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The joy of delivering a foal alone
The 2.5 miles from my house to the veterinary clinic was great. The equine birthing emergency when I got there I liked a lot less.
Brock's experience with equine birth was a little messier than this. Until a race horse backed over my knee about 15 years ago, I liked to jog. Since then, well, it just doesn't work anymore. But when I first graduated from veterinary school, I ran quite a bit. And when my house was 2.5 miles from the clinic, I used to get up early on a weekend morning, jog to the clinic, look at my cases, then turn around and jog back home.
One morning in 1990, I arrived in jogging attire and was headed to look at the horses in the pens. I was about to go into the clinic when I discovered I'd picked up my truck keys instead of the clinic keys, which for some unknown reason I had never put on the same key chain. I figured I'd check on everything right quick and then head home for a shower. But when I rounded the corner, dread filled my brain. The mare that people had left to foal out was in labor, with one leg hanging out of her birth canal. She wasn't due for two more weeks, so I never expected her to be in labor so soon.
It was before I had a mobile phone, and stores weren't open on Sunday to use their landline. By the looks of things, if I didn't get that baby out pretty quick, it wasn't gonna be good.
It took a few passes, but I got her caught. I did the best I could to tie her to the top rail of the fence and proceeded to go to work on labor and delivery. I had no lube, no sleeves, no tranquilizer, no antibiotics, no chains or cables to connect to the baby's legs, no lidocaine for an epidural, no soap to sanitize anything, no one to keep the mare in one place, and not enough time to jog 2.5 miles back home.
At first the mare was a willing participant, so I reached in and felt around to see what I was dealing with. The left front leg was out, and the head and right front were hung up at the pelvic inlet. I went to work getting things straight.
I could feel that the baby was still alive and I knew I had only a few more attempts at getting things done.
Now, when a mare has a contraction and your arm is between the baby and the pelvis-ouch. It squashes all the feeling out of your arm and sends tingles down your spine. This squeezing happened again and again until both mare and me were exhausted. She was moving back and forth now and making all kinds of grunting sounds that I was afraid were a prelude to a kick, but she never did. I would just about get the head in the canal, and she would take a step with her hind legs to the left, and everything would go back to crooked. I could feel that the baby was still alive and I knew I had only a few more attempts at getting things done.
On about the tenth attempt to straighten things out, I got the head lined up and ready. Now the only thing holding that baby in was the other leg. I reached deep in and grabbed it just behind the elbow and began pushing the elbow towards the mare's head and pulling the baby's carpus toward me. I had a few inches left to go when suddenly the mare dropped to the ground like someone had shot her. I found myself lying face down in a pool of afterbirth and goo still holding fast to the leg. As I gathered my wits to make another attempt at fixing the leg, the mare, just as suddenly, stood back up. My hand had no hope of coming loose. The force of my weight lagging behind her sudden move to get up was just the boost of momentum that I needed to get the leg the rest of the way straight. As she finished getting up to shake, the baby slid out so easy, it was unbelievable.
There it was, tongue a little swollen, but the rest looked absolutely fine. It was blinking and shaking its head. I was so happy I stood up and high-fived myself several times, then got it out of the afterbirth and made sure it stood and sucked. What a morning.
My shorts were tan and looked like I'd pooped them.
When it was time to head back home, I looked down at myself. My shirt was covered in blood and several layers of stall sand. My shorts were tan and looked like I'd pooped them. My legs and hair were covered in goo, and my arms were covered in dried blood and afterbirth. I washed off the best I could at the water hose and headed home.
I kept a wary eye out for passing cars and took the alleys in order to not be seen. I couldn't imagine what people would think if they saw the new veterinarian in a town of 2,000 people running through the streets on a Sunday morning covered in blood.
I arrived home almost three hours after I had left, and my wife, Kerri, was standing at the front door. She saw me coming and headed down to give me a fanny chewing for being gone so long and not telling her where I was. Her eyes got even bigger when she saw me covered in blood and dirt. I could see her expression go from anger to worry and then back to anger. I went right past her into the house while trying to explain what had happened.
My objective? I was gonna put those clinic keys on the same keychain with my truck keys right then.
Bo Brock, DVM, owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. His latest book is Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing From Rural America.