At the risk of appearing unsympathetic, cold-hearted, etc., I’m going to take the bold step of using this post to reflect upon the things I am unlikely to miss during my hiatus from large animal medicine. Bear with me, the next post will wallow in sap as I list the things I have loved. So, if you like a little bite to your morning coffee, stick around for this post, if you are a hot chocolate with whipped cream type, come back in a day or two.
I will not miss the mud. Winter in the Central Valley can be described with two nouns: mud, and fog. Winter penetrates with a grey cold that seeps into your bones and sucks you into an endless slime of slick clay. I doubt that I will miss having my boots sucked from my feet as I struggle to find a vein in the mud-balled, shaggy neck of a down horse, or the futility of exhausting myself trying to extract that horse from the mud.
I will not miss uterine prolapses. There is nothing fun in trying to replace a uterus that has turned inside out following delivery of a calf, lamb, or foal. Well nothing fun unless you enjoy trying to shove a sleeping bag filled with blood soaked oatmeal back through a 3” PVC pipe. Oh, and someone on the other end of the pipe is pushing back, and the sleeping bag is made of really old silk, and you’re lying on your belly in a pool of blood, manure, and fetal fluids.
I will not miss 2 A.M. Nothing good happens at two o’clock in the morning. No one calls you out of bed into that black chill when nothing works for something easy. Those witching hour calls almost always involve blood, death, and a whole lot of physical effort.
I will not miss Bangs vaccination. The immunization of female cattle against Brucella abortus or “Bangs’ disease” is essential to the protection of human and animal health, and is boring as hell. Line up a bunch of heifers. Inject 2 cc of vaccine under the skin. Tattoo ear. Tag ear. Fill out forms. Repeat. My hands ache just thinking about it.
I will not miss people who want their animal cured via telephone. Nor will I miss their cousins, the folks who seem to think that anyone can do what a vet does if they have the right drugs.
I will not miss pigs. Have you ever tried to examine a screaming blimp? Welcome to swine medicine. And the smell never, ever comes off your shoes.
I will not miss bad foalings. There are only two types of foal-delivery calls: the kind where we arrive to find that the foal has slithered out of the mare while we were driving, and the kind that descend into a nightmare. I will not miss the backbreaking labor, the fear in the eyes of my clients, and the feral, white-eyed pain of the mare.
I will not miss euthanasia. I won’t miss the vision burned into my brain of blue liquid in a syringe, injected by my hand, of dilating pupils and lip-curled, grey-gummed agonal gasps.
I will miss none of these things, and I will miss every instant, every bruise, cut, black-eye, and strained muscle. I will miss none of these things and I will so deeply miss the people, animals and stories that go with them that I can barely fathom a life without this work. We joke that our worst days make the best stories later, and now, in these end days of this job, these are the stories that fill my mind.