Weekend on Call: episode 1

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?)

It was Thursday evening, the first of the long weekend on call.  It was getting dark. As often happens two emergency calls came in at the same time, but this time the triage decision was easy.  The horse with the eye laceration would have to wait, because the one with the heel bulb laceration would not.  The heel bulb is the area directly above the hoof of the horse and in this case, the owners reported fairly heavy bleeding. An artery had likely been severed.

The horse was standing in the driveway surrounded by a small crowd of people.  A blood soaked wrap was around it’s left front hoof and ankle.  It became apparent that there was no lighted barn in which to care for the horse, not even a floodlight over the drive so cars were pointed with headlights shining on the horse.

Almost all work done on large animals that involves pain, requires some degree of sedation and although this patient was standing fairly quietly, he would definitely need something for the treatment ahead.  Just like people, animals respond differently to sedatives. The doc estimated the animal’s weight and gave a starting dose before cleaning the wound. As it began to take effect, the bandage was removed.

Lacerations in this area are always going to be contaminated and prone to infection. This one was in the fleshy area in the back of the bulb and there were arteries involved.  Just cleaning and examining the area was difficult – a tranquilized horse has trouble standing on three legs so holding it’s leg up in a convenient position proved impossible. Our doc decided to let the horse stand on all four while she worked. That meant working in an unexplainable position close to the ground, nearly under the horse, in the dark with flashlights to guide the way.

The perfect conditions and position for suturing, not.

The area around the laceration was blocked with local anesthetic and scrubbed clean. As the horse shifted its weight the laceration would open and close, each time making the small arterial bleeders spurt blood. It was difficult to see where to tie them off, but little by little the laceration was closed and the bleeding stopped.

While the tranquilizer was still in effect, the doc wrapped the ankle in batting and layers of gauze. A fiberglass cast was applied like a small boot to protect the area and allow the horse to stand and move while the cut healed. As the crowd dispersed, the doc gave instructions for care and dispensed antibiotics (and stretched her aching back).

All fixed up with a small boot cast.

It was back in the truck and on to the next call.  Fortunately, the horse with the eye laceration was at an equine event where they had found another vet who was a participant. He was willing to stitch up the laceration so we went home, hoping for a quiet night.

A to Z Family Stories: H for Home Road

These stories are part of who we are and I want them recorded. Not all of them are pretty, but that is ok.  This is a collection of family stories that are told repeatedly anytime the Smith clan congregates during a vacation or a holiday.  I’m sure some of them are told more from my perspective than others but I welcome added insight from those involved.

Northern Wisconsin is pretty much the heart of nowhere. The small town I grew up near was over three hours from a major airport and two hours from any significant shopping, unless Farm and Fleet was your go-to store – it was only an hour away. When the girls were young we made weekly trips to the city of Duluth, Minnesota to meet with friends for a church service. It was an all day journey, often leaving in the dark early hours of winter, with our thermos of cocoa and breakfast food and not getting back until it was dark again. There were rituals of where to stop for lunch (Pizza Hut, cheese pizza with a pitcher of Mountain Dew} and what to listen to on the radio (Prairie Home Companion all the way home…). The two youngsters would often fall asleep in the back, strapped into their car seats.

But there was always a point at which the road began to sound different. There was a slowing, braking and a particular curve to the road. It was almost like the tires knew that there was no longer a white center line, no longer much traffic. It was “home road”. A voice in the back would start the chant, accompanied by rhythmic bouncing in the car seat. Soon they would both be singing the song, “ho-ome road, ho-ome road” in sleepy voices that got stronger over the last couple of miles. It was the song that signaled one more safe trip nearly ended, with the expectation of being done with that long stretch of forced inactivity. It meant homecoming.

On visits home, I never travel that stretch of country road without hearing that little mantra playing through my mind. We don’t live there anymore. It’s not a road that leads to home. But the funny thing is that the song itself has come to be applied to other places that I’ve called home. The same feelings of welcome and relief from travel are felt as I turn into my present long driveway, and in my mind I hear small voices singing the “home road” song. I’m just sayin’ it is a sweet thing to remember.


A to Z Family Stories: B for the Basement

Cool. Dark. Smelling of wet earth and cobwebs.

It was the basement, or more commonly, “the cellar”. It was the place mom went to fetch a jar of green beans, or dad went to see if a fuse had blown, or something had gone wrong with the pump for the well. It was the place in my dreams, and sometimes for real, where we went when funnel clouds were feared and things started flying around in the wind outside. I had watched “The Wizard of Oz” religiously for years and knew the cellar was the place to be.

It was a dangerous place for children, or so we were told (until we were old enough to work at cleaning it). It was the cellar steps that scared our parents the most. The only access to the basement was outside – a cement staircase, worn and a bit jagged, descending down into the ground under our house. Retaining walls on either side were probably meant to hold a door that would keep little children from falling into the abyss, but I don’t remember when our doors disappeared or if they were ever there. I remember playing on the steps. It was a cool retreat in the summer. It was my pretend home where I “cooked” mud pies decorated with dandelions and put my dolls to sleep.

At the bottom of the staircase, was a heavy, ill-fitting door with an unusual latch. I remember worrying about opening it, and then worrying again about being able to get it closed. A door left open might be a nocturnal invitation to a skunk, or something bigger. Who knew? And of course, a small child, mistakenly left behind in the cellar might not be discovered for some time

The floor inside was dirt, uneven with cement scraps and piles of “stuff” that kids couldn’t identify. In one corner was old wooden shelving that held dusty jars of produce, canned and stored from previous years gardens. The other corner housed a pump on a cement block. It dripped water and the dampness and faint smell of mold permeated the room. We knew our water came from somewhere under the pump and whether or not it was working was always of great concern to our parents.

Stories of the cellar would not be complete without mentioning it’s most numerous occupants – the family Arachnidae opiliones, Harvestman, or as we called them “daddy long legs”. Somehow we didn’t fear them as we would a spider. Their long spindley legs made them look too clumsy to be vicious. They were interesting and I watched them often. Others were not content to watch and I’m sure some torture occurred during moments of childhood boredom.

I’m just sayin’, I remember the cellar. It was part of our world, our house. Not many of them left.

Our “daddy long legs” looked like this friendly guy

A to Z Family Stories: A for the Apple Tree

This is a collection of family stories that are told repeatedly anytime the Smith clan congregates during a vacation or a holiday.  I’m sure some of them are told more from my perspective than others but I welcome added insight from those involved. These stories are part of who we are and I want them recorded. Not all of them are pretty, but that is ok. 




It was a friendly tree for small people, having branches down low and plenty of climbing space. When the leaves were on you could hide in it, and that happened from time to time. We had to cross a small distance of back yard, squeeze between the barbed wire and the lower part of a fence, run up hill through a narrow field and at the edge of a woodlot of hardwoods was the smaller, evenly proportioned crab apple. All of us learned to get there quickly. It was far enough away to be secretive yet close enough that everything on our small farm was within sight and hearing.

There would be a time each spring when we would suddenly notice the tree getting white with blossoms. It was an obligatory ritual to get a bouquet of branches for the house and we would always go up to the tree with excitement and then remember the bees. Lots of bees, and there would always be some on the branches that we wanted to pick. But the smell of apple blossoms was strong and wonderful, filling the air. We would be brave, grab our prize branches and run back to the house, imaginary insects chasing us down the hill.

The time would come when the ground beneath the tree would be white because the petals had fallen off, like snow floating on the breeze. Instead of being white the tree would get faintly green, then darker as the leaves grew bigger. The little green apples would appear where the blossoms had been. It was safe for climbing then. The bark was often marked with woodpecker holes – I don’t know why I remember that so clearly. You could read a book in that tree. Or play all kinds of pretend situations. I had dolls, but more often it was kittens that got dressed up as babies and put to sleep in a box under the tree while I went to forage for food in the woods. The tall grass of the field would be the walls of our house and the tree was the second story.

The apples didn’t need long to ripen. I think sometime in July we would see them start to redden. They were too sour for anything except apple butter that had sugar to sweeten it up. But it was these little apples that made their way into the story that my family tells when we are together thinking about our childhood. My four younger brothers were a tribe of wild ones and I was occasionally put “in charge” or so I thought, when our parents were away briefly. One time we had an inept babysitter who was doing very little to shepherd the flock and a disagreement arose. It quickly escalated and the rebellious leader of the wild ones, who knew better than to throw rocks, decided crab apples would be suitable. The hard little bullets were easy to throw. I ran to the house and locked them out which made them even more angry.

I got bigger. The tree seemed smaller. I don’t remember when it started dying and losing branches. Years later I visited the farm and the tree wasn’t there any more. I was sad, but it seems that is the way with all things that live, and then they don’t. Except in our memories, for a while.

A to Z Challenge: Zenaida

I met her several years ago because her son was needing help with his English schoolwork.  I was a tutor for the “No Child Left Behind” program and arrived at their home one day after school to spend some time meeting the family and assessing exactly what was needed.  Our friendship went from being centered on her son to food rather quickly.  She was always cooking something in large quantities and urging me to take some.  She packaged hot meals and sold them to workers at her husband’s workplace.  

She and her husband were Hispanic and back in Mexico she had gotten a degree in Accounting, I think, but that didn’t count for much here in the States.  She did whatever she could find to do in between her children’s school schedules. Her husband worked in construction but this was in 2008 and Florida’s economy was taking a hit.  They were barely making their house payments, but they had their own place. It was clean and neat.  

Our friendship deepened later on. Hispanic women (and men) have a thing for fragrance and Zenaida signed up with me to sell cosmetics and perfume.  We marketed together, got dressed up and went to sales meetings.  Later still, when my daughter needed an extra hand in her house-cleaning business, I suggested she try Zenaida and it was a good suggestion.  The clients loved her integrity and work ethic.  When my daughter moved on to vet school, Zenaida inherited her business.  

Zenaida is still the friend who shows up at birthday parties and graduations with a full tray of home cooked tamales (my daughter’s favorite). She still wants to help with my cleaning and yard work and is the hardest one to take any pay for her work. She just wants to be a friend, and she is.  And her name begins with Z (for which I am thankful). 

Zenaida is a common name for women in several cultures and is also the name given to the Zenaida dove which is our mourning dove.

A to Z Challenge: The Joy of YES (the letter Y)

photo of painting by Andrea Heimer
photo of painting by Andrea Heimer

Yes. A beautiful word. I can think of so many times when I’ve been thankful to hear a “yes” from someone. Yes, you can do that. Yes, it can be worked out. Yes, I have time. Yes, you’re accepted. Yes, it’s going to be okay. Yes, I found it, it’s here. Yes, it can be fixed. Yes, I love you.   It’s easy to get in trouble with my “yes” and my “no”. My fearful “no” makes me miss out on valuable experiences. My unthinking, default “yes” results in an overcommitted, overwhelming schedule. So, to be purposeful and joyful in saying YES I am going to

  1. Say yes to people I love. My cousin recently asked me for some sewing help. She and her daughter came over and we spent time together doing a project she really wanted done. That was a good “yes” and actually got me thinking about the subject.


  1. Say yes to experiences rather than vicarious living. Going to Cambodia was something I never imagined myself doing. It has also been one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had in all my life. And it grows better each time I go.


  1. Say yes to creativity over merely consuming. Writing something, sewing something, growing a beautiful plant, making music are the activities I run to when I wonder who I am. For some strange but wonderful reason, I need to create to be happy.


  1. Say yes to things that are lasting over things that are temporary. As I sit here thinking, I know science doesn’t have an answer that satisfies me as to how I can be aware, have a conscience, be a unique person, be more than just physical matter. The metaphysical, the spiritual side of me exists and it feels a connection to the eternal.

So may my yes’s be many, made with joy and wisdom. And may my no’s be few and judiciously spoken.

A to Z Challenge: W for Watch

Looking through a drawer I came across five watches that I’ve worn at various times. All of them had stopped running and probably needed nothing more than a new battery. One of them had a cracked crystal.  I took them to a jewelry store to get them going again and when I picked them up the clerk said “no charge”.  They were all running and set to correct time so I asked why I wasn’t being charged for new batteries. He mentioned the cracked crystal and apologized.  I told him he hadn’t done it – it was that way when I brought it in.  He said he knew that, but was sorry he hadn’t been able to replace it, so he was giving me the batteries for free.  It was a small thing, but an unusual business occurrence these days. I don’t think I’ll forget it.

When was the last time you experienced someone taking responsibility for something for which they were not responsible?  And doesn’t that speak of a confidence and grace that is generous and non-threatening? I was grateful in this situation and the good will created will likely take me back to that store to spend money at some point.  This is in sharp contrast to times when responsibility is avoided or denied, when the most important thing seems to be pinning the blame somewhere.

I was thankful for this little object lesson that God dropped in my path and I’ll try not to forget to put it into practice. I think it’s about being humble,  not in a self deprecating way but with confidence. I am valued enough that I can willingly accept responsibility for my own mistakes and maybe for a few of someone elses’ as well.  It doesn’t really matter who is to blame.  And I’ve found that after years of using my phone for getting the time, I kind of like wearing a watch again.  Just sayin’…






A to Z Challenge: V for Vet’nary

The equine veterinarian practices bedside manner
The equine veterinarian practices bedside manner

One of my all time favorite tv series is James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small”. How interesting and fun it is to now be watching my daughter live out her own version of that story. Real doctors treat more than one species, or so it says on the back of her t-shirt. Doctor J is a vet’nary specializing in large animals, mainly horses but also cows, pigs, sheep, goats and other farm creatures.


Although this is a long standing dream of hers, to be a vet, and she finds it meaningful and satisfying, it is not always pleasant, convenient or easy. In fact, it is often unpleasant, inconvenient and hard. She has a mobile practice and travels from farm to farm with her truck full of supplies and equipment. At present, the area she covers is wide and she spends much time on the road. Many nights she is not home until 9 or 10 and still has her own animals to care for, oh, and herself to feed and put to bed. …


Sometimes when I visit, I ride with her and pretend I’m part of her team (after all, I am a nurse – I know how to fetch a scalpel or a suture, or the lubricant…). From my daughter I learned how to hold a sheep and how to pull a horse’s tongue out of the way while his teeth are getting filed (floated). She has saved a choking horse and set a lamb’s broken leg. She does ultrasounds and x-rays on her patients lugging heavy equipment cases to the field or the barn. She endures the most awkward positions for hours while sewing up a bad laceration or bandaging a difficult area. And she is often called upon when owners decide that their animal needs that last compassionate act.


And who would have thought that someone with sensitivities to organization (sock drawer perfection) and cleanliness (professional house cleaner) would develop such a high tolerance for dirt, manure and horse spit? It’s all part of the job for Dr. J., Equine Vet’nary.


how to hold a sheep getting it's leg x-rayed
how to hold a sheep getting it’s leg x-rayed

the Doc and her x-ray equipment
the Doc and her x-ray equipment

A to Z Challenge: U for Untitled

Untitled for Now

I have a dream where something is lost

I do not know where it is, because I’m not sure

I’m not sure what it is. But it’s gone.

I only have that empty feeling as a clue to where it was


It was a precious thing and I planned never

Never to lose it. I think I hid it somewhere for safety

Little did I know it would be so safe

So safe I would not find it in all my searching


I look for it regularly because there is hope

Hope of some sort. I think it will be recovered

When I accidentally remember what it is,

And where it is. I hope I didn’t imagine it, that precious thing.


A to Z Challenge: T for The Trail

At Springer Mountain after four days on the trail.
At Springer Mountain after four days on the trail.

Back in the spring of 2002, I was desperately trying to think of something exciting to do – an adventure for myself and my teen age daughters. We also had an Italian exchange student  living with us and she was graduating from high school. I just couldn’t see letting her go off to Cancun for the senior trip and needed something to dull the pain of being denied. So, I thought, let’s go on a hike.  Let’s see if the Appalachian Trail is as great a place as they say in all those books…  Surely if some 80 year old woman can thru hike in her tennis shoes with only a drawstring bag of supplies, we can survive a week on the trail.

Hiking newbies, we bought/borrowed backpacks and gear.  We decided who would carry which supplies.  I researched our options and hired a trail expert to transport us to our starting point. It was a lovely day and we were getting a nice, early start. My only reservation as I hoisted was helped into my backpack was “wow, this thing is really kind of weighty. I thought it was only 40 lbs?”.  Yeah, well, we were pretty exhausted by the end of that day’s walking.

The AT teaches you to hate going downhill.  It has some lovely flat stretches on high ridges just to keep morale up but mostly it is going down only to go up again.  Every descent  brings to mind all the wasted effort put into climbing the last hill.  But after all, these are mountains.  I distinctly remember as we were climbing one very steep series of steps carved into the rock, one of the girls was ready to quit.  I was already maxed out on motivational talk so we just did a nice long rest after each step. No need to rush, we only have to do 10 miles of this today…

Each time we made camp it was a major victory. You have to do some thinking before you pick your spot. Where is it safe? Is there a good place to hang your food so bears don’t get it?  Bears!  Is there a place with no bears? Is there water?

Water is very precious when you are hiking and you can only carry so much of it. Water is heavy.  Finding a stream or spring was always a relief and we learned not to pass them by without filtering enough to fill our jars. One experience with dehydration was enough for me. I was weak to the point of not being able to keep my balance, which is not a good characteristic to have on a mountain.  I submitted happily to being trucked to that night’s camping spot by rangers.  They set up the tent and put me in it for a recovery sleep.  Hours later I woke to the sounds of the girls arriving.

We made it.  From our starting point back down to the parking lot at Amicalola Falls. We gratefully fell into the car and went to a motel to wash off five days of grime and weariness. Although it may sound a bit like a bad experience, it wasn’t. I don’t think any of us will forget our time hiking, and I and the youngest daughter have even gone back for more