Paralyzed Cow, Vet Magic in a Blizzard
I wasn’t always a homeopathic vet, of course. No one graduates that way. The practice of homeopathy came after years of conventional practice followed by a couple years of sticking fine needles into animals and watching the magic they could create. Those little white pills held even more magic, at least in my hands, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Doctoring the Big Girls
I started with a solid seven years in mixed practice in the idyllic farm land of Wisconsin, a couple hours North of where I’d been raised as a city kid. I was the fourth vet to join the group who saw cows, horses and pets of every stripe, but we practiced medicine in the heart of Dodge County, one of the most concentrated dairy farming areas in the entire country. So, cows were our bread and butter. And we saw lots of them.
Dairy practice was amazing in itself. I came to it afraid that these farmers, who had grown up around cows for generations, would know far more than I, a mere new graduate, full of book learning and very little practical experience. To say that I enjoyed practice in those heady first weeks and months is a gross understatement. I came home positively bursting with enthusiasm at what I’d seen and done each day, not quite believing that I was actually being paid to do something so enjoyable. The cows were huge, well over a thousand pounds each, and yet were mostly tractable when handled properly. The pills we used were massive, and had to be given by bodily wrestling the cow’s forty pound head and slipping a metal “balling gun” in her mouth that would fire the bolus down her throat. We did cowside surgeries in the barn for “twisted stomachs” and C-sections. We delivered calves, treated pneumonia, and opened teats that had been tromped on and injured by hooves that could easily break a man’s ribs with a well-placed kick.
The farmers not only valued my expertise as a new veterinarian, but they made me feel welcome, and were the kind of folks who’d help in any way they could. For example, a pair of brothers who ran the farm their father passed on to them, brought me a load of firewood when I was heading into my first winter. Another young farmer offered me his pickup truck to use for “making wood,” the weekend ritual of cutting dead trees and splitting logs for the wood stove that kept my wife and I warm in our little cottage. Another family lent me their flour mill so that I could grind wheat berries to make the freshest bread imaginable. Others let me buy fresh milk and homemade butter, the likes of which were so superior to anything I’d ever tasted that I was in gustatory heaven. I could just leave my money on the bulk tank, the huge stainless steel reservoir that lived in the milk house and stored several “milkings” until the milk truck came to haul it to the dairy.
Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Dark of Night
One particularly eventful Winter night made me realize just how much I’d signed on for when I decided to become a veterinarian. It was my turn to cover the emergency calls, and there was a blizzard happening, the likes of which we hadn’t seen to date that year. Norbert, a farmer ten miles North of me, called about 8:00. “I’ve got a cow down with milk fever, Doc. Can you make it out here?” It was a fair question, as plows hadn’t made it to my neighborhood, and the wind was such that their work would be soon undone by blowing drifts anyway. “I’ll see what I can do, Norbert,” I answered, and hanging up, I peered out the window into the dark evening, hearing the snow scouring the glass. I had a small Toyota pickup truck, but it had good snow tires and a heavy portable clinic in the bed that kept me weighted down well on slippery roads. It waited up the hill on the street that night, a long extension cord powering the clinic’s heater to keep my drugs from freezing. The weather made it too uncertain to park in my usual spot in the garage below the house. The driveway was just too steep to trust getting out in such conditions. And I was on call.
So, wearing all the clothes that were practical to put on and still be able to move and be a doctor, I trudged through the storm to the truck. It started reassuringly, but creaked on moving initially due to temperatures hovering in the teens in a strong East wind. I slowly pulled out of my little neighborhood, testing the brakes now and then to see how slippery this particular snow would be. Luckily, it was dry snow, and I could get a pretty good bite in it with the deep snow tire treads. “Car nine, 10-4,” I said into the two-way radio, though I really doubted anyone was listening to my announcement that I was out on the road at this hour. With my headlights hitting the swirling snow ahead, I plunged into the black night, the rest of humanity and animal kind likely indoors and safe. But I was a vet. My patient needed me. She had no idea I even existed, but I was on my way to save her life.
White Knuckle Driving
It was not my usual relaxed driving that took me through the farm roads this night to my patient. I had to constantly check my course, test my brakes, and carefully watch the snow covered road that was unmarked by prior vehicles before me. The dry snow was being whipped by a stout wind, so there were small drifts that had to be bested along the way, but the little truck seemed to be sure-footed and heavy enough to smash through them as long as I had good momentum. After a good forty minutes of travel on a course that would usually have taken twenty, I arrived at the familiar farm, and saw the welcoming light streaming from the milk house. Grabbing my stainless steel bucket, metal strip cup with a squirt of disinfectant, a couple of bottles of calcium solution, and my doctor’s box, I set off to find my suffering patient.
Once inside, I could breath easier, open my heavy parka, pull my hood down, and fill my bucket with the good clean hot water that was there in abundance at the deep sink near the massive bulk tank. Norbert came from the house, and ushered me to the box stall where the cow laid, her calf still slightly wet but lively near her head. She was lying on her side, unable to rise, but in a nice bedded stall full of good clean oat straw.
When Cows Crash
When a cow calves, or gives birth, she’s suddenly hormonally driven to make a huge volume of milk all at once, to feed her newborn. With man’s intervention, modern cows have been asked via selective breeding over several generations to produce lots of milk, enough to feed a small herd of calves, and thereby feed humanity along with her offspring. This cow was no exception: she had an udder the size of a bushel basket. This sudden surge of milk being produced put her blood into a negative calcium balance, and calcium is needed for muscles and nerves do their work. She lay in a state of flaccid paralysis. Milk fever is quite the misnomer, for as someone once aptly stated, “No milk, and no fever.” True enough, the majority of the milk hadn’t yet arrived, just the syrupy colostrum that was so valuable to the newborn for immunity from the world of germs she’d just been born into. And not only not a fever, but rather a subnormal temperature was the usual presentation at this point.
I checked her udder to be sure she didn’t have mastitis, and all looked normal, each quarter full of golden thick colostrum. Feeling her cold ears, and seeing the dull look in her eyes, barely able to raise her head, told me the familiar story of her disease, one in which I would be able to once again play the hero. Untreated milk fever cows can die. I opened my hard black plastic doctor’s bag on the straw bedding, pulled out my long rubber IV set and a 4” stainless steel needle with a ¼” bore, and pulled one of the liter bottles of calcium from the warm water in my pail. After securing her head with a rope halter to a nearby pen post, I slapped the needle through her thick hide squarely into her jugular vein, and saw by the dark, flowing blood that I had hit my mark. I threaded the long needle down the vein in the direction of her heart, rinsed my bloody fingers, connected the IV set, and raised my bottle to chest height to allow the warm, reviving calcium gluconate solution to begin its descent into her weak body.
The trick with treating a milk fever cow is to not give her too much calcium too fast, or it could stop her heart, the absolute last thing a vet or expectant farmer would want to occur. So, I metered her flow, watching her breathing and the level in my bottle, pinching the rubber IV tubing as needed to slow the draining fluid. After the first liter, she looked a bit more alert as expected, and I swapped bottles to begin the second one, which flowed uneventfully in as well. The whole treatment took about thirty minutes to complete, after which I untied her, and began washing my equipment in the warm disinfectant water in my pail. Norbert and I discussed the raging storm as we watched her hopefully. Once everything was back in my box, she sat up on her chest, stronger already. I took my things outside her stall and came back to add the final touch to the treatment, a couple of knees thudding into her 1400 pound frame, just South of her spine on her ribs. Whomp! She startled a bit, leaned forward on her chest, her rear legs digging mightily into the stall’s bedding, and she heaved her rear quarters skyward, following with an easy, though shaky rise of her front end. “That’s a girl, Bossy,” I said, patting her calmingly, “you’ve done it.” Her calf eyed her udder hungrily and came wobbling over to suckle, while she got her bearings in a world right side up once more, and started licking his backside. The miracle of calcium well delivered had worked once again. She’d likely keep up with her calcium needs on her own now, and start eating good alfalfa-based feed with added minerals to keep her supplied for the work of milk production ahead.
I bundled up and bid the farmer goodnight, heading off into the busy blizzard outside. My chopper leather mittens and wool liners allowed just enough manual dexterity to open the truck’s clinic, get my things back inside, wash my boots in the last of the disinfectant solution, leaving a brown stain in the snow, and head for the cab for the return trip home. The truck started, the heater fan was turned off to wait for the engine to warm, and, with the snow swirling around me there in the tiny world of truck cab in the farm yard, I set off into the bigger, pitch black world awaiting me on the road ahead.
The Long and Blinding Road
Close to an hour had passed since I had been out here, and the snow had kept coming unrelentingly, and if anything, the wind had picked up a bit. Still no signs of other vehicles on the road, but I could see that, at least on the main road, the plows had made a pass, which would help part of the trip be a bit easier. I drove on into the night, with a smaller reach of how far my headlights threw their beams, lost in the ofttimes horizontal snow. High beams were useless, just reflecting all the more in the snow, so it was low beams and slow, steady driving until I covered the distance back to the farm road that would bring me to my neighborhood and cottage. Ah, to be back by the fire, home for the night. I could almost feel the warmth of the bed I was so looking forward to crawling into.
The farm road that made the final leg of the journey, had, as expected, not been visited by the plows yet. They were limited in numbers, and were undoubtedly not going to get to these small roads until morning. What that meant was that I had to look for other cues as to where the road was, as the blinding white stuff had long ago obliterated the blacktop, and the terrain was one of valleys and drifts, some as high as my hood by now. I could make out the ditch in most places, by the farmers’ fences on their side of it, and thought how very unpleasant it would be to slide off into one at this hour. My hands gripped the steering wheel more tightly as I strained to see the road ahead. Some drifts were bested just barely, their drag on the underside of the truck almost stopping me, the snow exploding on all sides as I hit them hard. I’d have to gear down quickly and let out the clutch carefully, so as not to spin my wheels and lose forward motion. Doing any of this too fast risked losing control, and either going into a spin or sliding sidelong towards the ever looming ditch. Luckily, having learned to drive in Wisconsin, I, like all boys, took every opportunity to practice “doing doughnuts” in fresh snow in any parking lot that hadn’t been plowed yet. One learns immensely practical car handling skills in having this sort of fun, and though we never considered it as useful at the time, too busy hooting with laughter and looking for the next open spot to throw the car into a spin, all of that innate skill became ingrained and could be called upon in times like this.
You Got One Shot. Don’t Blow It.
After the last few drifts were bucked with diminishing success, I felt I had to be extra careful now on this last leg before the turn home. I knew the area ahead would likely be deeply drifted over, due to its openness to the East wind and a whole hay field worth of snow upwind that could be picked up and hurled across my path. As I slowly approached, straining my eyes to see into the white swirl ahead, I knew I would be on it before I had enough time to judge it correctly and have enough speed in the proper gear to get through successfully. So, all alone in the blinding snow, I stopped the truck in the middle of the road, pulled up my parka’s snorkel hood, braced against the wind, and trudged out to survey the monster ahead. It was eerily threatening outside the truck’s cab, snow falling, blowing into me and covering everything with that softness that easily obscured the landscape. And, sure enough, there it was, dead ahead, a whopper snow drift, over my hood in height by a good foot and wider than my truck by a length. Mind you, I was looking through a small opening of my fur lined hood, in the fading light of my headlights behind me, but I could make out enough form ahead in the darkness to know I’d have one shot only at this one. Too slow and not enough torque to the wheels and I’d be stuck in the middle of it, having to summon a poor farmer to come out into the cold blizzard with his tractor and chains to get me out. Too fast without proper control and direction, and I’d wind up sliding into the ditch, with an even worse outcome. No, it had to be just right. Having ascertained the depth and height of the obstructing drift lying centered across my path, I trudged back into the welcoming warmth of the cab, my glasses immediately steaming up and obliterating all hope of vision. “Hmmm, must be really cold to do that so easily. Brrrr. Can’t make a mistake on this one, no sir. Has to be hit a bit left of center.” Thoughts like these and “Just make it home, just make this work,” and pictures of a truck paralyzed in a snowy ditch were fully occupying my mind now.
“OK, this is it.” I backed up a bit, blindly, but trusting the cues I could make out ahead that I was still in the center of the narrow two lane farm road. I wanted a fresh run at this, and a good start in fresh snow to get maximum traction. No worry there. My tracks had filled in in the time it had taken to survey the scene ahead of me. I put it in first gear and started off, straight for the behemoth. Second gear now, momentum gaining, “Better stay in second, more power, less chance to spin and lose it, veer a bit left now, give ‘er more gas.” Heart pounding, I came up to the most speed I could trust to stay in control and yet have enough force to break on through. BLAM!! Snow flying everywhere, driving by gut feel alone, blinded by the snow explosion, a bit of slipping but the forward motion was still there, how much longer can this last? Long enough to get to the other side? YES! I was slowed but not stopped, and now I could see ahead of me to a more level stretch of snow, and I could keep going right into it, carrying on, ever forward, engine humming, wipers frantically beating to keep the windshield clear, but I was moving, and moving steadily, and home was just up around the next bend. Pulse slowing a bit, I felt like I could handle most anything now, and it turned out that the rest of the way home was relatively uneventful, albeit needing careful nurturing to get the truck safely there.
Home! Cow saved, body and truck intact. Plug this baby in, I’m crawling into bed!
[Do you like real stories from vet practice like this? Let me know in the comments. I’ll be happy to write more if they are well received.]
Love reading stories like this reminds me of when I was first married and living in an 1857 log cabin in Canada. It had the date over the door. The winters were brutal with snow piled to the roof and ice and freezing rain. The cabin was in the valley so the poor vehicle had to stay at the top of the hill and was pretty hard to start since no electric up there to plug in.
I love the James Herrior stories too – that was where I grew up
Yes, Loved the story. You described it so well I could see it all like a film. I could feel your enthusiasm as a vet and adventure in the snow driving!
Yes…I liked the story…you are a good writer and having grown up in North Dakota, I was well able to visualize the storm…I too have driven in some pretty bad storms.
What a great real life story Dr Will…..and super well done for saving Bossy……I was holding my breath as you headed for the drift…..it reminded me of the James Herriot stories based in the Yorkshire Dales….thanks for sharing….xo
You are an excellent writer. I could visualize your experience so easily.
You are a great story teller. Can we have some more please?
Thank you for sharing your story! Loved it and look forward to more! You are a great writer!
You are a wonderful writer. That was quite gripping. Your story reminds me of All Creatures Great and Small. Yes, more stories are a must like this. Thank you for sharing.
Bravo! As the others have written, you are a talented writer. As I was reading your harrowing ‘driving in the snow experience’ it too brought back memories. I was born and raised in Massachusetts so I can certainly relate to the snow experiences. Then I lived in So Cal for 35 years and it’s true, they can’t even drive in the rain! Then seven years in Florida and now in Texas and same thing. Reading this was like reading the book you don’t want to put down no matter how late the hour because you want to know the ending. I found myself reading faster and faster, glued to the edge of my chair with anticipation of the climatic ending. Count me in for a copy of your book!
Your story was mesmerizing; you know how to keep a reader engaged! Keep them coming.
Hello Will, Thanks for your great article. By reading your this whole article just learn a lot’s of points. Thanks again for sharing. I was visiting boostblogtraffic website and there i got your Blog linked up . This is my first time on your Blog. But, by reading your this one i become your one of loyal readers . Keep sharing your own experience
This was an awesome post, Will, and I congratulate you for winning one of the coveted spots in the SBO contest. Your writing is compelling, and I felt I was by your side through the whole night. I once had to drive from Denver to Copper Mountain to rescue my husband who had lost his keys while skiing, and I encountered a sudden whiteout about forty miles from my destination. I had to figure out where the road ended and the ditches began, just as you described so eloquently. I cheered for you when you broke through the big drift!
I look forward to reading more of your posts, and I do hope you write your book.
Great story well told. Put me in mind of some of the wonderful James Herriot stories I read long ago – All Creatures Great and Small, and its sequels. I had a serious desire to be a vet as a kid.
That said, it made me all the more happy that I said no to even colder climes, as Zone 6B in rural Appalachian Tennessee is quite cold enough, thanks all the same. I’m still a Sun Belt baby at heart, having lived in Southern California and the Tampa Bay area prior to now.
With that, I’ll weigh in with the “Please write more stories, a book, and go ahead with your podcast” crowd. We need more writers like you, and I for one would LOVE to learn more about veterinary homeopathy and how to keep all our animals healthy and happy for life. 😉
Best of luck in your future endeavors!
Yes, those stories inspired me as well, and the British TV series by the same name did them great justice.
Glad you enjoyed and I’m emboldened to do more, thanks for your encouragement!
Will, this was wonderful! I decided to work through the SBO winners (or at least a few of them) before closing down for the night.
This was excellent and brought back memories of some of the stories my grandpa used to tell me about growing up on a dairy farm.
Thanks, Heather. I’m glad it touched you.
Wow! Great piece.
As one of your fellow bloggers at SBO, I say congratulations. Well deserved place on the award list!
I agree with other commenters that you’re a gifted writer. Any thoughts of a book?
Hey, thanks Winifred. Yes, a book in progress (slowly…) and another in mind.
Excellently written! Thank you!
Great story! Thanks to you and the calcium, the cow survived. And thanks to your “doughnut” training and calm driving skills, you made it home safely. Don’t know if a southern born driver would have made it!
Thanks, Rebecca. Yeah, when I went to vet school in Missouri, I had to laugh at how paralyzed drivers would get from an inch of snow! In Texas, even rain makes some folks drive like they’re on a frozen lake! I guess what we learn as youngsters varies widely, depending on where we grew up. I drank from “bubblers” growing up in Racine, Wisconsin. Most everyone else in the world calls those water fountains!
Dear Dr. Will,
Your site is brilliant and I loved the story, you also take
amazing photos. Got the brochure “Vital Animals don’t
get Heartworms” I will treasure this book. I also got some
Transfer Factor for my sweet and gentle dog who has
Hi Gudrun, Thanks for your kind words of appreciation. You’re taking some valuable steps to a healthy Vital Animal, sounds like. I wish you all the best with your sweetie!
I started my adventure in Homeopathy in 2012 with Glen Dupree. Since that time I have seen so much ‘ magic’ with horses and dog’s, my own mostly but with others as well.
Your story reminds me of Dr. DuPree’s and I am very happy to be part of your listening and learning audience!
Enjoyed your story. I grew up on a dairy farm in PA, I remember the vet coming to our farm and saving cows from milk fever, never really understood what caused it or how the vet cured them, so really enjoyed reading about this case. I also remember horrible snowstorms and drifts that would get to over 10 ft deep, didn’t drive in them but remember being with my Dad in his truck, I could picture everything you wrote like I was there myself, brought back many memories. I enjoyed your description of trying to layer enough clothes to stay warm and still be able to move. I would love reading more stories.
Thanks, Charlotte. I’m glad to have stirred some fond memories with this story. And I promise I’ll be writing some more.
Wow! Fantastic story; you’re an outstanding writer. I felt like I was there and even had goose bumps from feeling cold because you describe it all so well. YES, please write more here and we do hope you write a book, too. Hubby said this took him back to his youth and reminded him of his first cow he had in 4H Club. She was a sweetie. Thanks for another wonderful blog.
Thanks Dede, you two really got into it! I’m glad you liked it.
Yeah, this fine story brings back my memories of learning to donut my mom’s 57 Chevy in the cow pastures. We don’t get any snow here in GA to play in, except for the rare dusting. I miss Missouri.
We had a Jersey down during a two-foot snow fall with mastitis and we lost her. That’s the only time I can ever remember seeing my dad cry. We raised her calf with bottles, and she was the sweetest thing.
Let me know when that book is finished, I’ll want a copy!
Donuts in the cow pasture! You gotta use what ever cards you’ve been dealt! Thanks Nora.
Ah yes,… winters in Wisconsin, funny though you should mention Dodge county i’m just about a mile east of Dodge, Fond du lac county and winters in the country are still very much like you describe also a very excellent story more are welcome.
Thanks, Mark. Yes, you likely could relate to a lot of this story, living where you do. I really appreciate your feedback.
Loved it! It brought back memories of my own…..I started Teching in 1989 and accompanied our Vet on regular occasions similar to this, in Northern Maine. Thanks for the Time Hop <3
Ah, good, Gina. Likely saw this play out several times in Maine then!
Gee Dr. Will. Loved reading this one, so well written I thought you were right here driving in rural Quebec. Our winters are bad, lots of snow in Canada, and this year it’s colder than Alaska. To think of going out on that evening for the cow…. the little calf… I couldn’t stop reading:) Thank you for sharing this story.
Thanks, Juliana, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I suspect you, too, learned early on how to drive in snow and could relate to the difficulties I had to overcome.
I hope your Spring comes soon!
I not only greatly enjoy all your writings, I also luv listening to your voice … looking forward to your next blog entry and your next newsletter….
Thanks, Cam. And stayed tuned. I have an inkling to do a podcast. (Am I really saying this? Am I crazy? Where will I find the time to do this???). But, the thought has taken root. We’ll see where it goes.
Yes to the podcast! That would be great!
I couldn’t stop reading the cow story. I raised fleece sheep for 18 years in Iowa, known for its snow. Interesting things happen in the winter, not all good. Of course this was all happening before I knew about homeopathy. I like the path I am on now.
Loved your story Dr. Will, I couldn’t stop reading it! I especially like the simple treatment you used to save this cow. It’s how I view nutrition, often as medicine for humans as well as animals. Thank you
Hey, thanks, Elaine, that’s great feedback. I’m glad it held you.
Inspiring !!!!! I bet you that whatever doubts and fear you had about attending your patient that night were long gone by the time you got home. I bet you felt in the right place at the right moment to let that “magic” reveal itself and it’s one of the reason why you still do and love what you do.
Thanks, Maria. Yes, the right place in the right time really came true when I graduated the homeopathy training. Finally, whew.
It’s especially evident when I see my colleagues in conventional practices struggling to stand out in some way.
Great life saving story,Will:)Love reading your true adventures in life.Yes,you should write a book .
Thanks, Barb. I’ll go forward, then!
Love your story you should write a book of your adventure’s.
Thanks, Maxine! Glad you liked it.
Vet magic, indeed! Heroic effort and a brilliant save! I’ve had some great saves with some of my chickens and one brilliant one, so I think I know somewhat how you felt. And the effort to get to your patient through the blizzard was valiant. Hooray! Thanks for sharing this amazing story!
And here’s the cool part, Elle: that “magic” was with crude medicine. There was a lot of calcium flowing through that tubing into my patient. And now, I use substances that are immeasurable and get even more dramatic, long lasting deep results. That’s called homeopathy, and it keeps me juiced.