Milk? What milk?

2011-12-08 00:00

SOME people are born with organised thought processes. Like mothers who pack picnic lunches without forgetting the mayo or dads who go on fishing trips without having to find a store that will sell them sinkers or hooks or cigarettes or whatever they have left at home.

I am not one of them. I think forgetfulness is an idiosyncrasy that has followed me since day one. I was the kid who forgot his rugby socks, the teenager who ran out of Brylcreem and the young adult who could not find his wallet at the restaurant on a first date. The mature term is “absent-minded” which I kind of like because it is usually attached to intelligent people, like Albert Einstein, who are too busy with important discoveries concerning universal physical laws to worry about mundane things like collecting the milk from the corner store on the way home. In my case, though, my nearests and dearests and those who know me would no doubt apply a different description which would be less polite and, I must concede, probably more appropriate. But the lousy thing is that, whatever it is called, I think it is growing worse as I grow older.

I was recently called out to a farm near Umbumbulu one evening. The heifer had been in labour since the morning. Now, I carry enough equipment and medication in my pick-up for most farm-yard veterinary procedures and I attempt to manoeuvre my vehicle as close to my patient as possible to allow easy access.

In this case, though, I could only park about 100 metres from the heifer which was lying on the top of a steep bank in a field made sodden by recent rain. Beckoning a brace of porters, I packed out what equipment I thought would be necessary and we carried this up to the patient who was vainly straining to expel the calf (which was now dead), the head, front legs and torso of which was protruding from the mother. Five strong Zulu men had tried in vain to pull the calf from the narrow aperture and had finally conceded defeat when the hips had become inextricably locked in the mother’s pelvis.

My first step was an epidural infusion which would relieve the unfortunate cow of pain and would create room in her pelvis to allow me to manipulate the hips into a position for easier extraction.

An epidural requires local anaesthetic which was still in the pick-up. And so started the first of a succession of trips back to my vehicular base to collect a variety of medicaments and aids. When manipulation was unsuccessful, I tried cutting the guts out of the calf to reduce the size. Of course, the scalpel was in the car. And then the blade did not fit the scalpel. Another trip for a larger blade. Also needed the lubrication pump. Back again.

Still no luck. Change of strategy. I would cut the front part of the calf off and then slip a wire saw between the back legs and split the calf, pulling each leg out individually. Need the embryotome and wire. Still in the car. Back we go. And then the wire would not go through the machine. Need a pair of pliers. In my cubby hole.

And so the saga progressed until, eventually, the dismembered calf was pulled from the mother, bit by bit. I don’t remember how many trips I made to and from my bakkie but I do know I further required a suture needle, a needle holder, antibiotic pessaries and injections and another container of disinfectant to replace one that went sliding down the hill. And maybe some others that I have forgotten about.

And there is a new path down a slope on a farm near Umbumbulu

Arriving home some hours later, my wife asked: “Did you remember the bread and milk I asked you to collect from the shop on the way home?”

I look at her with tired eyes.

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