Vets Might Fly, page 14
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?"
"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
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.
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
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
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
was beginning to develop told me that something inside this animal was
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
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