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.

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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.

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Old friends meet in the morning…

How to Feed Horses

wpid-20150911_081915.jpgI often visit Dr. Julia in Jacksonville and have adventures as Vet Ma, helping with horse chores and riding truck with her as she does her rounds.  The area has had more rain this season than it has in 40 years according to the older generation. The pasture where she keeps her four horses is a sea of mud.

 !. Arrive at pasture.  Try not to get truck stuck in the mud.

2. Squeeze size 9.5 feet into daughter’s size 8 boots.

3. Wade to feed room. Fill two buckets with grain.

4. Wade to pasture.  Approach small herd of excited, rowdy horses eagerly waiting to be fed. Try not to be anxious.

5. Put halter on old lady horse so she can be fed by herself outside the pasture.  Try not to let her drag you through gate. Try to stay clean. Try not to be anxious.  Try to shut gate.

6. Don’t let old lady horse knock over pail and eat grain meant for other horses. Scoop up spilled grain. Grab her and get her to her own pail.

7. Catch other three horses who have gone through open gate while you were catching old lady horse. Try not to panic.  Try to keep them from eating grain meant for old horse.

8. Make a big deal about grain you still have left in pail. Wade out in pasture to feeding trough and hope horses follow.  Dump grain in trough, make lots of noise doing it.  Try to keep clean.  Try to remain calm.

9. Get out of way when horses stampede to feeding trough. Try to remain upright in mud.  Forget about clean.

10. Forget about feeding old lady horse by herself.  She’s eatiing. Take halter off.  Get back to gate, shut it.

11. Return pails to feed room. Remove muddy boots. Breathe sigh of relief.

Take off muddy boots
Take off muddy boots
Try not to get stuck
Try not to get stuck

Working It Out, Somehow…

On a day when it didn’t seem apparent how we would accomplish what needed to be done, most of it got done. We could have spent a great deal of the time in despair of one degree or another and wasted a perfectly fine day.  I don’t think we did.

Dr. Julia is a mobile equine vet but had to work all day in a small animal clinic where she picks up some extra work – her second job. It left her with very little time to work out details of getting her vet box transferred from one truck to the other.  My job for the morning was to lighten the weight of the box by taking out all that was in it.

You have no idea how much stuff can be packed into a box the size of a small truck bed.  And since much of the medical supplies are put in hastily, on the way to or from an emergency, there is a lot of disorganization and a bit of trash that never gets disposed of.  Since most of the patients live outside and eat hay there is a generous complement of oak leaves and hay stubble scattered throughout. It’s a mobile hospital and it could probably use a full-time janitor to keep track of it’s condition.

The box when it was new carried it’s own supply of water, with a little pump.  That no longer works but the water tanks were full and water is heavy.  I had to  revisit my siphoning skills with one of the docs treatment tubes (trying not to think about which orifice of a horse the tube might have visited last…).  I am a very effective siphoner.

Vet box supplies to be reloaded
Vet box supplies to be reloaded

Everything I took out was piled on a table in the yard, covered by a tarp.  The rest of the day I spent cleaning the box, and vacuuming the old vet truck.  The doctor has a beautiful, intelligent, loving black dog (Tess) who spends a lot of time in that truck and I vacuumed enough black hair out of it to cover another dog just like her..

During lunch break Julie came home and we spent some time unbolting the box from the pick-up bed. There were only three bolts, but that kind of job has some dirty, under the truck moments. We had trouble with one of the bolts.  It was unmovable.  I kept praying that a man with a tool would come walking down the driveway, but that didn’t happen.

Julie’s guess is that the box weighs almost 800 lbs. and when she bought it, it took four men to hoist it into her truck. She asked various friends if they could help her with this move but couldn’t manage to get four men in one place at the same time.  The crew we ended up with was one hefty older teen boy, one short Hispanic man and his three young children, and once more it was after dark.

Fortunately our one man was pretty resourceful.  He had us slide the box out and put one end on the ground, holding it at a tilt.  I pulled the truck away, Julie backed the other truck in it’s place and they rested the box in the bed, lifted the end off the ground and slid it in.  Two guys did this.  It was beautiful.  This may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but when you’ve had a day, a week, a year, when everything you try to do is hard, it is a big deal.  This has been Julie’s life for a while now.  So I gave the man a hug.  He deserved it.

Today the supplies got put back in and the doc is ready to go on Monday, almost. She still has to buy a step stool because the truck is so high she can’t reach into the side compartments of the vet box… there’s always something. Just sayin’.

The troublemaker vet box, finally in place.
The troublemaker vet box, finally in place.

By the light of the moon…

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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.

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Hospital!

wpid-20140926_151406.jpgRelax.  I’m not announcing an accident or illness.  Once again, up in Jacksonville, I’m checking in on the lady veterinarian who now has a new, additional workplace.  She is still all about horses but doesn’t want to get out of touch with the smaller species either.  Enter, the Oceanway Animal Hospital and it’s friendly staff.

I came on a quiet, Friday afternoon and was able to sign up for the afternoon tour with guide Stephen.  He was manning the front desk, phone, delivery door, etc… and was able to do it all while giving me the tour.  He is a biology major in his junior year and still relatively new to his job.  I think this may have been his first tour.  He seemed a little surprised.

Stephen, hard at work.
Stephen, hard at work.

Like many smaller animal hospitals, I thought this one could have been a house at one point.  We walked through the various rooms and were back in the reception area in about five minutes, well… maybe three.  But all the necessities were there – exam rooms, lab area, med room, kennel, surgery, x-ray, kitchen.  Stephen and I had a little chat while waiting for Dr. Julia to finish with a patient.   There seemed to be a lot of laughing and talk going on in the exam room so I assumed it was a happy visit.

Dr. Julia took a moment for my requested photo op before starting on her next client, a large orange, tiger-stripe cat who had arrived in the arms of his owner.  People love their cats and dogs.  I’m sure it will be an interesting place for Dr. J. to work, and it might come in handy at some point since she has her own dog and three cats.

"Real doctors treat more than one species..."
“Real doctors treat more than one species…”

Another Interesting Day

It’s July already and I’m having another interesting day.  Thankfully, this one had nothing to do with me visiting a doctor’s office or my health, but it does have a medical component to it.  Remember hearing about the old days when doctors made house calls?  Well, guess what? My daughter, the veterinarian, still does (read about her here). She traveled 275 miles to see this client.

patient sign-in sheet
patient sign-in sheet

We had a restful Fourth of July weekend visiting Doctor Julia ( ) in Jacksonville at her home. Then yesterday the Doc, the grand dog Tess, the husband and I all traveled south to our home. Julia still has lots of friends here and a couple of them breed Dalmatians – the dogs with all the spots. There was a litter of puppies due to go to their new homes this week and they needed their health certificates.  I always love watching the Doc work so I volunteered to go along and help.  I’m a nurse and a good animal holder.

It was kind of like being at try-outs for a remake of “101 Dalmatians”.  There were 10 of the cutest, roly, poly, wiggly pups waiting to be brought out, one by one, and checked out from head to toe.  And the process is not all that different from what I’ve recently been through, although I wasn’t checked for worms (yet).  Listen to heart and lungs, check ears and mouth, temp, stool sample, vaccines and de-wormer, toenail clip… an assembly line that amounted to a good morning’s work.

The Doc at the poop station checking for parasites...
The Doc at the poop station checking for parasites…

 

Doc, I'm seeing spots before my eyes...
Doc, I’m seeing spots before my eyes…

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