Veterinary medicine is hard work — emotionally and physically. Recently I was called into the livestock barn during my emergency on-call shift for a pot-bellied pig who had not been doing well since the previous evening. When the pig arrived, it was lying on its side and could not lift itself or walk on its own. Irrefutably, this was a serious situation.
We placed the pig on oxygen and gathered his temperature, pulse rate, and respiration rate. While we were attempting to obtain a blood sample in addition to performing an abbreviated physical exam, we noticed that the entire ventral side of his body was purple and that the purple area was spreading.
The pig was in such severe hypovolemic shock that he did not have enough blood pressure to allow us to get blood from any of his veins, nor could we place a catheter. At this point, the pig began to exhibit neurological symptoms and was seizing and paddling his legs. No matter what we did, we could not help him to relax or stop paddling. We took radiographs to look at his abdomen and lungs but were unable to find the root cause of his signs. His breathing continued to decline and we attempted to pass an esophageal tube to help him breathe, or breathe for him if necessary.
Unfortunately, in the midst of placing the esophageal tube, his breathing slowed and his heart stopped. We performed CPR but ultimately were unable to resuscitate him and he passed away with his owner in the room with us.
As much as I wish this story had a different ending, this little pig and his emergency experience has left me with a valuable lesson and memory that will continue to serve me for the rest of my career. We as veterinarians have a duty to do the best we can in each situation that we face, but we must also prepare ourselves for the moments where our efforts may not lead to a happy ending.