Guts of the Farmhouse

At 5 am, I am standing with my hands inside the tangled abdomen of a black Labrador, wishing things looked less messy.

Four days earlier, this dog had surgery to remove a long wad of sock and dishtowel, which was causing his intestines to accordion into dangerous folds. Now, one of the incisions into his intestines is leaking treacherous juices into his abdomen, and most of his digestive organs are inflamed and adhered to each other. My job, as the emergency veterinarian on duty: Fix it.

I wonder if this is how my father-in-law felt upon discovering our farmhouse’s disastrous electrical wiring. We laid bare the skeleton of walls and ceiling, revealing the potentially fatal pathology of the electrical wiring system.

Actually, it wasn’t a system, which implies a plan and organization. This electrical wiring situation, like a mystery novel, held intrigue and plot twists that repeatedly surprised the readers. Reading this story took Andrew, his brother, and, primarily, his dad nearly two days of following each thread, each wire, from the rat’s nest of a main electrical panel, to switches and outlets all over the house.

The stove, they discovered, received a wire half as thick as what it needed for safety. Poking up in one corner of the kitchen floor, they found a live wire, uncapped, under a duct tape band-aid, just waiting for a curious child. From behind a wall, they pulled a disturbing bouquet of bare wires, spliced into an innocent-looking newer wire that crossed the entire kitchen.

A giant spider lurked above the dropped ceiling in the kitchen. When we tore out that ceiling, this spider hung with its metal-encased wire legs reaching mysteriously in all directions from its junction box body. Real cobwebs filled the space around this electrical spider. As it turned out, wires from upstairs and downstairs ran through this junction.  Circuits seemed to clump together and loop incoherently like a bundle of angry intestines.

Disentangling my patient’s innards in surgery, I locate the problem. I trim the leaky suture line out of the intestine and close the fresh edges, placing each knot like beads on a rosary, each one a prayer for healing.

It seems to be a time of opening damaged surfaces, tearing things apart, and facing what lies, ugly, underneath. Sometimes this is a terrible idea, with painful results. In these situations, at least, this approach has been rewarding. Both house and dog have improved slowly but surely.

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2 thoughts on “Guts of the Farmhouse”

  1. Hello Abbie,
    The guts of any house is important, isn’t it? I don’t understand disentangling a patients innards but I know all about disentangling those of an old house.

    Ten years ago my husband and I bought a two-hundred-year-old house in central PA and he immediately insisted we spend thousands of dollars on replacing the entire electrical system in the house. I protested. It seemed a huge unnecessary expense and I would rather have spent that money on more noticeable renovations. He convinced me by explaining that if we did not replace the old knob-‘n’-tube wiring, a most noticeable event might be the huge bonfire our house would fuel as it burned down around us. He hired an electrician that day.

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