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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

A Chilly Winter Tale

I have a tale for you guys today. It’s a little spooky but takes place on a cold winter’s night. So grab a cup of hot cocoa and snuggle up with your favorite blanket and pet — here’s a winter tale to send a chill down your spine.

One deeply dark and cold Saturday night a few Januarys ago, I was on call. Having fallen asleep by the fire reading a book, the inevitable emergency phone call came in around 11 p.m. A cow was having trouble calving. Grumpily rousing myself from an enjoyable and highly cozy slumber, I pulled on my long johns, my coveralls, and my red knit hat to head out onto the dark lonely road.

The farm that called was a place I had never visited before. Although I had no trouble locating the physical address in the dark, things looked a little too dark. With no other farms nearby, I assumed I had the correct locale and pulled into the circular gravel driveway. Poking my head out of the truck, I looked to the farmhouse on the left. Only the glow from a basement light illuminated the frost on the ground in front of a lone window. Yelling a “hello?” and receiving no answer, I grabbed a large flashlight and turned toward the barn, which was equally dark and appeared deserted.

Usually a difficult calving brings a cluster of people around — some to help and some to watch and offer moral support. This made the situation even odder, since I found the farm to be so incredibly quiet. Perhaps the clear crispness of the night and the still air amplified its silence, or perhaps it was the growing concern that I was somehow in the wrong place that made me extremely self-conscious of every loud crunch of my boots on the frozen ground.

The barn area contained a few buildings. The first building I came upon had its door ajar. Hoping to find warm welcoming light and the bustle of activity inside, I slowly walked toward the doorway, announcing my presence to make sure I didn’t startle anyone or any cow inside. As I poked my head inside, I found a small empty washroom, dark except for the moonlight pouring in from the window. Peering around the room searching for signs that maybe someone had been in there recently, my flashlight beam suddenly came upon something quite unexpected: a partial skeleton hanging from the ceiling. Identifying a large and empty ribcage, my heart leapt into my throat as I scrambled out of the room, slamming the door behind me.

Now the search for someone became even more urgent. Rushing back to my truck, I grabbed my cell phone to call the client, hoping to confirm they were somewhere in the vicinity. The line rang repeatedly and I suddenly realized I could hear the ring on the other end coming from the house … but no one was answering. Getting more anxious by the second, I planned to make one more sweep of the barn and then I was getting the heck out of there, calf or no calf.

This time I headed past the first building — the one with the skeleton room — and turned a corner to the left. With all senses on extra-alert mode, I gripped my flashlight tightly, thinking it could double as a blunt weapon if needed.

Pushing through a door leading to a second building, I entered a tight corridor and turned to the left. Suddenly I came upon a small group of cows, quietly munching on hay. I relaxed a little — at least there were live cows on the property! Continuing down the dark alley, I pushed through another wooden door and … voila! There in front of me stood the clients and a heavily pregnant cow in the middle of contractions.

After breathing the ever-clichéd sigh of relief, the first question out of my mouth was, “What the heck is that skeleton hanging in your barn!?”

After finding out the room was where one of the farmers dressed his deer after hunting, I was ready to get down to business and am happy to recollect we successfully pulled a live bull calf after I rearranged his tangled front legs.

Now THAT was a winter night I won’t soon forget.

Dr. Anna O’Brien

Image: Jill Battaglia / via Shutterstock

Comments  3

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  • Late Night Calls
    02/08/2013 11:07am

    Being called to out late at night could be disconcerting for sure.

    This particular story makes me wonder if you've added precautions to these kind of calls for your own safety.

    P.S. Was the calving successful?

  • 02/09/2013 12:39pm

    As far as safety precautions, we have relationships with a vast majority of clients before we go out to their farms. The clients in this story actually were established in the practice, I just had never visited them before. Very infrequently do we get late night emergency calls to farms we've never been to. When this does occur, very detailed information is collected on location, name, and the emergency situation and sometimes a husband gets dragged along too.

    And yes, the calf was delivered successfully!

  • Creepy!
    02/08/2013 10:21pm

    Weird situation, for sure ... but turned out to be perfectly normal, for the residents of the house, anyway!

    Yet another enjoyable story, Dr. O'Brien!

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