Category Archives: veterinary stories

A Vet’s Wife’s Diary–Riding Shotgun

After being married to a veterinarian for over fifty years, I naturally have loads of memories, pictures in my mind, like the following. My veterinarian is a much better storyteller than I am, but I love to write his stories down, even if only in my diary. Here are three from the year 1992.

August 3, 1992

One of our fairly new clients had a sickly pig recently which, the farmer said, should be culled, but whom, his wife said, must be cared for. (Shades of Charlotte’s Web!) One Saturday, a day off for Charles, we were deep into painting our kitchen when this lady appeared at our back door wanting Charles to tell her what to do for the little critter. They went out to his truck where he gave the little pig several shots, cautioning her not to be too optimistic. “But,” he said, “amazing things can happen.”

She wanted to pay him. He insisted not. Coming back in to take up his brush he told me, “She couldn’t afford to pay, the pig is not worth the cost, and if I can’t do some things just because they need doing, I’m not worth my pay the rest of the time.”

A few weeks later that lady called and asked if we liked fish. She gave us a mess of fresh water bass fillets explaining she wanted to do something nice for Dr. Graham’s treating her pig. I cautiously asked how the pig was. She became very enthusiastic. “Well, you know he’s deaf, but he’s been eating and growing since Dr. Graham treated him. Like Dr. Graham told me to, I’ve been spoon feeding him, and now he’s trained just like a baby. He’s really a character!”

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A typical scene, a healthy hog, not the little sickly pig!

November 4, 1992

Charles is blessed with such a huge amount of cheerfulness that in the worst circumstances there’s usually some of it left in his well. He’s sort of like an airfilled balloon in a tub of water. There’s just no way you can keep him down. But the other night I found him morose and very subdued. He’d lost a patient, he told me. It was a cow on whom he’d done a caesarian. The operation was successful, though the calf had been dead for hours. He was almost through closing the wound when the cow suddenly drew a big shuddering breath and died. Years ago this would have been so common he would have been sad, but not surprised. But now procedures and supplies are so vastly improved, he expects to win more of these battles. This one really got him down. For one thing, he was physically exhausted which, of course, affects one’s mental attitude. Being disappointed as well, he was not interested in much conversation the whole evening and announced he was going to bed around 9:30.  But the next morning he was whistling again.

November 9, 1992

I never grow tired of hearing Charles explain firmly and kindly the intricacies, causes, effects, possibilities of injuries, diseases and conditions. For instance, yesterday (Sunday afternoon) a young woman named Rebecca brought in her 11 year-old poodle who’d had two seizures in quick succession. Rebecca was swollen-eyed and still crying, blurting out, “I don’t want her to be in pain. I’ll do what I have to do.” She implied she was afraid she should euthanize her dog.

Charles took the dog’s temperature. Normal. He questioned her about other seizures. Very few. He asked her about the circumstances surrounding these recent ones. There was company at her house, otherwise all was as usual. How severe were the seizures. Very bad. The dog virtually lost all consciousness, eyes glazed over.

Finally, as he rubbed the little dog’s back and looked her again in the eyes which now were wide open and eager, Charles said, “Just because she’s had a few seizures is no reason to put her down. You may have to do that one day if you think it’s best for her, but I can’t recommend it now. She’s not in a lot of pain, just bewilderment at times. When she has a seizure, leave her in safe surroundings and ignore her. Let her be quiet awhile. I don’t even recommend medication unless seizures are pretty frequent and regular. Medication partially sedates one most of the time. I’ll give her a tranquilizing shot now just to calm her and then I recommend you just watch her. You know, we can’t guarantee how any of us will die and whether we may be frightened and alone sometime. But let’s live fully while we can.”

Rebecca smiled through her tears as she hugged her “baby.” “Thanks, Doc, thanks so much!”

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Hollow Tail–a riding shotgun story

Instructions for treating a cow with hollow tail were not given at UGA School of Veterinary Medicine. However, it was certainly addressed as a condition a veterinarian might hear about along with such things as hollow horn, troughitis, and Miss-a-Meal Colic in horses. All humor aside, farmers had through the ages had to figure out their own remedies for whatever ailed their creatures. For the most part, Charles learned to ease around these “old farmers’ tales” with gentle suggestions that this or that new methods had been discovered and would work much better. But there did come a time when Charles perceived the importance of seeking aid from a self-appointed hollow tail expert. The memory of that occasion came back to him as he read the obituaries recently.

Charles reads the obituaries both in Thomasville Times daily and in the weekly Cairo Messenger. There are two reasons for this practice.

He became committed to reading the obituaries regularly because of a “raking over” by a client one day. Ever the cheerful one, Charles arrived at the Tyus farm to treat a cow, hailing Mrs. Tyus with a wave and “Good morning!” Opening his black bag and chatting as he did, he asked, “Where’s Mr. Tyus today? Gone into town maybe?” Whereupon Mrs. Tyus began to weep. “Doc, don’t you know? He died last week.” She then proceeded to let him know she thought it was pretty shabby of him not to keep up with things any better than that.

Charles determined he would try never to be so unfeeling again.

The second reason he keeps up with obituaries is to try to know who is kin to whom. His longtime partner, Gene Maddox, somehow always knew the relationships of everyone in Grady County and beyond. He could readily list a person’s cousins, ex-wife and relatives, along with ancestors and occupations. The knowledge of all branches of families was a great source of help when he left veterinary medicine to go into politics. But Charles, too, wanted to be able to keep up with family connections. Studying survivor lists in the obituaries helps a lot.

So when he read that an old friend and client had died he listed for me his survivors as well as those relatives already deceased. And right quick when he read Babe’s name, he remembered the hollow tail scene.

The cow was down,  Jersey heifer, expected to become the family’s milk cow. “A cow down” is a medical condition with various causes and remedies. When a call comes to treat a cow that is down, the possibilities range from grass tetany in the spring to pneumonia to malnutrition to mysteries galore, including poison and other dire causes. Of course a common problem is related to calf delivery but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Charles had already given this “down cow” the shots he perceived she needed, including IV calcium. But he couldn’t offer much hope for survival. She was pretty low and not showing good signs of response. Babe wandered up to join the onlookers just as Doc said the chances weren’t good for this little cow.

“Looky here, Robert,” said Babe to the owner, “we could do a hollow tail job, you know. Iffen Doc’s through, of course.”

Charles, grabbing a good opportunity by the horns, said “Sounds like a good idea, Mr. Babe. (The nickname “Babe” had stuck with this fellow from childhood, but his gray hair demanded of Charles the respect of “Mr.”) “Why don’t I stay on and watch?”

This was where Mr. Babe began hedging. “Well, now, I don’t know about that, Doc. I ain’t done one in many a year.”

Charles looked at Robert, the owner. “What do you think? Want him to try it?”

Robert looked a little dubious but Mr. Babe was his neighbor. So he nodded.

Mr. Babe stuck his hands in his pockets and shuffled in the grass. “Don’t even have my knife with me.”

“No problem,” said Charles. “You can use mine. I have a nice sharp scalpel.”

Mr. Babe had turned very shy. “Guess I’d better not,” he said. Then, brightening with a new idea, he said, “Why don’t you do it, Doc?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Charles looked around at the gathering of neighbors now watching expectantly. He saw Robert grin and give him a nod. “Ok, then, if you’ll give me step by step directions, we’ll just kind of do it together. So, I guess, Miss Eleanor, we’re going to need some salt and pepper. Right, Mr. Babe?”

This request was to let Mr. Babe know Doc wasn’t completely ignorant when it came to hollow tail.

Mr. Babe’s shoulders visibly relaxed. “That’s right, Doc,” he agreed.

So that’s how it was that Charles palpated the tail, located the area at the end of the bone and the beginning of the twitch. Mr. Babe agreed he’d gotten the right spot.

By then Miss Eleanor arrived with salt and pepper.

“Now you got to make the cut, Doc,” instructed Mr. Babe.

“You sure you don’t want to do it, Mr. Babe? No? Well, is it all right if I trim the hair away?”

Mr. Babe nodded.

“All right if I smear some alcohol on the spot?”

Another nod.

“Okay, here goes.”

The audience was quiet as the inch long cut was made. Charles commented to all that he saw the hollow and Mr. Babe grunted his assent. Then there was a shifting and a sigh from the crowd as Doc sprinkled the wound with salt and pepper.

“Okay if I wrap it in gauze?” asked Charles, well aware that usually the wound would be wrapped in a piece of sheeting or whatever was available.

Mr. Babe nodded, then said, “That’d be good.”

“Okay, then,” said Charles when the deed was done. He stood up, scratching his neck. “We’ll see how she does, Mr. Robert. Thanks for your help, Mr. Babe.”

They shook hands with each other and with the owner and Charles told Robert he hoped all went well. “Call me if you need me,” he said as always.

Several weeks went by.

Charles happened on Mr. Babe at one of the country stores. In those days, the 1970’s, the country stores were lively on many crossroads throughout the county, ready for the farmers and others who needed their soda break, some conversation, a gas refill and even a few groceries. Charles often stopped at whichever one was along his way mid-morning or afternoon, whether Hollingsworth Store, Portavint’s, Powe’s at Pine Level or Ward’s at Pine Park. He could use a lift after a hard calf delivery and he greatly enjoyed dropping in on neighborly conversations.

That day he asked Mr. Babe how the hollow tail had done.

Mr. Babe shifted in his chair and then hung his head. “Doc, she died. First one I ever lost.”

Charles laid a hand on Mr. Babe’s shoulder. “Well, it wasn’t the first I lost and probably won’t be the last. We do the best we can but we can’t win them all.”

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Old country store now closed at Calvary, Georgia

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Ready’s Wild Cow–a riding shotgun story

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Same veterinarian, different truck

 

Mr. Robert Ready worked hard at a public job so it was often late afternoon when  he called Charles for veterinary help. Thus, I remember several times late in the evening going to his place off the Camilla highway, out Ready Road, then bumping down a winding trail of a road to the back side of a rolling pasture. Mrs. Ready worked “in town” also and was usually still not home or thoroughly busy cooking or canning or tending her roses. She didn’t come out to help round up cows. Mr. Ready, a tall thickly built man, always wore a dark gray uniform and a canvas hat both of which were not only wet with sweat, but showed signs they’d been that way many times before.

Charles never grumbled when he discovered a cow needing to deliver but still loose in a ten acre pasture. He’d speak cheerfully to Mr. Ready and begin hauling out rope and whatever was needed to catch the cow without tranquilizing her. If he shot her with the tranquilizer we’d have to wait fifteen minutes for the medicine to take effect, then deal with a cow unsteady on her feet whose contractions might have all but stopped.

On one occasion I particularly remember Mr. Ready pointed out the patient amongst sister cows, calf feet showing under her hiked tail. “She’s a gentle one, Doc. We should be able to get her easy.”

When Charles walked toward her she quickly suspected it was she he was after and, smelling trouble, she ran awkwardly down to a clump of tag alder near a swampy area.

“We’ve got to keep her out of that swamp,” said Charles. To me, innocently watching from the passenger seat, he said, “You’re going to have to drive down to the edge of those woods.”

I slid over obediently thinking, “That’s fine as long as I don’t get too near the swamp.”

Before I even reached the woods, the men had flushed the cow out of there and here she came up the sloping pasture again. Charles yelled, “Let me hop on the back of the truck. I’ll have to lasso her.”

He, of course, did not hear my groans.

Thus began a hair-raising journey around and around Mr. Ready’s pasture. Charles yelled, “To the right, the right, the RIGHT! No! the LEFT! Closer, speed up, STOP! To the left, the left I said, the LEFT! No, the right!”

We rocked wildly over terraces, spun through wet places, flew to the right, suddenly sped to the left. My heart was pounding and the fear of running over the cow or Mr. Ready made my palms slick on the wheel.

When it was all over, cow roped to the back end of the truck, calf delivered, a live one that time, I think, I hovered near hoping for some nice words about my skillful driving. But they never came. I think Charles was pretty well convinced I didn’t know right from left, slow from fast. When we left, Mr. Ready lifted his hat to me revealing dark hair drenched in sweat. He grinned and said, “Nice to see you, Mrs. Graham.” Was that all? I got that much just sitting idle in the truck.

Mr. Ready was the one who used to send me grapes which Charles brought home in a clean examation glove. Those gloves are about two feet long, hold a lot of grapes! I was much more successful making grape jelly than driving a cowboy truck!

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