New Horizons Writers Group

In-utero or ex-utero?

Bob Hirt

The surprising jangle of my telephone pulled me from a good book I was reading. It was 7:30 p.m. on a February night in rural New York state. In a country veterinary practice one gets fairly accustomed to this but it never sits well to be out after dinner hour. One can bet it will be a real emergency situation. Occasionally there will be two back-to-back calls and that often means dragging oneself back home close to midnight, weary and wet. No one ever said large animal practice would be easy.

“Doc, my cow ‘cast her wethers,’” said Dave on the phone, all out of breath. The term is known typically by dairy farmers and veterinary practitioners alike. But, as a farm kid and having the situation occur at our farm several times many years ago I knew exactly what “casting her wethers” was all about. Simply put it means that while giving birth to a calf the entire uterus will be pushed out through the birth canal to the outside. Correctly stated it is a prolapse of the uterus and it occurs occasionally.

When I arrived at the farm a huge truck was just leaving the driveway as Dave was heading toward the barn. I noticed the Florida license plate on the truck’s rear bumper. “Doc, take a taste of this orange. I’ve never tasted anything so sweet!” It appears that the truck and its driver had been making the rounds of the country farms selling these Florida oranges. And indeed they were the sweetest I had ever tasted.

Before even entering the barn to see the poor cow I said to Dave, “Bring me a five-pound bag of your wife’s sugar, OK?” Dave had no idea what this bag of sugar had to do with fixing his cow but he happily complied, still sucking on the last quarter of the Florida orange.

One should try to picture a prolapsed uterus of the bovine. It is roughly the size of the 24 to 26 inch inflated balls seen in gyms that are used to strengthen the back muscles…only more slippery and bloodier. Now comes the task of replacing this gargantuan organ, for if left out the animal will surely die. One must first administer an epidural of lidocaine to quiet the reflexive contractions of the reproductive tract during labor. That achieved, the sugar is literally dumped all over the uterus. The sugar will almost immediately absorb liquid and cause shrinkage of the engorged mass…and rather dramatically! Then, with the assistance of the farmer holding up a tray with its uterus the veterinarian can slowly force the uterus through the birth canal into its normal position in the animal’s body. Dave, all sweaty from the exhaustive effort of holding that tray with its uterus managed a wan smile and likely wondered what might come next! We were mostly done. With antibiotics inserted deep into the cavity the problem will usually be resolved. Within several months it will again be ready for the next pregnancy. “Dave, check her in an hour and again at about two in the morning. If by milking time she appears OK she’ll likely be fine.

“By the way, did you buy that peddler’s oranges”? I queried. “Yep, bought two bushels.” “Great,” I said. “How are they?” “They’re the worst damn oranges I’ve ever tasted in all my born days,” he said. The oranges that the peddler brought out for tasting evidently were spiked with a sugar solution hours before the sampling was to occur. Small syringes with an ultra-fine needle are used to inject a sugar solution into the orange. A roving sheriff deputy informed me of this scam foisted upon the local farmers. A ring of these culprits was caught in another county last year. Live and learn, I guess.