Vets might fly, p.13

Vets Might Fly, page 13


Vets Might Fly

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  trundled westward I looked out on a landscape 'he long moist furrows of

  the new-turned soil glittered sun, contrasting with the gold stubble

  fields and the "p clustered around their feeding troughs. There w~

  rose straight from the farm chimneys and the ba' were still as they

  stretched across the cold sky.

  it pulled at me. A man in breeches and leggings of hay to some

  outlying cattle; a group of far' the fragrance of the wood smoke

  finding i' '`onger as the hours passed and the beginnin' 'o' jan to

  appear beyond the windows. Mayk past him and out into l~. ~ ~.,wby;

  Helen's home was near the bus route That part had been almo~ on.

  the deserted space between the ~ ~O turned her head as I walked into

  it better once I had rounded the corntl ~ed with astonishment; in fact

  I know." Chapter Twelve Hey you! Where the 'ell d'you think you're


  Coming from the RAF Special Police it was a typical mode of address and

  the man who barked it out wore the usual truculent expression.

  Extra navigation class, corporal," I replied.

  "Lemme see your pass!"

  ~ c`." 1~ll,grrr r~y He snatched it from my hand, read it and returned

  it without loo king at me.

  I slunk out into the street feeling like a prisoner on parole.

  Not all the SPs were like that but I found most of them lacking in

  charm And it brought home to me with a rush something which had been

  slowly dawning on me ever since I joined the Air Force; that I had been

  spoiled for quite a long time now. Spoiled by the fact that I had

  always been treated with respect because I was a veterinary surgeon, a

  member of an honourable profession. And I had taken it entirely for


  Now I was an AC2, the lowest form of life in the RAF, and the

  "Hey you!"

  was a reflection of my status. The Yorkshire farmers don't rush out

  and kiss you, but their careful friendliness and politeness is

  something which I have valued even more since my service days. Because

  that was when I stopped taking it for granted.

  Mind you, you have to put up with a certain amount of cheek in most

  jobs, and veterinary practice is no exception. Even now I can recall

  the glowering face of Ralph Beamish the racehorse trainer, as he

  watched me get ting out of my car.

  "Where's Mr Far non?" he grunted.

  My toes curled. I had heard that often enough, especially among the

  horse fraternity around Darrow by.

  "I'm sorry, Mr Beamish, but he'll be away all day and I thought I'd

  better come along rather than leave it till tomorrow."

  He made no attempt to hide his disgust. He blew out his fat, purpled

  cheeks, dug his hands deep in his breeches pockets and looked at the

  sky with a martyred air.

  "Well come on, then." He turned and stumped away on his short, thick

  legs towards one of the boxes which bordered the yard. I sighed

  inwardly as 1; followed him. Being an un horsey vet in Yorkshire was a

  penance at times, especially in a racing stable like this which was an

  equine shrine. Siegfried, apart altogether from his intuitive skill,

  was able to talk the horse language.

  He could discuss effortlessly and at length the breeding and points of

  his patients; he rode, he hunted, he even looked the part with his long

  aristocratic face, The trainers loved him and some, like Beamish, took

  it as a mortal insult when he failed to come in person to minister to

  their valuable charges.

  He called to one of the lads who opened a box door.

  "He's in there," he muttered.

  "Came in lame from exercise this morning."

  The lad led out a bay gelding and there was no need to trot the animal

  to diagnose the affected leg; he nodded down on his near fore in an

  unmistakable way.

  "I think he's lame in the shoulder," Beamish said.

  I went round the other side of the horse and picked up the off fore. I

  cleaned out the frog and sole with a hoof knife; there was no sign of

  bruising and no sensitivity when I tapped the handle of the knife

  against the horn.

  I felt my way up over the coronet to the fetlock and after some

  palpation I located a spot near the distal end of the metacarpus which

  was painful on 4, pressure. t I looked up from my crouching


  "This seems to be the trouble, Mr Beamish. I think he must have struck

  into himself with his hind foot just there."

  "Where?" The trainer leaned over me and peered down at the le r.

  "I can't see j any thing."

  "No, the skin isn't broken, but he flinches if you press here."

  Beamish prodded the place with a stubby forefinger.

  clipped moustache and lean frame.

  "I~L~ . ~ _ _ ~ I.... ... ~..

  ~S"' "J

  ~Well, he does," he grunted.

  "But he'd flinch anywhere if you squeeze him like you're doing."

  My hackles began to rise at his tone but I kept my voice calm.

  "I'm sure that's what it is. I should apply a hot antiphlogistine

  poultice just above the fetlock and alternate with a cold hose on it

  twice a day."

  Well, I'm just as sure you're wrong. It's not down there at all. The

  way that horse carries his leg he's hurt his shoulder." He gestured to

  the lad.

  "Harry, see that he gets some heat on that shoulder right away."

  If the man had struck me I couldn't have felt worse. I opened my mouth

  to argue but he was walking away.

  "There's another horse I want you to look at," he said. He led the way

  into a nearby box and pointed to a big brown animal with obvious signs

  of blistering on the tendons of a fore limb.

  "Mr Far non put a red blister on that leg six months ago. He's been

  resting in here ever since. He's going sound now d'you think he's

  ready to go out?"

  I went over and ran my fingers over the length of the flexor tendons,

  feeling for signs of thickening. There was none. Then I lifted the

  foot and as I explored further I found a tender area in the superficial


  I straightened up.

  "He's still a bit sore," I said: "I think it would be safer to keep him

  in for a bit longer."

  "Can't agree with you," Beamish snapped. He turned to the lad.

  "Turn him out, Harry."

  I stared at him. Was this a deliberate campaign to make me feel small?

  Was he trying to rub in the fact that he didn't think much of me?

  Anyway, he was beginning to get under my skin and I hoped my burning

  face wasn't too obvious.

  "One thing more," Beamish said.

  "There's a horse through here been coughing.

  Have a look at him before you go."

  We went through a narrow passage into a smaller yard and Harry entered

  a box and got hold of a horse's head collar. I followed him, fishing

  out my thermometer.

  As I approached the animal's rear end he laid back his ears, whickered

  and began to caper around. I hesitated, then nodded to the lad.

  "Lift his fore leg while I take his temperature, will you?" I said.

  The lad bent down and seized the foot but Beamish broke in.

  "Don't bother, Harry, there's no need for th
at. He's quiet as a


  I paused for a moment. I felt I was right but my stock was low on this

  establishment I shrugged, lifted the tail and pushed the thermometer

  into the rectum.

  The two hind feet hit me almost simultaneously but as I sailed

  backwards through the door I remember thinking quite clearly that the

  one on the chest had made contact fractionally before the one on the

  abdomen. But my thoughts were rapidly clouded by the fact that the

  lower hoof had landed full on my solar plexus.

  Stretched on the concrete of the yard I gasped and groaned in a frantic

  search for breath. There was a moment when I was convinced I was going

  to die but at last a long wailing respiration came to my aid and I

  struggled painfully into a Sitting position. Through the open door I

  could see Harry hanging on to the horse,5 head and staring at me with

  frightened eyes. Mr Beamish, on the other hand, showed no interest in

  my plight; he was anxiously examining the horse's hind feet one after

  the other. Obviously he was worried lest they may have Sustained some

  damage by coming into contact with my nasty hard ribs.

  Slowly I got up and drew some long breaths. I was shaken but not

  really hurt And I suppose it was instinct that had made me hang on to

  my thermometer; the delicate tube was still in my hand.

  My only emotion as I went back into the box was cold rage.

  "Lift that bloody foot like I told you!" I shouted at the unfortunate

  Harry. ~ "Right, sir! Sorry, sir!" He bent, lifted the foot and held

  it cupped firmly in:] his hands.

  I turned to Beamish to see if he had any observation to make, but the


  was silent, gazing at the big animal expressionlessly.

  This time I took the temperature without incident. It was 101 F. I

  moved to the head and opened the nostril with finger and thumb,

  revealing a slight mucopurulent discharge. Submaxillary and

  post-pharyngeal glands were ~ normal. .

  "He's got a bit of cold," I said.

  "I'll give him an injection and leave you some sulphon amide - that's

  what Mr Far non uses in these cases' If my final sentence reassured him

  in any way he gave no sign, watching dead-faced as I injected 10 cc of


  Before I left I took a half-pound packet of sulphon amide from the car

  boot "Give him three ounces of this immediately in a pint of water,

  then follow it with one and a half ounces night and morning and let us

  know if he isn't a lot better in two days."

  Mr Beamish received the medicine unsmilingly and as I opened the car

  door I felt a gush of relief that the uncomfortable visit was at an

  end. It seemed to have lasted a long time and there had been no glory

  for me in it. I was star ting the engine when one of the little

  apprentices panted up to the trainer.

  "It's Almira, sir. I think she's chokin'!"

  "Choking!" Beamish stared at the boy then whipped round to-me.

  "Almira's the best filly I have. You'd better come!"

  It wasn't over yet, then. With a feeling of doom I hurried after the

  squat figure back into the yard where another lad stood by the side of

  a beautiful chestnut filly. And as I saw her a cold hand closed around

  my heart. I had been dealing with trivia but this was different.

  She stood immobile, staring ahead with a peculiar intensity. The rise

  and fall of her ribs was accom panied by a rasping, bubbling wheeze and

  at each intake her nostrils flared wildly. I had never seen a horse

  breathe like this. And there were other things; saliva drooled from

  her lips and every few seconds she gave a retching cough.

  I turned to the apprentice.

  "When did this start?"

  not long ago, sir. I saw her an hour since and she were as right as a


  "Are you sure?"

  "Aye, I was givin' 'er some hay. There was nowt ail in' her then."

  "What the devil's wrong with her?" Beamish exclaimed Well, it was a

  good question and I didn't have a clue to the answer. As I walked

  bemusedly round the animal, taking in the trembling limbs and

  terrified:, eyes, a jumble of thoughts crowded my brain. I had seen

  'choking' horses the dry choke when the gullet becomes impacted with

  food but they didn't look ~ like this. I felt my way along the course

  of the oesophagus and it was perfectly) clear. And anyway the

  respiration was quite different. This filly looked as though she had

  some obstruction in her airflow. But what . . .? And how ...?

  Could there be a foreign body in there? Just possible, but that was

  something else I had never seen.

  "Well, damn it, I'm asking you! What is it? What d'you make of her?"

  Mr. Beamish was becoming impatient and I couldn't blame him. , I was

  aware that I was slightly breathless.

  "Just a moment while I listen to" her lungs."

  "Just a moment!" the trainer burst out.

  "Good God, man, we haven't got many.

  moments! This horse could die!"

  i v~ ~ He didn't have to tell me. I had seen that ominous trembling of

  the limbs before and now the filly was beginning to sway a little. Time

  was running out.

  Dry mouthed, I auscultated the chest. I knew there was nothing wrong

  with her lungs the trouble seemed to be in the throat area but it gave

  me a little more time to think. Even with the stethoscope in my ears I

  could still hear Beamish's voice "It would have to be this one! Sir

  Eric Horrocks gave five thousand pounds for her last year. She's the

  most valuable animal in my stables. Why did this have to happen?"

  Groping my way over the ribs, my heart thudding, I heartily agreed with

  him Why in heaven's name did I have to walk into this nightmare? And

  with a man like Beamish who had no faith in me.

  He stepped forward and clutched my arm.

  "Are you sure Mr Far non isn't available ?"

  "I'm sorry," I replied huskily.

  "He's over thirty miles away."

  The trainer seemed to shrivel within himself.

  "That's it then. We're finished.

  She's dying."

  And he was right. The filly had begun to reel about, the breathing

  louder and more stertorous than ever, and I had difficulty in keeping

  the stethoscope on her chest wall. It was when I was resting my hand

  on her flank to steady her that I noticed the little swelling under the

  skin. It was a circular plaque, like a penny pushed under the tissue.

  I glanced sharply at it. Yes, it was clearly visible.

  And there was another one higher up on the back . . . and another and

  another. My heart gave a quick double thump . . . so that was it.

  "What am I going to tell Sir Eric?" the trainer groaned.

  "That his filly is dead and the vet didn't know what was wrong with

  her?" He glared desperately around him as though in the faint hope

  that Siegfried might magically appear from nowhere.

  I called over my shoulder as I trotted towards the car.

  "I never said I didn't know. I do know. She's got urticaria."

  He came shambling after me

  "Uh . . . what the blazes is that?"

  "Nettle rash," I replied, fumbling among my bottles for t


  "Nettle rash!" His eyes widened.

  "But that couldn't cause all this!"

  I drew 5 cc of the adrenalin into the syringe and started back.

  "It's nothing to do with nettles. It's an allergic condition, usually

  pretty harmless, but in a very few cases it causes oedema of the larynx

  that's what we've got here."

  It was difficult to raise the vein as the filly staggered around, but

  she came to rest for a few seconds and I dug my thumb into the jugular

  furrow. As the big vessel came up tense and turgid I thrust in the

  needle and injected the adrenalin. Then I stepped back and stood by

  the trainer's side.

  Neither of us said any thing. The spectacle of the toiling animal and

  the harrowing sound of the breathing absorbed us utterly.

  The grim knowledge that she was on the verge of suffocation appalled me

  and when she stumbled and almost fell the hand in my pocket gripped

  more tightly on the scalpel which I had taken from my car along with

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