Upstate New York summers can be unpredictable when it comes to the weather. Oppressive heat to bone chilling cold can be separated by only hours. When a storm front comes in, the temperature can drop 30 or more degrees (Fahrenheit) with chunks of hail slamming onto the truck’s hood and windshield.
It was my first summer as a vet and it had been a beautiful, clear, and warm evening. My turn for night duty at the rural practice had me wandering the twisting roads through the wooded forests and over large rounded hills. A horse with a deep cut had caused its owner to call me out this evening. It wasn’t life threatening so traveling fast wasn’t necessary, but the flashing red lights up ahead worried me and I wondered if I would be delayed.
As I drove further, the red lights kept moving away from me so I knew the road wasn’t blocked. However, I was definitely getting closer to them. In a few minutes, I was following an ambulance with all of its lights flashing. The proper thing to do was to remain behind the vehicle and not pass it, but he was driving 15 miles per hour slower than the posted limit, which was of course about 30 miles per hour slower than I usually drive. The rain was steady and lightening was erupting everywhere. The sky had quickly blackened after sunset with thick, dark, and ominous clouds covering any sources of light. I soon became frustrated knowing my promised arrival time kept getting later.
The slow procession continued for about 15 more minutes until the ambulance suddenly stopped in the middle of the road then blocked off the road to prevent me from passing. The driver got out in the downpour and ran back towards me. My truck shook with the gale winds that had come from nowhere. I rolled down my window and listened as he told me the road up ahead was closed due to storm damage. I thanked the man then turned my truck around and, with my windows closed and the rain pelting my windshield, began to cuss like a sailor.
No sense of emergency or “brothers in arms” between two medical professionals had persuaded the ambulance driver to let me pass and take my chances. My young cockiness was checked by my manners but now, with only country back roads to travel, I would arrive over an hour later than I had told the owner. Back then, there were no mobile telephones. I was pissed.
The owners of the horse had been understanding and the wound was easily treated. That event was over and I was back on track the next morning pulling into the first call of the day at a dairy farm. My scheduled calls this morning was in the same area I had been the night before.
In a surreal way, I looked at the large two story red dairy barn as my brain grasped the obvious but unbelievable picture in front of me. The entire roof was gone! There was no debris anywhere and the cows outside looked unconcerned. I entered the milk house and then into the barn. Instead of the normally dark and urine smelling confines, I was blinded by the daylight pouring in from where the roof had been. Cows stood in their stanchions chewing their hay as if nothing was wrong. Dave, the owner, walked down the aisle towards me with a numb look on his face.
“It was a Hell of a storm last night, wasn’t it, Doc?” he said to me. I blinked my eyes as I looked around, my mouth gaping as I took in the open sardine can look of his barn. Dave continued, “I heard the roar people say occurs when a tornado comes so I grabbed my dog and went into the milk house. I thought it would be the safest place.” He continued, “I never heard anything but the wind, but when it was over, I went into the barn and the roof was gone. The most remarkable thing, Doc, was the cows just lay in their places chewing their cuds!”
I did my work there and left driving on the same road I had been on the night before. As if God had badly used a weed eater, several hills had bald spots where the tornado had scalped them. As it turns out, the tornado had lifted and flipped a mobile home onto the road killing its occupant. It was the same road I had been on last night. What was really amazing was that if I had not been stuck behind the slow ambulance, I would have been very close to the spot where that mobile home had landed.
Today, as I travel close to 70,000 miles a year, I still remember that night where if I had let my young cocky attitude prevail and had passed that slow ambulance, I may not have been here to write this letter to you now. Everything happens for a reason.