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Two heads better than one? Not this time

Article

Finally, during the second round, the leg popped out. I started celebrating like I'd just won a gold medal.

"Useless as a one-armed paper hanger."

That's how my grandfather would describe me when I seemed to be all thumbs while trying to do certain jobs.

Not long ago, the metaphor came true after a manic racehorse kicked my right hand and broke my thumb. "Useless" may be the best way to describe a veterinarian who can't use his right thumb. Frustrated is what I'd call it.

Though I hadn't missed any surgeries or turned away anyone, having only four exposed fingers on my right hand (and I am right-handed) made everything take twice as long. My thumb, wrist, palm and upper forearm were held tightly in place by a heavy, rigid cast.

On this particular day, I already had been on several emergency calls and was ready for the workday to end. I was driving to this last farm, hoping the job wouldn't take long. The owner of a donkey had told me the baby had its head and one leg out, but the other leg was back in and things had gone south.

I pulled up to find a female miniature donkey standing in a muddy pen, just as he described. What he hadn't mentioned is that the baby appeared to be as large as its mother. In fact, it looked like a donkey with two heads, one at each end, each about the same size. I realized this was going to take more than a few minutes.

I've known the owner, a senior gentleman, for years and consider him a good friend, but, truth be told, I was thinking that he probably wouldn't be much help as I started trying to deliver this baby one-handed.

He held the lead rope with a regretful, worried look on his face. That was all he could do — hold the rope and offer words of encouragement as I struggled. And struggle I did. This thing was whipping me. I pulled, tugged, grunted, groaned, got pulled through the mud, stepped on and rolled on as I tried to get that other leg out of the 400-pound donkey using mostly my left hand.

After 30 minutes, the leg was in the exact place it was when we started. I needed a break. I went back to the pickup truck to regroup. My left arm was cramping, and my cast was broken. My glasses were caked with afterbirth and this donkey had drug me enough to fill my underwear and trousers with dirt and straw.

I hadn't had mud in the creases of my body since I went to the beach as a little kid. I didn't like it then, and I didn't like it now. It was squishing around as I sat in the truck and called my wife to let her know I'd be late.

Finally, during the 30-minute second round, the leg popped out. I started celebrating like I'd just won a gold medal. All I had to do now was pull the baby the rest of the way out and everything would be fine.

Wrong.

It still wouldn't come out. The jenny had laid down, so when I pulled on the baby, she'd just drag us around the pen. I couldn't hold her and pull the baby at the same time, so I asked the owner if any neighbors were around who might give us a hand.

There was. About 20 minutes later, a man — like the owner, a bit past middle age — showed up to assist. We all tried for a while and decided we needed more reinforcements. Soon the owner's grandson (about my age) arrived. That was all we needed. Some pulled and some held, and the baby finally came the rest of the way out.

The momma donkey did just fine. I was a mess. A good shower got the layer of gook off my frazzled body. I had not been that dirty since childhood.

One of the benefits of being a veterinarian is that you can simply make yourself a new cast when the old one breaks.

Just another exciting day in the life of a small-town practitioner.

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.

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