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.

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.