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Pets Large & Small

The Work Truck

Kim Brokaw DVM

(12/09) I finished work the other evening and was filling my horses' water troughs while talking on the phone with my dad. Daylight savings ended a few weeks ago so I am finally almost accustomed to doing things in the dark. I no longer have to turn on every light and can work more by feel rather than sight. I finished taking care of my horses and opened the driver's side door of my work truck, an older red Ford Explorer. As I got in a large rodent jumped out of my seat and dove under the passenger seat. I shrieked like a little girl, jumped out of the truck and found myself lamenting the fact that the overhead lights in the truck, which only function intermittently, did not work that evening. The large rodent could have been anything from a chipmunk to a giant rat with sharp teeth.

If you have ever had tried to get a small animal out of your car, you know that it is a difficult task, even in the best of circumstances. Removing a loose rodent from a cluttered vehicle that has a large vet box mounted in the trunk as well as x-ray equipment and other veterinary supplies in it, is a nearly impossible task. The rodent had many places to hide and I had no luck finding it. Sometimes, if you can't directly solve a problem, it is better to change the way you think about the problem. I contemplated just giving the rodent a cute name like "Nibbles" and taking him with me on farm calls as my new veterinary assistant. As it was I drove the truck into the garage and left the windows open, hoping that the mystery animal would get out of my car during the night. There were no signs of him the next day and I didn't notice a weird odor over the next week. I guess he made it out okay.

The night's experience started me thinking about the unique experiences I have had with the old red Explorer. The radio antenna was broken off by my predecessor who drove it through some low branches. The radio now only gets good reception on two radio stations. The Explorer has forded several streams and driven through numerous muddy pastures. I am sure that the many on call nights where I sped down roads rutted with pot holes did nothing to improve the suspension. I have had to leave it running so I could treat a bloated heifer using the headlights to illuminate the field so I could see what I was doing. The Explorer has over 130,000 miles on it but it still seems to run fine, at least to me.

My work truck sometimes attracts some notice from clients. Once, when I pulled into one client's house, he politely asked me if it always squeaked like that when I stopped. Truthfully I hadn't noticed it ever doing that but took it to the shop and they replaced the brakes, the tires, and some other parts that do something with the wheels' alignment. The truck is currently overdue for an oil change, but work has been busy and I haven't gotten around to taking it in yet. When it breaks down I realize I will have no one but myself to blame.

One of my most embarrassing moments with the work truck happened several months ago. As I was finishing up one call, a client called me out to look at her horse. He had cut himself and needed stitches. Over the phone she told me that it wasn't anything bad but for cosmetic reasons and faster healing she would like me to come look at it. I was only a few miles from her place so I pulled into her driveway a short time after her call. The entire family was present to make sure that their horse was going to be okay. I went to open my door to get out of the truck, and the door would not open. I proceeded to unroll my driver's side window and use the outside door handle to open the car. Again, the door would not open. The door handle started to come loose as I pulled on it. That left me with two embarrassing choices: either do the NASCAR driver thing and crawl through the open window, or crawl out through the passenger side. I chose what I thought would be the more graceful approach and climbed in and out through the passenger side door. The entire family was amused by the exit technique.

Luckily the laceration repair went smoothly. It was a small cut on the horse's neck that only required a handful of stitches. I sedated the horse and then put in a local numbing agent around the wound so he wouldn't feel the stitches going in. The client's daughter was talking about how she wanted to be a vet. As the horse was standing quietly I asked her, with her mother's permission, if she wanted to try placing one of the sutures. A big smile came across her face as she shook her head yes. I placed another stitch in the horse, explaining what I was doing as I went. I then handed her the instrument and suture and told her it was her turn. She very timidly pushed the needle in through one section of the horse's skin and came out through the other. Next came tying the knot. Learning to tie surgical knots is a bit tricky. After a couple of suggestions, she was able to tie it. She put the next stitch in flawlessly. I gave the horse a tetanus shot and some antibiotics and was ready to be on my way.

Frequently when we bill clients some of them choose to carry a balance on their account for a few months. As it was, this client had not yet paid her previous bill. She informed me of this as I was getting ready to leave and told me to wait a minute so she could write a check as "from the looks of my car, clearly the clinic was in need of money." As I was driving back to the clinic I began to see the humor in this and by the time I walked through the door I was thinking that this would make a great story later on. As I shared the events of my day with the senior veterinarians at the clinic, they assured me that the truck would be fixed immediately. Then we all started joking about how perhaps we should all start climbing out through the car door window as it might be a way to get clients to pay their bills promptly.

The people at the auto repair shop were able to get the truck in right away but I had already booked farm calls for the week and elected to not drop the truck off until the next week. I went to multiple farms and various clients joked with me about the broken door.

The next week I dropped my truck off to get fixed. In addition to the door, they were also going to fix some other problems while it was in. I am not a mechanic, and have no idea what was fixed.

While my truck was being worked on, one of the senior vets leant me his vehicle for on call and my daytime farm calls. I live along a main road and I parked his vehicle in the front yard. The next morning, one of the vets jokingly said, "I saw a different car parked at your place late last night and early the next morning. People will talk." I know some rumors began that night and was surprised at how quickly they spread. While I am amused by local gossip, I was pleased to have my old Explorer fixed and returned to me.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw