Doc, come quick! (part 3)
By Bill Stork, DVM
So, we have a legendary ability to fall asleep, and an established history when that sleep is broken. Let us travel 250 miles north and fast forward six years, to get back to Chuck and Laurie Wright’s poor cow.
I didn’t own a Heart Rate Monitor in 1994. If I had, I’m sure the thing would have exploded as I went from dorsal recumbency, R.E.M. and snoring like Paul Bunyan, to “Come quick, it’s gonna be a C-section!”
At the time I lived in one of those old farmhouses that had “settled a bit.” From the foot of my bed to the stairs she sloped nearly imperceptibly. Drop an orange from the fridge, and it’ll roll out the back door. The porch was the perfect place to watch the sun rise with a cup of coffee, but the rusty metal lawn chairs were all shimmed to keep your head rocked back while reading the Sunday paper. The garage was at the bottom of the hill from the house. All of this to say that once you woke up and found the floor, all you had to do was pull on some britches and keep one foot in front of the other. You didn’t have to be awake until you got behind the wheel.
As the sandhill cranes fly, the Wright farm was less than a quarter of a mile straight west over two drumlins and 120 acres. Rather than drive cross-grain over plowed fields and line fences, I’d take the northern route. After 350,000 miles on one clutch (yup, braggin' just a bit), the Vortec V-6 in the ’91 Chevy Heavy-Half pretty much shifted herself. Switzke Road was darn near straight and in the two miles north to Hwy B, I had just enough time to gather my senses. In a half mile west on County B and the same two miles back south on Wright Road, I had mentally sequenced surgery kit, clippers, chains, bucket and iodine disinfectant in the order they’d come off the truck.
Driving onto the Wright farm was a bit of an art form unto itself, requiring no fewer skills than the impending surgery. Pulling straight in was a city-boy rookie move that would leave your hood lower than the tailgate, and all the drawers in your vet box would fall shut before you could get your tools out. A good cradle-Catholic veterinarian would find himself reciting a few extra Our Fathers and Hail Marys come Sunday morning.
You were much better backing down, which involved pulling past by two lengths and jogging a quick left, then right. As the front wheels broke the crown of the road, you had to spot the cinder-block corner of the milk-house on your driver’s side mirror, and the concrete retainers on the other side. In gear and off the clutch, so as not to break into a free-fall on the loose gravel, you cranked your wheels hard just past the milk pump exhaust pipe, thus completing a reverse pee-whistle and landing on the flat spot, leaving enough room to walk around the whole rig.
With mind still reeling and heart still racing from the urgent phone call, I found my marks and idled down. As the passenger-side mirror scanned the retaining wall in the darkness, I saw the red-tip glow of my surgical assistant pulling on a Marlboro.
Chuck Wright sat with one leg on the wall and one on the gravel, in Johnson Creek Track sweatpants and old leather high-top basketball shoes, no laces and the backs broken down into slip-ons. The white cotton dress shirt, long since relegated to barn duty, flapped in the light breeze.
As I rolled down the window, he turned his head politely to exhale. He rubbed his belly, “Yep Doc, she went ahead and had it on her own.”
As if it were 10:00AM Tuesday, he took another drag and asked, “While you’re here, I’ve got one with a sore foot and a pregnancy check”.
It has been said that actions speak louder than words. Evidently lack of words is deafening. I was only able to manage a grunt in response to Chuck’s attempts at talk about the weather and crops. By the time I finished carving the abscess from the Holstein’s right rear hoof and pronouncing the heifer bred, he had stopped trying.
I scrubbed my boots and stowed my gear. Standing in the open door with one foot on the running boards and one in the gravel, my curiosity overcame my frustration, “Chuck, what did you feel when you reached in that cow that made you think we were gonna have to do a C-section, for her to then calve on her own 12 minutes later?”
“Aw, Doc, we didn’t see her,” he explained.
"We were sleeping with the window open, and she let out a beller like I ain’t never heard before.”