Weekend on Call: episode 2

I have a talented daughter who is an equine veterinarian. Although I am a registered nurse for people, she occasionally allows me to ride on calls with her as she treats animals. We have adventures. I call myself VetMa. (OK, it’s a bit dramatic. So what?)

I heard the gathering of supplies and the phone conversation as I was waking up. There was no time for breakfast. We were on the road within minutes. It was Saturday morning and the weekend had officially started.

An animal loving family had been nursing their mini calf during the last week.  It had been seen by vets locally and at the University. It had been doing well and was being stalled in the house, in the bathroom. At midnight, the night before, it had been standing, chewing calmly on some hay with no apparent problems. This morning the family found things quite different. They were afraid it might be too late.

The scene was not encouraging. When the Doc arrived the calf was lying on the living room floor, swaddled in blankets with a heat lamp on it.  A worried looking husband and wife gave her the story. They had found the little animal unresponsive, barely breathing and looking near death. They had no clue what had happened.

A mini calf is about as big as a medium sized dog. The woman was stroking his head, holding it to keep his airway open. The preliminary exam showed a temperature too low to register on the thermometer, unusually cool limbs, barely audible heartbeat and respirations so diminished they were hard to detect.  Its eyes were open and glazed. The only sign of life was an occasional struggle and agonizing cry.

The doc is not only an animal lover herself, but also a very compassionate people person. She always tries to give people options even in the most critical looking situations. There weren’t many options to give in this case. There was no apparent course of action and it was doubtful the little guy would survive another trip to the university hospital. She offered to try to decompress the bowel, in case there was a blockage of some sort and talked with the owners about euthanasia as well. She went out to the truck to get her equipment ready should they wish to have treatment.  The man came out a moment later with tears in his eyes to say they did not want their animal to suffer any longer.

Hearts break when a precious animal suffers. It is part of the risk of ownership of an animal, that it will get sick or hurt and suffer. A good doc gives owners as much information as possible to make responsible decisions about the care of their animal. Making the decision to not let suffering continue when nothing can be done is difficult but there is also a peace and a feeling that the decision is the right one for the animal. A caring veterinarian helps clients through these times, being as kind, gentle and humane as possible. And that is how the first call of the day ended.

Euthanasia is not something a veterinarian enjoys, but it is part of the job.  It is heartbreaking. Every time.

What is it with girls and horses?

What is it with girls and horses? There is an affinity there that becomes so obvious from a veterinarian’s perspective, especially when the veterinarian is also a female.  I’ve been riding around in the vetmobile for a few days and it always gives me some unique character studies to write about, some experiences with blood and manure, and a lot of hours sitting in the truck. But, girls and horses first…

Today we made a call for some routine immunizations and dental work. There were three horses, two women and a toddler.  It was the mom and her baby girl that were most interesting to watch.  If there was such a thing as a stereotype horsegirl, this gal would win the title for sure. Cute little thing (the mom), slender, tight jeans with bling on the pockets, western boots, big smile and horse, horse, horse in her talk.  Both ladies took in horses as rescue projects, whether they could afford it or not.

Mom was evidently teaching her little girl to be at ease around big animals and at the same time trying not to let her walk under the horses or get near their feet. She was more than busy running after the child and keeping her away from the dental tools, the antiseptic bucket, the vet truck and the yard gate while still keeping her fairly happy. Was she frazzled, upset with the child or feeling sorry for herself? No. She was relaxed, calm and equally loving her mother role and her horse girl role.

All these horse girls talk about rain rot, cleaning sheaths, varying consistencies of manure, multiple kinds of horse feed, supplements and medicines like it was second nature and the most interesting stuff in the world. They love to watch Dr. Julia work and to ask her questions. And more than once this week I’ve heard something like “this old horse has been with me for __ number of years so I’m going to take good care of him now”. And they say it when they’re looking at a pretty hefty bill for meds and services.

Dr. Julia and an associate vet performed surgery in the field one day. There were two procedures needing to be done and only a short window of time in which to do them before the anesthetic wore off. One doc took the castration and the other, the hernia repair. It’s interesting how you get a horse to lie down on the ground with his feet in the air.

Yes, they have to be pretty sleepy to lie in such an undignified posture.

The two vets both went to the next client as well. This horse had an interesting procedure done. It was blind from glaucoma in one eye. In cases like this, pressure continues to increase in the eye and it can become painful, and even rupture. It is better to remove the eye, and that’s what they did. Not fun to watch, lots of blood, no pictures. You’re welcome.

Two days worth of clients.  All the horses were owned and attended to by women. That is not to say that men aren’t involved, but they seem more content to provide the finances, build the barns and fences and then let the women actually touch the horses.  So what is it with women and horses? Didn’t it used to be the cowboy that was in love with his horse?

As usual, visiting Dr. Julia gives me time with Tess the dog and her sidekick cat-with-no-name.  Every morning when I let Tess out, she sits for a moment on the top step and surveys her yard.  The cat comes and joins her.  I didn’t catch it in the photo but I often see them both staring out with their backs turned toward the door, like two old friends on the porch. It’s beautiful.

Old friends meet in the morning…

By the light of the moon…


Today Dr. Julia had only one appointment and we were going to spend a good part of the day switching her vet box from one truck to another – a process requiring a lot of unloading and reloading and four strong men to do it.  Unfortunately the doc has also been on call all day.  It is now dark and she is still giving shots to Howdy, Whiz, and Li’l Snip.
It’s been a long day and a hard day. The worst of it was euthanizing a sweet little mini who was in severe colic. We shed tears along with the family over that one. Those are not easy decisions to make.
And we have not even started switching trucks. Maybe tomorrow.  Some days are just this unpredictable.