I milked too many cows

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A few of you might remember that, six years ago, I wrote a monthly column for Dairy Star. That ended about two years ago because I ran out of things to write about. Much of my family’s life is still the same since then, yet many things have changed. 

I still own and operate our 2,200-cow dairy 50-50 with my son and daughter-in-law. I am still actively farming quite a few acres with help from employees and two grandsons. My wife and I bought a beautiful 160-acre grassland cattle ranch with a log home in the northern Missouri Ozarks a few years ago. It has been a wonderful retreat for our family and friends. So, life has been good — other than tight dairy margins. 

Late into this year’s corn harvest, I was driving a semi when I experienced weird leg pain. I went to the emergency room, but medical staff couldn’t find anything and said it couldn’t be a blood clot because I was already on a blood thinner from some previous heart issues. So, they sent me home, telling me to watch for red swelling. 

Two mornings later, I went to feed 20 newborn calves, and I could hardly finish because the leg pain was so severe. When I got to the house, I pulled off my overalls and saw a huge red area on my knee. My wife was already gone for the morning, so I got back in my truck to drive to the ER. My right leg hurt so bad that I used cruise control for speeding up and my left foot for the brake.

I lay in the ER for several hours while basically nothing happened. Then, a doctor who is also a family friend stopped to check on me. She immediately got things rolling and consulted with a vascular expert in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. His preliminary diagnosis was that I was suffering from a popliteal aneurysm of the artery of my right leg and I needed to get in an ambulance ASAP to Sioux Falls for treatment. 

The 22-year-old ambulance driver was interesting, and she ran over more rumble strips than my 15-year-old granddaughter with a farm permit. 

Upon arrival at Sioux Falls Sanford Vascular Hospital, I was rushed into surgery for exploratory procedures. For this, they didn’t put me under and ran a wire up my left groin through my heart and back down my right leg. I was able to tell the surgeon when the wire reached the bottom of my right heel. 

Somehow, this procedure really eliminated my immediate pain, and it was repeated again the next day to clean out more of my artery. 

On the morning of Day 3, the surgeon came into my room and said I had two options for long-term recovery. One was to amputate my leg because the artery behind my knee was shot and beyond repair. The other option was to put me under the knife for a six-hour surgery to steal a vein from my leg and replace the bad section of artery. The surgeon said the surgery was rarely done and had a long, painful recovery. 

Needless to say, I immediately chose the surgery for that afternoon. The surgeon and I then chatted a bit about the cause of my problem, and he said it can be hereditary, but he had already ruled that out based on examination of my good leg. Then I told him that I had milked cows in flat stanchion-type barns from age 15 to 55 — for 30 of those years it was 80 cows pretty much morning and evening — and my right leg was my deep-squat leg. He said that probably wore it out and now, 15 years later, it failed. I’ve never needed hip or knee replacement, but this was my reward, I guess. 

After surgery, I spent two days in the intensive care unit, accompanied by drug-induced hallucinatory dreams. Then I was moved to a trauma unit for eight days, and the reason they call it a trauma unit is because they traumatize people by drawing blood every four hours from your scarred, emaciated arm. 

In the trauma room, I could not sleep in the bed for the first five nights because my foot would start throbbing in pain. I was told this was due to my foot cells regenerating after years of low blood and oxygen supply. That explains why I have had such cold feet for so many years. I found out I could rest fairly comfortably in a straight-back chair with my feet on a pillow. The only problem with that was my head bobbed like a dairy farmer in church after a long, cold morning of Sunday-morning chores. 

After 13 days in the hospital, I was able to go home, thinking it was all an easy street from there. However, gastrointestinal issues from the hydrocodone pain pills instead had me headed in the wrong direction. I cold-turkey forced myself off the pain pills and started eating some Greek yogurt. Since then, I’m doing much better. Now I need time and exercise to get rid of all the swelling in my foot and lower leg. I can walk quite well with a cane and am driving around the farms and doing office work. My goal is to be good enough that Deb and I can drive to our Missouri getaway by Thanksgiving. 

My daughters and daughter-in-law have provided many good meals and helped in so many ways. When any of our 16 grandchildren show up to say hi, it makes my day. As I make occasional stops at the dairy and my employees come into the office and give me huge hugs, I realize how blessed I am. 

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