Vets Might Fly, page 13
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
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
"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.... ... ~..
~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
"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
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.
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