The start of a veterinary career

The Holstein bull raged in the steel stanchion, two thousand pounds of fury jumping, kicking, pushing, and throwing his head from side to side. The banging and clanging of the stanchion echoed in the barn. The bull’s eyeballs bulged, his pupils dilated and snot spewed from his nostrils. He jerked his head up and to the side ripping the nose tongs from my hand. Dr. Schultz jumped back as the steel tongs flew past, grazing his forehead and knocking off his Cubs baseball cap.

“Damn Dr. Gross that was close. Can you grab him and hold him or should I let Don do it?”

I wasn’t making much of an impression on the man I hoped would offer me employment.

There was a six-foot long rope attached to one handle of the nose tongs. The rope passed through a hole in the other handle. When you pulled the rope tight, the rope was supposed to hold the tongs closed.

I grabbed the tongs and returned to the fray. Wrapping my left arm around the bull’s neck, I grasped his lower jaw and pulled my body into his head. He easily lifted my two hundred plus pounds off the ground but I held on while he did his best to shake me off. I replaced the tongs in his nostrils, clamping down hard. I slid my free hand down the rope keeping the tongs closed tight while I wrapped the rope twice around the steel bars on top of the stanchion. Putting all my weight into the effort, I pulled the bull’s head back up and to the side.

All we were doing was getting a blood sample for a brucellosis test. Don Gordon, Dr. Shultz’ technician, helped the dairy farm owner bring the milk cows into the barn and locked them, six at a time, into their stanchions. We finished thirty-five cows. The bull was last.

In 1960, Veterinary medicine was male dominated and macho. Patients had a monetary value and nobody expected veterinary care to exceed that value. Chemical restraint of animals was in its infancy. Choices of antibiotics were limited. Clients expected their veterinarian to be tough, wise, skilled and able to handle any animal, any disease or injury, and any situation. There were no board certified specialists and advertising in any form, except for a modest listing in the yellow pages of the phone book, was malpractice. In my class of sixty-five students, there were only three women. All but a few of my class came from agricultural backgrounds. Today’s veterinary school classes are 75-85% women and almost everyone comes from a suburban background.

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