It shouldnt happen to a.., p.1
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.1

           James Herriot
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It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet

  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

  Chapter One.

  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."

  "You what."

  "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
up inside with sheer

  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

  two hours."

  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.

  Chapter Two.

  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

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