Natural Essays

The casting of the withers

By Richard L. Phelps
Posted 11/12/20

The doc’s black car came down the dry lane and the dust settled on the elderberry bushes and on the berries and the dust followed the car. The boy watched the big car back down the slight hill …

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Natural Essays

The casting of the withers

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The doc’s black car came down the dry lane and the dust settled on the elderberry bushes and on the berries and the dust followed the car. The boy watched the big car back down the slight hill and park trunk first in front of the milkhouse.

When the doc got out of the car he said hello to the boy and smiled and the boy was silent but, in salutation, moved his left hand slightly away from his side. As was routine, the doc went to the back of the car and opened the expansive trunk and unfolded his black slip-on boots and he grabbed his black bag of veterinary implements and the doc asked the boy, “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s terrible. I think she is dying.”

“Where’s your father?” asked the vet.

“He’s getting hay.” The father was away buying a load of hay bales as the drought was strong that summer and the hay yield was light and the cows would need more hay.

“Where is she?” Doc asked.

“She’s in the barnyard,” the boy said, “By the backdoor near the bullpen.” It was one of the boy’s chores if a cow was missing to find her. The cows were back in the barn now after a day in the pasture and Gertrude was missing. Her stanchion was empty and the calf pen where pregnant cows hung out was empty. The boy had looked along the river and in the weeds near the spring and by the brook but could not find the missing cow. Then, when he returned to the barn, there she was, right by the barn, the last place he would think of to look, and she was down on the ground and her calf stood next to her. It was as if the calf was protecting the cow and the mother looked distressed with her head straight out on the ground and she lifted it as if to lick the calf but put her head back on the ground with a low exhausted moo.

Then the boy saw. On the ground behind the mother lay her insides, and the boy was horrified that she had lost her intestines and stomachs, whatever, and no doubt she was going to die. The internals lay in the dirt under her tail and in the manure of the barnyard and flies were on it and what blood there was had dried. The boy went around it all and went to the cow and touched her head and then he ran into the barn. The white phone hung on the wall near the door to the milkhouse and there was a metal box with a phone book on a shelf that folded down, but the veterinarian’s number was carved into the whitewash of the wall and he called.

The boy led the doc through the barn and out the back door to the cow. The doc took one look and went back to the milkhouse and drew his stainless steel pail of hot water. He put in soap. At the cow, the vet gave the mother a shot of something from his black bag. The boy watched intently as the doctor drew the liquid from the bottle with the syringe and tapped the side of the glass and squinted at the measurements. This particular vet had the reputation of being very smart and although he was not tall or big, his hands were very strong, and he was agile and firm.

“She’s not going to get up yet,” said the doc.

“She cast her withers,” Doc said as if that was not such a big deal and that Gertrude was not on the brink of death. “Do we have something to put under this?” he asked the boy, touching what the boy guessed were the withers. The boy ran and brought a feed bag and as the vet lifted the unlikely appendage the boy slipped the bag under the internals.

The vet washed the uterus of the cow and while on his knees began to stuff it all back into the cow, bit by bit, as if he knew where everything was supposed to go. Once it was all inside the doc took a huge curved needle from his bag and threaded it with twine and sewed up the vulva with large stitches like a basketball net.

The doc gave the cow another shot. “When she stands up get her and the calf to the calf pen.”

“OK,” the boy said.

Near the car, the doc thoroughly washed his hands like a surgeon and he washed his boots and folded them as they had been and placed them in the trunk of the car as if very valuable. The boy liked how precise and clean the doc moved and he asked, “Is she going to be ok?”

“Yes, we did good,” said the vet.

When the father got home the boy ran to the truck and jumped on the landing board and said, “Gertrude cast her withers!”

“What?” said the father.

“Gertrude cast her withers!” the boy said, stepping off the landing board.

“Oh Jesus fxxxxxxxxkin hellxxxx!” The father exclaimed.

“But she’s going to be OK,” said the boy backing away from the truck. “Doc and I fixed her!”

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