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This was work, not a spectator sport


I guess one of my favorite things about being a veterinarian is helping in the process of bringing a new critter into the world.

I guess one of my favorite things about being a veterinarian is helping in the process of bringing a new critter into the world.

After thousands of deliveries, it still stirs a special sentiment within me.

It must trigger a strange thought in a little calf's mind when it looks up and sees a big nose, mustache and glasses as the opening act to the play of life. But, as with most things, I don't get to see them unless there is a problem.

That was the case one afternoon when a local rancher called to say his heifer was having trouble calving.

This guy reminded me of Jimmy Stewart. He had the same sound to his voice and moved his head and neck like Stewart did, making it a lot of fun to be around him. I've been here long enough to know most of the people who have livestock and I know how they do things. If this fellow can't get the calf out himself, the case is certain to be a doozie. And, sure enough, it was.

Twisted, upside-down mess

The calf was twisted and presenting upside-down. For those of you who have not had the privilege of trying to pull a 75-pound baby out of a small-hipped heifer, I will give you an analogy; it is rather like pulling a marshmallow out of a piggy bank.

We got this heifer in the chute and started the tedious process of straightening out the calf. I worked on it for about half an hour and then got a total body cramp and had to take a breather.

Upon seeing this, Jimmy Stewart just hopped in and spelled me. He pulled and twisted, moaned and sputtered and finally tagged off to me again.

By now, the heifer had lain down and was not even attempting to help by pushing. We were both covered with that sticky cow juice that comes with a birth. It is God's WD-40 and, boy, is it slick.

In fact, if you step in sticky cow juice in an unfocused moment, you will slide like you are on ice and make all those arm-flinging motions that are required to maintain balance and make you look as old as you are getting.

After you have done this a while, your temper is on hair trigger.

Over the years, I have adapted the ability to do this while answering questions from other clients, lining up appointments for tomorrow and talking on the phone. Mr. Stewart, on the other hand, was used to doing this without spectators.

Often, at the vet clinic, someone will be standing around who has seen it all and done it all. That's what happened here. Some stranger showed up to watch and give advice just when it was Jimmy's turn again.

Jimmy was engaged in one of those heavy straining moments when our spectator piped up, "I had an aunt who could just walk out into the field and pull one of those things out."

Now I have heard tales like that ever since I started being a vet. It bounced right off me.

I just figured this spectator had no idea what he was talking about and was giving us a demonstration of his ignorance. I had no idea that Jimmy was paying any attention at all.

Just about the time Mr. Stewart had the calf untwisted, he lost his grip and the calf recoiled to the very position it was in when we started about an hour ago.

Frustration was at an all-time high. I told him to take a break and let me have another shot at it.

Once again, the spectator started. This time he said, "She (the aunt) could have really done good if she'd had one of these fancy things to catch the cow in."

Once again, it just bounced off me. But, much to my surprise, when I looked up at the normally mild-mannered Jimmy, his face was beet-red and a puff of smoke was coming out of each ear.

"It's not that easy, you see," Jimmy said with a vintage Stewart accent. "This calf is all twisted up, you see."

If you can picture Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life," you will see in your mind exactly what this guy looked like.

"If she is so good at this, why don't you just go and get her," he finally said.

Upon hearing this, the spectator turned and left.

I have no idea who he was, but I got to laughing so hard I had to quit pulling and just lay there in the "cow juice" producing that laughter that no longer makes any noise.

Jimmy apologized, saying, "I hope I didn't run off any of your clients."

I told him not to worry.

We finally got the calf out and went on with life. I often think about that moment when I am pulling on a stuck calf. I still laugh just thinking about Jimmy standing there, covered with that slick substance that was even in his hair, making it stand straight up, red-faced, sleeves rolled up, frustrated beyond words and telling the "spectator" to just go and get that aunt.

Oh, by the way, she never showed up.

Bo Brock

Editor's note: This column is reprinted from the July 2002 edition of DVM Newsmagazine.

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

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