It shouldnt happen to a.., p.13
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.13

           James Herriot
 
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sure you won't lose much. I tell you what," with a ghastly attempt at

  heartiness, if I can come into the house I'll write you this chit now

  and we'll get the job over. There's really nothing else for it."

  I turned and headed across the fold yard for the farm kitchen. Mr.

  Sidlow followed wordlessly with the family. I wrote the certificate

  quickly, waves of disapproval washing around me in the silent room. As I

  folded the paper I had the sudden conviction that Mr. Sidlow wasn't

  going to pay the slightest attention to my advice. He was going to wait

  a day or two to see how things turned out. The picture of the big,

  uncomprehending animal trying vainly to swallow as his hunger and thirst

  increased was too strong for me. I walked over to the phone on the

  window sill.

  "I'll just give Harry Norman a ring at the abattoir. I know he'll come

  straight up if I ask him." I made the arrangements, hung up the receiver

  and started for the door, addressing Mr. Sidlow's profile as I left.

  "It's fixed. Harry will be along Within half-an hour Much better to get

  it done immediately."

  g::

  Going across the yard, I had to fight the impulse to break into a

  gallop. As I got into the car I recalled Siegfried's advice: "In sticky

  situations always get your car backed round before you examine the

  animal. Leave the engine running if necessary. The quick getaway is

  essential." He was right, it took a long time reversing and manoeuvring

  under the battery of unseen eyes. I don't blush easily but my face was

  burning as I finally left the farm.

  That was my first visit to the Sidlows and I prayed that it might be my

  last. But my luck had run out. From then on, every time they sent for us

  it happened to be me on duty. I would rather not say anything about the

  cases I treated there except to record that something went wrong every

  time. The very name Sidlow became like a jinx. Try as I might I couldn't

  do a thing right on that farm so that within a short time I was firmly

  established with the family as the greatest menace to the animal

  population they had ever encountered. They didn't think much of vets as

  a whole and they'd met some real beauties in their time, but I was by

  far the worst. My position as the biggest nincompoop of them all was

  unassailable.

  It got so bad that if I saw any Sidlows in the town I would dive down an

  alley to avoid them and one day in the market place I had the unnerving

  experience of seeing the entire family, somehow jammed into a large old

  car, passing within a few feet of me. Every face looked rigidly to the

  front but every eye, I knew, was trained balefully on me. Fortunately I

  was just outside the Drovers' Arms, so I was able to reel inside and

  steady myself with a half-pint of Younger's Special Heavy.

  However, the Sidlows were far from my mind on the Saturday morning when

  Siegfried asked me if I would go through and officiate at Brawton faces.

  "They've asked me to do it as Grier is on holiday," he said. "But I'd

  already promised to go through to Casborough to help Dick Henley with a

  rig operation. I can't let him down. There's nothing much to the race

  job: the regular course vet will be there and he'll keep you right."

  He hadn't been gone more than a few minutes when there was a call from

  the racecourse. One of the horses had fallen while being unloaded from

  its box and had injured its knee. Would I come right away.

  Even now I am no expert on racehorses; they form a little branch of

  practice all by itself, with its own stresses, its own mystique. In my

  short spell in Darrowby I had had very little to do with them as

  Siegfried was fascinated by anything equine and usually gobbled up

  anything in that line which came along. So my practical experience was

  negligible.

  I wasn't at all reassured when I saw my patient. The knee was a terrible

  mess. He had tripped at the bottom of the ramp and come down with his

  full weight on the stony ground. The lacerated skin hung down in bloody

  ribbons exposing the joint capsule over an area of about six inches and

  the extensor tendons gleamed through a tattered layer of fascia. The

  beautiful three-year-old held the limb up, trembling, with the toe just

  touching the ground; the ravaged knee made a violent contrast with the

  sleek, carefully groomed coat.

  Examining the wound, gently feeling round the joint, I was immediately

  thankful for one thing - it was a quiet animal. Some light horses are so

  highly strung that the slightest touch sends them up in the air, but

  this one hardly moved as I tried to piece together the jigsaw of skin

  pieces. Another lucky break - there was nothing missing.

  I turned to the stable head lad, small, square, hands deep in his coat

  pockets who was standing watching. "I'll clean up the wound and stitch

  it but he'll need some expert care when you get him home. Can you tell

  me who will be treating him ."

  "Yes sir, Mr. Brayley-Reynolds.

  He'll have charge of 'im."

  I came bolt upright from my crouching position. The name was like a

  trumpet call echoing down from my student days. When you talked about

  horses you usually talked about Brayley-Reynolds sooner or later. I

  could imagine the great man inspecting my handiwork. "And who did you

  say treated this? Herriot .. ? Herriot ... ."

  I got down to the job again with my heart beating faster. Mercifully the

  joint capsule and tendon sheaths were undamaged - no escape of synovia.

  Using a solution of Chinosol, I swabbed out every last cranny of the

  wound till the ground around me was white with cotton wool pledgets,

  then I puffed in some iodoform powder and tacked down the loose shreds

  of fascia. Now the thing was to make a really good job of the skin to

  avoid disfigurement if possible. I chose some fine silk and a very small

  suture needle and squatted down again.

  I must have stayed there for nearly an hour, pulling the flaps of skin

  carefully into position and fastening them down with innumerable tiny

  sutures. There is a fascination in repairing a ragged wound and I always

  took pains over it even without an imaginary Brayley-Reynolds peering

  over my shoulder. When I finally straightened up I did so slowly, like

  an old man, easing the kinks from neck and back. With shaking knees I

  looked down at the head lad almost without recognition. He was smiling.

  11_

  _

  :.

  :."

  .. i 1

  "You've made a proper job of that," he said. "It looks nearly as good as

  new. I want to thank you, sir - he's one of my favourites, not just

  because he's a good 'orse, but he's kind." He patted the

  three-year-old's flank.

  "Well, I hope he does all right." I got out a packet of ganze and a

  bandage. "I'm just going to cover up the knee with this and then you can

  put on a stable bandage. I'll give him a shot against tetanus and that's

  it."

  I was packing my gear away in the car when the head lad hovered again at

  my side. "Do you back 'orses."

  I laughed. "No, hardly ever. Don't know much about i
t."

  "Well never mind." The little man looked around him and lowered his

  voice. "But I'll tell you something to back this afternoon. Kemal in the

  first race. He's one of ours and he's going to win. You'll get a nice

  price about him."

  "Well, thanks, it'll give me something to do. I'll have half-a-crown on

  him."

  The tough little face screwed up in disgust. "No, no, put a fiver on

  him. This is the goods, I mean it. Keep it to yourself but get a fiver

  on him." He walked rapidly away.

  I don't know what madness took hold of me, but by the time I had got

  back to Darrowby I had decided to take his advice. There had been

  something compelling about that last hoarse whisper and the utter

  confidence in the black pebble eyes. The little chap was trying to do me

  a good turn. I had noticed him glancing at my old jacket and rumpled

  flannels, so different from the natty outfit of the typical horse vet;

  maybe he thought I needed the money.

  I dropped in at the Midland Bank and drew out five pounds which at the

  time represented approximately half my available capital. I hurried

  round the remaining visits, had a quick lunch and got into my best suit.

  There was plenty of time to get to the course, meet the officials and

  get my fiver on Kemal before the first race at 2.30.

  The phone rang just as I was about to leave the house. It was Mr.

  Sidlow. He had a scouring cow which needed attention immediately. It was

  fitting, I thought dully, that in my moment of eager anticipation it

  should be my old jinx who should stretch out his cold hand and grasp me.

  And it was Saturday afternoon; that was fitting too. But I shook myself

  - the farm was near Brawton and it shouldn't take long to deal with a

  scouring cow, I could still make it.

  When I arrived, my immaculate appearance set up an immediate flurry of

  Oblique glances among the assembled family while Mr. Sidlow's rigid lips

  and _ _

  ~ j i squared shoulders bore witness that he was prepared to endure

  another visit from me with courage.

  A numbness filled me as we went into the byre. It continued as Mr.

  Sidlow described how he had battled against this cow's recurring bouts

  of diarrhoea for several months; how he had started quietly with ground

  eggshells in gruel and worked up to his most powerful remedy, blue

  vitriol and dandelion tea, but all to no avail. I hardly heard him

  because it was fairly obvious at a glance that the cow had Johne's

  disease.

  Nobody could be quite sure, of course, but the animal's advanced

  emaciation, especially in the hind end, and the stream of bubbly, foetid

  scour which she had ejected as I walked in were almost diagnostic.

  Instinctively I grasped her tail and thrust my thermometer into the

  rectum: I wasn't much interested in her temperature but it gave me a

  couple of minutes to think.

  However, in this instance I got only about five seconds because, without

  warning, the thermometer disappeared from my fingers. Some sudden

  suction had drawn it inside the cow. I ran my fingers round just inside

  the rectum nothing; I pushed my hand inside without success; with a

  feeling of rising panic I rolled up my sleeve and groped about in vain.

  There was nothing else for it - I had to ask for a bucket of hot water,

  soap and a towel and strip off as though preparing for some large

  undertaking. Over my thirty-odd years in practice I can recall many

  occasions when I looked a complete fool, but there is a peculiarly

  piercing quality about the memory of myself, bare to the waist, the

  centre of a ring of hostile stares, guddling frantically inside that

  cow. At the time, all I could think of was that this was the Sidlow

  place; anything could happen here. In my mental turmoil I had discarded

  all my knowledge of pathology and anatomy and could visualise the little

  glass tube working its way rapidly along the intestinal tract until it

  finally pierced some vital organ. There was another hideous image of

  myself carrying out a major operation, a full-scale laparotomy on the

  cow to recover my thermometer.

  It is difficult to describe the glorious relief which flooded through me

  when at last I felt the thing between my fingers; I pulled it out,

  filthy and dripping and stared down stupidly at the graduations on the

  tube.

  Mr. Sidlow cleared his throat. "Well, wot does it say? Has she got a

  temperature ."

  I whipped round and gave him a piercing look. Was it possible that this

  man could be making a joke? But the dark, tight-shut face was

  expressionless.

  "No," I mumbled in reply. "No temperature."

  The rest of that visit has always been mercifully blurred in my mind. I

  know I got myself cleaned up and dressed and told Mr. Sidlow that I

  thought his cow had Johne's disease which was incurable but I would take

  away a faeces sample to try to make sure. The details are cloudy but I

  do know that at no point was there the slightest gleam of light or hope.

  I left the farm, bowed down by an ever greater sense of disgrace than

  usual and drove with my foot on the boards all the way to Brawton. I

  roared into the special car park at the race-course, galloped through

  the owners' and trainers' entrance and seized the arm of the gatekeeper.

  "Has the first race been run?" I gasped.

  "Aye, just finished," he replied cheerfully. "Kemal won it - ten to

  one."

  I turned and walked slowly towards the paddock. Fifty pounds! A fortune

  snatched from my grasp by cruel fate. And hanging over the whole tragedy

  was the grim spectre of Mr. Sidlow. I could forgive Mr. Sidlow,

  I.`thought, for dragging me out at all sorts of ungodly hours; I could

  forgive him for presenting me with a long succession of hopeless cases

  which had lowered my self-esteem to rock bottom; I could forgive him for

  thinking I was the biggest idiot in Yorkshire and for proclaiming his

  opinion far and wide. But I'd never forgive him for losing me that fifty

  pounds.

  Chapter Seventeen.

  :s :a "The Reniston, eh?" I fidgeted uneasily. "Bit grand, isn't it."

  Tristan lay rather than sat in his favourite chair and peered up through

  a

  cloud of cigarette smoke. "Of course it's grand. It's the most luxurious

  hotel in the country outside of London, but for your purpose it's the

  only possible place. Look, tonight is your big chance isn't it? You want

  to impress this girl, don't you? Well, ring her up and tell her you're

  taking her to the Reniston. The food is wonderful and there's a dinner

  dance every Saturday night. And today is Saturday." He sat up suddenly

  and his eyes widened. "Can't you see it, Jim? The music oozing out of

  Benny Thornton's trombone and you, full of lobster thermidor, floating

  round the floor with Helen snuggling up to you. The only snag is that it

  will cost you a packet, but if you are prepared to spend about a

  fortnight's wages you can have a really good night."

  I hardly heard the last part, I was concentrating on the blinding vision

  of Helen snuggling up to me. It was an image which blotted
out things

  like money and I stood with my mouth half open listening to the

  trombone. I could hear it quite clearly.

  Tristan broke in. "There's one thing - have you got a dinner jacket?

  You'll need one."

  "Well, I'm not very well off for evening-dress. In fact, when I went to

  Mrs. Pumphrey's party I hired a suit from Brawton, but I wouldn't have

  time for that now." I paused and thought for a moment. "I do have my

  first and only dinner-suit but I got it when I was about seventeen and I

  don't know whether I'd be able to get into it."

  Tristan waved this aside. He dragged the Woodbine smoke into the far

  depths of his lungs and released it reluctantly in little wisps and

  trickles as he spoke. "Doesn't matter in the least, Jim. As long as

  you're wearing the proper gear they'll let you in, and with a big,

  good-looking chap like you the fit of the suit ~s unimportant."

  We went upstairs and extracted the garment from the bottom of my trunk.

  I had cut quite a dash in this suit at the college dances and though it

  had got very tight towards the end of the course it had still been a

  genuine evening-dress outfit and as such had commanded a certain amount

  of respect.

  But now it had a pathetic, lost look. The fashion had changed and the

  trend was towards comfortable jackets and soft, unstarched shirts. This

  one was rigidly of the old school and included an absurd little

  waistcoat with lapels and a stiff, shiny-fronted shirt with a tall,

  winged collar.

  My problems really started when I got the suit on. Hard work, Pennine

  air and Mrs. Hall's good food had filled me out and the jacket failed to

  meet across my stomach by six inches. I seemed to have got taller, too,

  because there was a generous space between the bottom of the waistcoat

  and the top of the trousers. The trousers themselves were skin tight

  over the buttocks, yet seemed foolishly baggy lower down.

  i tw~

  l:

  Tristan's confidence evaporated as I paraded before him and he decided

  to call on Mrs. Hall for advice. She was an unemotional woman and

  endured the irregular life at Skeldale House without noticeable

  reaction, but when she came into the bedroom and looked at me her facial

  muscles went into a long, twitching spasm. She finally overcame the

  weakness, however, and .became very businesslike.

  "A little gusset at the back of your trousers will work wonders, Mr.

  Herriot, and I think if I put a bit of silk cord across the front of

  your jacket it'll hold it nicely. Mind you, there'll be a bit of a

  space, like, but I shouldn't think that'll worry you. And I'll give the

  whole suit a good press - makes all the difference in the world."

  I had never gone in much for intensive grooming, but that night I really

  went to work on myself, scrubbing and anointing and trying a whole

  series of different partings in my hair before I was satisfied. Tristan

  seemed to have appointed himself master of the wardrobe and carried the

  suit tenderly upstairs, still warm from Mrs. Hall's ironing board. Then,

  like a professional valet, he assisted in every step of the robing. The

  high collar gave most trouble and he drew strangled oaths from me as he

  trapped the flesh of my neck under the stud.

  When I was finally arrayed he walked around me several times, pulling

  and patting the material and making delicate adjustments here and there.

  Eventually he stopped his circling and surveyed me from the front. I had

  never seen him look so serious. "Fine, Jim, fine - you look great.

  Distinguished, you know. It's not everybody who can wear a dinnerjacket

  - so many people look like conjurers, but not you. Hang on a minute and

  I'll get your overcoat."

  I had arranged to pick up Helen at seven o'clock and as I climbed from

  the car in the darkness outside her house a strange unease crept over

 
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