We had a birthday party dinner out at Andrea and Mark’s place in January for Sammy, who had just turned 3, and Emily, who was celebrating her 8th birthday. Little Danielle, 14 months old, was eager to help them unwrap all their presents.
In mid-January Michael and Carolyn sorted their big group of cows, putting the earliest calving cows in the field below our lane, near our main calving barn. They spread straw along the fence in that field, for bedding, and also in the 2 big corrals where the 90 heifers will be calving. They had 80 first-calf heifers and would be helping us with our 10 heifers.
Michael and Carolyn started camping here at nights in our old trailer house, so they could check on the calving cows and heifers. We had a blizzard a few nights after they started calving, and one calf nearly froze to death. His mom calved in a snow bank then went into some brush to get out of the wind, and left her new calf out in the snow and wind. Michael and Carolyn found him a couple hours later, barely alive. They took their calf sled and 4-wheeler to get the calf, but the 4-wheeler couldn’t make it up the hill through the deep snow. So they pulled the sled up the hill by hand, put the calf in it, and the sled started sliding down the hill. Michael jumped in the sled with the calf. They whizzed down the hill at high speed, until the sled hit the feed trail at the bottom—which was covered with frozen cow pies. Michael had to crouch in the sled rather than sit, to keep from breaking his tailbone as they rattled over those bumps. Then they took the frozen calf to their trailer and thawed him out by the wood stove.
Another cow had twins the next night, and only mothered one of them. The neglected twin nearly froze, but Michael and Carolyn found it in time, and thawed it out in the trailer. Later they grafted it onto a heifer that lost her own calf at birth. A few days later they had another set of twins, from a cow that had twins the year before. After warming and drying them in the trailer, they were both just fine.
We had 10 days of severely cold weather, and lots of new babies. Just before the worst cold weather, Michael had acute pain from a kidney stone. He spent most of the day lying on the bed in the little trailer house, trying to keep warm, and drinking lots of water to try to pass the stone—but he was vomiting a lot because of the pain. Lynn and I helped Carolyn do all the feeding, and I helped her tag and vaccinate calves that needed shuttled out of second-day pens to the fields. We moved other pairs out of the barns, and brought in cows with newborn calves. Young Heather helped after school, and we finally got finished with all the chores after dark. Lynn drove to town to pick up Nick after basketball practice.
By 8 p.m. Michael’s pain was so bad that Lynn took him to the Emergency Room at the hospital. The doctor gave him a shot of morphine and some medication to relax the urinary tract, and several liters of IV fluid to increase his kidney output—to try to flush the stone that was caught between the kidney and bladder. The stone finally moved into the bladder at 10:30 and the doctor let Michael come home. He passed the stone at midnight, and then insisted on helping Carolyn with the calving through the rest of the night.
The next day was severely cold and all of us worked around the clock to keep from losing any newborn calves. Michael had to pull a set of twins; one was positioned upside down and he had to rotate it, and the other twin was backward. He and Carolyn managed to save them both.
That week they also had one premature calf and a blind one with some skeletal problems. Those 2 "handicapped kids" lived for a while in the trailer house, and had the run of the place like a couple of pet dogs. They also had a couple calves the mothers either didn't want (one heifer tried to kill her new baby) or couldn't raise (an old cow with cancer) and they grafted those babies onto the mothers of the "special needs" calves.
In late February we had a serious coyote problem. Coyotes killed a newborn calf in the maternity field, and then killed a week-old calf in the lower field. Michael started carrying a gun in the tractor while feeding cows, and managed to shoot a couple of the coyotes but there were still at least 6 harassing the cows. One night a group of young cows with new calves were bellowing and stampeding, and when Michael and Carolyn drove down to that pasture with their 4-wheeler and a spotlight, they found that the cows had trampled one calf to death in their efforts to defend their calves from the coyotes.
By early March Michael and Carolyn had more than 200 calves, and our own small herd started calving. One of our heifers had twins, so we grafted the extra calf onto Michael’s young cow whose calf got trampled. Buffalo Girl (Emily’s pet heifer that was raised on a bottle) had a nice heifer calf, named Curly Sue. Several of our first-calf heifers have now calves.
So, the cows were keeping us busy checking them at nights, since our weather wasn’t very nice for calving outside. Lynn and I would stagger out of bed periodically and peer out the window with spotlight and binoculars to see if anyone was calving and needed to be put in the barn. Our "maternity ward" for the ladies in waiting is near the house, with a good view from the windows, so unless it's snowing so hard we can't see (or foggy) we can generally check them in our nightgowns without having to go outside in the cold. The kids' cows, by contrast, being a larger herd, were in a bigger field farther from the house and trailer house, so they took turns trudging through the field at night to check on them, and bring any cows with new babies to the barn.
We continue to name all our calves, like Ursala (daughter of Cub Cake, who's a daughter of Cubby, who's a daughter of Cinnebear, who's a sister to Polar Bear and Bear Claw), Leena (daughter of Shirleen, who's a daughter of Rishira), Curly Sue, Dinglebelle (daughter of Dingaling, who's a daughter of Ringa, who's a daughter of Syringa), Rosalee (daughter of Rosie, named by our granddaughter Emily), and other crazy names. Over the years we've had fun thinking up thousands of names--drawing upon everything from Shakespeare and Greek plays (Ophelia, Antigone) to the Bible (Absolem, Shadrack), and Beowulf (Grendel, Hrothgar, etc.) and nonsensical made-up names the kids came up with when they were little.
On another subject, I received a letter in March from a friend who had recently undergone cancer treatments and was hopefully recovered. He was studying to become a tutor to teach English as a second language, and to teach basic English skills, and was also becoming involved in cancer outreach. Those of us who have been through one kind of hell or another and have come out on the other side (in awe and gratitude!!) seem to have this urge (maybe even a fanatic obsession!) to help other people who are struggling through the bad stuff.
Our cancer-survivor friend agreed with us that a support group, an understanding listener, or a no-nonsense lecturer ("You WILL NOT give up!!) can make all the difference in someone’s future. When someone cares, you do try a whole lot harder. On her trips back to Salt Lake for checkups, Andrea has sat in the ICU with burn patients who wanted to die and told them in no uncertain terms that they could not give up...that they still had too much to live for. And they listen because she's one who has been there.
The real challenges of life (potentially life ending challenges) do get our attention and get our priorities straight and take the blinders off. They open our eyes to realities about ourselves, and about the Love that is there waiting to find us when we do lift our eyes.
Connecting with that Love and becoming (albeit in fits and starts and imperfectly) a part of it in helping others is the most awesome and blessed experience one can have. Bad things can always evolve into wonderful blessings if a person lets it happen. Wake-up calls.
I guess that's why Lynn and I felt compelled to tell our story and to hope it will help other burn survivors and their families (or anyone else going through a tough road), and why we are now more apt to try to connect with and help someone who crosses our path rather than just pass by on the other side of the road and feel sorry for them. Amazing how these wake up experiences strip away the protective layers we so carefully (yet unknowingly) put around ourselves through the years. We don't hide behind them anymore. We gladly bare our souls to someone else if we think it might help, or go out of our way to give encouragement or brighten their day. We are all in this life together.
That winter, one of our friends who was more at-home with the internet than I am located a list of burn centers around the country. I started going through the list and calling them, trying to connect with people who might be interested in having me send sample copies of my book BEYOND THE FLAMES. Often I just got transferred to someone's answering machine, and only a few of those people called me back. But once in awhile I got lucky and spoke with a "real" person, and many of them were receptive to having me send them a book.
I was glad for this breakthrough--being able to connect with the various burn centers--because this is where my book may make a difference in a person's life. Lynn and I were so devastated by our daughter's injuries, not knowing if she would survive, or what life would be like if she did survive. One of the things that gave us the most encouragement was a little book that someone gave us, about a burn survivor, and his physical/spiritual journey through the valley of death--and through it. This gave us hope, and that little ray of hope was what we desperately needed at that time. So after we began our own pilgrimage (the detour in our lives that began at the burn center) we knew we had to write our story, in case it might also give hope to someone else facing a dark night of the soul. One of my goals has been to connect with other burn units. If we can donate books to some of them, we’ll feel like we're starting to accomplish our mission!
My parents were becoming more frail that winter. Mom was ill for several days, and spent a day in the hospital to get a spiking high blood pressure episode under control. She’d been wearing herself out too much taking care of Dad, and worried about his having to go to Missoula, Montana (145 miles away) once a week for a chemo drip—something the doctor put him on to slow down a rare type of blood disorder. The trips over the mountain were hard on him, since it was an all-day ordeal.
I wrote to my brother after Dad’s 2nd weekly drip treatment in Missoula, and said that Dad was very tired, but perky. “Not so giddy this time. Maybe they didn't put the steroids in the concoction or maybe they changed the dosage. Mom is still tired after her high blood pressure episode, but her blood pressure is more under control now, since the doctor changed her medications. She goes to see the heart doctor today (the one that comes over here periodically from Missoula). I think she's been wearing herself out too much taking care of Dad, and she's probably worried about his having to go over to Missoula every week for the chemo drip.” I kept worrying about my parents, and the fact that it wasn’t easy watching them grow older and more feeble, and having to carefully ease into the role of caregiver to those who took care of us when we were young.