In the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” the Upside Down is another world that exists as an alternate dimension to the real world. Sometimes it is hard not to feel that one is in that alternate reality. For example, the other night I was called to help with a dystocia. The farmer said there were three feet and a head, and he just could not figure it out. Upon examination, indeed there were three legs and a head within reach. Further examination revealed a fourth leg. Two legs appeared to be rears, and the others were fronts. The most likely scenario was twins. It was also possible the legs were from the same calf, but the positioning suggested this was not likely. The third possibility was a severely deformed fetus, but this was even less likely. In such situations, one may have a choice of which calf to deliver first, and in my experience one can always choose and then proceed to deliver both calves without excess difficulty. In this case, however, I could not get either set of legs or the head to move without the other set of legs coming along. Something did not seem right. Finally, I suggested a cesarean section.
    I was frustrated. All indications were that I should be able to deliver the calf or calves vaginally but clearly was not reality that night. Necessity made the farmer and I move to step two, a C-section, something neither of us wanted to do. But that was our reality, the Upside Down.
    The heifer was clearly tired, so I moved quickly. Once inside the peritoneum, I palpated the uterus to determine the proper incision site. Normally one looks for legs to grab somewhere near the middle or front of one of the horns, but I could feel no legs in this case. So, I cut where I thought I would have the best exposure for closure and reached in. I was able to get a leg, then the head, then another leg out of the incision. A third leg seemed to want to come along, so I pulled that one out as well. We then pulled on the two front legs but to no avail. Just like before, everything wanted to come together. Frustrated again, I increased the size of the incision. No dice. We pulled on the head alone. More frustration. At this point, delivery should have been easy, but it was not. The calf was dead, so to get more room I quickly amputated the head. We pulled again, and again, no dice. I then pulled up the fourth leg. We pulled hard and finally, the whole thing came out with a whoosh. I looked to the ground and saw that we had delivered a schistomus retroflexus, a condition sometimes described as an inside out calf. The front and rear legs were extended over the back all the way until they came together. The abdomen was open with organs exposed. It looked more like an octopus than a calf. Relieved, I explained what we were seeing while I started closing the uterus. The plan forward was clear and something I had done many times before. There was light at the end of the tunnel.
    Thanks to COVID-19, it seems we are in the Upside Down right now. There are food shortages in the grocery stores, but farmers are dumping milk. Slaughter plants are shutting down, but hamburger can be hard to find. Milk prices have crashed, and uncertainty about the future reigns. Nearly everything is canceled. Millions have lost their jobs. Others have died, and more will die. Going to the grocery store feels like a trip into the hot zone. You, America’s farmers, can help show the rest of us a way out of the Upside Down. So often I have seen farmers show fortitude and a certain steadiness during difficult times. Planting a crop between rains when it is already three weeks late, facing a lost crop or collapsed barn following a storm, or weathering years of low prices are things most farmers will do in their career. Continuing to produce food for the rest of us while everything seems turned inside out is just another storm. Thank you for everything that you do, including showing us how to navigate the Upside Down.
    Bennett is one of four dairy veterinarians at Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center in Plainview, Minn. He also consults on dairy farms in other states. He and his wife, Pam, have four children. Jim can be reached at bennettnvac@gmail.com with comments or questions.