I’d been in Salmon, Idaho for just over 48 hours. It was my first day of work as an ambulatory vet for Mountain River Veterinary Hospital in Rigby. Confused? Well, how it works is like this. Mountain River Veterinary Hospital in Rigby (herein referred to as MRVH) bought a practice from an ambulatory vet in Salmon named Todd Tibbits (coincidentally Dr. Tibbits also grew up in my hometown of Menan, Idaho). The good ranch folk of Salmon missed Todd from Menan, so the owners of MRVH decided the best way to smooth things over was to hire another Todd, also from Menan. Or at least, that was the explanation I was going with to break the ice.
Dr. Tibbits operated almost exclusively out of his pickup with a vetbox in the bed. MRVH had provided me with a similar pickup, along with a couple of supply sheds with a hydraulic cattle chute and a set of horsestocks. There wasn't much in the way of an office, or a facility for cleaning equipment, but it was sufficient to get me started. That first day was supposed to be a pretty light schedule. Pull Coggins on 3 horses in Baker, BANGS vaccinate 125 head in Tendoy, possibly ear notch some bulls. However, it turned into a marathon of running from one work-in appointment to the next while still trying to show up on time to my original appointments. The clinic in Rigby seemed to be handing out my cellphone number like candy, because there were people calling in from all corners of the valley to have me come preg check a few head here, and drop off some tags there. Oh yes, and I got lost . . . a lot. People in cow country don’t care for a lot of modern conveniences such as addresses. Instead they always try to guide you in with the names of property holders who lived next to them round about the turn of the century . . . the last century. Example:
“Ya doc, you need to go 2 miles past the old Miller place, then take a left at the old Krauthammer homestead, then it’s a straight shot until you get to where Johnson’s used to have their livery stable...“
In other words, not exactly helpful to a guy who had been in the area for less than a week. It turned out pretty good though. It felt like I hit it off well with the clients that I was able to meet; it was sure nice to be speaking cow talk again. I’m not talking about moos and lows, I’m talking about the peculiar idioms and syntax of the cattleman (I use this as a unisex term, the word ‘cattleperson’ does not exist in cow talk syntax). For the past year and a half I’d been trying to pay down debt by working out of a small animal clinic and doing relief work. In doing so I had grown accustomed to talking to people about their animals as if they were one of their children. It’s different with cattlemen. While cattlemen tend to base their decision making largely on a marginal cost vs. marginal gain basis, cows aren’t just mere property to cattlemen. Talking to cattleman about their animals is more like talking to them about their culture and livelihood. Cattlemen take pride in their cows, and they all mostly tend to think along a certain set of lines. If you don’t know your way around cows or cattlemen, they can pick up on it instantly, and they will be very wary of you from then on out. I was on the receiving end of this type of discernment when I was a veterinary student. However, after taking a few lumps, I started to figure things out after graduation and I now converse in cow talk freely and fluently.
When I start talking shop with a cattleman, I tap into a passion for my work that I’ve never been able to harness as a small animal vet. For me, cow talk is similar to speaking Spanish. I learned to speak Spanish as a young LDS missionary in New York City, and in doing so I developed a deep and abiding love for the Latino people. It doesn’t matter what kind of a mood I’m in, when I meet a Spanish speaker and we start conversing in Espanol it does something to me, I become a much happier, friendlier me. Much like how I become a new person when I speak Spanish, talking cow talk brings out a side of me that I like, and has helped me to develop an appreciation, and yes even a love, for cattlemen; it’s rejuvenating.
By the end of the day, I was wore out, and hungry! I went to the supermarket to buy groceries for the 5th wheel trailer I was staying in. My wife and daughter were down in Rexburg still, trying to sell our house and get things organized for the big move. Being away from them was difficult, but I had been a bachelor for a lot of years before I met my wife. As such, after such a hectic day I was looking forward to cooking myself a decent meal and settling down to finish all the health certificates, exam sheets, and coggins forms that I’d had to rush through earlier in the day. However it was not meant to be, because just as I was nearing the trailer I got a frantic phone call regarding a colicking stallion. The call itself came from Dr. Clark one of the veterinarians in Rigby, who had received the message from the MRVH staff. Apparently the owner who'd left the message was certain her prized stallion would die if I did not get there immediately. I asked him for directions and he texted me an obscure address that no doubt had been given in haste. He also gave me the owner’s phone number.
I called the nearly hysterical owner for better directions; she told me to take a left 2 miles North of the 28 Supper Club where her husband would be waiting for me. So, I threw all the materials I thought I might need into the vet box and headed out at a brisk clip. When my tripometer registered 2.0 miles north of the supper club, I turned left onto a road that sounded nothing like the name of the road I had received in the text message. I tried calling the owner for better directions, no answer. It was dark, it was starting to storm. Where in the devil was the road I was supposed to turn onto? She had told me that her husband would be waiting for me in a GMC pickup, but I didn’t see it anywhere. I drove a ½ mile in either direction to try and find the road, all the while calling over and over again. No luck. I called Dr. Clark, who was sympathetic but unfortunately did not have any better information to offer. I was just about to throw in the towel and head back to the supply shed when I finally got through. This time she said it was 2 miles South of the supper club, so off I went in the other direction. Strangely enough, I encountered the correct lane and GMC truck a mere ¾ of a mile South of the previously mentioned reference point (at least I didn't have to look for the Johnson's Livery Stable).
The husband jumped out of his truck and ran over to my passenger side window like one of his children was on their deathbed. He told me to follow him, jumped back into his truck, then spun out as he whipped around and tore off down the lane. I tried my best to keep up, but vet trucks aren’t exactly designed for Baja racing. Finally, we turned into a lane where a very nice horse trailer sat next to a well-built pole fence. Inside the paddock was a middle-aged woman with a very alert, very non-colicky stallion. The owner had -managed to force some 80 milliliters of an all-natural, colloidal-silver-containing, equine supplement down the stallions throat. The second ingredient on the list was corn oil, and whether it was the enchanted silver or the emulsifying effect of the corn oil that took the starch out of that horse’s sideways fart I’ll never know. Whatever it was did the trick though, because his heart rate and other vital signs were completely normal. As an added bonus, since the initial frantic phone call the stud had passed 2 piles of horse-biscuits and he seemed to be just fine. The owners were overjoyed that my arrival had such a curative effect on their horse, and they were profuse in their gratitude. Having had more than my fair share of cases go sideways on me in spite of my best efforts, I was more than happy to accept thanks for a case that went well despite the fact that I did nothing other than show up. Notwithstanding the stallion's improvement, I gave him an intravenous injection of flunixin meglumine for good measure, wrote down my cellphone number in case he took a bad turn, and headed for my trailer.
By the time I got back, I was too tired to cook anything other than cup-o-noodles, though I did eventually muster the gumption to fry up some duck from a hunting excursion the previous week (the first bite reminded me why I stopped hunting ducks as a teenager). Definitely a good day, but an exhausting one. I knew that not all of my days would be like this, but they were no longer going to be a scarcity. Working a 9 to 5 job at a small animal clinic definitely had its perks. There had been an emergency clinic in a neighboring town so I had not really been on call for the past year and a half, and I’d had a full and competent clinic staff at my disposal to take care of most of the clerical work. Now I was the lone veterinarian and staff member at a satellite clinic where I would pretty much be on call 24/7. Furthermore, after having put in a 13 hour day, I still had at least an hour’s worth of forms to fill out. It definitely caused me to stop and reflect upon my decision to leave what was a pretty stable and profitable employment situation to come slog it out in Salmon. The answer came as a feeling, a feeling that on that day I had tapped into something that I hadn’t felt since I'd left Canada. I was engaged in a job that allowed my God-given abilities and my work ethic to synergize; driving around the mountain valleys in a vet truck was something I was born to do. But that alone wasn't the only thing that motivated me to try this clinic out. One of the reasons, I had decided to hitch my wagon to MRVH was that I believed the owners had the leadership abilities to enable this clinic to grow into something more than just a one man show, and that I had the opportunity to take ownership in that process from the ground up. Eventually, there would be a staff, and a facility, and hopefully some other vets to share the on call burden. No, there was no doubt in my mind that I was exactly where I needed to be, doing what I needed to be doing. That brutal first day was exactly the motivation I needed.