Vet Talk

I got Afterbirth on my Nice Shoes, Dangit!

The devil may wear Prada, but probably not during a C-section

June 15, 2015 (published)

I have a long history of making bad decisions and later regretting them. Haircuts, cars, recreational pharmaceuticals – the list could go on for pages, but I respect your time far too much to elaborate. Sometimes, these decisions could’ve been picked out by any reasonable person as a bad idea long before the regret settles in like a fog descending on the bay, but in some cases the bad decisions only come to light when a particular set of circumstances occurs.

Today, my bad decision was the shoes. The nice shoes. The nice shoes I wore to work and got afterbirth on.

Let me back up.

I’m a veterinarian. An emergency veterinarian, which means that a great deal of my day is taken up with blood, feces, pus and several other bodily substances that may not even have names. The names I’ve heard for some of the various effluences that come from pets are things like grunge, mung, funk, chowder, chum, chunder and gradoo. Sometimes these are combined to make wonderfully evocative neologisms like funkchowder, which I predict will go viral very soon.

Needless to say, the clothes that I usually wear for an ER shift have a few things in common: they are easily changed when covered in mung, and they are not what you’d call nice. I usually wear scrubs, which is a plus because it’s like getting to work in pajamas, and more than once my scrubs have become pajamas when a 10-hour shift becomes a 16-hour shift because a dog had too much gradoo in its grunge hole and I had to fix it. When I got home, I wasn’t in a place where changing into jammies worked for me, as it was all I could do to not fall asleep on the drive, so I just collapsed on the couch, scrubs, chunder and all.

This morning as I suited up for my day shift in the ER, I faced my shoe selection. I’m not really a shoe kinda guy, but I had a few pairs lying around, so I had to make some choices. Here was my lineup.

  • The loafers - fairly beat-up but comfortable, the sensible choice 
    Pros: comfy, not a big deal if they get covered in mungfunk, reasonably professional.
    Cons: not flashy or cool, toe tip not edgy and flat like the cool kids wear these days.

  • The tennis shoes - also sensible
    Pros: on my feet all day, good arch support which would make my parents happy, can run if building catches fire or is overrun by piranhas or honey badgers, possibly outrunning coworkers and leaving them for the piranhas. Also resistant to chumchowder, but less so than the loafers because they are cloth.
    Cons: still not edgy, rather dumpy, look depressing and out of touch when combined with slacks, might be sending the wrong message since I don’t actually play tennis.

  • The shiny black leather dress shoes with the flat toe like I like and they look all professional and nice and they’re comfortable and are black which is my favorite color and just pretty much scream "I’m a doctor" and they are comfortable and cost more than those other shoes combined.
    Pros: They’re AWESOME!
    Cons: None. WEAR THEM! NOW!

Yeah, I went with those.

For most of the day, it seemed like a pretty sensible choice, plus the toe tips were flat, which is cool. Did I mention that? I clickity-clocked around the clinic, the somewhat hollow sound making me feel important and adult, and not at all like a guy who chugs Yoo-Hoo while watching Golden Girls re-runs in an ironic Schoolhouse Rock t-shirt with mustard stains: more like a big, important doctor. An adult. As I clockity-clumped around the ICU in my square toes I barked out vaguely medical-sounding things like "I need a central line in this DKA, stat!" and "Where’s my CBC? I need it before the back dog goes to surgery," and "Is there perhaps more YooHoo? I’d like some, please," and "Look at my shoes! Everyone stop and look at my shoes!" 

So it all went just fine and dandy and toe-tippy and YooHoo-y until I met Chloe.

At about 2 p.m., right in the middle of my shift, Chloe came in. Of all the ERs in all the towns of the world, she walks into mine. Chloe was (and still is – spoiler alert!– she lived) an American Bulldog of about four years of age, and Chloe wanted to have puppies, and her puppies wanted to come on out, but her uterus disagreed. This was not a planned litter.

A pup was stuck in her birth canal, and she needed a C-section. She had been in labor for 48 hours, and already had delivered seven puppies of which four were still alive and at home. Her X-ray showed four more in there, and the one who was gumming up the whole process firmly lodged in her pelvis. No, no, bad dog. The one who was stuck was almost certainly dead, and looked the way I do in bed when I don’t want the morning sun to shine in my eyes; I stick my head face-first in my pillow and sort of wrap it around my head. His littermates patiently waited in a queue behind him, but they, too were in grave puppy danger.

Once the birthing process begins, it’s like a rocket going off. Remember all those videos of the Apollo missions with the hoses and tubes falling away from the Atlas rocket as it lifts off? Those hoses are like the placenta and carry oxygen to the puppies, just like fuel is carried to the rocket. If liftoff gets stalled, you can end up with a litter of dead puppies, and no one’s going home happy or getting to the moon. The clock was counting down for those puppies stuck inside her like drowning sailors on a torpedoed submarine.

Chloe was sick and weak; 48 hours of pushing and straining had taken its toll on her. She was dehydrated, anemic from blood loss, not able to stand up, and had a temperature of 105F. Her white blood count was low, indicating she was losing the battle and that infection from her damaged uterus was possibly going systemic and leading to sepsis, or what is known in the bodice-rippers as blood poisoning.

The ICU team went to town on her, drawing blood, placing IV catheters and prepping her for a C-section before we even had the owner’s OK to go to surgery. Luckily, they agreed to get the job done, earnestly pleaded with me to do what I could to save her, and waited in the lobby.

I was on with an intern that day (a new graduate veterinarian who is getting mentored) and she and I did an epidural on Chloe to be able to give her less inhaled gas anesthesia during the C-section. Less anesthesia for Chloe means puppies who are more alert and more likely to survive when they see the light of day. With the epidural on board, we wheeled her into the OR and the surgeon got to work. Like a good game of Fruit Ninja, he sliced her open from stem to stern and started tossing puppies to the nurses like a hot dog vendor at a baseball game. (I may be mixing my analogies there, similar to the way a food processor stuck in a cement mixer …dangit…)

As the puppies started to pour forth, we wrapped each one in a warmed towel and rubbed vigorously. This wakes the puppies up and gets them breathing, and is the veterinary equivalent of the old slap-on-the-butt technique from Bugs Bunny cartoons. It was during one of these puppy transfers to my waiting towel that a gobbet of afterbirth dislodged itself from a puppy and sailed through the air to land with a soft, squishy plop on my poor choice of footwear.

The devil may wear Prada, but he probably doesn’t wear them during a C-section.

Of the four pups that came out, one was obviously dead and beyond saving. We focused our attention on the three others and got back two of them with time, oxygen, and crazy towel-rubbing. They were each nestled up to a milky nipple as soon as Chloe woke up from anesthesia, and joined their four brethren and sistern who had been birthed the old-fashioned non-surgical way, and spared the towel-rubbing antics.

Chloe woke up and sleepily eyed the two new squirmy, mewling puppies jockeying for nipple contact, and I’m sure the thought bubble above her head said, “Where the heck did you two come from? You were most definitely not here when I went to sleep.” All went well after that. She recovered well and the pups grew up fast and strong.

My shoes, however, will never be the same.

1 Comment


Great Story!! Reminds me of the James Herriot "All Creatures Great and Small" novels but with a modern twist. if this whole Veterinarian gig doesn't work out for you- you should try your hand at writing. I would buy them

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