Vets might fly, p.14

Vets Might Fly, page 14


Vets Might Fly

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  the adrenalin. I knew only too well that tracheotomy was indicated

  here but I didn't have a tube with me. If the filly did go off her

  legs I should have to start cutting into her windpipe, but I put the

  thought away from me. For the moment I had to depend on the


  Beamish stretched out a hand in a helpless gesture.

  "It's hopeless, isn't it?"

  he whispered.

  I shrugged

  "There's a small chance. If the injection can reduce the fluid in the

  larynx in time . . . we'll just have to wait."

  He nodded and I could read more than one emotion in his face; not just

  the dread of breaking the news to the famous owner but the distress of

  a horse-love-as he witnessed the plight of the beautiful animal.

  . . ~ . .

  At first I thought it was imagination, but it seemed that the breathing

  was becoming less stertorous. Then as I hovered in an agony of

  uncertainty I noticed that the salivation was diminishing; she was able

  to swallow.

  From that moment events moved with unbelievable rapidity. The symptoms

  of allergies appear with dramatic suddenness but mercifully they often

  disappear as quickly following treatment. Within fifteen minutes the

  filly looked almost normal. There was still a slight wheeze in her

  respirations but she was loo king around her, quite free from


  Beamish, who had been watching like a man in a daze, pulled a handful

  of hay from a bale and held it out to her. She snatched it eagerly

  from his hand and began to eat with great relish.

  "I can't believe it," the trainer muttered almost to himself.

  "I've never seen any thing work as fast as that injection."

  I felt as though I was riding on a pink cloud with all the tension and

  misery flowing from me in a joyful torrent. Thank God there were

  moments like this among the traumas of veterinary work; the sudden

  transition from despair to triumph, from shame to pride.

  I almost floated to the car and as I settled in my seat Beamish put his

  face to the open window.

  "Mr Herriot . . ." He was not a man to whom gracious speech came

  easily and his cheeks, roughened and weathered by years of riding on

  the open moor, twitched as he sought for words.

  "Mr Herriot, I've been thinking . . . you don't have to be a horsey

  man to cure horses, do you?"

  There was something like an appeal in his eyes as we gazed at each


  I laughed suddenly and his expression relaxed.

  "That's right," I said, and drove away.

  Chapter Thirteen


  G B J~ ~4 ~/S. ~

  ~ ~, Do dogs have a sense of humour?

  I felt I needed all mine as I stood on guard outside the Grand. It was

  after midnight, with a biting wind swirling across the empty square,

  and I was so cold and bored that it was a relief even to slap the butt

  of my rifle in salute as a solitary officer went by.

  Wryly I wondered how, after my romantic ideas of training to be a

  pilot, I came to be defending the Grand Hotel at Scar borough against

  all comers. No doubt there was something comic in the situation and I

  suppose that was what): set my mind wandering in the direction of

  Farmer Bailes' dog, Shep. .

  Mr Bailes' little place was situated about half way along High burn

  Village and to get into the farmyard you had to walk twenty yards or so

  between five.g t walls. On the left was the neighbouring house, on the

  right the front garden ~l' s farm. In this garden Shep lurked for most

  of the day. - ~4 was a huge dog, much larger than the average collie.

  In fact I am convinced] part Alsatian because though he had a luxuriant

  black and white coat] mo~ something significant in the massive limbs

  and in the noble brown] Shaded head with its upstanding ears. He was

  quite different from the stringy little animals I saw on my daily


  As I walked between the walls my mind was already in the byre, just

  visible at the far end of the yard. Because one of the Bailes cows,

  Rose by name, had the kind of obscure digestive ailment which

  interferes with veterinary surgeons' sleep. They are so difficult to

  diagnose. This animal had begun to grunt and go off her milk two days

  ago and when I had seen her yesterday I had flitted from one

  possibility to the other. Could be a wire. But the fourth stomach was

  contracting well and there were plenty of rumen al sounds. Also she

  was eating a little hay in a half-hearted way.

  Could it be impaction . ..? Or a partial torsion of the gut ...?

  There was abdominal pain without a doubt and that nagging temperature

  of 102.5 - that was damn like a wire. Of course I could settle the

  whole thing by opening the cow up, but Mr Bailes was an old-fashioned

  type and didn't like the idea of my diving into his animal unless I was

  certain of my diagnosis. And I wasn't there was no get ting away from


  Anyway, I had built her up at the front end so that she was standing

  with her fore feet on a half door and had given her a strong oily


  "Keep the bowels open and trust in God," an elderly colleague had once

  told me. There was a lot in that.

  I was half way down the alley between the walls with the hope bright

  before me that my patient would be improved when from nowhere an

  appalling explosion of sound blasted into my right ear. It was Shep


  The wall was just the right height for the dog to make a leap and bark

  into the ear of the passers by. It was a favourite gambit of his and I

  had been caught before; but never so successfully as now. My attention

  had been so far away and the dog had timed his jump to a split second

  so that his bark came at the highest point, his teeth only inches from

  my face. And his voice befitted his size, a great bull bellow surging

  from the depths of his powerful chest and booming from his gaping


  I rose several inches into the air and when I descended, heart

  thumping, head singing, I glared over the wall. But as usual all I saw

  was the hairy form bounding away out of sight round the corner of the


  That was what puzzled me. Why did he do it? Was he a savage creature

  with evil designs on me or was it his idea of a joke? I never got near

  enough to him to find out.

  I wasn't in the best of shape to receive bad news and that was what

  awaited me in the byre. I had only to look at the farmer's face to

  know that the cow was worse.

  "Ah reckon she's got a stoppage," Mr Bailes muttered gloomily.

  I gritted my teeth. The entire spectrum of abdominal disorders were

  lumped as 'stoppages' by the older race of farmers.

  "The oil hasn't worked, then?"

  "Nay, she's nob but pass in' little hard bits. It's a proper stoppage,

  ah tell you."

  "Right, Mr Bailes," I said with a twisted smile.

  "We'll have to try something stronger I brought in from my car the

  gastric lavage outfit I loved so well and which has so sadly

  disappeared from my life. The long rubber stomach tube, the wo
oden gag

  with its leather straps to buckle behind the horns. As I pumped in the

  two gallons of warm water rich in formalin and sodium chloride I felt

  like Napoleon sending in the Old Guard at Waterloo. If this didn't

  work nothing would.

  And yet I didn't feel my usual confidence. There was something

  different here But I had to try. I had to do something to start this

  cow's insides functioning because I did not like the look of her today.

  The soft grunt was still there and her eyes had begun to retreat into

  her head the worst sign of all in bovines And she had stopped eating


  Next morning I was driving down the single village street when I saw

  Mrs Bailes coming out of the shop. I drew up and pushed my head out of

  the window' "How's Rose this morning Mrs Bailes?"

  She rested her basket on the ground and looked down at me gravely.

  "Oh,; she's bad, Mr Herriot. Me husband thinks she's goin' down fast.

  If you want to find him you'll have to go across the field there. He's

  men din' the door in the little barn."

  A sudden misery enveloped me as I drove over to the gate leading into

  the field. I left the car in the road and lifted the latch.

  "Damn! Damn! Damn!" I muttered as I trailed across the green. I had

  a nasty feeling that a little tragedy was building up here. If this

  animal died it would be a sickening blow to a small farmer with ten

  cows and a few pigs. I should be able to do something about it and it

  was a depressing thought that I was get ting nowhere.

  And yet, despite it all, I felt peace stealing into my soul. It was a

  large field and I could see the barn at the far end as I walked with

  the tall grass brushing my knees. It was a meadow ready for cutting

  and suddenly I realised that it was high summer, the sun was hot and

  that every step brought the fragrance of clover and warm grass rising

  about me into the crystal freshness of the air Somewhere nearby a field

  of broad beans was in full flower and as the exotic scent drifted

  across I found myself inhaling with half-closed eyes as though

  straining to discern the ingredients of the glorious melange.

  And then there was the silence; it was the most soothing thing of all.

  That and the feeling of being alone. I looked drowsily around at the

  empty green miles sleeping under the sunshine. Nothing stirred, there

  was no sound.

  Then without warning the ground at my feet erupted in an incredible

  blast of noise. For a dreadful moment the blue sky was obscured by an

  enormous hairy form and a red mouth went

  "WAAAHH!" in my face. Almost screaming, 1 staggered back and as I

  glared wildly I saw Shep disappearing at top speed towards the gate.

  Concealed in the deep herbage right in the middle of the field he had

  waited till he saw the whites of my eyes before making his assault.

  Whether he had been there by accident or whether he had spotted me

  arriving and slunk into position I shall never know, but from his point

  of view the result must have been eminently satisfactory because it was

  certainly the worst fright I have ever had. I live a life which is

  well larded with scares and alarms, but this great dog rising bellowing

  from that empty landscape was something on its own. I have heard of

  cases where sudden terror and stress has caused involuntary evacuation

  of the bowels and I know without question that this was the occasion

  when I came nearest to suffering that unhappy fate. ' I was still

  trembling when I reached the barn and hardly said a word as Mr Bailes

  led me back across the road to the farm.

  And it was like rubbing it in when I saw my patient. The flesh had

  melted; from her and she stared at the wall apathetically from sunken

  eyes. The.

  doom-laden grunt was louder.

  "She must have a wire!" I muttered.

  "Let her loose for a minute, will you?" :' Mr Bailes undid the chain

  and Rose walked along the byre. At the end she A turned and almost

  trotted back to her stall, jumping quite freely over the gutter.

  My Bible in those days was Udall's Practice of Veterinary Medicine and


  great man stated therein that if a cow moved freely she was unlikely to

  have foreign body in her reticulum. I pinched her withers and she

  didn't complain . . it had to be something else.

  ~It's worst stoppage ah've seen for a bit," said Mr Bailes.

  "Ah gave her a dose of some right powerful stuff this morn in' but it's

  done no good."

  I passed a weary hand over my brow.

  "What was that, Mr Bailes?" It was always a bad sign when the client

  started using his own medicine.

  The farmer reached to the cluttered windowsill and handed me a


  ~DOctor Hornibrook's Stomach Elixir. A sovereign remedy for all

  diseases of castle." The Doctor, in top hat and frock coat, looked

  confidently out at me from the label as I pulled out the cork and took

  a sniff. I blinked and staggered back with watering eyes. It smelt

  like pure ammonia but I was in no position to be superior about it.

  "That clang "runt!" The farmer hunched his shoulders.

  "What's cause of it?"

  It was no good my say ing it sounded like a circumscribed area of

  peritonitis because I didn't know what was behind it.

  I decided to have one last go with the ravage. It was still the

  strongest weapon in my armoury but this time I added two pounds of

  black treacle n' the mixture.

  Nearly every farmer had a barrel of the stuff in his cow house in those

  days and I had only to go into the corner and turn the tap.

  I often mourn the passing of the treacle barrel. because molasses was

  a good medicine for cattle, but I had no great hopes this time. The

  clinical instinct


  was beginning to develop told me that something inside this animal was

  fundamentally awry.

  It was not till the following afternoon that I drove into High burn. I

  left the car outside the farm and was about to walk between the walls

  when I paused and stared at a cow in the field on the other side of the

  road. It was a pasture next to the hay field of yesterday and that cow

  was Rose. There could be no mistake she was a fine deep red with a

  distinctive white mark like a football on her left flank.

  I opened the gate and within seconds my cares dropped from me. She was

  wonderfully, miraculously improved, in fact she looked like a normal


  I walked up to her and scratched the root of her tail. She was a

  docile creature and merely looked round at me as she cropped the grass;

  and her eyes were no longer sunken but bright and full.

  She seemed to take a fancy to a green patch further into the field and

  began to amble slowly towards it. I followed, entranced, as she moved

  along, shaking her head impatiently against the flies, eager for more

  of the delicious herbage.

  The grunt had disappeared and her udder hung heavy and turgid between

  her legs. The difference since yesterday was incredible.

  As the wave of relief flooded through me I saw Mr Bailes climbing over

p; the wall from the next field. He would still be men ding that barn


  As he approached I felt a pang of commiseration. I had to guard

  against any display of triumph. He must be feeling just a bit silly at

  the moment after showing his lack of faith in me yesterday with his

  home remedies and his general attitude. But after all the poor chap

  had been worried I couldn't blame him.

  No, it wouldn't do to preen myself unduly.

  "Ah, good morning to you, Mr Bailes," I said expansively.

  "Rose looks fine today, doesn't she?"

  The farmer took off his cap and wiped his brow.

  "Aye, she's a different cow, all right."

  "I don't think she needs any more treatment," I said. I hesitated.

  Perhaps one little dig would do no harm.

  "But it's a good thing I gave her that extra ravage yesterday."

  "Yon pump in' job?" Mr Bailes raised his eyebrows.

  "Oh that had nowt to do with it."

  'that . . . what do you mean? It cured her, surely."

  "Nay, lad, nay, Jim Oakley cured her."

  "Jim . . . what on earth . . .?"

  "Aye, Jim was round 'ere last night. He often comes in of an even in'

  end he took one look at the cow and told me what to do. Ah'll tell you

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