It shouldnt happen to a.., p.1
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.1James Herriot
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet [112-066-4.8]
By: James Herriot
Here is the heartwarming true story of Dr.. James Herriot, an English
country veterinarian, whose humor and natural storytelling ability have
captured the hearts of American readers in a very special way. "Warm,
joyous, often hilarious .. . "--New York Times Book Review.
To DONALD and BRIAN SINCLAIR Still my friends
I could see that Mr. Handshaw didn't believe a word I was saying. He
looked down at his cow and his mouth tightened into a stubborn line.
"Broken pelvis? You're trying to tell me she'll never get up n'more?
Why, look at her chewing her cud. I'll tell you this, young man - me dad
would've soon got her up if he'd been alive today."
I had been a veterinary surgeon for a year now and I had learned a few
things. One of them was that farmers weren't easy men to convince
especially Yorkshire Dalesmen.
And that bit about his dad. Mr. Handshaw was in his fifties and I
suppose there was something touching about his faith in his late
father's skill and judgement. But I could have done very nicely without
It had acted as an additional irritant in a case in which I felt I had
troubles enough. Because there are few things which get more deeply
under a vet's skin than a cow which won't get up. To the layman it may
seem strange that an animal can be apparently cured of its original
ailment and yet be unable to rise from the floor, but it happens. And it
can be appreciated that a completely recumbent milk cow has no future.
The case had started when my boss, Siegfried Farnon, who owned the
practice in the little Dales market town of Darrowby, sent me to a milk
fever. This suddenly occurring calcium deficiency attacks high yielding
animals just after calving and causes collapse and progressive coma.
When I first saw Mr. Handshaw's cow she was stretched out motionless on
her side, and I had to look carefully to make sure she wasn't dead.
But I got out my bottles of calcium with an airy confidence because I
had been lucky enough to qualify just about the time when the profession
had finally got on top of this hitherto fatal condition. The
breakthrough had come many years earlier with inflation of the udder and
I still carried a little blowing-up outfit around with me (the farmers
used bicycle pumps), but with the advent of calcium therapy one could
bask in a cheap glory by jerking an animal back from imminent death
within minutes. The skill required was minimal but it looked very very
By the time I had injected the two bottles - one into the vein, the
other under the skin - and Mr. Handshaw had helped me roll the cow on to
her chest the improvement was already obvious; she was looking about her
and shaking her head as if wondering where she had been for the last few
hours. I felt sure that if I had the time to hang about for a bit I
could see her on her feet. But other jobs were waiting.
"Give me a ring if she isn't up by dinner time," I said, but it was a
formality. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be seeing her again.
When the farmer rang at midday to say she was still down it was just a
pinprick. Some cases needed an extra bottle - it would be all right. I
went out and injected her again.
I wasn't really worried when I learned she hadn't got up the following
day, but Mr. Handshaw, hands deep in pockets, shoulders hunched as he
stood over his cow, was grievously disappointed at my lack of success.
"It's time t'awd bitch was up. She's coin' no good laid there. Surely
there's summat you can do. I poured a bottle of water into her lug this
morning but even that hasn't shifted her."
"Poured some cold water down her lug 'ore. Me dad used to get 'em up
that way and he was a very clever man with stock was me dad."
"I've no doubt he was," I said primly. "But I really think another
injection is more likely to help her."
The farmer watched glumly as I ran yet another bottle of calcium under
the skin. The procedure had lost its magic for him.
As I put the apparatus away I did my best to be hearty. "I shouldn't
worry. A lot of them stay down for a day or two - you'll probably find
her walking about in the morning."
The phone rang just before breakfast and my stomach contracted sharply
as I heard Mr. Handshaw's voice. It was heavy with gloom. "Well, she's
no different. Lyin' there eating her teed off, but never offers to rise.
What are you going to do now."
What indeed, I thought as I drove out to the farm. The cow had been down
for forty-eight hours now - I didn't like it a bit.
The farmer went into the attack immediately. "Me dad allus used to say
they had a worm in the tail when they stayed down like this. He said if
you cut tail end off it did the trick."
My spirits sagged lower. I had had trouble with this myth before. The
insidious thing was that the people who still practised this relic of
barbarism could often claim that it worked because, after the end of the
tail had been chopped off, the pain of the stump touching the ground
forced many a sulky cow to scramble to her feet.
"There's no such thing as worm in the tail, Mr. Handshaw,"I said. "And
don't you think it's a cruel business, cuttihg off a cow's tail? I hear
the RSPCA had a man in court last week over a job like that."
The farmer narrowed his eyes. Clearly he thought I was hedging. "Well,
if you won't do that, what the hangmen" are you going to do? We've got
to get this cow up somehow."
I took a deep breath. "Well, I'm sure she's got over the milk fever
because she's eating well and looks quite happy. It must be a touch of
posterior paralysis that's keeping her down. There's no point in giving
her any more calcium so I'm going to try this stimulant injection." I
filled the syringe with a feeling of doom. I hadn't a scrap of faith in
the stimulant injection but I just couldn't do nothing. I was scraping
the barrel out now.
I was turning to go when Mr. Handshaw called after me. "Hey, Mister, I
remember summat else me dad used to do. Shout in their lugs. He got many
a cow up that way. I'm not very strong in the voice - how about you
having a go."
It was a bit late to stand on my dignity. I went over to the animal and
seized her by the ear. Inflating my lungs to the utmost I bent down and
bawled wildly into the hairy depths. The cow stopped chewing for a
moment and looked at me enquiringly, then her eyes drooped and she
returned contentedly to her cudding. "We'll give her another day," I
said wearily. "And if she's still down tomorrow we'll have a go at
lifting her. Could you get a few of your neighbours to give us a hand?
Driving round my other cases that day I felt tied
frustration. Damn and blast the thing! What the hell was keeping her
down? And what else could I do? This was 1938 and my resources were
limited. Thirty ~ ._
years later there are still milk fever cows which won't get up but the
vet has a much wider armoury if the calcium has failed to do the job.
The excellent Bagshaw hoist which clamps on to the pelvis and raises the
animal in a natural manner, the phosphorus injections, even the electric
goad which administers a swift shock when applied to the rump and sends
many a comfortably ensconced cow leaping to her feet with an offended
As I expected, the following day brought no change and as I got out of
the car in Mr. Handshaw's yard I was surrounded by a group of his
neighbours. They were in festive mood, grinning, confident, full of
helpful advice as farmers always are with somebody else's animals.
There was much laughter and legpulling as we drew sacks under the cow's
body and a flood of weird suggestions to which I tried to close my ears.
When we all finally gave a concerted heave and lifted her up, the result
was predictable; she just hung there placidly with her legs dangling
whilst her owner leaned against the wall watching us with deepening
After a lot of puffing and grunting we lowered the inert body and
everybody looked at me for the next move. I was hunting round
desperately in my mind when Mr. Handshaw piped up again.
"Me dad used to say a strange dog would allus get a cow up."
There were murmurs of assent from the assembled farmers and immediate
offers of dogs. I tried to point out that one would be enough but my
authority had dwindled and anyway everybody seemed anxious to
demonstrate their dogs' cowraising potential. There was a sudden excited
exodus and even Mr. Smedley the village shopkeeper pedalled off at
frantic speed for his border terrier. It seemed only minutes before the
byre was alive with snapping, snarling curs but the cow ignored them all
except to wave her horns warningly at the ones which came too close.
The flash-point came when Mr. Handshaw's own dog came in from the fields
where he had been helping to round up the sheep. He was a skinny,
hard-bitten little creature with lightning reflexes and a short temper.
He stalked, stiff-legged and bristling, into the byre, took a single
astounded look at the pack of foreigners on his territory and flew into
faction with silent venom.
Within seconds the finest dog fight I had ever seen was in full swing
and I stood back and surveyed the scene with a feeling of being
completely superfluous. The yells of the farmers rose above the enraged
yapping and growling. One intrepid man leaped into the melee and
reappeared with a tiny Jack Russell hanging on determinedly to the heel
of his Wellington boot. Mr. Reynolds of Clover Hill was rubbing the
cow's tail between two short sticks and shouting "Cush! Cush!" and as I
watched helplessly a total stranger tugged at my sleeve and whispered:
"Haste tried a teaspoonful of Jeyes' Fluid in a pint of old beer every
It seemed to me that all the forces of black magic had broken through
and were engulfing me and that my slender resources of science had no
chance of shoring up the dyke. I don't know how I heard the creaking
sound above the din probably because I was bending low over Mr. Reynolds
in an attempt to persuade him to desist from his tail rubbing. But at
that moment the cow shifted her position slightly and I distinctly heard
it. It came from the pelvis.
It took me some time to attract attention - I think everybody had
forgotten I was there - but finally the dogs were separated and secured
with innumerable lengths of binder twine, everybody stopped shouting,
Mr. Reynolds was pulled away from the tail and I had the stage.
I addressed myself to Mr. Handshaw. "Would you get me a bucket of hot
water, some soap and a towel, please."
He trailed off, grumbling, as though he didn't expect much from the new
gambit. My stock was definitely low.
I stripped off my jacket, soaped my arms and pushed a hand into the
cow's rectum until I felt the hard bone of the pubis. Gripping it
through the wall of the rectum I looked up at my audience. "Will two of
you get hold of the hook bones and rock the cow gently from side to
Yes, there it was again, no mistake about it. I could both hear and feel
it a looseness, a faint creaking, almost a grating.
I got up and washed my arm. "Well, I know why your cow won't get up she
has a broken pelvis. Probably did it during the first night when she was
staggering about with the milk fever. I should think the nerves are
damaged, too. It's hopeless, I'm afraid." Even though I was dispensing
bad news it was a relief to come up with something rational.
Mr. Handshaw stared at me. "Hopeless? How's that."
"I'm sorry," I said, 'but that's how it is. The only thing you can do is
get her off to the butcher. She has no power in her hind legs. She'll
never get up again."
That was when Mr. Handshaw really blew his top and started a lengthy
speech. He wasn't really unpleasant or abusive but firmly pointed out my
shortcomings and bemoaned again the tragic fact that his dad was not
there to put everything right. The other farmers stood in a wide-eyed
ring, enjoying every word.
At the end of it I took myself off. There was nothing more I could do
and anyway Mr. Handshaw would have to come round to my way of thinking.
Time would prove me right.
I thought of that cow as soon as I awoke next morning. It hadn't been a
happy episode but at least I did feel a certain peace in the knowledge
that there were no more doubts. I knew what was wrong, I knew that there
was no hope. There was nothing more to worry about.
I was surprised when I heard Mr. Handshaw's voice on the phone so soon.
I had thought it would take him two or three days to realise he was
"Is that Mr. Herriot? Aye, well, good mornin' to you. I'm just ringing
to tell you that me cow's up on her legs and doing fine."
I gripped the receiver tightly with both hands.
"What? What's that you say."
"I said me cow's up. Found her walking about byre this morning, fit as a
fiddle. You'd think there'd never been owl the matter with her." He
paused for a few moments then spoke with grave deliberation like a
disapproving schoolmaster. ' And you stood there and looked at me and
said she'd never get up n'more."
"But ... but ..."
"Ah, you're wondering how I did it? Well, I just happened to remember
another old trick of me dad's. I went round to "'butcher and got a
fresh-killed sheep skin and put it on her back. Had her up in no time
you'll 'ave to come round and see her. Wonderful man was me dad."
Blindly I made my way into the dining-room. I had to consult my boss
about this. Siegfried's sleep had been broken by a 3 a.m. calving and he
looked a lot older than his thirty-odd years. He listened in silence as
he finished his breakfast then pushed away his plate and poured a last
cup of coffee. "Hard luck, James. The old sheep skin, eh? Funny thing
you've been in the Dales over a year now and never come across that one.
Suppose it must be going out of fashion a bit now but you know it has a
grain of sense behind it like a lot of these old remedies. You can
imagine there's a lot of heat generated under a fresh sheep skin and it
acts like a great hot poultice on the back - really tickles them up
after a while, and if a cow is lying there out of sheer cussedness
she'll often get up just to get rid of it."
"But damn it, how about the broken pelvis? I tell you it was creaking
and wobbling all over the place."
"Well, James, you're not the first to have been caught that way.
Sometimes the pelvic ligaments don't tigh(en up for a few days after
calving and you get this effect."
"Oh God," I moaned, staring down at the table cloth. "What a bloody mess
I've made of the whole thing."
"Oh, you haven't really." Siegfried lit a cigarette and leaned back in
his chair. "That old cow was probably toying with the idea of getting up
for a walk just when old Handshaw dumped the skin on her back. She could
just as easily have done it after one of your injections and then you'd
have got the credit. Don't you remember what I told you when you first
came here? There's a very fine dividing line between looking a real
smart vet on the one hand and an immortal fool on the other. This sort
of thing happens to us all, so forget it, James."
But forgetting wasn't so easy. That cow became a celebrity in the
district. Mr. Handshaw showed her with pride to the postman, the
policeman, corn merchants, lorry drivers, fertiliser salesmen, Ministry
of Agriculture officials and they all told me about it frequently with
pleased smiles. Mr. Handshaw's speech was always the same, delivered,
they said, in ringing, triumphant tones:
"There's the cow that Mr. Herriot said would never get up n'more."
I'm sure there was no malice behind the farmer's actions. He had put one
over on the young clever-pants vet and nobody could blame him for
preening himself a little. And in a way I did that cow a good turn; I
considerably extended her life span, because Mr. Handshaw kept her long
beyond her normal working period just as an exhibit. Years after she had
stopped giving more than a couple of gallons of milk a day she was still
grazing happily in the field by the roadside.
She had one curiously upturned horn and was easy to recognise. I often
pulled up my car and looked wistfully over the wall at the cow that
would never get up n'more.
Siegfried came away from the telephone; his face was expressionless.
"That was Mrs. Pumphrey. She wants you to see her pig."
"Peke, you mean," I said.
"No, pig. She has a six-week-old pig she wants you to examine for
I laughed sheepishly. My relations with the elderly widow's Peke was a
touchy subject. "All right, all right, don't start again. What did she
really want? Is Tricki Woo's bottom playing him up again."
"James," said Siegfried gravely. "It is unlike you to doubt my word in
this way. I will repeat the message from Mrs. Pumphrey and then I shall
expect you to act upon it immediately and without further question. The
lady informed me that she has become the owner of a six-week-old piglet
and she wants.the animal thoroughly vetted. You know how I feel about
these examinations and I don't want the job scimped in any way. I should
pay particular attention to its wind - have it well galloped round a
paddock before you get your stethoscope on it and for heaven's sake
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet by James Herriot / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes