The side of the cow, black and white, shivered and trembled under my hands as I slowly injected a big bleb of local anaesthetic under the skin, and then a little deeper, into the muscles underneath. I started at the top left hand side of the hollow behind her ribs – her head was on my left hand side, caught tight in the bail of the crush, and the dairy farmer was edging about, nervously. I’d copped the typical and suspicious “You’re not Trevor!” comment when I arrived. Trevor was my boss. I was not him. Pretty bloody obvious, really. The cow had been trying to calve for a few hours, and the calf was simply too big. I filtered out his background haze of anxiety, and pressed on- a line gently swelling under my hands across the top, and then a long one down the left hand side, a bit back from the ribs.
I soaped up her side, and peeled the foil off a scalpel, before shaving the hair off a long strip down the middle, quite wide, while the local anaesthetic kicked in and numbed the surgical site. I looked over my kit- a tray with needles, gut for stitching up afterwards, clamps and scissors shining bright on the dark green drapes, a couple of utozyme pessaries to pop in the uterus after the calf was extracted, a bucket of water, scrubbing brush, antiseptics… At least it was daylight, not pitch black and raining.
“Are you going to get on with it?” the farmer interjected. “This is an AI (artificial insemination) calf, and the semen cost us a bloody packet.”
“Not much use me starting while she can still feel it, eh?” I said.
He turned away and kicked at a bit of dirt. I scrubbed up the surgical site, and then my arms and hands, carefully, before taking a fresh scalpel, and making a bold incision about 2 feet long, through the skin, and then carefully through the muscle before popping through the final thin layer into the abdominal cavity. Time condensed as my hands danced- I reached in, found a leg kicking and wriggling through the strong sack of tissue that held the calf, made another incision through the uterus and the special sack inside, holding the calf, got hold of a leg and heaved with both hands, slowly easing both hind legs, wet and shining, wriggling and kicking, up and out of the side of the cow.
“Right- grab on,” I told the farmer- he took the feet, careful not to touch my hands, as he wasn’t sterile, and heaved!
The calf flopped out, head nearly hanging on the ground, and he laid it out a little back from where I was working.
“Oh jeez, it’s a bloody bull,” he cried out, anguish in his voice. “That’s the third #$&*ing bull in a row from this semen,” voice rising with anger and frustration.
I blocked him out entirely, as the uterus was shrinking back to it’s normal size before my eyes, and I had to get the hole stitched up before it vanished into the depths! I gently eased out all the membranes, discarded them, popped in the foaming antibiotic pessaries, and grabbed the big curved needle with heavy gut on it, threw in a stitch at the top, and quickly stitched the uterus together. I popped it back inside, watching it shrinking up and away, before laying a line of stitches for the muscle wall, then the subcutaneous tissues, and finally a neat row down the surgeons shop window, the skin. I washed all the blood away from her side- the calf was struggling to his feet, and making some noise, so her head was anxiously bent around, and she was eager to get to him. I gave her an injection of antibiotics, and we let her out. She set to licking him all over, and I started to tidy up and clean up.
“Bugger eh?” I said.
He grunted at me, casting me a terrible look out of the side of his eye as if to say it was all my fault, and it would have been a heifer if Trevor had come instead!