to Old Yeller right now. We actually see cases very commonly in cattle as well as dogs, cats, horses and really most of the species we deal with. We rarely see a foaming at the mouth animal that is trying to bite someone. Generally ours are just acting funny or walk funny or can't stand up. Rabies is endemic in both skunks and raccoons in the state so we have a doubly great chance of contracting rabies.

Since it is so common we have many clients that have animals acting unusual and almost always the first question out of their mouth is, "Could it be Rabies?". Not surprisingly our very diplomatic answer is generally, "It could...and there are some other things we should think about". A case this week was one of these.

A cow presented with history of drooling with her tongue hanging out and acting a little funny. As she walked off the trailer I was pretty sure that it wasn't rabies. The tongue was hanging out and she was drooling but she also had a big lump on the side of her cheek and was very thin. My immediate thought was that this cow had broken her jaw. Another doctor was right there with me and began examining her mouth and immediately piped up with, "well you guessed wrong". One quick look in her mouth showed that a broken bone was the problem, but it wasn't hers...she had half of the pelvis of a calf jammed sideways in her mouth and was completely unable to close her jaw or move her tongue. Of course we took it out, gave her antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory and sent her on her way.

Just goes to show you that your first guess, and all too often your second guess isn't always right. That and not every cow that "foams at the mouth" has rabies.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I wish not

Most of the time I love my job as a mixed animal veterinarian. There are very few times that I look at what is going to be coming in and have an unpleasant intrinsic reaction. One thing that can really make me want to run and hide or pretend that I am doing something really important so that another doctor will have to take that appointment is as simple as three little letters: DRC. Now anyone involved with the medical world knows that there are acronyms for all kind of medical things. In fact I read a medical record that went something like this.

Patient BAR, MM pink, moist CRT< 2 sec, EEN clean clear, H/L/T aus WNL. Abdominal/LN palp WNL. HR 110 BPM, Resp 28 BPM, Temp 100.6 F, EDUD WNL

I think you get the picture

Anyway back to the DRC. If any of you get squeamish you might want to stop now. DRC means Dead Rotten Calving.

These are particularly popular this time of year because most of the cattle are out on the pasture and not checked as often as usual. Some of these cows may have been calving for a couple of days before they are found. Combine that with hot summer weather and you have the perfect recipe for a rotten calving experience.

On this particular day I decided to take one for the team and tackle the DRC. Sometimes they really aren't that bad, but the fact that I could smell the cow while she was still outside did not bode well. The apologetic owner (as they almost always are with this kind of thing; one even brought me doughnuts as a peace offering) said that he didn't know how long she had been calving. She was out in a pasture that doesn't get checked often and they even thought that she was open (not pregnant) and that was why she was in that pasture.

I was delighted to smell two legs that appeared to be front legs hanging out the back out of my patient. The fact that 1/2 of the hair had already sloughed off the legs was a pretty fair sign that she had been at it for more than a couple of hours. Once I started manipulating and pulling on the feet the half rotten skin tore open on one leg revealing the bones beneath. Fortunately I already had my gag reflex under control and I was in for the long haul. As the long bone was only succeeding in tearing my plastic sleeves we decided to pull it off. I know that sounds gruesome but guess what - Junior died three days ago and he can't feel that we just pulled off his femur.

Yes, I did say femur. The legs only looked like front legs because they had decomposed sufficiently to allow all the bones in the joints to separate and bend any way that they wanted.
Without further ado, a lot of lube, some careful manipulation, and about 40 minutes we were able to remove the remainder of the partially decomposed calf.

Now many of you would say, "serves you right for being a large animal vet!" And to be honest, when confronted with such cases I have had similar thoughts. Why didn't I go into small animal where everything is easy?

Well wouldn't you know the next day I had another experience. The schedule book said dog whelping. Hey that sounds like fun.

First, I will say as a veterinarian I try not to judge people and how they are with their animals. While I will not jump on the band wagon that many veterinarians do about the evils of breeding dogs when there are so many in shelters etc etc (you can feel that way if you want to) I do occasionally run into a person that I say should absolutely not be breeding dogs. This was just such a case. Because of that there will be no reference whatsoever to owner age, gender, identity or breed. I will simply say that she was a larger breed dog.

The conversation went something like this.
Owner comes in and says, "I am not sure what is wrong with her, I think she might be having a problem.
She had one puppy without any trouble but now I don't know what is going on.

My turn,

"How long ago did she have the first puppy"


"Well, I guess it was the night before last so about a day and a half ago"


stunned silence.
Thoughts whirling though my head: you have got to be kidding me, your dog had a puppy almost two days ago and she has a large piece of placenta hanging out the back of her vulva and you think there MIGHT be a problem?
Don't say anything rude, even though you are thinking it right now.

On vaginal exam of the dog I could feel just the tips of two feet. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a good enough hold and the feet weren't out quite far enough so we gave her some oxytocin and some time to get her back into labor.

Half an our later I was able to get a good hold on two back feet and wouldn't you know - the hair just sloughed right off in my hands. The dead puppy was backwards and dry and was not wanting to come out. Thankfully with a lot of lube and manipulation and way longer than I have ever had to work on another puppy the very dead, nasty puppy came out. Yes, small animal vets do get their occasional nastiness too.

Radiographs showed no more puppies, which sparked two very choice remarks from owner;

"Dang it there are no more puppies?!?"

"When we breed her again will she have any problems?"

I wish not to have these experiences again...both the nasty part and the choice owner...but I am young and will probably have even better!

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Before starting practice I thought I had a pretty good idea of the types of things I would be seeing and the calls that I would get from clients. Of course I was wrong in that assumption and now it is to the point that when someone calls and tells me something, I believe almost anything they say is possible. Earlier this spring I got back from a day in the country to find an interesting case waiting for me. The owner said that he had a newborn calf that the guts had come out of the navel when it was born. I have seen this occasionally and asked how long it had been out and how clean they were. He said, "Oh, the guts aren't actually out there is a big ball of skin around them". Of course now I was curious and thinking that we had just a regular hernia. As always you don't know until you look so out we went to peek in the back of his pickup to see what we had.

Mildly confused is how I started out as he was right there was a sack full of something hanging out of the calf's navel. It was a thin sack with no hair on it that looked mostly just like connective tissue and the contents were about the size a women's basketball. Once I started to feel it my confusion moved up to a moderate level. Part of the contents were very soft and squishy, and part was very firm; almost like muscle. The hole in the navel was very small and I was unable to return any of the contents back into the abdomen. Because the sack was not clear I couldn't see the contents and decided to cut it open for a better look. At this point I was expecting that the "squishy" part was normal small intestine and the "firm" part was small intestine the was twisted or strangulated and was very full and tight. Not to my surprise; I was wrong. To my surprise; when I cut the sack open, I found some small intestine and a large section of liver. No one has to go to years and years of school to know that no part of the liver should be hanging in a sack outside of the belly. You also don't have to go to school to know that a volleyball sized piece of liver did not go through a hole as big as two of my fingers. That the leaves the option that the liver (or at least a section of it) was actually formed on the outside of the body.

Now that we had established what we were dealing with the discussion went something like this:

So the liver is outside of the body?


Can you put it back in?


Does it have a chance?

(This is where my philosophy is that honesty is the best policy)

I have absolutely no idea.
Since we know that this part of the liver was formed outside of the body I don't know anything about he connections to the blood supply, whether the liver will function properly, what other malformations there may be, or really anything to indicate whether this calf could live.

Wow, that's really interesting. So what would it cost to operate on it? Well, what the heck, I am curious to give it a try and see if it will live.

So we proceeded to do a liver-returning-into-abdomen surgery in the back of his pickup and sent him on his way.
That was two months ago.

The other night I was out to their farm to fix a broken leg on a calf and son number one says "Well your miracle calf is still alive, in fact you can't even pick it out from the rest of the calves unless you know which tag number it is!"

Now when people ask me is there a chance I think I will repeat what I heard somewhere:

"Where there is a heartbeat there is hope."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

6th Grade

Calving season is finally slowing down. Although the entire season has potential for unusual and unexpected things, sometimes the end brings the biggest surprises. Yesterday and the week before I had similar experiences. I was told by one of our office personell that there was a heifer coming that was calving. Now for those of you who are not particularly farm animal terminology savvy a heifer is a young female of the bovine or cattle species. In general that name applies to all females up until they have their first calf. Naturally I assumed that my soon to arrive patient was the typical two year old heifer having her first calf.
When the heifer arrived I soon realized that something was not as previously assumed as the heifer was much smaller than would be expected. This was particularly evident as I had just been out to Bangs (Brucellosis) vaccinate the heifers of this farmer and knew that he fed is cattle very well. In fact she looked no bigger than any of the those just coming yearling heifers I had vaccinated a few months previously. I am sure by now that many of you have guessed that she actually was one of those heifers and was now just over 14 months.
The first heifer's calf was delivered by a C-section.

The heifer from yesterday was a small black angus heifer that probably didn't even weigh 800 lbs (mature weight can be anywhere from 1100-1800 lbs). The owner had looked at her ear tag and found that she was just over 13 months old. Of course I did the math in my head and realized that this heifer had to have been bred when she was a 4 1/2 month old calf at her mother's side and here she was 9 months later with her own bouncing bundle of calf. I guess this is what would be the animal kingdom equivalent of a 6th grade pregnancy.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


If I could choose to be an animal it would not be a pig.

It had already been a very busy weekend on call with more than enough challenging and patience-trying cases to go around. I was driving home and was one block from my house when the phone rang yet again; a heifer with a uterine prolapse, could I please come right away. I called my wife and reassured her with these foolish words, "He doesn't live very far away, so it hopefully won't take very long."

As I may have mentioned previously we have had an awful weather winter. Record snowfall combined with record flooding. Then to make this weekend extra nice we got rain, followed by snow, followed by pouring rain, then more snow, then a little more rain. I think wet and cold pretty much miserable sums it up.

When I arrived at the farm the farmer greeted me with, "She was going crazy in the chute so I tranquilized her, and now she laid down". Normally that would not be a problem but this chute happened to be a small old chute that neither side would open on and she was twisted and cramped sideways with her legs tucked far up underneath her. Normally I would try and get both legs out behind the cow and the uterus goes in much more easily but that was not an option. Hoping that maybe this time would be the exception and everything would go in easily I went right to work.

I got the uterus cleaned off nicely and starting stuffing things inside without too much ado. It was like the heifer had a threshold for a specific amount of uterus that she was willing to have inside of her. Once I got to that point and tried to push any more she would give a big abdominal thrust and push everything back out on top of me. Not one to give up easily it quickly turned into a push-o-war. Me pushing in and her pushing out. Now the part that I failed to mention was that this chute we were working in was outside in the middle of the corral. In order to get a good angle on this laying down, butt twisted sideways and downwards uterus, I got to play pig in an 6 inch deep puddle of muddy water and you-know-what-else-turns-water-brown. Fortunately I was wearing my waterproof bibs, OB top, and overshoes. Unfortunately, that was not enough and I still ended up stinking and soaking. I don't understand the thrill that pigs get from that. The worst part was that she was winning and the uterus was not going in.

Next we tried letting her out (with a halter on tied to the side of the chute). Of course she was too sedate and wouldn't move so the farmer got his loader tractor to pull her out of the chute to put her in a more workable position. Perhaps she could sense our intentions as the loader pulled up toward her head and she suddenly had enough energy to stand and walk out. Now I was able to get the uterus back into the heifer without too much trouble...just a little dancing back and forth through deep mud, trying not too get my shoulder dislocated.

Today I did not love being a cold, wet, dirty, and my wife would add stinky, country vet.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

C-section on the side

Many times I have pondered how things would be different had I decided on human medicine rather than veterinary medicine. Often when working with farmers or pet owners they comment on how much smarter veterinarians are than human physicians because we have to be able to diagnose the problem without the luxury of verbal communication from the patient. Add to this the frustration when the statement "hold still, this will only hurt for a minute" has absolutely zero affect on my patients. I guess the closest comparison could be with pediatric doctors working on babies. At best this is a weak comparison as I don't know many babies that would like to kick you into next week or toss you over the fence for doing something painful to them.

Some of these uncooperative patient thoughts came to mind on a recent calving call that I went on. I arrived a the farm just as yet another blizzard was starting. An unimportant side note but this one dropped somewhere between 15- 20 inches of snow and brought the grand total less than two inches shy of the all time snow record for the area. Loving winter here for sure. Back to the story. The cow was a smaller cow expecting her second calf. When I arrived she had a very large set of feet sticking out the back end and the farmer had already tried to pull it. Some of our farmers are not very experienced in offering assistance but this was not one of those. I knew even before getting to the farm that this was most likely going to be a C-section. The set up was a very common calving pen for our area; a head catch next to a wall with a swing gate that fastened with a chain to the wall to hold the animal relatively still for calf deliveries. I noted as we were pushing the cow against the wall that some pressure had to be put on the gate to get it close enough to hook the chain. The top half of the gate could then be swung open to allow easy access to the left para-lumbar fossa (the area in front of the hip bone and behind the ribs where we make our incision for a C-section). I proceeded with my c-section; all appeared to be going well as farmer Jake and his adult son were both there and ready to help.
No sooner had I completed my incision into the abdominal cavity then the cow decided she was tired of standing and laid down. In the clinic this is no problem at all as we just open one side of the chute, position the cow on her right side and continue the surgery there. Instead we were dealing with the setup on the farm and were just starting to find what problems we were going to have. With her now laying down body wedged against the gate it was impossible for the three of us to apply enough pressure to be able to unlatch the chain. Complicate this with the open hole in the left side of the cow with her trying to rub her rumen and other intestines against the far-from sterile swing gate. Fortunately we were able to bend the latch and get enough pressure to release the cow. Unfortunately this freed her to immediately push against the wall with her feet and roll onto her left side. Suddenly the swing gate was very sterile in comparison to the barn floor covered in straw, dirt, urine, feces and anything else nice that you might find on a barn floor. While I futilely attempted to keep my hands covering the 15 inch incision, farmer Jake and son tried to push the cow up off her left side. A quick phone call brought reinforcements from the house in the form of the other adult son and our cow was able to be tipped up to be sitting upright.
After scrubbing up again as best I could I was ready to get this calf out and reached in to try and pull the calf over to the opening in the body wall. She had other ideas and decided that now was as good a time as any to try and push the calf out with all her might. With each new push came part of the rumen, often accompanied by intestines protruding out of the incision, each time only inches from touching the dirty floor before I could get them back in. As this was definitely not working we readjusted again and laid her over on her right side hoping for better success.
Stupid cow, as I had by this time named her in my mind, was trying her best to be as uncooperative a patient as possible. I am not sure why she had such a death wish, but it sure seemed like she was doing everything in her power to get herself started on a really good abdominal infection. Even on her right side she continued to push with all her might and would repeatedly pop out her rumen and intestines despite my best attempts to keep everything inside. First point against me: the cow was repeatedly pushing her guts out. Second: the calf was very large and in the down horn; as absolutely far from the incision as it possibly could be. Third: the rumen was very full and putting a great deal of pressure down on the calf. What had originally appeared to be just another night at the office was turning into anything but. After several unsuccessful attempts to move the calf anywhere near the incision with constant pushing from the cow my thoughts of human physicians being able to ask their patients to hold still reverberated in my mind. Farmer Jake must have been having similar thoughts as he asked if we could sedate the cow. After expressing my concerns about likelihood of losing the calf he still felt that was our best option to complete the surgery and I had to agree.
An IV injection of xylazine in the underside of the tail worked almost immediately and I was ready to pull out a calf. Unfortunately (this seems to be a recurring theme in this story), though we had solved point one against me, points two and three were still insurmountable and I had to do something I have never done previously and hope to never have to do again. Because I could feel the feet deep inside the cow, but was completely unable to move them, I needed to get some extra help. I took my scalpel, held tightly between my thumb and forefinger to cover the sharp edges, and reached deep inside the cow. The whole time in my mind I was praying/hoping/wishing that she didn't override her sedation and decide to push just at the wrong time. Thankfully, I was able to blindly cut the uterus over the point of the hoof, without cutting my fingers or her intestines in the process. With access to the hooves I was now able to put a chain around them and have my two helpers pull the calf up and out. It made me feel better that the two of them together still had to sweat and struggle to get the 130 lb calf out.
Now the race was on to see if we could revive the very sedate calf before it died. A slow IV of tolazine to reverse the sedation, combined with an injection of the respiratory stimulant dopram did wonders for the comatose looking calf. Fortunately, he quickly came around and was trying to stand up even before I was done sewing up the cow. Before too long the sedation began to wear off for the cow and she began pushing and kicking but with two guys sitting on her neck and shoulders and one more holding her back legs tied to a post we finished the job. She appeared no worse for wear and I was off again; into the blizzard to help some other cow that wouldn't stand, or lay, still when I told it to.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Anger management

Springtime in a mixed animal practice generally means one thing: calving season. Saturday was a usual busy calving day with a wide variety of calls from farmers with sick calves, calving problems, and uterine prolapses. I was momentarily at a loss for words when Farmer Fred called and said,
"I have a heifer calving and I just got her into the barn and she went Ape-@#$%.!"
"What do you think I should I do?"
After getting clear in my mind what he had just said I replied,
"Leave her alone for half hour to an hour and see if she will calm down."
I recommended this mostly due to the fact that many cows can get themselves worked up into a frenzy with too much stimulation especially during a stressful time like calving. I also recommended this because I knew I was going up to the area to do a uterine prolapse and I wanted to buy a little time to complete that task. The farmer made it clear that he would be calling back in about an hour if her mood wasn't much improved and would be wanting my assistance. I decided to throw in the dart gun just in case. Sedating a cow that is calving is a really last resort thing because the calf will also be sedated and that combined with the stress of delivery is often too much and we lose the calf. In real bad cases where the cow is also very stressed and down for a long time, you could potentially lose the cow as well

To no-one's surprise my phone had a couple of voice mail messages as I left the farmer with the prolapse, one of which was another plea for help from farmer Fred.

When I arrived on the scene it didn't take long to evaluate the situation and surmise that we were in for a bit of an adventure. Farmer Fred quickly warned me that we would have to dart her because she would try to kill anyone that got close to her. The heifer was in a large pole barn with one other cow and calf. The only door that wasn't frozen shut from excessive snow and ice we had received this winter was in the middle of the east side. There was a head catch with one length of panel next to it in the northeast corner, about 20 yards from the door. The remainder of the barn was wide open space without any other corrals or posts. Our patient was standing in the northwest corner facing the door and charged full speed towards us as we attempted to enter. At a distance of about 30 yards my pistol was not particularly accurate and I needed to get a better shot that wasn't head on. After a couple more futile attempts to enter slowly I began trying to calculate whether I could run fast enough to reach the safety of the panel and head catch before the angry cow could get to me. Even though I ran sprints in high school track I would have to put my money on the cow to win this match race.
With that decision made I began to look around the barn for other options and noticed the rafters and 2x4 braces running horizontally the length of the wall. Spaced like a giant ladder up the wall I realized they were the key to success. I handed my loaded dart gun to farmer Fred and quickly climbed the 2x4s up the wall to the rafters. Fred handed me the gun and I began the climb down the length of the barn halfway hanging from the rafters with my toes walking along on the 2x4 on the wall. Awkward would be an apt description of my movement along the wall hanging/climbing all the while carrying a loaded dart-gun pistol. The cow watched the entire time taking several threatening steps forward. As a result when I reached my destination and jumped down behind the panel she was a short easy shot away. Several minutes later she was down for the count and we sprang to action, hoping that we would be able to get the calf out fast enough to save its life.
Of course, that is not the end of the story. Because my truck was in the shop for some repair work I was borrowing the truck of another doctor and as a result all of his equipment. I got the cow tied up and held down with a rope with a quick release mechanism on it which we soon found out was broken. The cow made one thrashing motion and the quick release did its thing and she was up and we were running faster than you could say "angry cow on the loose".

For my next trick I got another rope; this one a simple lariat. First I tried to toss a loop over the panel onto the head of our angry, yet very sedated, patient. Several attempts of this were unsuccessful and I finally climbed the corral panel. Standing with one foot on either side, almost like you were standing up pigeon-toed in the stirrups on an emaciated horse, I swung my loop like a real cowboy and caught her first try. Surprised at my good luck but needing to hurry we finally got her to go down and we were able to pull the calf without too much effort.

The newly delivered calf was alive but very sedated. I quickly grabbed my reversal and gave it slowly in the vein. I must say that having to give a drug slowly is irritating when you are trying to save a life. I love happy endings and this was one of those. When I left, mom and baby were both alive and well and I was off to my next adventure.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sad Cat

I realized I hadn't posted any stories about cats. I will admit they are not my very, very favorite patients (the whole claws on every foot, sharp teeth, reflexes much faster than my own, and a willingness to use all three) but this story deserves to be told. A few months ago I met an energetic kitty named George. George came in with a complaint of occasional vomiting. He seemed like a happy and healthy kitty and the owner said he was "full of life" he would just vomit every once in a while. Now of course as a veterinarian we love to have something come in the only problem being occasional vomiting. With that history we can usually narrow it down quite quickly to only two or three hundred possible causes! Because the cat seemed to be doing so well otherwise, was a finicky eater, and bloodwork only showed an increased eosinophil count (type of white blood cells usually increase with parasites and allergies), the owners opted to try deworming and changing food rather than pursue further diagnostics at that time. With instructions to get back in touch with us if things didn't improve or got worse, I didn't give the cat another thought. That was of course until a couple of weeks ago when I was requested as a doctor to look at a cat that I had seen previously for vomiting.

When George walked in, or should I say was carried in, (cats don't generally walk into the clinic on their own), I almost didn't recognize him. This previously very playful cat was lethargic and for lack of a better word, emaciated. For those of you who are familiar with body condition scoring, he would be about a 1 out of 5. According to the owners they had tried several different foods which he generally didn't eat well and his vomiting had slowly increased over the past few months. Within the last couple of weeks they reported his condition deteriorating much more rapidly. As is the case with many pet owners, economics often plays a role in diagnostic and treatment plans. This owner was no different and had difficulty making the decision to take x-rays after other diagnostics had not yielded specific answers.

Fortunately radiographs were taken and revealed a very obvious answer to our several month problem. What appeared to be a perferctly round white spot was located in the abdomen near the pelvis. When the owners were brought in to view the films they both exclaimed "It's one of those glass beads". After more discussion it was determined that he must have eaten the decorative glass bead, the kind that you may see in a vase or on a glass plate, about 2 months prior to his first visit.

Next the discussion turned to options for treatment. It boiled down to two: surgery or euthanasia. Surgery was chosen after a long discussion about complications due to the severely debilitated state of the patient.

In surgery we were not surprised to find half a dozen places in the intestine with partial constriction. It would seem resonable that all of these locations were places where the bead had gotten stuck on its several month journey through the intestines and the damage to the wall of the intestine had resulted in the noticeable scarring and strictures. The marble was removed and surgery was completed without incident.

Unforntunately George did not recover well from surgery, was unable to mantain his own body temperature, showed signs of brain damage and was euthanized two days later.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I was out at a farm to pregnancy check and "Bangs" (Brucellosis) vaccinate some heifers. Things seemed to be moving along at an okay pace until we got one heifer that was just a little too impatient. As each heifer would come into the chute we would drop the tail gate so that the next heifer couldn't crowd in as well. This tail gate had a horizontal bar on the top and bottom and then vertical bars about 6 inches apart across the width of the gate. Well miss antsy just didn't have the desire to wait when the gate was dropped in front of her, reared up and stuck her legs over the top horizontal bar. Had this been all there probably would have been no problem as all she needed to do was pull her legs back down and she could stand quietly in the alley. Instead she jumped up stuck both of her back legs through the gate and hooked them over the bottom horizontal bar. Now we had a 700 lb heifer hanging on the back gate of the chute like a monkey. Of course, she was not complacent in her position and after a few seconds of the monkey-cling she began thrashing around. With no room to go forward and all four legs hung up on the gate there was only one option...backwards. Yes, she flipped herself completely onto her back on the ground, wedged between the sides of the alley. Then, like one pig waits for another at the feed trough, the next heifer in the row immediately proceeded to walk right on top of this upside-down heifer to try and push her way into the chute.

Fortunately for me we actually had several people there helping and after we got all of the other heifers out of the chute and alley we devised a plan to get our wedged turtle out as well. We fashioned a rope halter out of a lariat and while one man lifted and pushed on her head, the other three of us pulled on the rope and we were able to flip the heifer back over in the reverse direction that she had just gone. No worse for wear we finished the job and everyone was happy.

When people say cows aren't athletic I think of experiences like this and just smile.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


One of the first questions that I asked before I came to North Dakota to visit was, "How bad are the winters really?" Now keep in mind that I grew up in Montana so a little cold doesn't frighten me. Unfortunately, the person who answered that question for me was also the one who was a transplant to North Dakota and had not been here that many years. His response was "Oh, they really aren't that bad; they are just like Montana winters".

When I came to interview it was the end of November and there was a storm the week I was here. It snowed a few inches, had some wind, and the temperature even dropped a few degrees below zero. Then after we had made the decision to take the job, we came out to house hunt in February. If you guessed that there was another snow storm you are very smart. It snowed several inches and got cold (down around O F again). We weren't too fussed about it after everyone reassured us that we had been here for about the only two storms for the winter, this was about as bad as it gets, and that North Dakota winters really hadn't been that bad for several years.

Fast forward to now. I realize that much of the country is experiencing really potent winter weather, but today's experience warranted some documentation. We are the veterinarians for two sale barns and our duties rotate among the doctors each month so we each get one day a month at each sale barn and they do not cancel due to weather. Today was my day. This morning was bitter much so that when we got gas on our way out of town several of the pumps were not working because they were frozen. As we were driving I was looking across the drifted white landscape and wondered out loud what our snow total was at. We are now at over 6 feet of snow for the year. With over 30 inches in December alone and only one day that came close to 32 degrees since the middle of November, all of the snow is still around. Up till now we have had cold days. However, a new record for ridiculous was set on our drive today. Just before arriving at the sale barn to start our day the thermometer read......
........-40 F !
What a great day to be a large animal vet that works outside!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


One of the adjustments that I had to make coming to North Dakota was the change from "ranchers" to "farmers". Essentially what I mean by this is I grew up in ranching country in Northern Montana where people work cattle while riding horses and they rope the cows from the back of the horse. In contrast, the farmers of North Dakota ride four wheelers, coil a rope like it is an electrical extension cord, and have the vet come out to dart cows. In general, they don't ride and they definitely don't rope.

With that in mind I set out on an unexpected adventure one day this past summer to fix a rectal vaginal prolapse in a cow. I was told that this father and his two sons were actually pretty good cowboys so everything should go smoothly. When I arrived farmer son 1 was waiting and said help would be arriving in a couple minutes. In the meantime he filled me in on the situation and the plan. He said the cow was very tame and that we would just throw a loop over her head, tie her to the truck, and fix the prolapse. Naively I said okay, the other helpers arrived and they were off to bring the cows from back over the hill.

True to their word, the old Hereford cow was mild tempered and farmer son 2 easily tossed a loop over her head. Somewhere between the putting a loop over her head and getter her tied to the truck the plan went rapidly sour. Just as the rope was being dallied around some part of the truck the cow decided she wasn't pleased and took off. With son one running/dragging behind her on the rope, son 2 on the four wheeler, and farmer dad in the pickup the quartet went galloping, dragging, and bouncing out of sight over the hill.

By the time I caught up in my truck things were looking up a bit. The cow was now dallied to the over-sized grill guard and efforts were being made to bring her closer to the truck. Unfortunately, the temperament of this cow had been misjudged and we were now dealing with one very angry cow. Attempts to move her closer with the four wheeler were unsuccessful. So son 1 and 2 took turns trying to get the cow closer on foot...also unsuccessful to the point that the cow was chasing them in circles, first one direction, then the other, around the truck; punctuated by occasional escapes jumping into the truck bed.
Whether by luck or accident someone got another rope around her back feet and tied it to the hitch on the bumper. This was just in time because the rope on the front had begun to fray and she was probably two trips back and forth short of a broken rope and freedom. Unfortunately, though she was tied to both the front and back of the pickup, she could still move about 10 feet and was intent on filling her hunting tag for man. Finally, a bright idea dawned on me. I still had my ace in the hole and it sure didn't look like we were going to win cowboy style. Like a true hunter I got out my dart gun and shot her from about 15 feet away and she went down like a champ wouldn't.

The prolapse had been out for several days, was dry, and hard and was not going back in easily. With a fair amount of cutting and pushing both rectal and vaginal prolapses were reduced and ready to sew up. Unfortunately the adventure wasn't fully complete. Sometimes we tend to do stupid things for no good reason and this was one of those days for me. Instead of using my needle holders to pull the needle with umbilical tape through the skin on the third horizontal mattress suture, I pulled with my hand. Sure enough my wet fingers slipped off the tip of the needle while holding tight and gashed a nice inch and a half long incision in my thumbprint. It was bleeding profusely, but so was the cow, so my attempt to bandage it quickly came off and I just sewed here up the rest of the way without the use of my thumb, all the time assuming that all the blood I was seeing was bovine.

Eventually I did get everything in its proper place, the cow untied and reversed, and my thumb bandaged nicely. Except for the lasting cut on my hand I didn't give much thought to the experience until a few days later when farmer son 1 was in the clinic to pick some things up and I asked how our patient was doing.

"Oh, yeah...she died"

"Really," I replied, somewhat deflated.

"Oh, no, she was doing fine after you worked on her...she just got hit by lightning".