NWSS

Travels With Kathi #25 – Paying It Forward

Paying It Forward

There is a natural seasonal influence on veterinary medicine in Colorado. As the temperature drops in the fall and winter, and the Christmas ornaments are brought out of storage and then put back, there is a normal slowing of veterinary activity. Equestrians have their minds diverted to family activities, and the falling temperatures furlough all but the hardiest outdoor riders. Horse emergencies continue to occur as colics increase when more horses are confined and exercise is limited. We also see injuries resulting from social interactions of horses as they are housed in tighter confinement. Routine work slows down.

Hall Of Education

The new year does bring increased activity from one source, the National Western Stock Show.
During the sixteen days of the Stock Show, LEQMC staff members are on call for equine emergencies at the show grounds. During any competitions involving horses, a LEQMC staff veterinarian must be present in the arena. All sanctioned rodeos are required to have a veterinarian in the arena before the rodeo can begin. Kathi and I participate in staffing the Stock Show primarily by attending rodeos.

Our normal routine for rodeo coverage is to arrive at the facility a safe time before the performance. We frequently stroll through the isles of the Hall of Education checking out what is new or different. The second floor is where the selling and buying occurs. Oh, did I mention the second floor is the best location for people-watching in Colorado? For an aging veterinarian from Oklahoma like me, this is truly the hall of education!

Checking out all the objects for sale can create sensory overload for me. Tractors, cattle handling equipment; tack for all species of farm animals, working clothes for cowboys and farmers, barns, stalls, gate openers, tools, boots for cowboys and farmers. Many of those items are familiar to me; I can rub my hands across the leather, wood , or metal and be immediately transported back to my family’s farm and my childhood. I wonder what life would have been like if we had some of these modern tools. That was the reason the great tradition of the Stock Show was started, for folks like my family in the agriculture business to gather to admire superior animals, check new advancements in equipment and techniques, and to go home and improve their operations and thereby improve their lives.

Today’s National Western Stock Show still has as its primary goal to promote and improve the agriculture lifestyle. However, the Stock Show can’t ignore the obvious large urban area surrounding the Complex. Providing entertainment to the city folks, good country entertainment, is an important part of the mission to educate people about agriculture. Modern farmers and ranchers find themselves walking along crowded isles filled with city dwellers, and those from agricultural America are obviously learning things too.

In the Hall of Education you can buy lots of things to make you feel better, like vapors to sooth you, creams to soften your skin, electronic devices to electrically stimulate your muscles, vibrating easy chairs to relax those same muscles. You can buy a one-of-a-kind forty-acre mountain lot, buy a house to build on it, a barn for your horse, a fence around your forty acres of mountain majesty, and an automatic gate to install in the fence to keep others out and let you in.

At the Stock Show you can buy any sort of clothing. Most is western, boots and hats shaped just like you want them; and bling, lots of bling. There must be enough bling belts to string end to end around your forty-acre mountain lot that you just bought. Many of the urban attendees try to dress as cowboys to fit in. I have news for the guy with the dragon tattooed on his chest, exposed by an opened lycra shirt unbuttoned down to his belt loops, wearing banana-yellow sport shoes and tight legged jeans: The Toby Keith cowboy hat won’t convince anyone you are a cowboy. For you , the old saying “All hat and no cow” should be “No cow, no time.”

The most interesting sales technique on display in the Hall of Education is practiced by the folks attempting to get your attention by making eye contact in an effort to inspire you to purchase their products. My dad called those sales people “talkers”. In the Hall of Education, these skilled folks often sell household products like cookware, irons, floor cleaning devices, common household items that don’t have the “wow” appeal of revolutionary new inventions. They have sound systems capable of amplifying what appear to be soft spoken, thoughtful voices of people who have your best interest as their primary goal. The booths also have chairs for people to sit down, a luxury in a sit-down-deficient area. People seem to sit down in a chair for a rest and soon are mesmerized by a soft voice describing how their lives will be better with a new skillet or a special iron. Quite a few rested souls leave those chairs with the world’s best skillet or a miracle iron under their arm.

Foodie Experience

Stock Show food should be part of one’s annual experience. Of course, there are many available brewed beverages. Our urban friends can also get a smoothie machine to make green smoothies from avocado and spinach and other combinations not listed in my Okie red-neck cookbook. You can get bacon-on-a-stick dipped in chocolate, nuts, chip dip containing all known species of peppers, giant sausages, burritos, kettle corn, and Kathi’s favorite, funnel cakes. Fried oreos are on sale, but I can’t imagine how hot grease could improve an oreo. I’m not willing to pay five dollars to find out. There are roasted turkey legs on sale for eleven dollars. Those legs make you salivate just watching the guys roasting them. I tried one once. It took no time at all to consume the quarter pound of tastey turkey meat present on the leg. I was then left with three pounds of turkey bone, tendons, and ligament. I carried the remains around just like I did a cocklebur when, as a kid, a buddy convinced me a cocklebur was a porcupine egg. I waited until I thought nobody was watching and tossed the remains into the trash. Now when I pass someone holding a turkey leg, I give them a thumbs up. They probably think I’m congratulating them for a wise choice of food. I’m actually congratulating them for getting the need to buy a roasted turkey leg out of their system for their lifetime.

Be An Advocate

As a child who grew up on a farm and became a veterinarian, I consider the world of horses and all farm animals as my world. When at the modern-day Stock Show, I have felt like my world is being denigrated by the urban attendants and their complete lack of understanding of what goes on in the agriculture world. But I must remember eighty percent of America’s population today live in urban settings. if you would like your grandkids’ kids to be able to love their animals in a manner similar to that we have enjoyed, then how eighty percent of the population sees our world and how they appreciate the value of that world may be the most important factor in my great-grandkids animal-futures. I have come to realize the importance of enlightening a well-meaning large group of “town folks”. In an age of cow flatulence being blamed as a huge problem causing hurricanes, heat waves, and snow storms, those urban dwellers need to recognize the value of the cattle industry. They need to recognize the relationship of a young lady and a horse as the two of them complete a jumping course as a beautiful relationship important to both, not an example of animal abuse.

It truly is an important time for my world, my way of life. It is time for me to step forward and become an advocate for the way of life with animals that has been given me by those going before. Just like the “talkers” selling cookware in the Hall of Education, I need to learn to make the uneducated comfortable, speaking in a soft voice, telling them of my love for animals. Even if animals do not become an important part of their lives, maybe they will become aware of the importance of animals to others. I need to become an advocate, to pay it forward; and the time to do so is now.

Travels with Kathi

Travels with Kathi: #24 – The Holiday Gene

The Holiday Gene

You would have to be blind and deaf, locked up in a underground bunker without any power, batteries, or digital devices to be unaware of the holiday season. I think it is fair to say Kathi loves the Christmas season like no other time of the year. Her enthusiasm is centered around her love for family and friends. Her efforts get revved up at Thanksgiving , and rise to a crescendo on December 25th. Her near-obsession with making every thing as perfect as possible comes from two influences: First, she is a woman, a mother, a grandmother. Secondly, she has the Holiday Gene.

Our annual path to the 25th starts with Christmas lights. This portion of the journey must be started while the roof and the application equipment, the ladders, are free of snow. Some Decembers bring us unbearable cold and snow, so low-hanging lights must be strung wearing snow boots and heavy parkas. The snow is welcomed as a necessary background for Kathi’s magically-posed photos of our black labs, the photos she uses for her annual Christmas cards.

Decorating

Kathi is a great collector of wall plaques with kind sayings, photos of dogs who have gone to heaven where they stand by the gate waiting for Kathi to arrive, and all sorts of Christmas ornaments. These treasures must be stored in many boxes in safe places awaiting the magical time. My part of the process is to transport all the boxes full of holiday stuff into the house, unpack the contained treasures as I am directed, and return the boxes now containing off-season knick-knacks back to storage. I feel comfort in being somewhat familiar with the holiday process. It’s sort of husband job security.

In the past, we would travel into the near-by foothills to a client’s woods and harvest a fresh tree. That tradition has been the victim of our old knees and backs. Kathi has begrudgingly consented to switching to a reusable tree. All lights, inside and out, are placed on timers to mute my constant complaint of having Christmas lights on during the day.

As she gets all her treasures properly placed, even to the point of replacing every-day dog toys with Christmas dog toys, Kathi is content. All is ready for Christmas. With the presence of pictures and ornaments from Christmases past, we are surrounded by family and pets that have gone before, as well as our current family and pets who will soon be celebrating the holidays with us.

The holiday season is not complete for Kathi until our New Year’s Eve celebration. That’s the time when Kathi gets to share the holiday season with our long-time friends. Sharing Christmas Day with friends is limited by friends’ obligations to celebrate with their families. The party can be preceded by an early-evening nap, but the festivities start at 9:00 pm and are completed shortly after the ball falls in New York’s Time Square; or rather the recording of the ball falling as it is repeated for our time zone. This celebration is to start next year on a positive note.

Hijacked

That’s what the holidays are for me. It seems I find myself more and more in the minority in today’s world. Public sentiment seems to support the presence of an increase in personal sadness during the holidays. I talked to a lady last week who had a family member who was diagnosed with a catastrophic viral infection that destroyed his heart. The condition was diagnosed and he was placed on a transplant list. A compatible heart was found and the transplant was completed in a week. When the surgeon was asked how could the whole process from diagnosis to transplant have been completed in such a short time, the doctor said each year a lot of hearts become available during the holidays because a lot of people die, the result of an increase of accidental deaths as well as suicides.

Some say the holidays have been hijacked by businesses presenting us with continual marketing: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and on and on. Those pundits claim that bombardment of retail ads has made us equate how good our holidays are by the value of gifts received, thereby leading many to disappointment and despair. If we allow our minds to focus on perpetual buying deals and gift value instead of the great messages of the holidays then the fault for the erosion of our holidays is on us, not on the advertisers. We must be vigilant in holding on to the true meaning.

Gene Therapy

Do you have the Holiday Gene? How does a person know which of us has the Holiday Gene? I would suggest you look at Kathi. She is motivated by thankfulness and love, and wants to share through gifts. She doesn’t need to get the best deal brought to her by continual advertising or Amazon Prime. She doesn’t need to go to Black Friday sales and endure near-riot conditions . Her gifts are perfect because those of us who receive those gifts know her heart. It truly is the thought that counts; not just a thought on Christmas day, but the thought all year round. She has the gene.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those of us who find ourselves Holiday Gene-deficient could receive a gene transplant, or at least gene therapy . Maybe by next year the world could be a much better place. We’d still have to reprogram old behaviors. We’d have to show our love in our eyes; we’d have to get that love in our heart. Where could we all learn that love, that look in the eye? Not everyone lives with Kathi.

For many of us the answer of the perfect role model we seek may be right in front of us. I see that love we’re looking for in the eyes of an animal as a small girl leads her pony into the tack stall of the barn. We see it when Kathi and I return home from a day of farm calls, open the door, and are greeted by three excited, loving dogs welcoming our return. The perfect love we seek exists in the eyes of our animals. Like Kathi, those animals don’t have to purchase an expensive gift to prove love. We just feel it.

Our animals may not celebrate the holidays, but they do have a similar gene to the Holiday Gene. It may be the Good Animal Gene. Best of all they display that behavior all year long.

Connections

Travels with Kathi: #23 – Connecting

Connecting

The day was one of those unusually warm days we get in the middle of winter in Colorado. The temperature was a perfect fifty-five degrees, the sun was shining, there was a slight breeze. The mud around horse-boarding pens had thawed and dried. If someone had given me the task of creating the perfect day, this day would be my answer to that task. We felt lucky to be in the truck on a rather long drive to our next appointment on such a beautiful day. We were not familiar with our destination, a horse-boarding facility where we had never been. Our assignment was to vaccinate a horse we had not treated before, for people we did not know. Such calls were often a great experience, but sometimes, not so great; we soon would know which this call would be.

We obediently followed the prompts of our GPS as we approached our destination. As we received the warning our destination was one hundred feet on the left, we looked ahead to see a viaduct above us supporting the busy traffic of a major Interstate. This enormous highway was only a few hundred feet away and paralleled our destination. A narrow dirt drive wound its way through a collection of construction supplies until the drive opened to expose a menagerie of small horse pens with a variety of shelters in the individual pens. Hidden in plain sight before us was a lady holding a horse, the lady smiling to see us approach. This was our new client; she was holding our new patient

The Mare

After introductions, we started our exam. The small mare was in her late teens and was slightly under weight. She had just been brought to town from a ranch in Nebraska, a family member’s place, and she had been selected for her gentleness. Our appointment was to administer vaccines and blood tests, all of which were required for all boarders at this facility. The owner, a lady I guessed to be somewhere in her sixties, offered that she and her husband, the man lunging a horse in the round-pen just behind us, had just purchased these two horses. In the past, the two of them had enjoyed riding horses; they hoped they could rekindle past pleasures with these two horses.

The small mare was a willing patient, so I was soon through with her injections. As I finished, the lady asked if I would be able to check a couple of things on the other horse, the one her husband had been lunging. This gelding was larger and also younger. Before purchasing this animal, they had hired another veterinarian to perform a pre-purchase exam on him. That vet had found the gelding to be slightly lame and had found one eye had a gray haze on the cornea, a haze that he believed would obstruct vision in that one eye. That veterinarian feared these two problems might interfere with the horse being suitable for trail riding, but did administer all required shots and blood tests. The couple was asking us for a second opinion regarding these two problems. They felt this horse was perfect in every other way for their needs.

The Gelding

The husband untied his gelding from the hitch rack and brought him over for our inspection. The horse was quiet as he walked up to us, and he was attentive to the man’s commands. The horse displayed absolutely no reaction to the loud traffic noise from the Interstate only yards away. The man and horse made a perfect team as if the two had known each other for many years, not for just a few days.

There was an abnormal white cloudiness present in the left eye. My best guess as to a cause was the chronic disease of the eye called periodic ophthalmia. That condition results in a recurrent cloudiness to the cornea. This disease can often be controlled with oral aspirin. I suggested they start aspirin and watch for effect. The condition could result in the loss of the eye, but more likely, might respond to treatment.

We next watched the gelding lunge in a round pen. He was mildly lame in one front leg. His feet suffered from past lack of care. I suggested the new owners improve his trimming and shoeing. I thought foot care could improve the lameness. Besides, the lameness was minimal, and the horse could probably do light trail riding even if he didn’t improve.

Making Lemonade

While I was examining the second horse, Kathi was talking to the wife. The husband had been diagnosed with cancer some months ago. He had a large mass removed from his abdomen, and had other tumors that could not be removed. He was now doing remarkably well for someone who had been given such bad news. Getting back into horses had been his idea to get his prognosis off his mind. As Kathi shared this information with me, I immediately realized the focus of my examination should drastically change. My conclusion regarding the gelding was the problems he had might need to be managed, but he should be suitable for light trail riding. More importantly, this man and this horse had already developed a relationship that guaranteed many pleasurable hours of just hanging out. If they could work in some trail riding, that would be a bonus. The man and the horse had connected.

We spent a bit of time with this couple adding all our encouragement for the battle they were sure to face. We drove away feeling good for the attitude these two had, how they were handling their situation. Life had served them lemons; they were making lemonade. On this perfect day, in a strange little horse boarding facility, we had met two great people and two great horses, and we had been reminded what is important in life! What a great opportunity to practice a wonderful occupation, two veterinary care providers living our lives. Kathi and I had made a connection. And it was good.

Travels With Kathi #22 - Liquid Gold

Travels With Kathi #22 – Liquid Gold

Liquid Gold

Ask Kathi what has been her favorite part of our practice together and without a doubt her answer will be delivering the babies. Her career as a dedicated animal caregiver, trainer, and animal lover started early in her life in Tiffin, Ohio, her hometown. As she had babies of her own, she started working in veterinary clinics as a veterinary technician. Her quiet confidence and friendly smile quieted both nervous clients and their animals. She was a natural caregiver.

By the time Kathi and I formed our veterinary partnership, Kathi had already become a seasoned technician. Our practice was ambulatory and did not include a clinic; but that didn’t stop Kathi. Her needy babies were brought into our house. Once she traded fees earned for a cow c-section for the unwanted calf of a young heifer that neither the young heifer nor the old rancher were interested in caring for. We brought home a rejected elk calf from a domestic elk herd, and Kathi fed it with a tube for over a month. We treated flea-infested fox kits in our kitchen sink and fed baby antelope for a client who had agreed to care for rescued wild babies. We brought home a newborn calf that had suffered an injury to its esophagus received from an improperly applied tube feeder. The injury could not be repaired, and we buried it behind our house when it died.

New Additions

The most important parts of the year for animal babies are the spring and early summer when most are born. Nature has scheduled their birthdays in these months to optimize the food supply to the mothers, thereby optimizing the milk supply to the baby. Unfortunately, that is also the time of the year when we frequently have snow storms, periods of cold, and wet weather. The weather isn’t such a problem for horses since most are housed indoors as the mares approach their due dates. But the weather can be lethal for new-born calves. Imagine what it would be like to be pushed out of a warm mother, wetted by birthing fluids, onto snow with strong winds and below zero wind chills. Some calves are missing the tips of their ears from frostbite suffered during such frigid births. Why don’t they all succumb to the elements?

The most rewarding time of a year for Kathi has been that season of birthing, the foaling and calving season. So, when we would get an emergency call for a cow dystocia (difficult birth) in a snowstorm, I would concentrate on having the proper equipment: warm water, water-resistant warm clothing that were ok to get stained, and a change of clothing for afterward. Kathi would make sure there were warm, dry towels and proper equipment to care for a live calf. I thought about lying on the frozen ground in the snow while trying to reposition a nearly unmovable object made slick by the slimy birthing fluids. Kathi thought about stimulating the calf to take its first breath, to stand and nurse, to be able to keep up with its mother in a matter of hours. My focus would be like a soldier getting ready to go to war; Kathi’s focus would be like a god-mother going to a baby shower.

Milk

One of the most important parts of any mammal’s first day of life is receiving adequate colostrum. This “liquid gold” is magically produced in the milk glands of the mother just prior to birth, and persists for only a few days. At the same time, the baby can only efficiently absorb it into its system the first six to twelve hours. As caregivers, we must be sure the baby ingests adequate amounts of good quality colostrum within the first six to twelve hours of life. This requires the mother produce high-quality colostrum and the baby stands and nurses adequately in that time. The colostrum contains antibodies produced by the mother which protect against infection until the baby becomes mature enough to produce its own. It also contains high levels of sugars, protein, and fat needed for early energy. The most efficient way to assure adequate colostrum intake is often to milk the mom and tube-feed the baby. The tube-feeding is simple enough; the mom-milking can be more problematic.

My childhood specially prepared me for the task of milk procurement. My family hand-milked a small herd of cows, separated cream from the milk, and sold the cream to supplement the family’s income. Because of their anatomy, some cows are easier to milk than others. My dad assigned me the easier ones, while he would milk the more difficult ones. I learned the technique, and learned a good milker could create a large enough stream of milk to form foam on the top of the milk. I would easily qualify as a “foam milker” even today. Cows regularly milked learn to relax with the process thereby “letting down” their milk. Animals naturally let down their milk when their babies nurse. First-time moms or frightened moms are harder to milk because they fail to let down their milk. In the end, some level of skill is helpful, but persistence is essential.

Kathi and I have been called to assist the birth of quite a variety of animals: Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, pigs, pot belly pigs. We’ve saved a lot of babies; we’ve lost a few; we’ve tried hard on all. We’ve milked many moms and tubed babies with nature’s liquid gold. The one thing common in all those babies was there determination to rise, to nurse, to live! That determination is contagious; it gets us up in the night and out in the cold, and down on the frozen ground. That natural determination of those babies keeps us trying and in a small part makes us a part of these animals. And our reward is we may make a difference for a new life. By the effort we certainly make a difference in ours.

The People We Love

We have a young couple, Katie and Tony, who are members of our LEQMC family who were blessed with the birth of a daughter, Meryl, a couple of weeks ago. Because of a problem for mom and daughter, Meryl was born months early. Both are doing well, but the early delivery means Meryl has many days more in intensive care before she can go home. We wish we could use our medical expertise to make a difference for Meryl, but, of course, we can’t. Kathi and I have found we feel we have made a difference by contributing to a GoFundMe account for Meryl. We feel like we are a part of her life just like we are a part of your animals’ lives that we have been able to help. If you have a little left after the holidays and wish to contribute to these three great people, I am sure you will be rewarded just like Kathi and I have been. Thanks.

Happy Holidays!


You can click on this link to show your support for two wonderful people and their beautiful little daughter!Meryl Marie Thomason


 

 

Connecting the dots #21

Travels With Kathi #21 – Connecting The Dots

Connecting the Dots

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

This advice was given to graduates of Stanford University by Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, in the 2005 commencement address. We have all wrestled with the decisions of what direction we should go with our lives. Few of us were blessed with the God-given tools Steve Jobs had been given, but we all have our own talents. All of us, whether we are conscious of it or not, end up following our gut even though our choices may have been modified by our available choices. But when should we decide if the dots connect in our lives?

Interns

An important part of our job at the clinic relates to the intern program where new veterinarians join the practice for one year, the first year of their practicing veterinary life. The annual arrival of new graduates reminds us of the trials and tribulations associated with our first year of practice. As staff veterinarians, we act as mentors, advisors for medical conditions, advisors on client idiosyncrasies, and cheerleaders. I often tell them I have seen the condition they see in front of them a hundred times, and the first ten times I didn’t recognize the problem. I tell them the same thing I have told myself a thousand times: use your training to solve the problem and everything will be alright.

During a recent weekend, I was on stand-by for emergency calls. Since it was early in her first year, the very capable new veterinarian on primary call checked in with me on each emergency to discuss the examination findings and to discuss her treatment plan. One of the emergency calls involved a relatively young horse suffering from colic. As usual, her plan for treatment was right on. After our short conservation, the doctor treated her patient. It is customary to clean our equipment and make notes on exam findings and treatment necessary to complete medical records while the patient has a little time to react to our treatment. By the time our clean-up is done, the patient is often comfortable and we are able to go on to the next call.

As sometimes happens in veterinary practice, and for that matter, in life, things don’t always go as we hope. Our horse continued to remain painful in spite of proper treatment. Continuing pain in a colicing horse usually means the cause of the colic may require further treatment, hospitalization, or even surgery. At this stage when painful signs persist, we have to ask the owner to consider what escalation of treatments are possible based on the client’s personal experiences and monetary limitations. Many of the treatment choices can result in considerable expense with uncertain outcomes.

Decisions

Our clients’ initial decision was to continue to treat their horse at home. The clinician administered longer acting pain control medications prior to departing the farm. As time went on, the patient continued to be painful. The clients decided to bring the horse to the clinic for further diagnostics and treatment, but limited their commitment to no surgery. As day turned into night, and night turned into morning, the horse remained painful. At the same time, vital signs continued to trend worse. Our young veterinarian had spent her night managing the deteriorating patient. She answered my morning questions by saying she was not hopeful this horse could survive. She feared a decision to give up would be made after morning treatments and after the client had an opportunity to visit the suffering animal one last time.

I received a call from my emergency partner later in the morning. As I answered the call, I expected to receive a message of the demise of our horse. Instead, I was greeted by an ecstatic voice. The patient had taken a miraculous change for the better! The pain was gone and the horse was eating small meals. I could imagine how the clinician who had spent her night under a dark cloud was now dancing in the isle of the intensive care barn. Her patient had received the best care we had to offer, short of surgery. Despite that care, his condition had worsened. There was no indication he would survive. But just as the sun rises in the morning to erase the darkness of night, the horse became pain-free!

Making a difference

Much of what we do as veterinarians is preventative medicine; we administer vaccinations and deworming products; we recommend feeds and management practices necessary to keep animals healthy. Although this is a very important part of what we do, one of the few times we see the results of our efforts is when our preventative programs fail, when the horse suffers from a targeted disease. We don’t know for sure the program actually prevented the disease in healthy animals because the animals may not have been exposed to the disease. When horses suffer lacerations or musculoskeletal injuries, many times we are only able to return the condition back to near normal, not to their pre-injury state. Common sense tells us our efforts are giving positive results, but many times there is no life-changing proof.

But on certain days, we are given a gift; we get to help an animal in a way there can be no doubt we made a real difference. It could be removing a nail from the hoof, or stopping the loss of life-giving blood from escaping through a cut, or helping an old horse rise from what would surely be its death bed in a snow drift on a snowy night. Or on a certain day the gift may be to buy a horse some time by supporting body functions until he is able to overcome his own medical emergency, to survive to live another day. That was the gift received by a new veterinarian on a long fall night. She had made a difference!

On those special days, it is easy to connect the dots. We are veterinarians because we want to make a difference to animals and their owners. On such special days, we have no doubt we made the right decision when we chose to be veterinarians, no matter if it was karma, destiny, whatever. I choose to think it was pure luck.

North To Alaska

Travels With Kathi #20 – On Vacation: North To Alaska

On vacation: North to Alaska

I have been able to visit the Alaskan part of the world a few times in the past. Each time I have returned home wide eyed like a kid coming home from Disneyland. Kathi has had to endure my repetitive, excited description of every marvelous detail of nature’s treasures; I’m sure she has become as tired of my repetitive descriptions of this magical land as she has become tired of years of cleaning up after me at home. So, when we decided 2017 would be the year we traveled as a couple to Alaska, I convinced myself this trip was for Kathi, so she could experience the northwest for herself, so she could share in my enthusiasm. I must admit I feel a compelling urge to return to that part of the world. As she frequently has done, Kathi has recognized my obsessions and I suspect her primary reason for excitement in making this trip was me and my excitement.

During my previous two trips, I had made destination trips where I traveled to remote areas and stayed there for the duration. On those trips, I was able to experience nature very intimately. For this trip, we planned a northwest coast overview vacation(an Alaskan cruise) with two great friends and two of our great family members, our daughter and son-in-law.

The Cruise

The cruise lasted seven days of which about twenty-eight hours were spent on land either on excursions or hiking around the quaint little towns of the inland passage. The remaining one hundred and forty hours of those seven days were spent on the ship. A variety of activities were presented by cruise staff meant to entertain every passenger. Food was made available at all hours of the day or night, and the cuisine selection would leave visitors to the Taste of Colorado envious. The activities were scheduled from first thing in the morning until late at night. You could learn to cook salmon, make a martini, swim, play shuffleboard, play cards, dance, or play bingo or lose your money in slot machines. There were several showings of movies, as well as live song and dance stage shows. Oh, did I mention eating? There was lots of eating.

Swimming Upstream

My favorite movie was one shown on the large screen, a national geographic-type movie about the epic journey of salmon up streams to spawn. Of course, brown bears were shown stationed along the rapids catching salmon that were completely engulfed in their journey; so much so they ignored the bears, a mistake that frequently led to their demise. As we cruisers left the ship for shore excursions, I was reminded of that movie. But now as the cruisers made the precarious journey past souvenir stores, we were the salmon and the store sales people were the brown bears. As we passed by in search of the perfect souvenir, the “bears” were reaching out attempting to capture us. I am always amazed how the laws of nature are enforced on all species, even humans.

My favorite part of the cruise was the opportunity to sit on one of the many decks or in a warm inside observation location and watch the passing of the magnificent vista. The ship’s usual speed of twenty-three miles per hour allowed for not just seeing the landscape, but for studying each inlet, valley, and mountain ridge. Our route took us up the inland passage, so much of the time there were mountains on both sides of the ship. Careful observation of the ocean frequently rewarded me with the sighting of a spouting whale or a group of dolphins momentarily leaving the water as they shared our path through the sea.

Glacier Bay

But the highlight of this trip, and even the highlight of my sightseeing life was the day the cruise ship sailed into Glacier Bay. The day was overcast with a low ceiling of dense clouds. There was no wind. The 1:00 pm sun cast filtered light onto the six-mile-wide Disenchantment Bay, bordered on both sides by lush green mountains. The sea around us was dotted with chunks of glacier ice, some the size of cars, others the size of a large houses. And the piece de resistance was the Hubbard Glacier, a six mile, four hundred feet above the ocean, wall of blue ice which visually filled the space between the mountains on either side of the Bay. It seemed every passenger was on deck as the three-hundred-foot long ship crept closer to the blue wall of ice. There was an eerie silence among the thousand-plus people on deck as we all stared in amazement at the site before us. The greatness of the site was hypnotizing!

The silence was occasionally interrupted by a muffled explosion, not unlike a distant cannon blast, as a piece of the glacier broke off from the wall of ice. This phenomena, called calving, resulted in the initial sighting of the ice sliding down the wall, followed by the delayed cracking ice sound; the delay of the sound was caused by the fact the sound traveled more slowly than the speed of light that brought us the vision. After a time that seemed liked minutes but was actually nearly an hour, the ship started a 360- degree spin-in-place, and we prepared to depart. I moved from deck to deck in an attempt to extend the breath-taking view by gaining a better vantage point. But much too soon, that vision disappeared into the horizon. I hoped that day would not be my last visit, my last chance to observe a calving in the sea, a piece of ancient ice falling into the ocean, not the calving I was accustomed to.

Our land excursions were certainly memorable too. At Juneau, we visited the Mendenhall Glacier, a glacier that today does not extend to the sea but once did. We also went on a whale watching trip in a small purple boat. At Ketchikan, we visited a rain forest where we saw a few salmon swimming up river rapids with a black bear nearby looking for scraps of unsuccessful fish. I am happy to report I did escape unscathed from the souvenir shop “bears” in the shops near the docks where our ship had docked.

Seven days just isn’t long enough to visit a place as large and magnificent as Alaska. But we had seen it in a completely different way and been able to enjoy the experience with the best of friends and the best of family members. It was a wonderful trip. Besides, that’s the way it’s supposed to be on vacations: go, have a good time, and return home. Home is the place where we have a life, a family, a purpose. But anyone can have a dream. Can’t they?

Travels With Kathi #19

Travels With Kathi #19 – The Future

The Future

Driving around the countryside on calls during the spring and summer takes my mind back to my childhood days on the farm in Oklahoma.  The smells of the vegetation bathed in a morning dew or refreshed by an afternoon shower bring a smile to my face and lowers my blood pressure nearly as much as petting my Labrador retrievers at the end of the day.  I can’t help but think if more of the road warriors with whom I share the road all day long shared my joy for nature, there would surely be less honking and more smiles and friendly waves.

 

My recollections of Oklahoma country life bring to mind how country folk deal with their neighbors and even people they don’t know.    Most farmers or ranchers wave to all people they meet on the road even if they are perfect strangers.  (I always wondered how you could know someone was a perfect stranger, not just an average stranger.)  Neighbors share labor and even expensive equipment to accomplish large jobs.  My dad died when I was fifteen.  Neighbors helped my mom and me get our crops planted that season.  I still remember that help and feel an obligation to help others with their difficult jobs even today.  It’s part of my roots.    

Branding Season

For ranchers, early summer brings brandings.  The new calves, born February through April, are doing well enough by that time of the year to allow for vaccinations, castration of the males, and branding.  Brands are burned into the thick hide of the calves as an indelible proof of ownership.  Each brand, many formed by special characters, is “owned” by a single rancher in a state and is recorded in the state’s brand office.  A “branding” refers to the process of rounding up the entire herd of cattle for sorting into groups and performing all necessary procedures on each animal prior to the animals being put out to grazing pastures for the summer.  Brandings usually require many more hands than normally are present on any one ranch, so neighbors routinely come together to help each other accomplish the task.

 

Kathi and I still do veterinary work for a few smaller ranches.  The work at these ranches allows me to make an imaginary journey back to my days in the country, to be a country boy for a few days. Going to a branding for me is like a golf enthusiast playing eighteen holes of golf at Pebble Beach.  The branding crews are often made up of neighbors, friends and family.  There will usually be workers from age six to the late seventies, each performing a job that fits each person’s abilities; children, moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas.  Some bring up the cows, some perform the needed work on each animal, some keep records.   And as the process goes on, the crew usually becomes proficient enough to make even Henry Ford proud of the production line.  I join in just as a crew member, not a veterinarian, but rather a member of the rural community.  After all, I need to pay back for the help my mom and I received.  That’s the deal; it’s a lifelong commitment.

 

Branding Crew

Kathi was not able to attend my favorite branding this year, so I went by myself.  As the cattle were being gathered, the crew discovered a two-month-old calf that was extremely sick.  The calf was placed in a pickup to be hauled to the barn, but the calf died during the short ride.  A cursory exam of the calf yielded no obvious malady, and none of the rest of the calves appeared to be sick, so we decided to process the rest of the herd and then do a necropsy to establish the cause of death.   The branding crew included two young girls who were seven and nine years old.  These two, who were self- proclaimed future veterinarians, took it upon themselves to make sure their grandpa and I didn’t forget to solve the mystery of the dead calf.  At any halt in the processing of the herd, the two future DVM’s would ask if it was time to check the dead calf.  Each time our answer of “not yet” was followed by a long, heavy sigh.

 

During one of the short halts in the cattle work, the two girls’ grandmother related how our young clinicians came to her and said “we think the calf is still alive!”  One girl thought the calf’s leg had moved and the other swore she saw the calf’s eye move.  Grandmother accompanied the two out to the pickup holding this miracle calf that had reportedly risen from the dead!  HALLELUJAH!  The girls had collected bouquets of wildflowers and placed them on this small creature, arguably one of nature’s most beautiful animals even without the wildflower garlands.  I can imagine they had been so intent studying their potential patient that in their minds the calf had moved.  For their sake I wish it were so.  But many years attending animals that I wished I could have convinced to breathe again, to move, had taught me to accept the end all animals must endure.

 

Eventually we worked the last calf and cow.  Frequently an older crew member would say “Is that the last one?  We should have done that one sooner.”  After a whole day being bombarded by the sounds of cows and calves banging the metal chutes as they moved through, the chute area became silent; silent like it had been before we started.  The pace switched gears as everything slowed down.  The cows and calves were reunited in pens with hay and water and allowed to settle before being returned to pastures.  Part of the crew prepared a barbeque at the ranch’s picnic pavilion. After almost continual movement for the whole day, it was now time to relax, to eat, to visit, to get updated on many long-time friends’ lives.

 

For me there is a special feeling of contentment that accompanies the combination of tired muscles and the accomplishment of a worthy task. And to be able to spend time eating great food while being serenaded by the special bubbling sounds of a mountain stream and visiting with a group of hard working people, many good friends, that is heaven for a farm kid from Oklahoma!  But had we forgotten something?  I suddenly was returned to reality by two small pleading voices: “Grandpa, we must find out what happened to the baby calf!”

 

Necropsy

Sundown was near as grandpa, two future veterinarians, and one old, tired veterinarian scurried out to a special place where a necropsy could be performed.  My two future clinicians quickly became pathologists.  I laid out knives, a bucket of disinfectant, and pulled on shoulder-length gloves, then regular gloves.  Both my assistants likewise gloved up with my large gloves.  These two little warriors created quite a sight standing in that pasture, fingers pointed toward heaven, in the waning light of a long day, half their small bodies covered with plastic gloves.  I quickly made cuts into our subject, the now certain-to-all dead calf.  The appearance of each new body part led to many “ooh, what’s that?  Can I take that home?” After a search in every direction, I concluded there was no readily apparent cause for the calf’s death.   Veterinary medicine does not always furnish an obvious answer.  The further pursuit of an answer to our mystery was completely terminated as long shadows of night completely consumed our laboratory.  As we cleaned up and prepared to leave, my two assistants heaped gratitude on me for allowing them to help.  Little did they know I was the one honored to be able to demonstrate to them their first necropsy.

 

What a great day!  It had been a good day in the country for an old veterinarian to visit his roots and continue to repay a debt for a kindness received at an early age.  More importantly, it had been a good day for two young girls to ignite new interests in their dreams of becoming veterinarians.  If those two girls do become veterinarians, I have a hunch veterinary medicine will be in good hands.  And as I grow older, maybe I can still participate in brandings by keeping records.  And maybe I’ll be the one to say: “Is that the last animal?  We should have worked that one earlier.”

Sneaky Pig

Travels With Kathi #18 – How Did It Happen

 

How Did It Happen?

We were off to tend to a cut on a horse’s face. Our patient was a quiet, middle-aged Quarter horse living in a new barn that was immaculately cleaned and maintained. Our task was to repair a two-inch-long cut on the face over the cheek. Our job was fairly simple as cuts on horses go. After I declared the small laceration as repairable and not life-threatening, our client was relieved, but shared how her greatest consternation was how could this have happened in her barn, to her quiet horse. This is a common problem for horse owners that can only be resolved by great detective skills. Kathi is just the person to provide such skills.

The first medical examiner television show I can remember was “Quincy”. That show ran from 1976 thru 1983. Kathi was a dedicated fan of this show. Her dream job would have been Quincy’s assistant, not an Okie veterinarian’s assistant. Just by watching “Quincy”, Kathi had developed great interest and skill in solving the “how did it happen”. That skill, coupled with assisting me on hundreds of lacerations, meant Kathi was a capable horse laceration “Quincy”.

As soon as Kathi heard the client express the inevitable “how”, she immediately started her investigation by asking where the horse had been, was there another horse in the same pen, was there any blood evidence. If time allowed, Kathi would usually conduct her own investigation looking for potential sharp objects or blood evidence. On many occasions her investigation would come up empty-handed. It’s funny how Quincy always found something. Today was a “no answer” type of a day.

The client was still perturbed she had no answer. My assurance that we frequently could not determine how the horse had been injured seemed to be of no help to her. So, I told her the principal of Murphy’s Law certainly applied to horses: “Whatever can go wrong, it will”.

Murphy’s Law

Did you ever wonder who the Murphy of Murphy’s Law was; I certainly have. By referring to “Murphy’s Law, and Other Reasons Why Things Go WRONG”, one can find Captain Ed Murphy, a development engineer from Wright Aircraft Lab in 1949, is probably be the source of the Law. And interestingly enough, the Law may have been originally stated “whatever can be done wrong, he will” speaking of Murphy. According to the author of this book, she assigned the Law’s origin to Murphy. Others assign the Law to other sources originating even as early as 1866. Since there is disagreement as to the origin of Murphy’s Law, I have decided to define a new law based on my own experiences with things going wrong with animals.

Sneaky Pig Law

On a summer day, I recall as being in 2005, Kathi and I were sitting in our truck beside a horse barn awaiting the arrival of our client. The client also had a second barn and a group of pens where 4-H animals including several ewes with lambs and pigs were housed. The pigs were feeder pigs that weighed about 40 pounds. As we watched, one of the pigs squeezed through an otherwise invisible hole in the fence into the sheep pen. Our assumption was the pig’s goal was to rob the sheep of some feed. One ewe would have none of that plan. That angry ewe charged the pig and head-butted it into several body rolls before the pig regained its feet. The pig accepted the warning, and scurried back through the invisible hole in the fence to limp around in the pig pen.

When the owner arrived, we informed her she had a limping pig; we also described what we had witnessed as the cause of the limp. Our client said she wasn’t surprised that it was that particular pig. Her kids called this pig “sneaky pig” because of past shenanigans. If we had not been present, the owner would have no idea how the injury had occurred. Based on this experience, I propose a new Law. It could be called the Sneaky Pig Law, or maybe the Arnold Ziffel Law, after the pig made famous on the 1965 show “Green Acres”. The law should state “Animals will frequently injure themselves in your absence in unknown ways to frustrate you.”

The important lesson should be when you are faced with such an injury, always call on your “Quincy” skills to remove any stabling issues that could cause subsequent injuries. After necessary changes have been made, we should focus on providing proper care needed to overcome the injury. And most importantly, we should learn something from every injury.

By the way, I learned there was a “Mrs. Murphy’s Law”. It is “Whatever can go wrong, will do so when Mr. Murphy is gone”.

Travels with Kathi #17

Travels With Kathi #17 – Perfection

 

Perfection

It is no great revelation to admit the title “Travels with Kathi” is not original. There are few similarities between my meager writing prowess and John Steinbeck’s displayed in the book “Travels with Charley”. Steinbeck described his travels from New York to California, then back to New York. Our travels hardly carry us more than fifty miles from home and returns us to home each night. Steinbeck was accompanied by a standard poodle named Charley. I travel with my soulmate Kathi .

There also are some similarities between the two. Both Steinbeck’s story and ours rely on transportation via pickup trucks; he traveled in a pickup hauling a camper, we travel in a pickup hauling a vet box. Both happen in times of political turmoil; Steinbeck’s in 1960, ours today. The goal of both relates to a description of life in America during a specific time. Steinbeck looks at random people met along the way, while we look at life with animal people, animal lovers and veterinary care providers.

The current news cycle with all the discussion of the public’s perception of, and expectations for, service providers to be perfect in decisions and actions has stimulated thought as I drive through the country-side with Kathi. The subject of expectation of perfection is not new in our country. I’m sure Steinbeck found critics looking for perfection in 1960. As for me, my focus has been related to perfection in veterinary services provided to our clients.

Definitions

This country has always been obsessed with the concept of perfection. We keep statistics in baseball on perfect games. We had a movie called “10”, about a perfect woman. We talk about a perfect storm. But the perfect baseball game is only perfect by definition: a game where the other team gets no hits or runs; The pitcher can still have thrown balls or have wild pitches. In the movie “10”, Dudley Moore found Bo Derek had a poor personality that made her a poor companion and went back to his old girlfriend, Julie Andrews. The perfect storm occurs because of certain meteorological conditions; it’s hard to say how it could be perfect.

Could the pursuit of perfection be counter-productive? In the 1700’s Voltaire, a French philosopher, was credited with saying “perfection is the enemy of good.” He was saying if people don’t complete a project until they have reached perfection, they may never complete the project. In 1982 the great American philosopher-musical group “Alabama” gave us the song “Close Enough To Perfect For Me”, where they told us a woman doesn’t need to be perfect to be a 10. Maybe our goal shouldn’t be perfection at all.

We tend to define perfection by outcome. It is certainly possible to think a favored outcome was accomplished by a perfect effort. But if we Bronco fans remember the perfect outcome at last year’s Super Bowl, we know Peyton didn’t complete all his passes nor did the defense keep the Panthers out of the end zone. Conversely, many times a task can be completed perfectly while the outcome is terrible; airplanes go down when they fly into a flock of birds. Could the outcome be due to bad luck? And who is having the bad luck; the pilot, the passengers, or the birds? When a policeman or policewoman walks up to a car during a routine traffic stop and the police officer sees the driver has a gun pointed at the officer, there must be a decision made that has a high probability of a bad outcome even if the officer followed his or her police manual perfectly.

Pursuit of the Perfect Outcome

All veterinarians fight a constant battle striving for perfection of diagnosis and treatment, while dealing with the uncontrollable negative outcomes that are part of nature. And when our patient is a very special friend to a client, a poor outcome seems unbearable to both the client and the veterinarian. I can tell you all negative outcomes are painful, and some are devastating to the veterinarian.

To obtain a level of competence of “good” or “excellent”, veterinarians must spend a great deal of time going to continuing education courses, learning the results of the latest research and learning to use the latest equipment. Even then a veterinarian will not reach a level of perfection of diagnosis and treatment. And even if we did, we can’t predict which patients have drawn nature’s short straw where even perfection of veterinary skills will not result in a perfect outcome.

So, what can a veterinarian or, for that matter, a police officer, or pilot do to convince a client they have done a good job when there is a bad outcome? The answer is trust: trust that they have done their best, that their decision was made based on “good” or “excellent” decisions. We ask our clients to realize a bad outcome may be due to bad luck, everyone’s bad luck, not the result of poor diagnoses or performance of veterinary tasks.

As veterinarians, we know we can’t be perfect; but we hope our clients will trust us to do our best. We must put bad luck, whomever is the recipient of the bad luck, behind us. We must get up each day and go forward if we hope to have a chance to help our patients and clients. That is what we have been trained to do, it is our goal. And your trust in our skills is our greatest reward.

Travels with Kathi #16

Travels With Kathi #16: Resolutions

 

Resolutions (Dedicated to special friends, especially two very special friends)

The day was January 2, 2017. Kathi and I were sitting around the house in the late morning contemplating the day. The phone rang and we quickly recognized the number of favorite long-time clients. This couple had a group of aging horses at their home. Their small herd was shrinking as the inevitable toll of old age was catching up to their beloved friends. So there was some trepidation in our minds as we picked up the call. “Good morning! What’s going on at your house?” “Ron, my mare is sick.” Their twenty-something retired mare was colicing. And I could tell by her voice, she was assuming the worst. “We’ll get ready and head that way.”

The eighteen miles between us and our patient seemed endless. If only Scotty from “Star Trek” could beam us over. Luckily for all, the mare was not displaying signs of severe colic or accompanying signs of shock. After a quick “hello” we started the normal colic exam, the same exam I have performed several thousand times in the last thirty-some years. The exam usually concludes with a rectal exam and stomach tube passing which I always accompany with my best self-deprecating humor meant to relieve some of the stress of the owner. The good news: there were no findings which led me to believe our mare would not recover uneventfully. Although experience has trained me to be cautious, I felt good about our patient and recommended we hang out and observe the mare for a while.

Watch and Wait

“Would you guys like to come in and have a cup of coffee while we wait?” Many times we have been invited in but we have been too busy to accept such invitations. But today we had the time and it just seemed like the right thing to do. As we drank coffee we talked about how common friends were doing, our dogs, trips we had taken together, trail rides we had gone on, lots of good memories. And best of all, our patient remained free of colic signs. Many times being lucky is the most important asset. As we got back in the truck to leave we heard: “We’re sorry you had to come out.” I answered with one of my favorite sayings: “It’s not your fault I went to vet school” to which she answered: “We’re sure glad you did!”

The drive home seemed much shorter than the trip over. This day had been a great day. We had helped a mare by using basic veterinary techniques, techniques we had employed thousands of times. We had been blessed with luck in that she recovered uneventfully. We were then able to spend nearly an hour with old friends recalling great times we had shared just by making the time. Yes, it had been a great day; in no small amount due to simple acts. And yes, I too am glad I went to vet school.

 

Clarity

There are times when the mental fog created by the hustle and bustle of everyday life magically lifts and for a moment we see clearly what is really important, what truly has meaning. Many times we find that importance in the simplest things. What better time to find mental clarity than on the 2nd of January, the national time of New Year’s resolutions. What a perfect day to formulate resolutions. (By the way, I think we should make resolutions when they occur to us, when the fog lifts, instead of waiting until January 1st.) Here are a few that came to mind on that day:
Resolutions:
– Look for greatness in simple things.
– Take time to celebrate old friendships.
– Remember it’s better to be lucky than good.
– Don’t forget to celebrate the good days in your life. That celebration will help you get through
the bad days.
– Look for and celebrate the good parts of your job.

And above all:
– Don’t forget to tell your family you are thankful for them and you love them.

P.S. Kathi, I love you!