Cheek Abscess Update


On Tuesday a vet stopped by to address Stewart’s cheek abscess disaster from five days before. This was not David but one of his junior assistants, passing the farm on her return from another call.

I have officially reached the age when most young professionals appear to me to be about sixteen years old. In this case the impression was heightened because the poor girl had been given no information about the case.

She walked into the barn carrying a bucket with Betadine (suspected to have caused all Stewart’s problems) and looked alarmed when I almost screeched, “No, he’s allergic, he can’t have Betadine!” The spooked look became even more pronounced when she saw the abscess, now reduced to the size of a baseball but just as hard as one.

“I thought I was re-opening a simple abscess.”

I couldn’t believe it.  The other assistant vet had told me they would be bringing a portable ultrasound machine to try to ascertain what was going on!

When I mentioned this, this new assistant seemed overwhelmed. “No one told me anything about any of this.”

With difficulty I controlled myself. I told the current assistant I wanted to have Stewart’s cheek anesthetized before any further work was done. She agreed to do it, but even with the stanchion it was hard to hold him still for the shots of lidocaine. I double-wrapped the lead around his nose and pushed him into the wall with my weight to try to hold him quiet (above).


It was not very successful. Stewart still jumped and struggled with every prick of the needle.

“We’d be fine if we had nose tongs,” she said finally. “There should be some in the truck.” She went out, rummaged for ten minutes, and then came back in empty-handed.

“I don’t really know my way around the truck very well,” she confessed.

At this point I knew we were in a mess. I was very angry but understood it was not the fault of this poor girl, or even maybe anyone. Maybe it was just the Bad Luck Fairy that has been following me around lately.

In the end, we persevered with the lidocaine and, using a scalpel, she cut the cheek open, a slice 2-3″ wide.


The walls of the abscess still did not collapse, nor did it drain.

Instead, the assistant removed lumps of hardened material she said was pus. Lucy took pictures.


Meanwhile it was over 100° in the barn, I was on heavy meds for a bad tooth, and though I’m never squeamish, I suddenly felt I was going to faint. I stumbled outside and sat down, my stomach heaving and a cold sweat breaking out across my face.

Recovering at home with a glass of water after the vet left, I was deeply upset for poor Stewart. I suspected this assistant should not have cut open the abscess. I knew I should never have decided to be a responsible cattle owner and address what turned out to be a benign abscess at all. However when David called me that night to apologize for the situation, I was able to get a grip. It isn’t David’s fault that Stewart is evidently allergic to Betadine, which David has used successfully to flush abscesses for thirty years.

Two days later I tricked Stewart back into the stanchion and inspected the wound. Still as big and hard as a baseball.  (I am becoming resigned to the idea that his face has probably been permanently scarred by this procedure.)


More chunks of hardened pus, looking like dirty tofu, were crowding the lips of the cut. [Double-click to enlarge.]


I flushed the wound with water mixed with a little hydrogen peroxide, to clear out the pus, and then smeared all around it with SWAT fly ointment. The one thing worse than dealing with this awful wound would be dealing with this awful wound crawling with maggots.

Clean again.


Stewart is certainly not eager to go into the stanchion these days, but so far, greed for sweet feed has always won out.

Dealing with this situation day by day has been the backdrop of the stressful, steamy, over-scheduled last two weeks. I pray it will heal soon, for Stewart’s sake and my own.


One Response to Cheek Abscess Update

  1. Jack says:

    Hi Ive been following your progress with this lump . Ive raised cattle for the last nearly 40 years and over the years Ive seen a fair number of abscess cases , and your right the lump will never completely go away . I was wondering if the vet gave him any penicillin or drug of that type . I believe at this point Id do a lot less digging around in it and leave it alone . But I might give him more penicillin . Keeping the flies away from it would be a good idea as well . Good luck ( fly ointment )

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