It shouldnt happen to a.., p.12
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.12

           James Herriot
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rough stones, his head slumped forward and his great long arms hanging

  loosely, the poor fellow still didn't look so good.

  I couldn't help feeling a bit responsible. "Don't you think we might

  give him a drink."

  1 ``

  (') ."


  But Mr. Bennison had had enough. "Nay, nay, he'll be right," he muttered

  testily "Let's get on with t'job." Evidently he felt he had pampered

  George too much already.

  The incident started me thinking about this question of people's

  reactions to the sight of blood and other disturbing realities. Even

  though it was only my second year of practice I had already formulated

  certain rules about this and one was that it was always the biggest men

  who went down. (I had, by this time, worked out a few other, perhaps

  unscientific theories, e.g. big dogs were kept by people who lived in

  little houses and vice versa. Clients who said 'spare no expense' never

  paid their bills, ever. When I asked my way in the Dales and was told

  'you can't miss it', I knew I'd soon be hopelessly lost.)

  I had begun to wonder if perhaps country folk, despite their closer

  contact with fundamental things, were perhaps more susceptible than city

  people. Ever since Sid Blenkhorn had staggered into Skeldale House one

  evening. His face was ghastly white and he had obviously passed through

  a shattering experience. "Have you got a drop o' whisky handy, Jim?" he

  quavered, and when I had guided him to a chair and Siegfried had put a

  glass in his hand he told us he had been at a first aid lecture given by

  Dr. Allinson, a few doors down the street. "He was talking about veins

  and arteries and things," groaned Sid, passing a hand across his

  forehead. "God, it was awful!" Apparently Fred Ellison the fishmonger

  had been carried out unconscious after only ten minutes and Sid himself

  had only just made it to the door. It had been a shambles.

  I was interested because this sort of thing, I had found, was always

  just round the corner. I suppose we must have more trouble in this way

  than the doctors because in most cases when our medical colleagues have

  any cutting or carving to do they send their patients to hospital while

  the vets just have to get their jackets off and operate on the spot. It

  means that the owners and attendants of the animals are pulled in as

  helpers and are subjected to some unusual sights.

  So, even in my short experience, I had become a fair authority on the

  various manifestations of 'coming over queer'. I suppose it was a bit

  early to start compiling statistics but I had never seen a woman or a

  little man pass out even though they might exhibit various shadings of

  the squeamish spectrum. The big chap was the best bet every time,

  especially the boisterous, super-confident type.

  I have a vivid recollection of a summer evening when I had to carry out

  a rumenotomy on a cow. As a rule I was inclined to play for time when I

  suspected a foreign body - there were so many other conditions with

  similar symptoms that I was never in a hurry to make a hole in the

  animal's side. But this time diagnosis was easy; the sudden fall in milk

  yield, loss of cudding; grunting, and the rigid, sunken-eyed appearance

  of the cow. And to clinch it the farmer told me he had been repairing a

  hen house in the cow pasture - nailing up loose boards. I knew where one

  of the nails had gone.

  The farm, right on the main street of the village, was a favourite

  meeting place for the local lads. As I laid out my instruments on a

  clean towel draped over a straw bale a row of grinning faces watched

  from above the half door of the box; not only watched but encouraged me

  with ribald shouts. When I was about ready to start it occurred to me

  that an extra pair of hands would be helpful and I turned to the door.

  "How would one of you lads like to be my assistant?" There was even more

  shouting for a minute or two, then the door was opened and a huge young

  man with a shock of red hair ambled into the box; he was a magnificent

  sight with his vast shoulders and the column of sunburned neck rising

  from the open shirt. It needed only the bright blue eyes and the ruddy,

  high-cheekboned face to remind me that the Norsemen had been around the

  Dales a thousand years ago. This was a Viking.

  I had him roll up his sleeves and scrub his hands in a bucket of warm

  water (


  k f Cl W rc fr, and antiseptic while I infiltrated the cow's flank with

  local anaesthetic. When I gave him artery forceps and scissors to hold

  he pranced around, making stabbing motions at the cow and roaring with


  "Maybe you'd like to do the job yourself?" I asked. The Viking squared

  his great shoulders. "Aye, I'll 'ave a go," and the heads above the door

  cheered lustily.

  As I finally poised my Bard Parker scalpel with its new razor-sharp

  blade over the cow, the air was thick with earthy witticisms. I had

  decided that this time I really would make the bold incision recommended

  in the surgery books; it was about time I advanced beyond the stage of

  pecking nervously at the skin. "A veritable blow," was how one learned

  author had described it. Well, that was how it was going to be.

  I touched the blade down on the clipped area of the flank and with a

  quick motion of the wrist laid open a ten-inch wound. I stood back for a

  few seconds admiring the clean-cut edges of the skin with only a few

  capillaries spurting on to the glistening, twitching abdominal muscles.

  At the same time I noticed that the laughter and shouting from the heads

  had been switched off and was replaced by an eerie silence broken only

  by a heavy, thudding sound from behind me.

  "Forceps please," I said, extending my hand back. But nothing happened.

  I looked round; the top of the half door was bare - not a head in sight.

  There was only the Viking spreadeagled in the middle of the floor, arms

  and legs flung wide, chin pointing to the roof. The attitude was so

  theatrical that I thought he was still acting the fool, but a closer

  examination erased all doubts: the Viking was out cold. He must have

  gone straight over backwards like a stricken oak.

  The farmer, a bent little man who couldn't have scaled much more than

  eight stones, had been steadying the cow's head. He looked at me with

  the faintest flicker of amusement in his eyes. "Looks like you and me

  for it, then, guvnor." He tied the halter to a ring on the wall, washed

  his hands methodically and took up his place at my side. Throughout the

  operation, he passed me my instruments, swabbed away the seeping blood

  and clipped the sutures, whistling tunelessly through his teeth in a

  bored manner; the only time he showed any real emotion was when I

  produced the offending nail from the depths of the reticulum. He raised

  his eyebrows slightly, said "ello, 'ello," then started whistling again.

  We were too busy to do anything for the Viking. Halfway through, he sat

  up, shook himself a few times then got to his feet and strolled with

  elaborate nonchalance out of the box. The poor fellow seemed to be

/>   hoping that perhaps we had noticed nothing unusual.

  I don't suppose we could have done much to bring him round anyway. There

  was only one time I discovered a means of immediate resuscitation and

  that was by accident.

  It was when Henry Dickson asked me to show him how to castrate a

  ruptured pig without leaving a swelling. Henry was going in for pigs in

  a big way and had a burning ambition to equip himself with veterinary


  When he showed me the young pig with the gross scrotal swelling I

  demurred. "I really think this is a vet's job, Henry. Castrate your

  normal pigs by all means but I don't think you could make a proper job

  of this sort of thing."

  "How's that, then."

  "Well, there's the local anaesthetic, danger of infection - and you

  really need a knowledge of anatomy to know what you're doing."

  All the frustrated surgeon in Henry showed in his eyes. "Gang, I'd like

  to know how to do it."

  "I'll tell you what," I said. "How about if I do this one as a

  demonstration and you can make up your own mind. I'll give him a general

  anaesthetic so you don't have to hold him."

  "Right' that's a good idea." Henry thought for a moment. "What'll you

  charge me to do 'im."

  "Seven and six."

  "Well I suppose you have to have your pound of flesh. Get on."

  I injected a few cc's of Nembutal into the little pig's peritoneum and

  after some staggering he rolled over in the straw and lay still. Henry

  had rigged up a table in the yard and we laid the sleeping animal on it.

  I was preparing to start when Henry pulled out a ten-shilling note.

  "Better pay you now before I forget."

  "All right, but my hands are clean now - push it into my pocket and I'll

  give you the change when we finish."

  I rather fancy myself as a teacher and soon warmed to my task. I

  carefully incised the skin over the inguinal canal and pulled out the

  testicle, intact in its tunics. "See there, Henry, the bowels have come

  down the canal and are Lying in with the testicle." I pointed to the

  loops of intestine, pale pink through the translucent membranes. "Now if

  I do this, I can push them right back into the abdomen, and if I press

  here, out they pop again. You see how it works? There, they've gone; now

  they're out again. Once more I make them disappear and whoops, there

  they are back with us! Now in order to retain them permanently in the

  abdomen I take the spermatic cord and wind it in its coverings tightly

  down to the ..."

  But my audience was no longer with me. Henry had sunk down on an

  upturned oil drum and lay slumped across the table, his head cradled on

  his arms. My disappointment was acute, and finishing off the job and

  inserting the sutures was a sad anticlimax with my student slumbering at

  the end of the table.

  I put the pig back in his pen and gathered up my gear: then I remembered

  I hadn't given Henry his change. I don't know why I did it but instead

  of half-a-crown, I slapped down a shilling and sixpence on the wood a

  few inches from his face. The noise made him open his eyes and he gazed

  dully at the coins for a few seconds, then with almost frightening

  suddenness he snapped upright, ashenfaced but alert and glaring.

  "Hey!" he shouted. "I want another shillin'."

  Chapter Sixteen.

  Vets are useless creatures, parasites on the agricultural community,

  expensive layabouts who really know nothing about animals or their

  diseases. You might as well get Jeff Mallock the knacker man as send for

  a vet At least that was the opinion, frequently expressed, of the Sidlow

  family. In fact, when you came right down to it, just about the only

  person for miles around who knew how to treat sick beasts was Mr. Sidlow

  himself. If any of their cows or horses fell ill it was Mr. Sidlow who

  stepped forward with his armour of Sovereign remedies. He enjoyed a

  God-like prestige with his wife and large family and it was an article

  of their faith that father was infallible in these matters; the only

  other being who had ever approached his skill was long-dead Grandpa

  Sidlow from whom father had learned so many of his cures.

  ~mind you, Mr. Sidlow was a just and humane man. After maybe five or six

  days of dedicated nursing during which he would perhaps push

  half-a-pound of lard and raisins down the cow's throat three times a

  day, rub its udder vigorously with turpentine or maybe cut a bit off the

  end of the tail to let the bad out, he always in the end called the vet.

  Not that it would do any good, but he liked to give the animal every

  chance. When the vet arrived he invariably found a sunken-eyed, dying

  creature and the despairing treatment he gave was like a figurative

  administration of the last rites. The animal always died so the Sidlows

  were repeatedly confirmed in their opinion - vets were useless.

  The farm was situated outside the normal area of the practice and we

  were the third firm Mr. Sidlow had dealt with. He had been a client of

  Grier of Brawton but had found him wanting and moved to Wallace away

  over in t~Mansley. Wallace had disappointed him grievously so he had

  decided to try Darrowby. He had been with us for over a year but it was

  an uncomfortable relationship because Siegfried had offended him deeply

  on his very first visit. It was to a moribund horse, and Mr. Sidlow,

  describing the treatment to date, announced that he had been pushing raw

  onions up the horse's rectum; he couldn't understand why it was so

  uneasy on its legs. Siegfried had pointed out that if he were to insert

  a raw onion in Mr. Sidlow's rectum, he, Mr. Sidlow, would undoubtedly be

  uneasy on his legs.

  It was a bad start but there were really no other available vets left.

  He was stuck with us.

  I had been uncannily lucky in that I had been at Darrowby for more than

  a year and had never had to visit this farm. Mr. Sidlow rarely called us

  up during normal working hours as, after wrestling with his conscience

  for a few i days, he always seemed to lose the battle around eleven

  o'clock at night (he made exceptions in the case of the occasional

  Sunday afternoon) and it had always landed on Siegfried's duty nights.

  It was Siegfried who had trailed out, swearing quietly and returned,

  slightly pop-eyed in the small hours.

  ~, So when it did finally come round to my turn I didn't rush out with

  any great enthusiasm, even though the case was just a choking bullock

  and should present ~no difficulties. (This was when a beast got a piece

  of turnip or a potato stuck in its gullet, preventing regurgitation of

  gases and causing bloating which can be fatal. We usually either

  relieved the bloat by puncturing the stomach or we - carefully pushed

  the obstruction down into the stomach by means of a long ; flexible

  leather instrument called a probang.) Anyway, they had realised they

  couldn't wait for days this time and by way of a change it was only four

  o'clock ' in the afternoon.

  The farm was nearer Brawton than Darrowby and lay in the low country

  down on the Plain of York. I didn't like th
e look of the place; there

  was something depressing about the dilapidated brick buildings in the

  dreary setting of ploughing land with only the occasional mound of a

  potato clamp to relieve the flatness.

  My first sight of Mr. Sidlow reminded me that he and his family were

  members of a fanatically narrow religious sect. I had seen that gaunt,

  bluejowled face with the tortured eyes staring at me from the pages of

  history books ~ long ago. I had the feeling that Mr. Sidlow would have

  burnt me at the stake ~, without a qualm. :~

  The bullock was in a gloomy box off the fold yard. Several of the family

  had 4: filed in with us; two young men in their twenties and three

  teenage girls, all good-looking in a dark gipsy way, but all with the

  same taut, unsmiling look as their father. As I moved around, examining

  the animal, I noticed another ~. peculiarity - they all looked at me,

  the bullock, each other, with quick sideways glances without any head

  movement. Nobody said anything.

  I would have liked to break the silence but couldn't think of anything

  cheerful .] to say. This beast didn't have the look of an ordinary

  choke. I could feel the ~ l ~;] ~

  potato quite distinctly from the outside, half-way down the oesophagus

  but all around was an oedematous mass extending up and down the left

  side of the neck. Not only that, but there was a bloody foam dripping

  from the mouth. There was something funny here.

  A thought struck me. "Have you been trying to push the potato down with

  something ."

  I could almost feel the battery of flitting glances, and the muscles of

  Mr. Sidlow's clenched jaw stood out in a twitching ridge. He swallowed

  carefully. "Aye, we've tried a bit."

  "What did you use."

  Again the rippling jaw muscles under the dark skin. "Broom handle and a

  bit of hose pipe. Same as usual."

  That was enough; a sense of doom enveloped me. It would have been nice

  to be the first vet to make a good impression here but it wasn't to be.

  I turned to the farmer. "I'm afraid you've ruptured the gullet. It's a

  very delicate tube, you know, and you only have to push a bit too hard

  and you're through. You can see the fluid collection round the rupture."

  A quivering silence answered me. I ploughed on. "I've seen this happen

  before. It's a pretty black outlook."

  "All right," Mr. Sidlow ground out. "What are you going to do about it."

  Well, we were at it now. What was I going to do about it? Maybe now,

  thirty years later, I might have tried to repair the gullet, packed the

  wound with antibiotic powder and given a course of penicillin

  injections. But there, in that cheerless place, looking at the patient

  animal gulping painfully, coughing up the gouts of blood, I knew I was

  whacked. A ruptured oesophagus was as near hopeless as anything could

  be. I searched my mind for a suitable speech.

  "I'm sorry, Mr. Sidlow, but I can't do anything about it." The glances

  crackled around me and the farmer breathed in sharply through his nose.

  I didn't need to be told what they were all thinking - another no-good,

  useless vet. I took a deep breath and continued. "Even if I shifted the

  potato the wound would get contaminated when the beast tried to eat.

  He'd have gangrene in no time and that means a painful death. He's in

  pretty good condition - if I were you I'd have him slaughtered


  The only reply was a virtuoso display from the jaw muscles. I tried

  another tack. "I'll give you a certificate. I'm sure the meat will pass

  for the butcher."

  No cries of joy greeted this remark. If anything, Mr. Sidlow's

  expression became still more bleak.

  "That beast isn't ready for killin' yet," he whispered.

  "No, but you'd be sending him in before long - another month, maybe. I'm

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