An Explosive Situation

As the weather gets cooler, I’m often reminded of my days in Minnesota. It was the perfect place for a veterinary education because when it was cold outside (basically from October to April), students stayed indoors and studied, with an occasional beer in hand.

We were fondly referred to as the “Frozen Chosen.”

Being a “city boy,” I was especially fond of the large animal hospital. This high-tech barn was where we treated ostriches, llamas, sheep, goats, pigs, cows and horses.

It was on a frosty Minnesota night that I was assigned to the large animal ward and had an eye-opening experience.

Arriving at the facility, the first thing I noticed was the intoxicating aroma of hay mixed with a hint of steamy poop.

Breathing it all in, I couldn’t wait to get started.

Our instructor Dr. Ames rattled off the cases in the hospital, and one by one my classmates volunteered. When he mentioned a horse in the isolation ward no one spoke up, so being the eager boy from Hawaii, I raised my hand.

Dr. Ames admired my enthusiasm and handed me the arduous task.

Walking to the isolation ward, I reviewed the procedures strictly enforced in this section of the hospital.

First, step into the antiseptic shoe bath to ensure that no unwanted infectious organisms would be brought in or out of the area.

Next, put on a disposable sterile gown over the clothes that I was wearing, oversized booties over my shoes, cap for my head, goggles for my eyes and surgical mask for my face.

Entering the isolation ward, I noticed a large sign:

“Caution Salmonella.”

Salmonella is a bacterial organism that causes diarrhea, releases deadly toxins into the body, and ultimately can lead to death. Death by diarrhea … yikes!

Looking down at the medical chart, I saw the words “EXPLOSIVE DIARRHEA” highlighted in bold – quite descriptive, indeed. I quickly double-checked my protective gear, then entered the stall.

Blaze, the infected stallion, snorted and paced as if agitated. As I moved closer, he shifted and glared at me with a look that said, “Buddy, you don’t want any of this.” He then lifted his tail and out came a foul-smelling blast of diarrhea that literally shot 10 feet across the stall and hit the unsuspecting wall.

Wow! Explosive … now I get it.

It was at this time that I turned and noticed the walls of the room covered with feces like paint splattered on a room-sized canvas.

I didn’t have much time to admire the artwork, though, as I sidestepped several spurts in an effort to administer therapy to the uncomfortable horse. Suffice it to say, it was a very sticky situation.

Blaze survived, as did I, and I learned a very important lesson that day. When offered a chance to work in an isolation ward with a horse infected with salmonella, do it.

It was awesome!

Dr. John Kaya is the director of the Windward Community College veterinary technician program and associate veterinarian for VCA University Animal Hospital.