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This is from the ninth (and very most popular and famous) chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends to join us.
THE DELIVERY (PART 1)
It’s a bull!” I shrieked. “You called me all the way up here to take care of a bull?” exclaimed the inexperienced people-doctor.
The farmer turned to look at me. Now it was his turn to be shocked. “Son,” he exclaimed, “this ain’t no blasted bull.” (Never had a truer statement been uttered—pun intended.) “This here’s a yearling heifer. She’s a she, not a he, and she’s in trouble.
And, she and I really need your help. Now!”
“But I’m not a vet.” I made this obvious statement innocently enough. I did not know that the county had no veterinarian. I did not know that the physicians in town were expected to treat all the county’s residents—human and otherwise. I did not know that, during my career in Swain County, I would learn to sew up pig-gored hunting dogs, to do an ultrasound on dogs and cats during pregnancy so that the owners could know how many young ones would be available for sale, and to X-ray and band- age animals of every sort that had been hit by automobiles. At that moment of medical crisis in Clem Monteith’s barn, I simply blurted out helplessly, “But I’m not a vet.”
He looked incredulous. “You’re a doctor, aren’t you? Son, let’s just get to work. Even you can do this.” It was clear that the respect usually accorded to physicians was rapidly eroding in this particular case. Obviously the profession’s reputation needed to be protected—and maybe, in this case, resurrected.
“Tell me what to do, and I’ll do the best I can,” I announced.
Clem looked at me like a coach knowing that, if the game’s going to be won, he’d have to encourage his freshman quarter- back. Calmly he reassured me, “I know you will, Doc. She’s real special to me. I need help. That’s why I called you. Let’s get to it.”
He patted the mom on her rump, lifting her tail. I could see two tiny hooves protruding from the genital area. On the floor, between the north end of the south-facing cow and the wall, was a chain connected to a “come-along.” A come-along is a device used to pull a chain connected to a load, and it was most fre- quently utilized in the county for pulling logs up inclines to the logging roads above.
Now the plan was becoming clear—even to this rookie.
After gently wrapping a towel around the calf’s rear legs, Clem reached down to grab his end of the chain and then wrapped it slowly around the now-padded legs. As he did this, I picked up my end of the come-along and inserted its hook into an eyebolt attached to a pole at the edge of the pen.
“Begin to tighten her up,” he shouted to me.
I could feel the sweat trickling down my brow—even though the evening was cool—and my palms were sweating. As I slowly ratcheted the come-along handle, the chain rose from the floor between us and began to tighten.
The mom-to-be tried to look back at us. Her big brown eyes seemed to plead with us to be gentle.
“Doc, be careful. Try not to go too fast or too tight. Let’s don’t hurt this little one.”
I could sense his caring and compassion. I suddenly realized that his fondness for his “patient” was not really different from mine. There was at once, and very suddenly, a connection between this farmer and me. Two birth attendants working together—attending the entry of a new life into the crisp mountain air. Without us, this little one—and maybe its mom—likely wouldn’t make it. With us they just might. And the odds depended on one very caring and experienced farmer and one very nervous and green, young physician.
As the chain began to pull the calf’s little legs, the farmer took off his shirt, threw it to the side, and bent over a bucket of water. He pulled out a bar of soap that was floating in the bucket and began to lather up his right hand and arm. At first I thought, Why in the world is he scrubbing up? And then, Why in the world is he scrubbing only one arm? Then it became clear. He gently placed his right hand and then his right arm up the heifer’s birth canal.
“I’ll see if I can help you out a bit, darling.” Her body tensed as she sensed him working. I cranked, she pushed and bellowed, and he manipulated the little one out of the birth canal. Slowly the body began to ease out of the canal. As I was tightening the come-along and sensing its progress, I looked at the come-along and then at the calf being slowly delivered. I began to imagine this device in the hospital delivery room. I could hear Gary Ayers announcing, “The newest doctor in town, Dr. Larimore, has become nationally renowned for his introduction of the ‘birthing come-along’ that he uses in the Swain County General Hospital birthing suites. This specialized and sterilized come-along, similar to the come-alongs used by loggers, has helped the young physician through many difficult deliveries—literally pulling the doctor and newborn out of trouble.” My thoughts were interrupted.
“Back off, Doc!” Clem shouted. “Back off and get over here!” I loosened the come-along and ran to his side.
“Here,” he said, as he gently guided my hands under the calf’s warm and slimy body. “Help me hold her up!” I placed my arms under the “baby.” Then Clem sensitively and carefully loosened the chain from the hooves.
He looked at me. “You go ahead and deliver her,” he said, smiling. My mind flashed back six years earlier to the moment when the chief resident in obstetrics at Charity Hospital in New Orleans allowed me to perform my first delivery. “Here, Walt,” Dr. Warren Lombard gently instructed, “come here. You go ahead and deliver her. You can do it. I’ll be right here with you.” And then this gentle man, this expert obstetrician and superb teacher, had guided my hands with his as I attended my first human birth.
“Careful, son, careful,” the farmer counseled, as I was transported from New Orleans back to the barn. I began to pull gently. I looked up at the farmer. His eyes were saying, “You can do it, son, you can.” Even the mom-to-be, now looking at me quietly, seemed to be confident. So I began to pull, and ever so gently the calf began to come out. First the shoulders. Then the neck. Before I knew it, the head emerged.
I guess I was expecting a baby the weight of those I had delivered while in residency, not the eighty-pounder I was now delivering. When she was born, I either weakened or couldn’t bear the weight alone—and she and I and the farmer all collapsed to the hay-covered floor.
The calf immediately began to breathe. The farmer got up to release the mom from the headlock. All I could do was stare in disbelief. There she was—half in my lap and half on the floor— my first full-term delivery in private practice. My first complicated delivery. My first vaginal breech delivery. Sure it was a heifer, but what a beautiful calf she was! She had lived. Her mom had lived. I had lived. The sudden rush of emotion surprised me. I felt tears stinging my eyes.
The mom turned and began to nuzzle and lick her baby. With this stimulation, the calf began to struggle to get to her feet. I released her and she wobbled to her mom. As they touched noses and the mom cleaned the newborn, I could only sit and watch with admiration the circle of life, once again completed. I felt so fortunate to be there to witness once again—up close and personal—the continuation of life, the miracle of life. Dear Lord, I silently prayed, thank you for guiding my hands. Thank you for this special experience.
(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT FRIDAY)
- Bryson City Tales — The Murder (Part 1)
- Bryson City Tales — The Murder (Part 2)
- Bryson City Tales — The Murder (Part 3)
- Bryson City Tales — The Arrival (Part 1)
- Bryson City Tales — The Arrival (Part 2)
- Bryson City Tales — The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)
- Bryson City Tales — The Hemlock Inn (Part 2)
- Bryson City Tales — The Grand Tour (Part 1)
- Bryson City Tales — The Grand Tour (Part 2)
- Bryson City Tales — The Interview (Part 1)
- Bryson City Tales — The Interview (Part 2)
- Bryson City Tales — The Interview (Part 3)
- Bryson City Tales — Settling In (Part 1)
- Bryson City Tales — Settling In (Part 2)
- Bryson City Tales — First-Day Jitters (Part 1)
- Bryson City Tales — First-Day Jitters (Part 2)
- Bryson City Tales — Emergency (Part 1)
- Bryson City Tales — Emergency (Part 2)
- Bryson City Tales — The Delivery (Part 1)
© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2016. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.