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On the Edge of Common Sense: John’s scrapbook

Contributed by Baxter Black Published on 24 January 2017

I stood with George, ears perked, eyes alert, like border collies waiting for the signal. John (we’ll call him John) finally made his momentous decision known: “We’ll do a C-section. But I want pictures for my scrapbook!”

John was a senior veterinary student spending the week with me during calving season. George was my assistant.

The object of John’s attention stood quietly in the chute. She was a crossbred heifer, carefully selected for those quality criteria: four legs and a pulse. Although she weighed over 800 pounds, she wasn’t much taller than a bathroom sink and wide as a mobile home. Her being nine months pregnant made you want to paint “GOODYEAR” on her side.

John was well taught, so George and I offered to be his surgical aides during the procedure. John had never actually performed one before, but I had insisted that he call the shots. George and I were at his beck and call.

John chose to make a lateral incision in the left flank. We haltered and cast the beast on the ground.

Under John’s watchful eye, we clipped and scrubbed and shaved the incision site. He asked for a drape. I had one, fortunately. I had been cutting hair with it in the bunkhouse. But it was clean.

Before he double-gloved up, he asked if I would record his first C-section on film. I took his camera and snapped him poised above what appeared to be Plymouth Rock. He looked over his shoulder at me as I clicked on. Once he made his first incision, he peeled off the outer gloves and asked me to adjust the light. I moved George closer.

All was going well, as the photographs would show. John was doing the perfect imitation of a qualified veterinary surgeon. He penetrated the abdomen authoritatively, and immediately the bladder of a blue whale welled up through the incision. John recoiled in terror as the mass came at him like a driver’s side air bag.

It was, of course, the rumen. This huge organ obscured the surgical field and interfered with his manipulation of the uterus, which he couldn’t find, and 26 feet of small intestine which kept crawling into play.

Before I could say, “No, wait!” John pricked the rumen wall with his scalpel to relieve the pressure. A stream of green fluid at 2,800 psi painted the left half of John’s body.

I took one photograph of George sluicing down the young surgeon with a bucket full of water. Another of John wiping his face on the drape. One of him lifting the newborn from the womb and, my personal favorite, John sewing away at the uterus while keeping one knee on the ground and the other pressed against the protruding rumen.

I don’t know if the last one made the scrapbook. end mark