Here's one of those great stories that sticks with you for a lifetime. It's the kind of thing that we vets will try and reflect on when things aren't going as well as we want.
I had been practicing for a little less than a year and was the only doctor on duty that day. In came a medium-sized very pregnant mixed-breed dog in some obvious distress. She had been in labor for a long time, yet had not given birth to any puppies. She was obviously having a lot of difficulty and was very uncomfortable, so the owner agreed to a caesarian section.
A c-section isn't something to go into lightly. Whatever anesthesia you give to the mother will also go to the babies still in the womb. Those babies aren't able to handle it as well, and you run the risk of losing them as the anesthesia gets too deep. It's a balancing act to give the mother enough anesthesia to do the surgery, yet keep the anesthesia light enough to have a minimal effect on the puppies. This is different than in human c-sections, which are done as a local nerve block rather than a general anesthesia.
So I went into the surgery, not completely knowing what I would find. I made it into the abdomen quickly, and pulled out a very large uterus. I cut into the uterus and started pulling puppies out. Now, for those of you who don't know, puppies (and kittens for that matter) are each in their own amniotic sac, and have separate placentas. To do a c-section you have to gently pull the puppy out and tear off the sack without hurting the puppy. Then you have a little bit of a race against time. The act of birth helps to stimulate the puppy's senses, and then the mother cleans off the fluids and tissues. During a c-section this doesn't happen. So the surgeon has to hand over the puppy to an assistant and then dive back in for the next puppy (remember that time is of the essence here). The assistant vigorously rubs the puppy to stimulate it, and slings it head-down to help force fluid out of the lungs and nose. It can take several minutes to get the puppy in good condition.
As I continued the surgery, I realized that there were more puppies than I expected. I kept pulling puppies out and handing them off. I was removing puppies faster than the staff could keep up! We even pulled the receptionists from the front to help, essentially shutting down the hospital. By the time I was finished, I had removed 12 puppies. Twelve! That is a very large litter for just about any dog.
Now here's the best part. Every single puppy lived! And the mom did great! We spayed her while I was in there so this wouldn't happen again. To give you an idea of how big of a surgery this was, she was about 40 pounds before the surgery and about 30 pounds afterwards! And best of all, every single one of those puppies found a home. Our staff was amazed by the whole experience, and the owner was very happy about the outcome. And that gave me a great story to share with people.