When Bad Things Happen

The hardest thing I have ever done is give intramuscular shots to a sick animal. The very first time I gave an injection was when my Jersey/Holstein heifer came down with pneumonia and the vet left me with a syringe of Nuflor to inject the next day. Well…that ONE shot took me ALL day – because I was terrified. Jab that sharp pointy thing in her neck?! Ah!! Yet with the help of a farmer friend I finally jabbed her with that needle – not in the neck though, in her flank. I did feel pretty good after it was over and done. I had done it. But still I told myself I’d never do it again.

Here I am, half a year later, and I’ve been jabbing my poor 2 month old Jersey heifer with a needle for nearly two weeks now.

It started with a swollen belly-button. And it wasn’t just a little swollen. It was really swollen, about the size of a tennis ball and very turgid. My first thought was an umbilical hernia – but when my mom and I tried gently pushing the mass upwards it didn’t move. If it was a hernia it would disappear through a “ring” in her belly, but it felt like a balloon filled with air when we squeezed it. I was so afraid we’d pop her belly button that we stopped squeezing it. The other idea I had was Navel Ill aka Joint ill. But there again my heifer’s joints were not hot or swollen as they would be if she had navel ill. So since I had no concrete idea of what was wrong, but had a pretty good guess at two possibilities, I took Mabel to the vet.

Turns out Mabel had an infection, but it wasn’t navel ill. And the vet offered two choices there: surgery to lance it and drain the fluid (which would be very pricey) or give antibiotics for at least a month (which would be much cheaper). I decided to go the cheaper route. It meant injecting Penicillin intramuscularly every day but it was better than paying for an expensive lance-job.

So for the past week and a half I’ve injected Mabel with Penicillin every evening. Still not the easiest thing to do – especially when I draw blood and have to re-stick her or when she fidgets and jerks around. But it’s not as hard as it used to be either.

And the shots appeared to be working. Her belly button was still large, but not as swollen.

When Thanksgiving Day rolled around I carried out my usual routine of feeding Mabel her afternoon milk. (And it’s a good thing the turkey wasn’t done because we had a minor crisis!) For almost the end of November it was really warm – I didn’t even need to wear my fleece-lined sweatshirt. While Mabel drank her milk with gusto, tail whipping back and forth, I enjoyed the sunshine. That’s when I noticed this foam-like stuff on her front hoof. Odd. Where’d she get into foam? I bent down for a closer look. Then I saw it.

Her belly button had exploded.

The immense pressure that had been sitting in there, building up, finally ruptured. Thick, lumpy pus oozed from a hole in her belly button. And one thing was sure – we had to get the rest out. So after mom and my sister arrived on the scene, we got some medical supplies (betadine wash, vet wrap, paper towels and disposable gloves) we grimly got down to business.

Not a very pleasant business but one that really needed to be done. After I had squeezed everything out – enough to fill a tooth paste tube at least – we washed the open wound with the warm Betadine solution. Then we put on the herb poultice mom had made (a thick paste of comfrey, crushed garlic, goldenseal and myrrh) and wrapped Mabel’s middle with green and purple vet wrap to keep the poultice on her belly button.

For 5 days I changed poultices, washing her belly button with Betadine to make sure it wasn’t getting infected – again. And it looks lovely. It has shriveled and the hole is neatly and cleanly healed. Still, just to make sure, I’m going to continue the shots for another couple days. But so far I’m really pleased with the results.

Recently I read a quote and decide to put it here because it sums up what this post is trying to say:

“Even when bad things happen, there’s nothing like living on a farm.”

And it’s true.


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