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Story Archives: Swine flu publicity stirs vet's memory
|Swine flu publicity stirs vet's memory|
Tense situations sometimes lead to humor.
So, after several days of digesting the recent news about swine flu, retired veterinarian, Dr. L. W. Knight, tapped into this memories of 48 years of practice in Franklin Parish and came up with several stories.
The 84-year-old retiree recalled incidents involving the father of a popular Louisiana governor and his own near death experience with swine flu with a boyhood-like smile and humorous overtones.
Seated in his home located on Highway 4 just east of Winnsboro, Knight says it was swine flu which first brought him to Franklin Parish back in 1952 as an employee of the state agriculture department.
He weaves between the funny and the serious probably the same way he counseled the owners of sick animals during his practice.
"Nobody really knows anything about it," he says of the current level of knowledge, "it changes too fast. It mutates so quickly, by the time they can come up with something, the virus is something else."
"I first came here to help eradicate an outbreak of Brucellosis," said Knight, "and caught it myself."
The flu-like symptoms of fatigue, fever, cough, and in his severe case, weight loss, wracked the young 1948 Auburn graduate without mercy.
"Suffered with the stuff for five years," he said.
He recalled visiting one of the 38 dairies which were in the parish at the time, and having a farmer tell him that he looked so bad that he needed the help of some of the cows' milk rather than him helping the cows.
Knight weighed a total of 82 pounds when the comment was made.
"I couldn't wear regular clothes," he said, "had to buy boys clothes."
The doctor recovered and lived through several other physical difficulties to this date and the Swine flu scare of the 1950's passed in the parish.
A single incident of swine flu involved a Governor's herd, the Governor's father and a simple solution.
Governor John J. McKeithen, the first two consecutive term Democratic (1964-1972) in the state called Knight to the Hogan Plantation in Caldwell Parish in the mid-1960's.
Knight worked the parishes of Franklin, Tensas, Richland, Catahoula and Caldwell at the time and the Governor was a farmer as well, so the call was not unusual.
Nevertheless, the Governor asked Knight for confidence, since the problem was delicate. "It looks like Daddy's dug us a deep hole," Knight recalled the Governor as saying.
It seems the Governor's father, who had the role of overseer for the family farm operated by the McKeithen brothers, had made a trip to south Louisiana to, "buy a few shoats."
The "few" turned out to be a herd of 330, because of a bargain price.
And, they were sick.
"It looks like Daddy's going to break me and my brother," the Governor speculated according to Knight, "and he could break the State of Louisiana" if hog sickness spread.
Although there were no field tests to pinpoint Swine flu viruses at the time, the diagnosis was made.
Knight said the simple cure was to add virus-fighting chemicals to the hog herd water supply.
"After that, the price of hogs went up, the McKeithens made a good profit and 'Mr. J' (a familiar name for John's father) thought he was a hog-buying-expert," said the long-time vet.
While the Governor was appreciative to the vet for his service to the hog herd, the State's top executive invited the vet to keep an eye on his father's overseer actions at Hogan Plantation and to call Baton Rouge at the slightest hint of trouble. "I never had to make the call," Knight said.
Switching hats from narrator to veterinarian, Knight says, "Health officials are using the strongest language they can to alert us and we should be paying attention."
He points out that some cemeteries in the parish contain remains of those who died in the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 which, "took the lives of millions of people worldwide and 860,000 in the United States."
He says he's not calling for alarm but for awareness of potential danger to society in general and specially vulnerable populations such as nursing homes and schools.
With all respect due the medical profession, the veterinarian has refilled his prescription for long life: "sunshine, fresh air and avoiding crowds."