By Dr. David Gross
Publisher’s note: Instead of answering questions from readers, our Edmonds Vet will be sharing stories from his years in practice. If you have a question, you can still submit it in the comment section below and he will address it.
Ike Williams and Jon Wilkins were partners, owners of Williams & Wilkins Blacksmiths and Mechanics. Their shop, large and dirty, stood in front of the small, immaculate, frame house they shared.
They both loved cats. I was never able to determine how many cats they cared for. There were shop cats, outside cats and house cats, all, seemingly, equally loved and cared for. From time to time, one or both of them would bring in one or several to be vaccinated or neutered.
This day they were both in the waiting room when I returned from farm calls.
They stood up as if joined at the hip Wilkins was holding a huge tabby in his arms. The cat was meowing, whimpering actually, obviously hurting.
“This is Wilma when we came in for lunch we found her, crying in pain. I think she’s paralyzed.”
As he talked tears welled up in Wilkins’ eyes, Ike put his arm over his partner’s shoulders.
“It will be OK Jon. Young Doc is good everyone says so. He’ll take care of Wilma for us, won’t you Doc?”
I held out my hands. “Here, let me take her. Let’s go into the exam room and see what we can figure out.”
I was unable to palpate a pulse in either femoral artery. “This is not good,” I told them. I’m pretty certain she has what we call a saddle thrombus. It’s a blood clot blocking the two main arteries to her legs. I’ve never seen a case before but I remember the description from vet school. There is no blood circulating to her hind legs.”
“Is there something you can do to fix her?” asked Ike.
“Well, theoretically I could try to operate and remove the clot. However, I’ve never done anything even remotely like that before, never opened an artery then tried to suture it closed afterwards. I don’t think we even have any suture material small enough to do that kind of thing. Also we have no idea what causes this and it could come right back. I’m sorry. I hate to say this but I think the best thing I can do to help Wilma is to put her out of her misery.”
They looked at each other each waiting for the other, torn by indecision. Neither was willing to accept the responsibility.
“Are you sure you don’t want to even try?” pleaded Jon. “Cost is not a problem you know. We’ll pay whatever it costs,” he looked to Ike for confirmation. Ike nodded in agreement.
“OK, I’m willing to try anything, but I have to tell you this could be an unmitigated disaster. I’ve never even seen anything like this done. First let me look to see if we have any suture material small enough to suture an artery closed.”
It went about as I anticipated. I got Wilma anesthetized, hooked up an intravenous drip, opened up her abdomen, packed off her abdominal organs and gained access to the distal aorta. When I tried to dissect around the vessel, I managed to break off some branches. The abdomen quickly filled with arterial blood and Wilma bled out in short order.
Jon cradled Wilma in his arms, rocking her gently.
“What do we owe you?” asked Ike.
“I don’t know how about 20 dollars to cover the cost of the anesthesia and other stuff I used, is that fair?”
Ike handed me a greasy ten and two crisp fives. He sniffed and turned to Jon.
“You want me to carry her or do you want to hold her.”
“I’ll hold her, you drive.”
Their pickup roared to life and the headlights came on. As the truck pulled onto the road, I waved at them through the window.
This all took place in 1960. Today, a competent veterinary surgeon would consider this procedure routine.
Dr. David Gross of Edmonds graduated from Colorado State University’s veterinary school in 1960 and was in private practice for 10 years. He retired in 2006 as Professor and Head of Veterinary Biosciences, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Gross is the author of “Animals Don’t Blush,” which describes the unique patients and even more unique clients of a veterinary practice in Sidney, Montana in the early 1960s. The book is available at the Edmonds Bookshop.