My typical day usually begins by donning professional attire and heels, then fighting traffic from New Castle, Delaware to Philadelphia, or standing on the train platform waiting for the express SEPTA train to University City. This day was different. I put on my jeans, flannel shirt, my hiking boots, and punched the Quakertown address into my GPS.
We had postponed my shadow day after I broke my elbow during an inadvertent slip and fall in a late January snow (my first broken bone ever and a harsh welcome back to the Northeast after 5 years in South Carolina). The VMD I was visiting and I were secretly happy about the postponement as spring was finally in the air this day.
I pulled into Quakertown Veterinary Hospital followed shortly by Nate Harvey,VMD; a 2003 graduate of the Veterinary School. Dr. Harvey serves on our Dean’s Alumni Council and is one of our go-to alumni. We both attended the Penn Veterinary Leadership Conference where we spent the weekend in Hill Pavilion with students, alumni and veterinary professionals learning about leadership and delving into our own styles. In addition to being a lecturer with the School, Dr. Harvey traveled to Haiti with a group of student inspiration award winners this year.
We greeted each other and I was then treated to a grand tour of the stable, large animal offices and small animal offices all housed within a seamless building that has had a recent expansion to add new services. As we headed back out to Dr. Harvey’s truck, we stopped in the large animal surgery room to see a sedated horse that was in the process of having a tooth removed by one of the surgeons (Dr. Brad Scheuch). The x-ray was displayed on the screen in front of the two veterinarians and even I could tell that the tooth needed to come out. We watched while the veterinarian used his entire body weight to coax the tooth out and as we drove out of the parking lot and past the building we saw the veterinarian proudly waving the tooth (half the size of my fist) in the air.
Our veterinary work day took us to Delaware Valley College or more affectionately known as Del Val. We entered the campus and continued down and around to the more agricultural areas. Our first stop was at the Dairy Barn where students studying dairy science gain hands on experience. We hopped out of the truck and greeted the Dairy Manager. Dr. Harvey then showed me the proper way to “gown” up for a day’s work (later in the day I would completely understand why we needed to be covered from the neck down). I also learned to navigate the “on the road” office for a large animal veterinarian which is also known as their vet truck. Everything needed to treat the animal was tucked securely in drawers and compartments for easy access. With my bucket and extra, extra long gloves in tow, we headed into the barn where I met four cows who were secured and awaiting our arrival.
This was where I got my first hands-on, or should I say, arm-in experience. Pregnancy in dairy cows is vital to milk production so our job was to check the status of these four willing gals. Dr. Harvey helped me navigate into the first and smallest of the cows. Once fully immersed, he had me flip my hand into the upward position where I was told to find the pulse, and much to my surprise I felt the thump, thump on my palm. He then directed me downward to feel the cow’s cervix, which is the beginning of the bovine reproductive tract. As I worked my way through, it was amazing to switch my brain from a visual environment to a tactile one. As Dr. Harvey talked me through the tactile experience, I found myself being able to visualize what I was feeling. He then inserted the ultrasound probe and we were able to see the fetus on the monitor.
After completing our work in that section of the barn, we headed over to check on a cow that had eaten cement. Yes, two cows had opened a sealed bag of cement and proceeded to eat a portion of the tasty contents. Dr. Harvey’s co-worker (Dr. Jenn Murphy) had operated on this cow a few days earlier to remove as much of the cement as possible. I might also note that she was also a cannulated* cow and pregnant. Dr. Harvey instructed me as I learned to check her vitals and her milk. After literally almost being on the truck to the slaughter house because of her post cement condition, I am happy to report that cow and unborn calf were doing well.
After a quick visit to the college’s horse barn and a wonderful lunch at the DelVal Farm Market, we were off to visit a family dairy where I gained a great appreciation for the hard work, dedication, and decision making that goes into running a small dairy farm. After using brut muscle power (Dr. Harvey that is, while I observed) to scrap down the hoof of a cow who had an abscess, I then followed Dr. Harvey and the dairy owner as they went down a line of cows assessing their stage of pregnancy using the ultra sound machine with the owner marking each status on his clipboard. He also eagerly asked about the sex of each unborn calf. I now have an appreciation for the importance of the female milk producing offspring for a dairy farmer. Our last stop at this farm took us to the calf pens. One little heifer had been unexpectedly born on the truck in transit to the farm and was having a lot of difficulty breathing. We gave her some additional medication but her condition would not improve and she had to be put down a week later.
As we hosed off our boots and the ultra sound machine, then took off our protective gear and climbed back into the work truck, I realized it was time to head back to the clinic already. The day had flown by and I had learned and experienced so much. It was a truly amazing day and experience. Thank you Penn Veterinary Alum Dr. Harvey!
* Cannulated cows are fitted with an item called a rumen cannula that creates a port in the side of the animal so researchers can perform readings on what takes place in the cow’s rumen. The digestion of food for nutrients in the rumen is done by millions of microorganisms. The abundance of microbes also keeps the cannulated cow healthy, and these cows serve as a rumen fluid donor to sick animals. This is done by extracting rumen fluid contents from the cannulated cow and feeding it to the sick cow. The microorganisms in the fluid multiply and take the place of the bad organisms in the sick cow and make the cow healthy again.