1 Dec, 2021

Stories of Humboldt – Dr. Robert Gaskin

Ad from the November 28, 1957 edition of the Humboldt Journal announcing the opening of Dr. R. B. Gaskin’s Veterinary Clinic.

Dr. Bob arrives in Humboldt

Humboldt in 1957 had everything that the young Dr. Robert Gaskin was looking for in a place to set up a practice and raise a family.

After graduating from Veterinary College in Ontario, he knew he wanted to move west and work with large and small animals. Humboldt was in a mixed farming area, had a hospital and a population of about 2500 people. It fit the bill, and there was a definite demand for his services as he was to be the first vet established in the area in over 20 years.

That young vet from the east

Almost immediately after Dr. Gaskin, his wife Miriam and their one-year-old son Mark arrived at a hotel in Humboldt he received his first call. Here is the story in his own words:

“I wasn’t at the hotel two hours when the manager asked me if I was the new veterinarian for the area and I replied I was but all our stuff wouldn’t be here till Monday. He asked if I did have some medicines. I said yes and I had my “little black bag” so he said that a pure-bred Hereford farmer had called for me because he had a sick cow.

He lived about six miles north of town and so I went on my first call. The farmer took me to the barn when I arrived and pointed out a cow. I carried out a thorough physical exam and could find nothing wrong with the cow and told him so. He said to me, “Now that I know that you know what you’re doing, there is the sick cow over there.” So I went over the sick cow. It was a digestive problem, treated the cow and left some medicine for the farmer to administer.

Before leaving, he asked what the fee was and I said $5 for the examination and $2.50 for drugs. Also $5 for examining the “healthy cow”. He laughed and paid the bill in full and went on to be one of my best clients. I guess he spread the word that you weren’t going to fool that young vet from the east.”

The first cryo-surgery in Humboldt

Dr. Gaskin’s practice area was a 65 km radius around Humboldt and in his first year, he travelled almost 5000 km in every kind of weather. By 1961, when his practice was well established, he was travelling 70 000 kms in a year.

Here is the story, in his own words, of a trip to a farm in the dead of winter to assist with the birth of a calf:

“I arrived and found, along with three near-by neighbouring farmers who had been trying to help the farmer’s cow have a calf, that I would have to carry out surgery to relieve this cow of its calf. I explained to the owner that I would be doing a caesarian section and he said OK do it. The inside of the barn was about twenty below. I asked for a heat lamp and he provided one.

The farmer’s wife provided a cookie sheet so I could lay out my instruments and immerse them in some disinfectant. We placed the cookie sheet on the instrument table (a bale of straw).

I gave anesthetic to the cow (an epidural), waited for it to take hold and turned to take the scalpel from the instrument tray (cookie sheet) and there was a thin layer of ice over the instruments. When I made the incision though the skin, what blood came from the incision immediately froze and I thought this is probably the first cryo-surgery ever held in this area.”

The next best thing to God

It was a momentous occasion when Dr. Bob (the human doctor) was invited to witness the miracle performed by Dr. Bob (the animal doctor). Here is the story in Dr. Bob (the animal doctor)’s own words:

“In this small town, in the late 1950s, there were the usual grouping of professionals – doctors, lawyers, dentists, a chiropractor and myself as a veterinarian. Four doctors, a dentist, the chiropractor and I would, with our wives, get together every six or eight weeks to socialize. One of the doctors’ first name was the same as mine. Thus, one evening, while at Dr. Bob’s (the human doctor), he got a call asking that the doctor come out to a farm two miles south of town. When he arrived, he found out that they need the other Dr. Bob, so he returned to his house with the message. It turned out this was a dairy farm and one of the cows was down with “milk fever”. They do not have a high enough blood calcium level and the muscles stop working and the cow usually falls down.

I persuaded the other Dr. Bob to come with me and watch me work a miracle. I said I doubted that human medicine had any comparable drama in such short time. I explained that when we arrived we would find the cow lying down, unable to get up and looking near death. I said that I would administer 500 ccs of calcium gluconate intravenously and in twenty minutes I would nudge the cow and it would jump up and walk to the barn.

Well, we arrived and sure enough everything was just as I had stated, the cow was down and looked near dead. I started the IV and got him to hold the bottle while I checked the heart rate. After finishing the IV and waiting ten or twelve minutes, I nudged the cow. She jumped up and walked into her stall in the barn.

When we arrived back to Dr. Bob’s home, my miraculous treatment was retold by Dr. Bob and I was regarded as being the next best thing to God.”

Modern devices

Here is the story, in his own words, of Dr. Gaskin’s attempt to incorporate futuristic technology into his practice:

“One of our closest friends worked for the Sask. Government Telephone company and he had just received a device called a “telephone answering machine”. He was looking for a business to use it for a trial period.

He mentioned the “telephone answering machine” to me while we attended church services. He said that I could be missing some calls while I was away to church and that this modern device could be just the answer for missed phone calls.

So, the following Saturday, he brought the machine over and installed it, demonstrated how it worked and said to keep it for a month and there would be no charge. A free trial offer.

So the next day, Sunday, we all went off to church and just before going out the door, I turned the machine on and sure enough a green light went on indicating it was ready to take the incoming calls. We stayed a little longer than usual after church knowing that all was under control at home in regards to the phone.

Well, we arrived home and sure enough there was the red light blinking, indicating that there were phone messages left. I rewound the spool of wire on which the messages were left and hit the play button.

First call: Hello? Hello? Hello? – dial tone (hung up)

Second call: Hello? This darn thing says to leave a message – long pause- dial tone (hung up)

Third call: (same voice) Hello, this is John Rapp, I live two miles east and two miles west on Hwy 6 and I have a pig that’s sick – dial tone (hung up)

Fortunately I knew the caller and the location of the farm. So I tried to explain the answering machine when I arrived but he couldn’t quite grasp the concept. After one week of similar frustrations, I realized that the machine was 20 years ahead of its time. So I had it taken out and went back to one-on-one in regards to the incoming phone calls for vet services.

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