Let sleeping vets lie, p.1
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.1James Herriot
Let Sleeping Vets Lie [112-066-4.8]
By: JAMES herriot
To my Wife with love
As the faint rumbling growl rolled up from the rib cage into the ear
pieces of my stethoscope the realisation burst upon me with
uncomfortable clarity that this was probably the biggest dog I had ever
seen. In my limited past experience some Irish Wolfhounds had
undoubtedly been taller and a certain number of Bull Mastiffs had
possibly been broader, but for sheer gross poundage this one had it. His
name was Clancy.
It was a good name for an Irishman's dog and Joe Mulligan was very Irish
despite his many years in Yorkshire. Joe had brought him in to the
afternoon surgery and as the huge hairy form ambled along, almost
filling the passage, I was reminded of the times I had seen him out in
the fields around Darrowby enduring the frisking attentions of smaller
animals with massive benignity. He looked like a nice friendly dog.
But now there was this ominous sound echoing round the great thorax like
a distant drum roll in a subterranean cavern, and as the chest piece of
the stethoscope bumped along the ribs the sound swelled in volume and
the lips fluttered over the enormous teeth as though a gentle breeze had
stirred them. It was then that I became aware not only that Clancy was
very big indeed but that my position, kneeling on the floor with my
right ear a few inches from his mouth, was infinitely vulnerable.
I got to my feet and as I dropped the stethoscope into my pocket the dog
gave me a cold look - a sideways glance without moving his head; and
there was a chilling menace in his very immobility. I didn't mind my
patients snapping at me but this one, I felt sure, wouldn't snap. If he
started something it would be on a spectacular scale.
I stepped back a pace. "Now what did you say his symptoms were, Mr.
"Phwaat's that?" Joe cupped his ear with his hand. I took a deep breath.
"What's the trouble with him?" I shouted.
The old man looked at me with total incomprehension from beneath the
straightly adjusted cloth cap. He fingered the muffler knotted
immediately over his larynx and the pipe which grew from the dead centre
of his mouth puffed blue wisps of puzzlement.
Then, remembering something of Clancy's past history, I moved close to
Mr. Mulligan and bawled with all my power into his face. "Is he
The response was immediate. Joe smiled in great relief and removed his
pipe. "Oh aye, he's womitin" sorr. He's womitin" bad." Clearly he was on
Over the years Clancy's treatment had all been at long range. My young
boss, Siegfried Farnon, had told me on the first day I had arrived in
Darrowby two years ago that there was nothing wrong with the dog which
he had described as a cross between an Airedale and a donkey, but his
penchant for eating every bit of rubbish in his path had the inevitable
result. A large bottle of bismuth, mag carte mixture had been dispensed
at regular intervals. He had also told me that Clancy, when bored, used
occasionally to throw Joe to the ground and worry him like a rat just
for a bit of light relief. But his master still adored him.
Prickings of conscience told me I should carry out a full examination.
Take his temperature, for instance. All I had to do was to grab hold of
that tail, lift it and push a thermometer into his rectum. The dog
turned his head and met my eye with a blank stare; again I heard the low
booming drum roll and the upper lip lifted a fraction to show a quick
gleam of white.
"Yes, yes, right, Mr. Mulligan," I said briskly. "I'll get you a bottle
of the usual."
In the dispensary, under the rows of bottles with their Latin names and
glass stoppers I shook up the mixture in a ten ounce bottle, corked it,
stuck on a label and wrote the directions. Joe seemed well satisfied as
he pocketed the familiar white medicine but as he turned to go my
conscience smote me again. The dog did look perfectly fit but maybe he
ought to be seen again.
"Bring him back again on Thursday afternoon at two o'clock," I yelled
into the old man's ear. "And please come on time if you can. You were a
bit late today."
I watched Mr. Mulligan going down the street, preceded by his pipe from
which regular puffs rose upwards as though from a departing railway
engine. Behind him ambled Clancy, a picture of massive calm. With his
all-over covering of tight brown curls he did indeed look like a
Thursday afternoon, I ruminated. That was my half day and at two o'clock
I'd probably be watching the afternoon cinema show in Brawton.
The following Friday morning Siegfried was sitting behind his desk,
working out the morning rounds. He scribbled a list of visits on a pad,
tore out the sheet and handed it to me.
"Here you are, James, I think that'll just about keep you out of
mischief till lunch time." Then something in the previous day's entries
caught his eye and he turned to his younger brother who was at his
morning task of stoking the fire.
"Tristan, I see Joe Mulligan was in yesterday afternoon with his dog and
you saw it. What did you make of it?"
Tristan put down his bucket. "Oh, I gave him some of the bismuth
"Yes, but what did your examination of the patient disclose?"
"Well now, let's see." Tristan rubbed his chin. "He looked pretty
"Is that all?"
"Yes ... yes ... I think so."
Siegfried turned back to me. "And how about you, James? You saw the dog
the day before. What were your findings?"
"Well it was a bit difficult," I said. "That dog's as big as an elephant
and; there's something creepy about him. He seemed to me to be just
waiting his chance and there was only old Joe to hold him. I'm afraid I
wasn't able to make a close examination but I must say I thought the
same as Tristan - he did look pretty lively."
Siegfried put down his pen wearily. On the previous night, fate had
dealt him one of the shattering blows which it occasionally reserves for
vets - a call at each end of his sleeping time. He had been dragged from
his bed at 1 a.m. and again at 6 a.m. and the fires of his personality
were temporarily damped.
He passed a hand across his eyes. "Well God help us. You, James, a
veterinary surgeon of two years experience and you, Tristan, a final
year student can't come up with anything better between you than the
phrase "pretty lively". It's a bloody poor thing! Hardly a worthy
description of clinical findings is it? When an animal comes in here I
expect you to record pulse, temperature and respiratory rate. To
auscultate the chest and thoroughly palpate the abdomen. To open his
mouth and examine teeth, gums and pharynx. To check the condition of the
skin. To catheterise him and examine the urine if necessary."
"Right," I said.
"OK," said Tristan.
My employer rose from his seat. "Have you fixed another appointment?"
"I have, yes." Tristan drew his packet of Woodbines from his pocket.
"For Monday. And since Mr. Mulligan's always late for the surgery I said
we'd visit the dog at his home in the evening."
"I see." Siegfried made a note on the pad, then he looked up suddenly.
"That's when you and James are going to the young farmers" meeting,
The young man drew on his cigarette. "That's right. Good for the
practice for us to mix with the young clients."
"Very well," Siegfried said as he walked to the door. "I'll see the dog
On the following Tuesday I was fairly confident that Siegfried would
have something to say about Mulligan's dog, if only to point out the
benefits of a thorough clinical examination. But he was silent on the
It happened that I came upon old Joe in the market place sauntering over
the cobbles with Clancy inevitably trotting at his heels.
I went up to him and shouted in his ear. "How's your dog?"
Mr. Mulligan removed his pipe and smiled with slow benevolence. "Oh
foine, sorr, foine. Still womitin" a bit, but not bad."
"Mr. Farnon fixed him up, then?"
"Aye, gave him some more of the white medicine. It's wonderful stuff,
sorr, wonderful stuff."
"Good, good," I said. "He didn't find anything else when he examined
Joe took another suck at his pipe. "No he didn't now, he didn't. He's a
clever man, Mr. Farnon - I've niver seen a man work as fast, no I
"What do you mean?"
"Well now he saw all he wanted in tree seconds, so he did."
I was mystified. "Three seconds?"
"Yis," said Mr. Mulligan firmly. "Not a moment more."
"Amazing. What happened?"
Joe tapped out his pipe on his heel and without haste took out a knife
and began to carve a refill from an evil looking coil of black twist.
"Well now I'll tell ye. Mr. Farnon is a man who moves awful sudden, and
that night he banged on our front door and jumped into the room." (I
knew those cottages. There was no hall or lobby - you walked straight
from the street into the living room.) "And as he came in he" was
pullin" his thermometer out of its case. Well now Clancy was lyin" by
the fire and he rose up in a flash and he gave a bit of a wuff, so he
"A bit of a wuff, eh?" I could imagine the hairy monster leaping up and
baying into Siegfried's face. I could see the gaping jaws, the gleaming
"Aye, just a bit of a wuff. Well, Mr. Farnon just put the thermometer
straight back in its case turned round and went out the door."
"Didn't he say anything?" I asked.
"No, civil a word. Just turned about like a soldier and marched out the
door, so he did."
It sounded authentic. Siegfried was a man of instant decision. I put my
hand out to pat Clancy but something in his eyes made me change my mind.
"Well, I'm glad he's better," I shouted.
The old man ignited his pipe with an ancient brass lighter, puffed a
cloud of choking blue smoke into my face and tapped a little metal lid
on to the bowl.
"Aye, Mr. Farnon sent round a big bottle of the white stuff and it's
done 'im good. Mind you,", he gave a beatific smile, "Clancy's allus
been one for the womitin", so he has."
Nothing more was said about the big dog for over a week, but Siegfried's
professional conscience must have been niggling at him because he came
into the dispensary one afternoon when Tristan and I were busy at the
tasks which have" passed into history - making up fever drinks, stomach
powders, boric acid pessaries. He was elaborately casual.
"Oh by the way, I dropped a note to Joe Mulligan. I'm not entirely
convinced that we have adequately explored the causes of his dog's
symptoms. This womiting ... er, vomiting is almost certainly due to
depraved appetite but I just want to make sure. So I have asked him to
bring him round tomorrow afternoon between two and two thirty when we'll
all be here."
No cries of joy greeted his statement, so he continued. "I suppose you
could say that this dog is to some degree a difficult animal and I think
we should plan accordingly." He turned to me. "James, when he arrives
you get hold of his back end, will you?"
"Right," I replied without enthusiasm.
He faced his brother. "And you, Tristan, can deal with the head. OK?"
"Fine, fine," the young man muttered, his face expressionless.
His brother continued. "I suggest you get a good grip with your arms
round his neck and I'll be ready to give him a shot of sedative."
"Splendid, splendid," said Tristan.
"Ah well, that's capital." My employer rubbed his hands together. "Once
I get the dope into him the rest will be easy. I do like to satisfy my
mind about these things."
It was a typical Dales practice at Darrowby; mainly large animal and we
didn't have packed waiting rooms at surgery times. But on the following
afternoon we had nobody in at all, and it added to the tension of
waiting. The three of us mooched about the office, making aimless
conversation, glancing with studied carelessness into the front street,
whistling little tunes to ourselves. By two twenty-five we had all
fallen silent. Over the next five minutes we consulted our watches about
every thirty seconds, then at exactly two thirty Siegfried spoke up.
"This is no damn good. I told Joe he had to be here before half past but
he's taken not a bit of notice. He's always late and there doesn't seem
to be any way to get him here on time." He took a last look out of the
window at the empty street. "Right we're not waiting any longer. You and
I James, have got that colt to cut and you, Tristan, have to see that
beast of Wilson's. So let's be off."
Up till then, Laurel and Hardy were the only people I had ever seen
getting jammed together in doorways but there was a moment when the
three of us gave a passable imitation of the famous comics as we all
fought our way into the passage at the same time. Within seconds we were
in the street and Tristan was roaring off in a cloud of exhaust smoke.
My employer and I proceeded almost as rapidly in the opposite direction.
At the end of Trengate we turned into the market place and I looked
around in vain for signs of Mr. Mulligan. It wasn't until we had reached
the outskirts of the town that we saw him. He had just left his house
and was pacing along under a moving pall of blue smoke with Clancy as
always bringing up the rear.
"There he is!" Siegfried exclaimed. "Would you believe it? At the rate
he's going he'll get to the surgery around three o'clock. Well we won't
be there and it's his own fault." He looked at the great curly-coated
animal tripping along,
a picture of health and energy. "Well, I supp
our time examining that dog in any case. There's nothing really wrong
with him." For a moment he paused, lost in thought, then he turned to
me. "He does look pretty lively, doesn't he?"
This was my second spring m the Dales but it was like the one before and
all the springs after. The kind of spring, that is, that a country vet
knows; the din of the lambing pens, the bass rumble of the ewes and the
high, insistent bawling of the lambs. This, for me, has always heralded
the end of winter and the beginning of something new. This and the
piercing Yorkshire wind and the hard, bright sunshine flooding the bare
At the top of the grassy slope the pens, built of straw bales, formed a
long row of square cubicles each holding a ewe with her lambs and I
could see Rob Benson coming round the far end carrying two feeding
buckets. Rob was hard at it; at this time of the year he didn't go to
bed for about six weeks; he would maybe take off his boots and doze by
the kitchen fire at night but he was his own shepherd and never very far
from the scene of action.
"Ah've got a couple of cases for you today, Jim." His face, cracked and
purpled by the weather, broke into a grin, "It's not really you ah need,
it's that little lady's hand of yours and right sharpish, too."
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes