Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
"Have you ever done this before?" It's a question posed to veterinarians lacking gray hair quite regularly, as I have experienced, an inquiry usually served with a generous portion of skepticism and a heaping side of lowered eyebrows over squinting eyes. Never has the anticipation (dread) of being asked this question been greater than after recommending a caesarian section. Whether standing over a laboring 5-pound Chihuahua or a 1500-pound cow, the mere thought of telling someone: "Well, I'm going to take this scalpel, cut your animal's belly open from Genesis to Revelations, take out those babies (they'll all be fine,) I'll sew her back up, then she'll nurse them within a few minutes...", even after having done several now, (not using those words) the whole thing admittedly sounds outrageous. I'm happy to report I have yet to be asked the dreaded question when the answer would have been: "None...but I read about it in a book once."
Last week I got the question while a beef farmer, his two young girls and I stood over his Angus heifer that was accidentally bred too early, now still physically too small to deliver her baby naturally. After determining the calf's proportions to be too large compared to the heifer's birth canal and suggesting C-section, I confidently answered: "Half a dozen or so" to the anticipated "How many of these have you done before?" But then came: "Because my girls might want to be vets one day ..." to which I softly whispered: "If I deliver a live calf they might, if I don't, or if Mommy doesn't survive the stress, they probably won't." No pressure.
As the wind blew dirt directly into my "sterile" surgical incision, I reminisced on watching my wife's C-section only 9 months earlier ... two surgeons, an anesthesiologist, two nurses, a sterile surgical suite, surgical table, vital stat monitors, IV drips, etc. I wondered what human doctors would think of me scrambling around a pen as the cow decides to stand up in the middle of surgery, knocking my instruments on the ground, wind blowing Lord-only-knows how many bacteria into the animal's open abdomen, me with my shoulder-length gloves wrestling deep inside this beast, searching for the best place to open her uterus. Making the best of what we have is essential in any situation, so in that spirit I lifted the vigorous calf out into the world, closed the little heifer's uterus and abdomen, and was not shy in my use of penicillin in an effort to undo what the wind and dirt had done to my surgical site. Much to my surprise, the farmer's young daughters were not scared away by the blood and watched the whole surgery, just like I watched my daughter Morgan come into the world ... through a C-section incision. I thought it was pretty cool that they watched my whole operation, but my wife thought it was just weird that I actually watched all of her C-section. I thought I was being chivalrous to be by her side until her whole surgery was over so we could go see our baby for the first time together, but leave it to my sister-in-law (a human surgical tech) to tell my wife I'm the only dad she has ever heard of that watched the whole surgery and didn't leave with the baby right away! While I'm at it, let me tell dads another thing not to do. Don't think that if your wife is expecting her first child you will be considered cute or affectionate by calling her a "heifer." Even though it is true both are carrying their first offspring, I found out the hard way that being compared to a cow is never considered "cute or affectionate" by a woman. Who would have thought?
Despite the distinct difference in surgical environments and resources, guess which patient was in the hospital for 10 straight days on IVs with abdominal pain and bleeding and two blood transfusions, and which patient was happily eating hay and nursing her baby in the very same outdoor pen she had surgery in that day? I'm not saying ... I'm just saying ...
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