RANCH FEATURES

All Patched Up

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By: Gordon Moore

From the time of Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates in the TV Western series Rawhide to Boss Spearman and Charley Waite featured in the Western film Open Range, cowboys have suffered a variety of injuries. Fortunately in TV land, there was often a doctor available to help with those well-earned wounds. Doc Adams, the ol’ “saw bones” in Gunsmoke, patched up many a broken arm or leg, along with an occasional broken heart, and most often nursed the cowboys back to health. In the movies, a cowboy’s injury was more likely to be a gunshot wound or knife cut, and the experience of a local “saw bones” was required for a good patch job.

Recently, I experienced one of those “patch jobs”. I wish I could tell a great injury story of a wild bronc ride… or even one where I had a bad experience with a rangy cow. Not so.

But, that’s a story for another time. Since I consider myself a cowboy (at least in mind and heart), I thought this article was one worthy of sharing with the readers of Working Ranch.

My wife can attest I was in true need of a patch job which most certainly would require the abilities of a good surgeon. No, an excellent surgeon. A calf roper friend mentioned a surgeon he had seen for a shoulder injury and encouraged me to call for an appointment.

From my first visit I was somewhat mesmerized by this modern day saw bones who had plenty of interesting thoughts to go along with his cutting- edge education and specialized skills. Research and technological advances have catapulted the capabilities of doctors to near boundless levels. Today’s orthopedic surgeons perform muscle repair, joint replacements and reattachments of severed parts. This can be mind-boggling to most Average Joes, but our modern day specialists, fortunately, perform these tasks daily with almost no second thought.

From the time of Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates in the TV Western series Rawhide to Boss Spearman and Charley Waite featured in the Western film Open Range, cowboys have suffered a variety of injuries. Fortunately in TV land, there was often a doctor available to help with those well-earned wounds. Doc Adams, the ol’ “saw bones” in Gunsmoke, patched up many a broken arm or leg, along with an occasional broken heart, and most often nursed the cowboys back to health. In the movies, a cowboy’s injury was more likely to be a gunshot wound or knife cut, and the experience of a local “saw bones” was required for a good patch job. Recently, I experienced one of those “patch jobs”. I wish I could tell a great injury story of a wild bronc ride… or even one where I had a bad experience with a rangy cow. Not so.

But, that’s a story for another time. Since I consider myself a cowboy (at least in mind and heart), I thought this article was one worthy of sharing with the readers of Working Ranch.

When cowboys and cowgirls get hurt ahorseback, it’s generally due to four things, says Dr. Aubrey Smith.

My newfound friend is an orthopedic surgeon in Amarillo, TX by the name of Aubrey Smith. At that first visit, before I had even explained my shoulder injury, Dr. Smith made the observation that I must be a cowboy of sorts (hat, jeans, boots) and began sharing his thoughts about the injuries cowboys suffer. I explained to him that my job has me working with cowboys, stockmen and animal handlers almost on a daily basis. As an agricultural safety consultant, I was definitely interested in his thoughts and the experience he brings to the table. Our conversation that day went something like this:

Dr. Smith: “Do you know what causes most of the injuries from cowboys I see?”

Myself: “Not Really.”

Dr. Smith: “Four things are almost always to blame:

1. Riding someone else’s horse. The unfamiliarity of another’s horse tends to make us do things and make decisions we would not normally do.

2. That little strap… um, I believe it is called a hobble that keeps the two cinches together. Or other tack that is in need of repair. The wrong headgear. 3. The surface a horse is used on. Many times cowboys are trying to make a horse perform on a hard surface that is not made for horses’ feet, let alone steel horseshoes.

4. Being attached to something by a rope… whether it is a cow, a log or…

Well, the surgery went very well… the rehabbing is going well. I had follow up visits at Dr. Smith’s office with his assistants, but knew that I wanted to spend some time with the Doc to follow up on that first conversation. His friendly schedule-keeper made a time available for me to see him.

When we sat down to visit I asked him more about the types of injuries he sees with cowboys. He responded that the typical injuries of ropers (rodeo) are to the hands, fingers, arms and shoulders… steer wrestling causes ankle and knee injuries… other injuries suffered are various and are dependent upon the profession of the patient. Ranching brings about its own type of injuries based on the type of work being done.

When I inquired about how frequently he sees cowboys walk through his door with an injury, he told me he figured two dozen or so a year. He pointed out the rehabilitation and pain tolerance is different for those in cowboying/ ranching compared to other patients he sees. He likes the attitude they bring with them and the fact that manual labor is something they experience every day. Sadly, because of how hard they must work and that tolerance of pain, their injuries are often more substantial; therefore, Dr. Smith has found the necessity to develop a surgical technique he refers to as the triple double. The process provides a heavier duty repair to the injury. Once the surgery is completed and the time for rehabbing begins, Dr. Smith feels their strong work ethic provides the cowboys/ranchers the needed consistency and diligence toward a solid recovery. Dr. Smith told a story about one guy really showing what it means to cowboy up. In fact, he stated that the man was the toughest guy he has ever seen.

The man, who was in his 80’s or 90’s, was out checking his cows one winter and fell into a ditch fracturing his hip. In spite of the ditch having snow in it he crawled to his pickup… stopped by his home to gather up his wife… and then drove himself to Amarillo to seek help. When Dr. Smith walked into the examination room, the man was sitting on the side of the bed. Not lying down, but sitting on the bed.

On the morning following the surgery, Dr. Smith stopped by to check on the man who was fully dressed, sitting on the side of the bed, ready to go home. Apparently, the man had been waiting for the doctor for awhile and asked where he had been and why he had not been by sooner. Dr. Smith convinced the older man of the benefits of staying one more night in the hospital. Reluctantly, the man agreed.

The following day, Dr. Smith arrived earlier than the previous morning and stood in the hallway as he watched the man walk (with no help) out the door to go home. The man’s wife sent Dr. Smith a Christmas card a short time later letting him know her husband was doing great.

He may not be a cowboy in its truest sense, but Dr. Smith has owned horses. His daughter participated in western pleasure and he and his horse Red have done some team penning. He pointed out his penning efforts were strictly for enjoyment, not competition.

Doc shared a memorable experience he had with his daughter’s horse. He was to take the horse to an event and had trouble getting him to load. It took four hours before the horse found his way into the trailer. During those hours, he led the horse from the round pen to the trailer and then back to the pen… to start the process all again. He realizes he could have made poor decisions while trying to load the horse, but kept in mind what a couple of cowboy friends had shared with him. They had told him that “having patience when dealing with horses will keep you from getting hurt”. He believes that lesson can be used in many areas of life.

It was a pleasure being able to sit down and visit with Dr. Aubrey Smith. There are cowboys who do a little doctorin’ and there are doctors who do a little cowboyin’. Fortunately, there are doctors with the wisdom and experience just like this modern saw bones that could save a limb or even a life.

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