A Warm Place On A Freezing Day

The subtle changes that signal winter is approaching in Hawaii cause me to reminisce about veterinary school in the Midwest. Of course, winter in Minnesota proved to be quite challenging. As a local boy subjected to the frozen north, I definitely sought out toasty spots wherever I could find them. Some of these places were strange indeed, as you are about to see.

Entering the veterinary teaching barn one frigid November morning, I couldn’t help but bubble with enthusiasm. Wearing my new coveralls and steel-toe boots, I felt as though I was born and raised on a farm. Although wide awake from excitement, the pungent aroma of fresh manure jolted me like a hot cup of coffee. Taking in my surroundings, I noticed 20 cows tethered and chewing on piles of hay. Oddly, the only sounds that resonated in the barn were a cacophony of flatulence coming from the bovine brood. I didn’t realize that cows passed so much gas.

As our instructor proceeded to review the reproductive cycle of cows, I noticed the teaching assistant passing out sheets of clear plastic. Upon receiving mine, I realized that they were extra-long disposable gloves. With gloves in hand, the class moseyed over to one of the cows chewing on her cud.

What happened next was quite shocking. Donning the glove, our instructor proceeded to stick her arm into the rear of the cow. Except for a faint moo, our patient didn’t seem to mind the discomfort and kept on eating. Our instructor then announced, “The goal of rectal palpation is to feel the cow’s ovaries and determine if she is ready for breeding. You will be graded on accuracy and not speed.” Thank goodness, for I had no intention of rushing into this experience.

With some reluctance we positioned ourselves behind our assigned cow. As I gazed at cow No. 15, aka Bessie, I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew what was about to happen.

I pulled the glove all the way to my shoulder then lifted Bessie’s tail with trepidation. Taking a deep breath, I tentatively inserted my hand into the orifice before me. To my surprise, it felt very warm. With the ambient temperature of the barn hovering at 35 degrees Fahrenheit, the warmth experienced by my hand was quite pleasing. Bessie didn’t seem to notice my intrusion, so I pressed on and continued till I was shoulder-deep.

Remembering the lesson for the day, I proceeded to feel for the important anatomic structures while basking in the balmy goodness.

Occasionally poop would squirt out. But after my first bootfull of “cow pie,” I learned to sidestep the spurts.

This may sound weird, but with time I learned to appreciate rectal palpation. I now realize that it proved essential to my survival in the bitter cold. I can only hope Bessie benefited in some way. Maybe I provided a break from the monotony of chewing hay all day? Maybe …

As weeks rolled by, I actually got quite good at rectal palpation and was tempted to join the palpation team from our school. I imagined trying to explain competing in this event to my family and friends.

I may be from The Wild Side, but I’m not crazy. In the end, I was just happy to find another warm spot in the freezing winters of Minnesota.

Thanks, Bessie.

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