Sunday, September 07, 2008

Reflections of Life in a Veterinary Jeep

The following piece was written by Isaac to remember one of this past summer's favorite memories.

It had been a long day, and yet it was still only 11am. At 5am I had been awakened by a firm grip on my shoulder. It was Dr. Ben who had just received a call that a heifer was having trouble calving at a farm about a half an hour away.

An hour and a half later we had delivered a live calf and had found another sick cow on the farm that had a LDA and required surgery. We concluded that the operation should be postponed since it was already 7am, and our stomachs were not letting us forget that breakfast had not been consumed.

As we were driving back to the clinic, Dr. Ben called into the office on the radio. It was still only 7am in the morning, yet there were already at least ten calls that had come in. Seemingly everyone had waited for the worst day of the year to need the vet, as there were only two vets working in what is normally a four man practice.

It seemed that every time we got back into the jeep after completing a call, there were at least two more calls that had come in. Everyone, everywhere, needed the vet. As the receptionist read off the list of calls that needed to be attended to, I wondered how many things could possibly go wrong for a farmer in just one day.

There was a heifer that had a 16-inch gash along its shoulder, there was a cow that had a calf coming out backwards, there was a heifer with a dead calf hanging out of her which must have been hip locked and at another farm there were two cows down with toxic mastitis.

It was now 11am and we had a scheduled call from the week before that needed attendance in the midst of this busy schedule. So as Dr. Ben and I traveled from an organic dairy where a Jersey had milk fever to Henry Hazinger’s place, the scheduled call for the day, Dr. Ben gave me a synopsis, and a brief biography of Henry Hazinger. “With Henry Hazinger, you don't strike up a conversation about the weather because he won’t reply," Dr. Ben said. “Henry is the type of man who wants to talk about what is important in life, he doesn’t care just to make small talk." Driving up the rough dirt road to Henry’s farm, with the glass bottles chinking up against each other in the back of the jeep, and the warm air coming in through my window, I was thinking to myself that I kind of liked this farmer already.

Our mission was to do a herd check, so we loaded up with supplies, gloves, lube, and a pail of soapy water and headed into the barn. No one was around, so we decided to take a look. The barn was set up in a tie-stall fashion. There were about 150 cows in the barn which seemed to stretch on forever.

We took a walk down to the far end of the barn, where we could hear the faint noise of a steady chop/chop. As we walked down the center aisle of the barn, I noticed that this Mr. Hazinger took good care of his animals. The cows looked in good bodily condition and the stalls were well bedded. As we approached the end of the barn we could see two men working on a cow’s hooves. I had never seen anything like it. The cow was tied up in the box stall standing on a sheet of plywood. There was an old man, with obvious signs of wear and tear from back-breaking labor who was doubled over and trimming a cow’s front feet with a hammer and a rubber mallet. At the back of the cow, a man who must have been his son was grabbing a hold of the cow rear legs, picking them up and trimming off the bottom of the toe with a sharp chisel. It was amazing and painful to watch. These two men were wearing themselves out just trying to trim a cow’s hooves, using no trimming chute or ropes. After watching this spectacle for a time, we headed back down to the other end of the barn.

As we approached the other end I could see a big man giving the heifers silage. Dr. Ben called out, “Hello!” as we got closer. It was Henry. It was obvious that Henry had to feed his heifers before he would have time for the vet. As we waited, I continued to look at these big beautiful cows.

At some point my admiration was interrupted with a call from the hoof trimmers. I didn’t really catch what they were saying, but apparently Dr. Ben and Henry did because they ran again to the back of the barn. I followed quickly behind. Dr. Ben was walking up the center aisle, I was right behind him, and Henry was walking up the aisle in front of the cows.

As we were walking, Dr. Ben called across the cows, “Henry I would like to introduce you to Isaac, a veterinary student who is riding with me today.”

From in front of the cows Henry, replied in the nicest sort of way, “Formal introductions will be done later.” All I could do was just smile.

We got about half-way down the barn, when I saw what the commotion had been about. There was a cow, who, in the short time period since we turned our backs, had gotten herself caught up in her tie chain and stall loop. Dr. Ben and I took hold of her tail and gave her a tug, as Henry heaved her head around.

Leaving the cow in a more organized fashion, we headed back to the place where Henry was feeding the heifers. When Henry finally finished his feeding, he came around to the center aisle, and proceeded to come up to me, stretch out his hand and say, “Hello, I’m Henry Hazinger.”

I reached to shake his hand and looked up to introduce myself. Henry must have been at least 6'4". I felt my hand disappearing in Henry’s hand which had to be about twice or thrice the size of mine. His hands were obviously hardened with years of farm work. I figured that he must be in his late 50s or early 60s.

As I stood there looking at him, I thought to myself, "He kind of reminds me of my Henry Wheeler, the farmer I grew up with." Mr. Hazinger's body was bigger than Mr. Wheeler's, but the way he dressed, with his plaid button-down pocket-T and his pair of Levis, and the way he cared about meeting a stranger bore remarkable resemblance to my own Henry.

Mr. Hazinger was very interested in who I was and how Dr. Ben’s wife and baby daughter were. And as Dr. Ben and I began palpating his cow, Henry started to talk about what he thought mattered in life. His questions and thoughts that day revolved around a central theme of relationships of fathers to their sons and daughters, and the relationships of sons and daughters to their Heavenly Father. He took great joy in this.

One of his many thoughts that day was his concern that too many fathers try to live their dreams through the lives of their sons. He remembered how one time he was at a wrestling match at a school where there was this kid who was winning a lot of matches, but after a while lost a match. The kid was obviously trying very hard, but was just out-powered. Henry remembered going behind the school building after the match was done, only to see the father of the kid who lost the wrestling match chewing out his son. Henry said if there was ever a time where he was tempted to hit a man in the face that would have been it.

Henry, then related this story to his life, and said how he had desired to farm with his son, but not wanting to push farming upon him, he let him have his space. After many years off the farm, the son came back. It was very apparent how happy he was that his dream had come true. There are many things I will remember about the conversation that late morning.

As Dr. Ben and I said good-bye and hopped back into the jeep to go to the next call, I was reminded of the verse in Psalm 19:14, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” And the verses in Proverbs 16:21-24, “The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction. Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but folly brings punishment to fools. A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

I thought to myself, "Oh how easy it is to make small talk and discuss things that do not really matter in life, but when discussions are focused on heavenly things, how rich are the rewards. I was thankful of the reminder that day that words are indeed a gift from God."

(By the way, it was 9pm that day when we decided to quit, yet there were still ten more calls on the books. Needless to say, the cow with the LDA did not receive its operation that day.)

- Isaac Angell