From The Blog

Communication is key!

On May 10, 1997 I walked across the stage at the commencement ceremony for the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine to accept my...

On May 10, 1997 I walked across the stage at the commencement ceremony for the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine to accept my diploma from Dean Prasse.  I stepped off that stage a newly minted veterinarian and stepped into the heart of rural Georgia to begin my career in veterinary medicine.

I was the first associate ever hired at Durham Veterinary Clinic since it was founded in the 1940’s by Dr. C.J. Durham.  His grandson, Dr. Rob Durham, hired me to help shoulder the burden of the increasing workload in the growing practice as his father, Dr. Bobby Durham, eased gradually into retirement.  I was welcomed into the family with open arms and treated like one of the clan.  They knew better than I did how much I still had to learn, but I was overflowing with ambition, enthusiasm and unwarranted confidence.  I had no idea at the time how significant and formative my time with them over the next six years would be.  Nor did I have any appreciation for how thankful I would become for their tutelage and patience with me as I began the painful process of learning a difficult craft.  I was just ready to get started.  My head was stuffed with information for which I was convinced the animal owning public in Greene and surrounding counties was desperate!  With great zeal, I plunged into my new life as country vet!

Durham Veterinary Clinic is located in Greensboro, Georgia, a quaint little town of 3200 people about 45 minutes south of Athens.   It is the county seat of Greene County, which along with Putnam and Morgan counties, was once the major milk producing region in the state.  In 1997, dairy farms still dotted the countryside in every direction and on most county roads there were more hayfields than houses.  The farm families that we served, be it dairy, beef or horses, were some of the most hard working, pleasant, genuine people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and I miss them to this day.  Going out to their farms and homes to care for their livestock gave me a unique opportunity to interact with them in their element and to experience their world in their normal surroundings.  I became a part of their normal routine and they became a part of mine.  As a young man just entering the workforce and learning a new trade, they were as gracious and forgiving with me as the Durham family.  I owe those clients who endured my early years of practice a tremendous debt of gratitude!

Each farm where we worked was a unique creation with it’s own character that reflected that of the family that lived and worked there.  A farm is always a work in progress and most of the small family operations that we worked on spanned several generations.  The mixture of old and new equipment and buildings from each successive era in the history of the farm told the story of the family that poured their effort, money, worry and time into building and maintaining the enterprise, much like layers of artifacts in an archeological excavation tell the story of the ancient people that lived there.  A keen observer could get a pretty thorough introduction to a farm family just by taking a good look around.

The working conditions on the farms varied as much as the farms and farmers themselves.  Not all our clients could afford the most modern animal handling facilities.  But, all of our clients understood our needs and worked diligently to help us contain their cows and horses so we could care for them.  We prided ourselves on our resourcefulness in adapting to almost any situation or set-up in order to get our job done.

I’m sure some of that must have been going through Dr. Bobby’s mind when he answered the phone at the clinic about 5:30 one evening.  It was a client we hadn’t done any work for in quite some time.  The number of animals around his place had gradually dwindled and his needs for our services decreased proportionally.  This particular evening, however, he had a horse that had snagged the skin on his cheek on a nail in the barn.  Ever since humans first introduced horses to fencing they have been good at getting cut.   He was probably trying to stick his muzzle into a tight space between the boards in the old barn to get to some hay that was stored inside.  Maybe something startled him or possibly one of his pasture mates wanted to try for a bite and shoved him aside.  In either case, he withdrew his head quickly and the nail caught and peeled a significant section of skin back on the side of his cheek.  Farmers are accustomed to livestock getting injured.   Had this particular wound not been so gruesome he may have elected to just manage it himself with some antibiotic ointment and “tincture of time,” but this wound looked like it needed more than a few stitches.

Dr. Bobby listened intently to the farmer on the other end of the phone.  As he listened he thought back to the last time he remembered going to this particular farm.  It had to have been over a year ago.  He remembered clearly that the barn was old and in need of repairs back then.  He doubted any improvements had been made since.  It sat at the bottom of a hill and collected rainwater that ran off the hillside in the center aisle of the barn.  When the horses came in to get out of the rain their hooves became pistons in the wet clay and quickly created a sticky quagmire that could easily become ankle deep.  There was a single incandescent bulb that dangled from a wire in the center of the center aisle.  It had been an upgrade twenty years ago during a “remodeling” project.  When the bulb was new it cast soft light in a circle in the middle of the barn and threw long shadows into the stalls on either side of the aisle.  In that environment, though, it didn’t take long for the dust and spider webs and fly specks to accumulate on the bulb in a layer thick enough that the glow was diminished considerably.  If it was dark outside, it might provide enough light to find the feed buckets when it was feeding time, or to stack hay in the stalls after a long day in the field, but it wouldn’t suffice for suturing a wound.

It was late November and the sun was usually below the horizon by 6 pm.  Dr. Bobby glanced out the window at the grey sky and the puddles all over the ground.  It had rained considerably that day and he could imagine what the conditions in the barn would be like that evening.

After listening to the farmer and assessing the situation, Dr. Bobby told the farmer that Dr. Rob was already out on a call on that end of the county.  He asked him to hold the phone while he tried to raise Dr. Rob on the radio.

“Base to 102, base to 102, you copy?”

“This is 102. I copy.” Came the reply from Dr. Rob.

“Can you stop by the Lawson place on your way home and sew up a cut horse?” Dr. Bobby inquired.

“Sure thing.” Came the reply, just a hint of weariness in his voice.  Dr. Rob had already been on several farm calls that day and no doubt he was hoping he had finished up when the call about the horse came over the radio.

“I’m finishing up here at Tom Spiers’. I’ll be 45 minutes or so before I can get there.”

“10-4,” Dr. Bobby replied.  He picked up the phone.  “Rob says he’ll be at your place in an hour or so.  Why don’t you just go on and bring the horse up to the house where he can work on him?”

“Aah-ight” Mr. Lawson replied, “Gladly.”

Dr. Rob finished up the call he was on and packed his equipment away in his truck.  He waved to the Spiers family as he pulled around to leave.  Once on the main road he pointed the truck towards the Lawson place and settled in for the ride.  Even on the busiest days, the drive between farms was a welcome respite that gave us a chance to catch our breath and collect our thoughts.

The Lawson’s lived at the end of a long dirt driveway that was more like parallel ruts than a road.  The house had to be at least a hundred years old, white, lap sided exterior with a wide front porch and a smaller porch on the back that entered right into the kitchen.  Friends and family were accustomed to coming and going through the rear entrance so the front door got very little use.  A knock on the front door always meant a stranger had come calling.  That usually meant a sales person or a census worker.  Mr. Lawson didn’t have a lot of patience for strangers so rarely did they answer the front door.   Consequently, the parallel ruts continued past the front porch and beside the house where they fanned out into a grass-less hard packed delta in the rear of the house where everyone parked.

As Dr. Rob pulled in the driveway, he could see the lights on in the house through the front windows.  It had been dark for at least 30 minutes now.  The outside lights were on too, but he didn’t see anyone in the yard.  He thought to himself, they must have him around in the back yard.

He was pulling up along side the house when an odd shape in the kitchen window caught his eye.  He eased the truck forward a few more feet and craned his neck to get a better look at the figures visible through the kitchen window.   As he pulled even with the kitchen window his eyes widened with disbelief and a huge smile spread across his face.  In all his years of going on farm calls he had never in his life witnessed what he was seeing tonight.  There, plain as day, in the breakfast area of the old farmhouse – cut cheek and all – stood the horse!

Dr. Rob parked the truck behind the house and climbed out.  As he began to gather his surgical supplies and medication, Mr. Lawson poked his head out the back door and hollered, “We got him right up here for ya Rob.  Just come on in when you get your stuff together!”

Dr. Rob acknowledged him with a head nod and replied, “I’ll be right there.”

He shook his head and chuckled to himself.  He was having a hard time believing that he was about to work on a horse inside a person’s home.  He couldn’t for the life of him figure out what possessed the farmer to bring the horse into his home to sew up this cut.  He carried his surgery box in one hand and his scrub bucket in the other as he made his way up the flight of old wooden steps to the back porch.  There wasn’t even a handrail.  He thought to himself as he ascended the creaky old stairs that he better make sure the farmer wasn’t planning on bringing the horse down these steps.  If he did there would likely to be a much more serious injury in the horse’s immediate future!

The family all greeted Dr. Rob cordially as he made his way into the kitchen.  The breakfast room table and chairs had been pushed to one side to make room for the over sized visitor.  The horse didn’t look the least bit concerned about his new surroundings.  He just stood there quietly with a gaping hole in his cheek.  He turned his head and ears slightly toward Dr. Rob as he entered the room and gave him a little nicker as if to say, “What took you so long?”

The Lawson family stood there in the kitchen and watched as Dr. Rob laid his supplies out on the kitchen counter.  He wasn’t accustomed to having such a nice work surface to spread out on.  Normally it would be a board or an upside down barrel, and there was never enough space to have everything right there at his fingertips.  This was pretty nice! He thought to himself.

“How have ya’ll been doing?  Been awhile since we’ve been out this way.” Dr. Rob inquired as he got his instruments out.

“Fine, thank you.  Appreciate you coming out this late to look after Shorty here.”

Nobody acted like the horse in the breakfast room seemed the least bit out of place.

“Glad to.” Dr. Rob replied as he continued to make ready for surgery.  “If you don’t mind me asking, I’m just curious.  What made you decide to bring Shorty here inside the house to work on him?”

“Well.”  Mr. Lawson glanced down and pushed his cap up slightly to scratch his head, “It seemed like an odd request but we figured Doc musta’ had a good reason.  When we called the clinic to see if ya’ll could come out he told us to have the horse up at the house when you got here!”

Dr. Rob doubled over with laughter then struggled to compose himself before he made his clients feel bad about the miscommunication.  Rob knew exactly what his dad had meant when he said, “Have the horse up at the house.”  He meant have him near the house where there was good light – not in the house!

Wait till Dad hears about this! Rob thought to himself.  He’s never gonna believe it!

Rob smiled from ear to ear at the odd situation in which he found himself.  He was already carefully planning the retelling of this evenings adventure to everyone back at the clinic as he finished getting out his surgery gloves and suture.  He pulled up a barstool to sit on as he drew up his sedation then chuckled at the absurdity of having the luxury of a barstool to sit on!  He looked up at his patient to verify in his mind an approximate weight and as he looked him over an odd thought occurred to him.  “Just how much sedation do you give a horse so that he’ll stand still for surgery without falling into the china cabinet??”

 

 

 

*When all of our older clients used the title “Doc” they either meant Dr. Bobby or Dr. Bobby’s dad, C.J. Durham.  If they didn’t clarify, you had to infer from the timeframe of the story to know which they were referring to.  They all had seen Rob grow up from the time he was a baby so they couldn’t quite bring themselves to call him “Doc”.  They just called him Rob.

 

 

 

 

  1. Alice Smith June 6, 2011 at 10:38 am #

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