It’s the middle of a lazy Saturday afternoon and my phone rings. Unfortunately, I’m on call so I immediately jump up and start gathering my things. As I drive to school, I have no idea what to expect for this call.
It’s a sow over at the swine farm. She’s in labor and is having difficulties pushing a piglet out. As we arrive at the farm, the sow had 5 piglets around her and the manager was trying to position the obstructed one. We had a variety of supplies with us, so we gave him a little steel wire loop with a cinch on it, which he positioned around the piglet’s head. Even with this, he couldn’t pull it out. After multiple attempts, one of our other professors arrived and she was able to use a chain to pull this problem child out of the womb.
As the vet was working to see if there were any other piglets still remaining, she saw my hands dangling over the railing. Since I’m taller and skinnier than most, she thought that I should take over. In her mind, I had the perfect hands for this job.
After slipping on palpation sleeves and thoroughly lubing up, I put my left arm up through the vagina, through the cervix and into the uterus. Almost immediately I could feel a little head. Using my fingers, I was able to position my hand under the jaw and fingers on both sides of the head. Moving the pig through the uterus was easy, but the cervix was pretty much clamped down on my wrist. As you would expect, getting the piglet through this obstacle was much more difficult. After some finagling, the mother opened up and the piglet was out and alive.
Going back in the second time, I found a small fetus that had died long ago. This is known as a mummy so I pulled that out as well. As I went in to find another, I had to reach in much farther. This time I found some back feet. The legs were extremely slippery so being able to move the baby through the tight cervix was hard work. The feet kept slipping out of my hands so I’d have to find them again, get a better grip and try again. At this point I had sweat rolling down my head and I’d switched over to my right arm because the left was getting cramped. After a long struggle, I got this baby out and another one after that.
While I certainly wasn’t expecting to get to do much at this call, pulling piglets has probably been the highlight of my clinical year experience so far. Most people don’t look forward to being on emergency duty, but opportunities like this have shown me that being on call isn’t always so bad.