Pride Cometh Before A Fall

Hi folks!

For those of us undergoing major surgery of almost any kind a really important person in the operating room is the anesthesiologist. His/her job makes your job (lying there) much easier than it would be without. As a veterinarian working in England back in the mid-1960s, anesthetics played a big role in my day-to-day life, from dehorning a hundred head of cattle to spaying cats. One of my favorite anesthetics for cattle was a combination of acetylpromazine and a local nerve block with lidocaine. It worked like a charm! The cow would just stand there happily chewing the cud ignoring your surgery which was most commonly repairing damaged teats on the large pendulous udders of dairy cows. I employed this approach routinely for caesarian sections, with a paravertebral nerve block.

The last bovine caesarian section I carried out before leaving veterinary practice for a research career in 1970 was during the final weeks of working for a great veterinary practice in Wellington, Somerset. A lovely little village that would remind you of those wonderful veterinary stories by James Herriot, such as 'All Creatures Great And Small.'

I was called to assist a cow in labor in the middle of a rainy afternoon, and when I say rain I mean a continuous downpour. A very big, strong looking farmer with a deep voice met me at the farmhouse door, and it was clear that he considered himself to be very much in charge. I was a skilled veterinarian by that time, but I am only 5' 6" and I looked very young. Some farmers would complain that the practice was sending children to treat their stock. This guy was a bit like that. He marched me out to a dairy cow that was very ready to deliver her calf. I checked inside the womb and there was no way to turn this calf, which was kicking and very much alive. It was turned at an angle that I just could not fix in the routine manner. I had successfully delivered many difficult calves with calving ropes and a little patience during three years in practice, but not this one. "I am afraid she'll need a caesarian," I said, but it won't take long. This farmer clearly loved his cows and showed no hesitation to spend the money and go ahead.

I extracted my gear from the car, sterilized my instruments in a little boiler designed for the job, took a clean towel, and laid everything out neatly on a bale of straw next to the expectant mother. She was a large good-tempered Holstein-Friesian, who looked a bit like this (but very pregnant).

Remember that it was still pouring with rain! I handed the truculent but likeable farmer a large umbrella and told him to hold it over my instruments and the operation site to protect them from the rain. He seemed to think that this job was below his station but he complied, out of pure curiosity I am sure. I dosed the cow with a tranquilizer, acetylpromazine, to keep her calm and standing still, and I applied a paravertebral nerve block so that she would not feel my incisions. And on I went with enjoying my work, which was satisfying in many ways.

I shaved and sterilized the incision site and made my first cut through the skin - a cut about 15 inches long. Remember, such a calf weighs more than a hundred pounds and it is big!! Upon making the incision I turned to see the farmer, still holding the umbrella like Mary Poppins, but he was falling like a felled-tree. He just missed us, the cow and I, but his inert body crashed directly into my instruments on the straw-bale, and into the mud went the whole mess, farmer and all.

I promptly checked he was in no danger. He had just passed out from the sight of blood. I then hurried to find his wife, who was a tiny little woman, with lively eyes and a quick whit who told me that her husband was a big milksop, and she was not at all surprised about the mess that he had created. Within another 20 minutes we had sterilized my instruments again, and with the lady of the house holding the umbrella I delivered a lovely healthy calf - and it was still raining! The farmer recovered from his fall, his only injury being dented pride. Then we all had a cup of tea to celebrate the delivery in the nice warm kitchen, and we laughed about our adventure. Happy memories!

It would have been even more difficult without the acetylpromazine and carefully applied lidocaine.

The art of anesthesiology is an important one, so don't forget to thank your anesthetist!


Kevin (Old Dog!)


Old Dog said...

Hi Benjamin!

I was about 12 miles into my 16 mile run this morning when a better title popped into my brain. I wasn't even thinking about blogs at the time, just the trail. The brain is a funny creature.

So I changed it this morning!



Kelly said...

Great story Kevin!! You are absolutely right about the anesthesiologist. Their job is very important, and I always thank them for waking me back up after my surgeries. Thanks for sharing this funny story.

Kevin Morgan said...

Hi Kelly!
Thanks for your kind words. I find that blogging is great fun! I never really liked reading short stories; to my surprise, I seem to enjoy writing them! I applied to follow your tweets, and my application is pending. Another one towards your goal of 500 followers. As a Mom you might be interested in my son's website (, as he talks to lots of Moms about his tee shirts, and he has helped me a lot with my blogging progress. You'll also get to see two of my lovely grandchildren!
Kind Regards,
Kevin (Old Dog!)

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