Saturday, January 29, 2011

More Stories of the Disgusting, Mutated, and Absurd

Nothing makes the veterinary career more interesting than observing cases of the disgusting, mutated, and absurd. Case in point...We had a calf at my family's dairy that was not passing manure and spiked a fever at 3 days of age. By 5 days of age, the calf died after an aggressive treatment regimen. I had to cut her open because I was suspicious of an atresia coli (the lower plumbing was not connected) which would explain the lack of feces. However, I needed an explanation for the fever. The calf was definitely an astresia case, and unfortunately the poor heifer had a perforation at the ileal-cecal junction, which explains the fever from peritonitis. The distension from the atresia, poor perfusion and stress which lead to ulcers, likely caused the perforation.

I was in the middle of a C-section, helping a colleague deliver a calf that was a legitimate 3 weeks overdue, a truly gargantuan calf weighing-in at almost 180 pounds; A fetal-maternal mismatch of epic proportions. I happened to be on call. Just when we finally had the calf in position to cut out of the uterus, another call came in, another mad calving. Great. Plus, it was hot and humid and I was hungry, thirsty, and I had a 45 minute drive ahead. Time to put the windows down, and listen to some music.

When I reached the farm and reached to the cow, I quickly came to the conclusion, that another c-section was in order. She was only dilated 6 inches and the calf was coming rear-end first. However, the presentation was more unusual. The calf was a true breech position with rear end coming first and rear legs forward. But, the tail was nowhere to be found and the rear legs were skinny, curved and intertwined with each other. This calf was going to be visually interesting. Time for another C-section. Being hot and humid, I was greatly concerned that the cow's chances of surviving the surgery were low, but we had to try something. When we finally delivered the calf from the cow's lower caudal left side, the calf lived up to expectations.

The calf was stillborn and clearly missing the tail, a congenital anomaly known as coccygeal agenesis. The rear legs were significantly skinny and curved, like they originally palpated. Interestingly, the lumbar vertebrae were also missing. We had to take some photos. And after a hot, tiring evening, my client's wife sent me home with an extremely tasty, rich chocolate milkshake. The treat definitely hit the spot. And to truly cap off the case, the cow survived and is currently completing her lactation.

I love congenital anomalies, especially when the calf is alive. Meet the bovine version of "Shrek." This calf presented with "Shrek" ears, having a congenital anomaly called microtia, in which a small portion of the auricle is still present. Except for the deformity, the calf was healthy and happy.

In the next case, the cow was not very happy or healthy. She had a displaced abomasum, commonly known as a "twisted stomach," for the second time. Judging by the incision, your's truly performed the previous surgery. I take a lot of pride in my work, so my ego took a significant hit, when I had to re-cut this cow a year later. After entering the abdomen and re-positioning the abomasum, I quickly realized a problem. She had a grapefruit sized mass at the end of the abomasum, about 4 inches caudal to the pylorus. Clearly, this mass was not benefiting the cow, so I ripped it out.

The mass looks like a heart. But I could not leave without cutting the mass open.

Oh dear. My ego took another hit. You are not looking at cream cheese, or blue cheese dressing. The mass happened to be an abscess, and the white, creamy ooze happens to be pus. I guess I should have been a little cleaner. Unfortunately, the environments we work in are not sterile. Even though we strive for complete sterility, we can none the less expect an imperfect environment. The cow recovered quickly post-surgery and I recently rechecked her pregnancy.

I have to conclude with an ode to my truck. In November 2004, my 2004 Chevy Silverado 2500HD entered my life after a tortuous relationship with a Toyota Tundra. This truck has taken me everywhere, through torrential downpours to the "Call the National Guard out!" epic blizzards. The Large Animal Veterinarians truck is truly the office, lunchroom, and conference room. Two weeks ago, she finally made it over 200,000 miles in the rural Pennsylvania town, Roxbury.

The truck and I have more miles to tread, memories to make, cows to save, and stories to tell. I looking forward to another 200,000 miles!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Tribute to a Beautiful Life

Large animal veterinarians have a tendency to develop unique friendships with our clients, in many instances crossing the divide between friend and professional relationship. We usually visit at least once a month, converse about the farm, family, and friends, and sprinkle in gossip, politics, and religion for good measure. We develop a close bond. But nothing prepares you for the sudden and dramatic loss of that friend.

Farming has significant risks and dangers. (I have scars to prove it.) With a practice of over 300 clients, we see lives affected by farming accidents on an annual basis. But nothing prepared me for the sudden loss of one of my clients to a farming accident. On Wednesday, January 19th, I lost a client and a friend. Rodney Hawbaker was only 44 years old, leaving behind his wife, Karen, and two children, Owen and Kirsten, whom I worked with in our local 4-H club. He had a thirst for life, a life guided by his relationship with Christ.

If I could simply describe Rod, I could use a seven-letter sentence, "He got it." He lived a life of service, was accountable to his fellow man, and was always available to help a friend in need. After reading this post, I think you will realize what "it" is. First, I want to start with a story.

About two years ago, Rod became actively involved with missionary work focusing on impoverished children in Bolivia. Integral to the mission was providing a solid foundation for a Bolivian orphanage by constructing a dairy intended to provide food and income. Rod told me that he was donating 15 heifers to a sale in order to provide financial support for the project. My eyes bugged out of head, because he was donating 15 "income generators" during a severe economic downturn in the dairy industry. I argued that he needed the money, but Rod would not budge. It was clear that Rod was focused on providing hope for the children. Still focused on his business, I recommended that he keep tabs on his donations for tax purposes. Rod was quick to respond that due to the economic downturn, a tax write-off would not be necessary this year.

"He got it."

Clearly, I did not "get it" yet.

In addition to his financial donations, Rod donated his time and inexhaustible energy. Approximately every 3-4 months, Rod and his family would visit the orphanage, aiding the children and providing labor for the dairy's construction.

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.
Sir Winston Churchill

Rod knew his purpose in life. Have we realized our life purpose? "He got it." He used his dairy farm, the fruits of his labor, to fulfill a greater purpose and passion - to grow a beautiful faith-based, close-knit family, to spread the word of Christ, and to provide hope for the impoverished children of Bolivia. His life was cut short, but during his short life, he was able to touch the lives of so many. May we be so fortunate to find "it" before we leave this world.

Rod and I had a scheduled appointment on January 19th. I'm sure we would have talked about the farm and cow management issues. Likely, we would have mused over stories about our family and his future trip to Bolivia. And we would have thrown in a discussion on politics for good measure. But he had another appointment he simply could not miss, an appointment so important to him that his entire life was spent preparing.

I will leave you with a few passages:

2 Corinthians 9:7
"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Luke 6:38
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

Acts 20:35
"In everything that I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: "'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"