H, 641 and Life Lessons

Let me tell you about H–not the letter “H”–the man, the veterinarian. He was a partner in a veterinarian clinic with T. They would refer to one another by the first letter of their last name. I suppose they thought it made things less formal, friendlier, or they just didn’t want to hassle with multiple syllables in their last names. Or, they just thought it was funny.


I usually dealt with H. He was the veterinarian you wanted to work on your animals. He had the look of wisdom that could only come through experience and a slow methodical way he did things. He was easy to talk to and even took me on a couple of ranch calls just to expand my world a little.


I walked into H and T’s clinic one day to talk to H about a cow that was not doing well. I had visited with him before about her and had done what he suggested but it was no avail. I didn’t know what to do next. I was young and naïve. I thought that with enough hard work and good intentions everything would turn out okay. This was back in the days when herds averaged 100-200 cows. Every cow was important. I was at wits end as to what to do next. It was really bothering me.


There were a several people waiting for help but I was able to corner H. He looked concerned or bothered I couldn’t tell which.


“Is this the cow we discussed before?”


“Yep. She’s gone downhill.”


“You did everything I told you?”


“Yeah.” That was 80% honest.


Now he looked off to the side and shifted his weight from foot to foot. Then he rested his chin in his hand and after a full minute he looked at me over his glasses like he was evaluating me. Slowly, he gave a cautious look to one side, then the other, and then he leaned closer to me. He raised his index finger like he just had an epiphany. In a voice that was barely audible he said, “You wait right here, I may just have something that will do the trick.” He scurried away to a back room and shut the door.


Clearly I was going to get something special. It was so special he had to go in the back room to make it. I was excited because it had to be some kind of super medicine like the stuff people on late-night talk shows claimed existed but the government wouldn’t let us have. I was going to get the Holy Grail of medicine.


After a long 15 minutes the door to the back room opened and H came walking out. He had something in his hands that he guarded so no one could see. He handed me a 100cc bottle of a dark liquid of something I had never seen before. It had a plain white label that was printed 641. I held it with two hands just to be sure.


He said, “Give 20cc once a day for 3 days. Don’t give more than that, don’t give less. Make sure she has plenty of water and hay. Okay? “


I said I understood and I would do exactly what he said. I was never more serious about a commitment than I was that day.


“One more thing,” he said, “if this doesn’t work–nothing will.”


Strangely I took comfort in that last line. This was it. Either it worked or nothing would. Regardless of what happened the problem would be resolved and I could move on. The pressure was off me if I followed the instructions.

I walk out to the pickup holding the bottle taking small steps. I drove home 35 mph so I would not upset the chemical compounds of this miracle drug. I was sure there must be something special in it. Some new antibiotic? Belladonna? Radium? Aloe Vera? I was going to be disappointed if it was Aloe Vera.


I treated the cow as I was instructed. By the second day the cow was doing much better. The third day she looked as if nothing had ever been wrong. 641 really worked! I was amazed!


A week later I saw H.


I said, “Hey! That cow is doing much better! Thanks a lot!”


He furrowed his brow and said, “What cow?”


“The one you told me to give 641 to.”


He gave me an incredulous look and said, “She lived?” He seemed more amazed than me.


“Yeah, and she’s doing well.”


He shook his head muttered something about the odds and the things you see if you live long enough and then walked away.


A decade later things changed. H left the veterinary practice to take a position at a university. T took a position at the local golf course. The federal government decided that drugs like 641 could no longer be sold. I learned about rational ways to treat cows with proper drug protocols. I also had to hire different veterinarians. Two of these veterinarians, Dr. Bob and Dr. Bill, had spent time with H and T early in their careers (evidently young veterinarians don’t get an initial only a first name.).


I asked them about 641. They both chuckled when I said “641”. They told me that from what they remembered 641 was mostly vitamin B with a small amount of a local anesthesia and a miniscule amount of whatever antibiotic was nearby. The vitamin stimulated the animal’s appetite while there was only enough antibiotic and anesthesia to protect the injection site. It was nothing special.


Was I scammed? Was I ripped off? I don’t think so. I think it was brilliant. It was a case of the doctor treating the client, not the patient. The patient’s fate was already set. The client was a young obsessed dairyman who thought there had to be answer for everything. What H sold me was permission to tell myself I did everything I could to fix the problem. I could quit obsessing because I was finished with my part.


I would like to buy a couple of gallons of 641 today. We all have cows with something wrong that we just can’t get a handle on. We don’t know whether to try one more thing or just quit and say it’s over. I would like to give them a treatment of 641, then declare their fate in the hands of the great dairy gods, then go on to something I can make a difference with.


As long as I’m at it I would inject 641 into my temperamental printer. It would either work or I’d toss it into the dumpster and feel good about it. I have a tractor that spends a fair amount of time in the shop. Maybe I could add 641 to the fuel. The garage door opener didn’t work yesterday for some reason so maybe a squirt of 641 would help. I also know a couple of grumpy people that could use a little 641 in their coffee. They would either they straighten up or I go find new friends.


Years later I still had not completely learned my lesson. I was obsessing about cow problems and my doomed life to Dr. Bob when he stopped me.


“Hey, stuff happens. Get over it.” He said. (the edited version)


There it was. One of the secrets of life.


Stuff happens. It’s how you know you’re really in the dairy business.


– John W. Wright of Wright, Inc. Dairy in Wendell, Idaho


Doc Hammequist

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