Ice Reminds Me Why I Became a Veterinarian
Often I am asked why I became a veterinarian. I’ll be honest; it’s all I ever wanted to do. When I was young, you could often find me reading a book. I loved all kinds of books about animals. I read almost all of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, I read Misty of Chincoteague, I read dog books. When I got a little older, I read many of James Herriot’s books. James Herriot was a veterinarian who practiced in rural England around the time of the Second World War. His most well know book is All Creatures Great and Small. There was even a British TV series made depicting James Herriot and his life and adventures. These stories – long before Alameda East’s Emergency Vets and Dr. Pol – showed the everyday life of a veterinarian and his relationships with his clients and his patients. Before I became a veterinarian, I fantasized about similar relationships and experiences. As a veterinarian, the pets of my clients become an extended part of my family.
When I first graduated veterinary school, I began working at a busy mixed animal practice in North Carolina, about 1 ½ hours south of Raleigh. This animal hospital saw mostly dogs and cats and horses. BUT, we would treat just about anything. I treated a lot of exotics - birds, guinea pigs, rats, and lizards. Once, I even was called to a small travelling circus to treat some of their animals! Although horses comprised most of our large animal work, I also, on occasion, treated cows, goats, sheep, and pigs.
As I sit here at home today – cold and with no power during a rare ice storm here in Raleigh, NC, I remember another ice storm when I was a young, fairly recently graduated, veterinarian. As a mixed animal practitioner, I was required to rotate call with the other veterinarians in our practice. As luck would have it, this icy, snowy night I was on call and got a call for a cow dystocia. Dystocia means the cow is having trouble giving birth. This call came from a local farmer with a well-kept herd of Black Angus cattle. He had delivered a lot of calves in his day, but just couldn’t seem to help this girl out. So, off I went. Thankfully, our farm call truck had 4-wheel drive and there weren’t many people on the roads. There was already a small blanket of snow and ice on the roads, but the snow seemed to magically begin again as I turned onto their property.
The cow was in a pasture meaning I was going to have work on a cold, wet ground and not in a nice insulated barn. Luckily, the farmer and his family had the cow caught and a few other trucks with headlights aimed on our patient. I went to work. Imagine an obstetrician in a field, kneeling on a bed of snow and ice, with snow coming down, at the rear end of a cow, reaching in to find a calf. The calf moved when I touched it – it was still alive! But it was a tangle of legs and trying to push its way out sideways. This was going to be a long, cold night.
I don’t remember all the details of that night, but I remember the important ones. I worked for what seemed like hours. The farmer’s wife and daughter kept bringing towels they had warmed in their dryer and laid them over me to help keep me warm. The calf finally came and was a large, healthy calf and her mother was happy to see her. And after all was said and done, the family invited me into their home. I stood in front of a beautiful, warm fire and drank the best cup of hot chocolate in memory. As I drove home later that evening, and even tonight as I remember that night, I smile to myself and realize that this is why I became a veterinarian.
Dr. Beth Bauer