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Archive for July, 2012

Ike Williams and Jon Wilkins were partners, owners of Williams & Wilkins Blacksmiths and Mechanics. Their shop, large and dirty, stood in front of the small, immaculate, frame house they shared.

They both loved cats. I was never able to determine how many cats they cared for. There were shop cats, outside cats and house cats, all, seemingly, equally loved and cared for. From time to time, one or both of them would bring in one or several to be vaccinated or neutered.

This day they were both in the waiting room when I returned from farm calls.

They stood up as if joined at the hip Wilkins was holding a huge tabby in his arms. The cat was meowing, whimpering actually, obviously hurting.

“This is Wilma when we came in for lunch we found her, crying in pain. I think she’s paralyzed.”

As he talked tears welled up in Wilkins’ eyes, Ike put his arm over his partner’s shoulders.

“It will be OK Jon. Young Doc is good everyone says so. He’ll take care of Wilma for us, won’t you Doc?”

I held out my hands. “Here, let me take her. Let’s go into the exam room and see what we can figure out.”

I was unable to palpate a pulse in either femoral artery. “This is not good,” I told them. I’m pretty certain she has what we call a saddle thrombus. It’s a blood clot blocking the two main arteries to her legs. I’ve never seen a case before but I remember the description from vet school. There is no blood circulating to her hind legs.”

“Is there something you can do to fix her?” asked Ike.

“Well, theoretically I could try to operate and remove the clot. However, I’ve never done anything even remotely like that before, never opened an artery then tried to suture it closed afterwards. I don’t think we even have any suture material small enough to do that kind of thing. Also we have no idea what causes this and it could come right back. I’m sorry. I hate to say this but I think the best thing I can do to help Wilma is to put her out of her misery.”

They looked at each other each waiting for the other, torn by indecision. Neither was willing to accept the responsibility.

“Are you sure you don’t want to even try?” pleaded Jon. “Cost is not a problem you know. We’ll pay whatever it costs,” he looked to Ike for confirmation. Ike nodded in agreement.

“OK, I’m willing to try anything, but I have to tell you this could be an unmitigated disaster. I’ve never even seen anything like this done. First let me look to see if we have any suture material small enough to suture an artery closed.”

It went about as I anticipated. I got Wilma anesthetized, hooked up an intravenous drip, opened up her abdomen, packed off her abdominal organs and gained access to the distal aorta. When I tried to dissect around the vessel, I managed to break off some branches. The abdomen quickly filled with arterial blood and Wilma bled out in short order.

Jon cradled Wilma in his arms, rocking her gently.

“What do we owe you,” asked Ike?

“I don’t know how about twenty dollars to cover the cost of the anesthesia and other stuff I used, is that fair?”

Ike handed me a greasy ten and two crisp fives. He sniffed and turned to Jon.

“You want me to carry her or do you want to hold her.”

“I’ll hold her, you drive.”

Their pickup roared to life and the headlights came on. As the truck pulled onto the road I waved at them through the window.

This all took place in 1960 today a competent veterinary surgeon would consider this procedure routine.

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Dr. Schultz was a good mentor for me. He was willing to offer help and advice but only if I asked for it. He and I were sitting in the office chatting when the phone rang. Dick Mathes, our technician and office manager answered it.

“Sidney Animal Hospital… What? … Well, cook it. … Oh, OK, I’ll ask one of the doctors.”

“What do you do for a chicken with a broken leg?”

“Make chicken soup,” I responded.

It’s a pet rooster.”

Dr. Schultz turned to me. “You’re the small animal expert. I don’t want any part of this deal.

“Well,” I told Dick, “tell her I can set the leg and it should heal but it will cost the same as for a cat or dog. After I set the leg I’ll have to take radiographs to make certain it is properly aligned. It will probably cost her at least twenty-five dollars,” that was a lot of money in 1960.

“That ought to bring her to her senses,” Dick muttered returning to the reception desk.

“Doc says he can fix it but it will cost you twenty-five dollars. … Yeah, well OK, he’s here now.”

Janice Freeman was not the person I was expecting. She was tall with a luxuriant mass of light brown, curly hair springing in multiple directions from her head. Her eyes were widespread, child-like, pale blue. Her fingers were long, the nails painted bright red. Her handshake was as firm but her hand was soft, feminine. She was dressed in very tight jeans, pressed, with sharp creases front and back. The white oxford blouse tucked into her jeans emphasized her attributes.

“Dr. Gross, thank you for agreeing to take care of Banty. He’s my baby.”

The Bantam rooster tucked under her left arm was pressing into her bosom. Considering the obviously fractured left tibia, he was quiet seemingly content to be held, at least in that position.

“I’m always happy for a new experience,” I said, “and treating a chicken with a broken leg will be an entirely new experience for me. Let’s take him into the treatment room and see what can be done. How did this happen?”

“I haven’t a clue,” she said. “He was out in the back yard. I have a chicken wire protected area with a converted doghouse for shelter for him. The pen is strong enough to keep out hawks as well as ground predators. When I went out to feed him this morning the pen was intact but I found him like this.”

“Is he always this calm?” I asked.

“When I hold him he is,” she said.

“Well, that’s good. The biggest problem I thought we would have is anesthetizing him so I can set the leg. If he remains as calm as he is now we might be able to do what we need to do without anesthesia.”

I constructed and fit a Thomas splint. Banty didn’t respond to the manipulation of his broken leg. Once I had the splint constructed, I taped his foot to the end of it, easily manipulated the fracture to align the ends, taped the leg in place and took radiographs.

“Would it be possible for me to have a copy of those X-rays,” she asked.

When I arrived at the hospital the next morning the Sidney Herald was on my desk. On the front page was a photo of Banty, walking on his splint and another photo of his radiographs. The headline proclaimed; “New Vet Does His Thing.”

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