First off, I would like to share how grateful I am to enjoy a career that is stimulating and meaningful where every day I help animals, celebrate the bond they have with their owners, and have the true sense that I am following my purpose. I am living as my authentic self and it feels amazing. While working a 13 hour day it is still energizing and satisfying, and I am left with a sense of accomplishment and peace. I feel like I am doing exactly what I was put on this earth to do, and am blessed to be surrounded by a talented, compassionate, and extraordinary team at Veterinary Medical Center.
I have been practicing veterinary medicine for 26 years. When I first started, referral hospitals and emergency clinics were unheard of, especially in more rural areas. So we provided 24 hour emergency care and performed procedures with the book open on the table next to the patient. My confidence developed and evolved as the success stories eclipsed any apprehension or fears. I understood that I had been given the knowledge, tools and talent to truly make a difference in animals’ lives. It was also a time in my career where I went out on the road to treat horses and cattle and pigs. I was anxious to apply everything I had learned and develop the art of veterinary practice.
There was only one event that changed my professional direction. A deal changer if you will, where I questioned if I was really doing what I was meant to do. I remember the details well. It was a bitter cold January night when I received an emergency call just after midnight for a dystocia. (That’s a difficult delivery, and in this case it was a young heifer that had never been touched by human hands.) I instructed the young gentleman farmer to get her caught up in the barn and I would be there shortly. As I drove out in the cold winter night, the reflection of the moonlight over the snow covered fields gave a sense of peace and beauty that would soon dissipate as the evening unfolded. When I arrived I was met by a frantic owner who quickly led me to a field, surrounded by barbed wire and without any shelter, let alone anything that resembled a barn. In the bright moonlight I could make out the dark silhouette of a young heifer with a lifeless calf protruding from her hind end. The head and fore quarters were out and it seemed like the majority of the work was done. As I approached her, she jumped up and ran like a startled deer and bolted across the frozen ground. The lifeless object coming from her rear end bounced and danced in a bizarre and frightening manner as I realized this thing was stuck. We had learned about “hip lock” in veterinary school. It was where the hip bones of the calf are presented in such a manner that they cannot pass through the pelvic canal and the calf gets stuck. It was clear that this calf was already dead, but I needed to help this poor terrified creature, even if she chose not to cooperate. Since she was not accustomed to humans, each time I approached her she ran and slipped and skittered across the frozen ground. I even imagined that with one slip she just might pop the thing out. I knew that the first order of business was to catch her, administer a sedative, and give her an epidural so that I could reposition the calf. While I had grown up on a farm and been around cattle my whole life, dealing with a frightened powerful feral heifer presented its share of problems. I went back to my truck and retrieved my lariat. Multiple attempts to lasso this wild and terrified beast in the frigid moonlit night became more and more frustrating until at last she ventured out across the ice on the frozen pond. With a mighty crash she fell through the ice, and now completely exhausted, she was stuck. I was able to approach her and secure my lariat around her neck and tie her to a broken rotted tree that protruded from the ice. Fortunately, the water was only about 2 feet deep and I was able to position myself where I could finally complete the work that I was called to do. I recall thinking that I was as cold and miserable as I had ever been in my entire life. After many unsuccessful attempts to reposition the dead calf, it became painfully clear that my only option was to perform a fetotomy. This is the gruesome task of dismembering the calf and removing it piece by piece. I gathered my tools and set to work, knowing that the faster I got to work the sooner this ordeal would be over. My arms and legs were cold and numb and I was frozen to the core of my being, but I had come this far and I was not one to give up now.
When I had finished, I didn’t know who was more thankful, myself of that poor animal. I was exhausted, covered in blood, mud, and rank pond water. The feeling had long since left my hands and feet, and I shivered uncontrollably as my body tried to warm itself up. The young farmer had stood by offering little assistance or support throughout the entire ordeal and had watched incredulously the entire time. As I gathered up my instruments and tried to get warm by stripping off my frozen wet clothes, the farmer sauntered up to the truck and asked ” Whadda I owe ya’ Doc? ” Without hesitation I said “We’ll send you the bill.” As I drove back home, the sun was starting to rise, and the beautiful crimson and purple hues cast a warm glow over the snow. I pondered the events of the evening, which somehow felt more like a nightmare than a farm call. The words “Whadda I owe ya’ Doc?” resonated over and over in my head. The only thought that came to my mind was that neither he nor anyone else had enough money to make me relive that experience again.
The very next day was when I decided that I was simply not cut out to practice large animal medicine. I’ve never regretted my decision, and have the utmost admiration and respect for my colleagues that continue to care for and provide large animal medical services. I am humbled and appreciative of my friends and colleagues in the Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates Group 1 that continue to provide this valuable service.