10. Suspended animation
It is not always easy to determine death. And this is not new: in earlier times, coffins had a bell. The deceased was given the cord in his or her hand to pull should he or she awaken from the death-sleep. Suspended animation has been known for centuries.
It is winter. There is a sharp frost and it is eleven o’clock in the evening. I am just going to bed when the phone rings. The delivery of a goat. The owner is someone who handles deliveries herself with smaller animals, such as sheep, goats and Shetland ponies. She enjoys it, she has small hands and meanwhile plenty of experience. And so this must be a difficult case. Especially because it concerns her own goat in this case. She has tried for hours to deliver the animal; because calling in the assistance of a veterinary surgeon feels like defeat. Still, something must be done before it is all too late. The lamb is too large. A Caesarean is needed.
In the kitchen
Fortunately, the procedure can be done on the kitchen table. It is nice and warm there and the working height is comfortable. Lying on her right side, the goat’s horns, front and rear legs are tied with strings to the legs of the kitchen table. The left flank is then anaesthetized, shaven and disinfected; gloves on and cut. The uterus holds a lamb that is much too large, its head pushed up against the entrance to the goat’s pelvis. I pull the lamb out by its rear legs. It only took ten minutes, but it is still too late: the lamb is lying in my hand like a soft rag; no heartbeat and no eye reflex. The waste bin is next to me. I use the pedal to lift the lid and drop the dead lamb inside.
There is a second lamb still in the uterus, smaller than the first one. It too appears to be dead. I dispose of it in the waste bin as well. I close the uterus and abdomen with clean gloves and apply a disinfectant to the skin wound. When the mother goat is untied from the legs of the table, I hear soft yammering: the goat must feel it is getting its freedom of movement back. I lift her off the kitchen table. Then I hear soft yammering again. It is not coming from the goat. And again a soft meh-eh-eh. The sound is coming from the waste bin! I press the pedal and sure enough: the small lamb is moving around in the waste looking for its mother. What a surprise! So I had not properly checked the ‘late arrival’.
How it ended
The mother goat and her daughter hopped through the garden for many years to come. Whenever I was there again for some reason, the owner would always ask: “Remember her?”
© Leo Rogier Verberne