Let sleeping vets lie, p.22
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.22

           James Herriot

  Hoisting it in his arms he began to push at it with fierce


  Mr. Thwaite turned to us with an expression of despair and opened his

  mouth to lament again, but Ewan silenced him with a raised hand, pulling

  a milking stool from a corner and squatted down comfortably against a

  wall. Unhurriedly he produced his little pouch and, one-handed, began to

  make a cigarette; as he licked the paper, screwed up the end and applied

  a match he gazed with blank eyes at the sweating, struggling figure a

  few feet from him.

  Duke had got the uterus about half way back. Grunting and gasping, legs

  straddled, he had worked the engorged mass inch by inch inside the vulva

  till he had just about enough cradled in his arms for one last push; and

  as he stood there taking a breather with the great muscles of his

  shoulders and arms rigid his immense strength was formidably displayed.

  But he wasn't as strong as that cow. No man is as strong as a cow and

  this cow was one of the biggest I had ever seen with a back like a table

  top and rolls of fat round her tailhead.

  I had been in this position myself and I knew what was coming next. I

  didn't have to wait long. Duke took a long wheezing breath and made his

  assault, heaving desperately, pushing with arms and chest, and for a

  second or two he seemed to be winning as the mass disappeared steadily

  inside. Then the cow gave an almost casual strain and the whole thing

  welled out again till it hung down bumping against the animal's hocks.

  As Duke almost collapsed against her pelvis in the same attitude as when

  we first came in I felt pity for the man. I found him uncharming but I

  felt for him. That could easily be me standing there; my jacket and

  shirt hanging on that nail, my strength ebbing, my sweat mingling with

  the blood. No man could do what he was trying to do. You could push back

  a calf bed with the aid of an epidural anaesthetic to stop the straining

  or you could sling the animal up to a beam with a block and tackle; you

  couldn't just stand there and do it from scratch as this chap was trying

  to do.

  I was surprised Duke hadn't learned that with all his experience; but

  apparently it still hadn't dawned on him even now because he was going

  through all the motions of having another go. This time he got even

  further - a few more inches inside before the cow popped it out again.

  The animal appeared to have a sporting streak because there was

  something premeditated about the way she played her victim along before

  timing her thrust at the very last moment. Apart from that she seemed

  somewhat bored by the whole business, in fact with the possible

  exception of Ewan she was the calmest among us.

  Duke was trying again. As he bent over wearily and picked up the gory

  organ I wondered how often he had done this since he arrived nearly two

  hours ago. He had guts, there was no doubt. But the end was near. There

  was a frantic urgency about his movements as though he knew himself it

  was his last throw and as he yet again neared his goal his grunts

  changed to an agonised whimpering, an almost tearful sound as though he

  were appealing to the recalcitrant mass, beseeching it to go away inside

  and stay away, just this once.

  And when the inevitable happened and the poor fellow, panting and

  shaking, i surveyed once more the ruin of his hopes I had the feeling

  that somebody had to do something.

  Mr. Thwaite did it. "You've had enough, Duke," he said. "For God's sake

  come in the house and get cleaned up. Missus'll give you a bit o" dinner

  and while you're having it Mr. Ross'll see what he can do."

  The big man, arms hanging limp by his sides, chest heaving, stared at

  the farmer for a few seconds then he turned abruptly and snatched his

  clothes from; the wall.

  "Aw right," he said and began to walk slowly towards the door. He

  stopped , opposite Ewan but didn't look at him. "But ah'll tell you

  summat Maister Thwaite. If ah can't put that calf bed back this awd

  bugger never will."

  Ewan drew on his cigarette and peered up at him impassively. He didn't

  follow him with his eyes as he left the byre but leaned back against the

  wall, puffed out a thin plume of smoke and watched it rise and disappear

  among the . shadows in the roof.

  Mr. Thwaite was soon back. "Now, Mr. Ross," he said a little

  breathlessly, "I'm sorry about you havin" to wait but we can get on now.

  I expect you'll be needin" some fresh hot water and is there anything

  else you want?"

  Ewan dropped his cigarette on the cobbles and ground it with his foot.

  "Yes, you can bring me a pound of sugar."

  "What's that?"

  "A pound of sugar."

  "A pound of ... right, right ... I'll get it." .

  In no time at all the farmer returned with an unopened paper bag. Ewan

  split the top with his finger, walked over to the cow and began to dust

  the sugar all over the uterus. Then he turned to Mr. Thwaite again.

  "And I'll want a pig stool, too. I expect you have one."

  "Oh aye, we have one, but what the hangmen" ... ?"

  t., ~i ~.

  Ewan cocked a gentle eye at him. "Bring it in, then. It's time we got

  this job done."

  As the farmer disappeared at a stiff gallop I went over to my colleague.

  "What's going on, Ewan? What the devil are you chucking that sugar about


  "Oh it draws the serum out of the uterus. You can't beat it when the

  thing's engorged like that."

  "It does?" I glanced unbelievingly at the bloated organ. "And aren't you

  going to give her an epidural ... and some pituitrin ... and a calcium


  "Och no," Ewan replied with his slow smile. "I never bother about those


  I didn't get the chance to ask him what he wanted with the pig stool

  because just then Mr. Thwaite trotted in with one under his arm.

  Most farms used to have them. They were often called 'creels" and the

  sides of bacon were laid on them at pig-killing time. This was a typical

  specimen like a long low table with four short legs and a slatted

  concave top. Ewan took hold of it and pushed it carefully under the cow

  just in front of the udder while I stared at it through narrowed eyes. I

  was getting out of my depth.

  Ewan then walked unhurriedly out to his car and returned with a length

  of rope and two objects wrapped in the inevitable brown paper. As he

  draped the rope over the partition, pulled on a rubber parturition gown

  and began to open the parcels I realised I was once again watching Ewan

  setting out his stall.

  From the first parcel he produced what looked like a beer tray but which

  I decided couldn't possibly be; but when he said, "Here, hold this a

  minute, Jim," and I read the emblazoned gold scroll, "John Smith's

  Magnet Pale Ale" I had to change my mind. It was a beer tray.

  He began to unfold the brown paper from the other object and my brain

  reeled a little as he fished out an empty whisky bottle and placed it on

  the tray.

  standing there with my strange burden I felt like the stooge in

  conjuring act and I wouldn't have been a bit surprised if my colleague

  had produced a live rabbit next.

  But all he did was to fill the whisky bottle with some of the clean hot

  water from the bucket.

  Next he looped the rope round the cow's horns, passed it round the body

  a couple of times then leaned back and pulled. Without protest the big

  animal collapsed gently on top of the pig stool and lay there with her

  rear end stuck high in the air.

  "Right now, we can start," Ewan murmured, and as I threw down my jacket

  and began to tear off my tie he turned to me in surprise.

  "Here, here, what do you think you're doing?"

  "Well I'm going to give you a hand, of course."

  One corner of his mouth twitched upwards. "It's kind of you, Jim, but

  there's no need to get stripped off. This will only take a minute. I

  just want you and Mr. Thwaite to keep the thing level for me."

  He gently hoisted the organ which to my fevered imagination had shrunk

  visibly since the sugar, on to the beer tray and gave the farmer and me

  an end each to hold.

  Then he pushed the uterus back.

  He did literally only take a minute or not much more. Without effort,

  without breaking sweat or exerting visible pressure he returned that

  vast mass to where it belonged while the cow, unable to strain or do a

  thing about it, just lay there with an aggrieved expression on her face.

  Then he took his whisky bottle, passed it carefully into the vagina and

  disappeared up to arm's length where he began to move his shoulder


  "What the hell are you doing now?" I whispered agitatedly into his ear

  from my position at the end of the beer tray.

  "I'm rotating each horn to get it back into place and pouring a little

  hot water from the bottle into the ends of the horns to make sure

  they're completely involuted."

  "Oh, I see." I watched as he removed the bottle, soaped his arms in the

  bucket and began to take off his overall.

  "But aren't you going to stitch it in?" I blurted out.

  Ewan shook his head. "No, Jim. If you put it back properly it never

  comes out again."

  He was drying his hands when the byre door opened and Duke Skelton

  slouched in. He was washed and dressed, with his red handkerchief

  knotted again round his neck and he glared fierce-eyed at the cow which,

  tidied up and unperturbed, looked now just like all the other cows in

  the row. His lips moved once or twice before he finally found his voice.

  "Aye, it's all right for some people," he snarled. "Some people with

  their bloody fancy injections and instruments! It's bloody easy that

  way, isn't it." Then he swung round and was gone.

  As I heard his heavy boots clattering across the yard it struck me that

  his words were singularly inapt. What was there even remotely fancy

  about a pig stool, a pound of sugar, a whisky bottle and a beer tray?

  Chapter Eighteen.

  "I work for cats."

  That was how Mrs. Bond introduced herself on my first visit, gripping my

  hand firmly and thrusting out her jaw defiantly as though challenging me

  to make something of it. She was a big woman with a strong,

  high-cheekboned face and a commanding presence and I wouldn't have

  argued with her anyway, so I nodded gravely as though I fully understood

  and agreed, and allowed her to lead me into the house.

  I saw at once what she meant. The big kitchen-living room had been

  completely given over to cats. There were cats on the sofas and chairs

  and spilling in cascades on to the floor, cats sitting in rows along the

  window sills and right in the middle of it all, little Mr. Bond, pallid,

  wispy-moustached, in his shirt sleeves reading a newspaper.

  It was a scene which was going to become very familiar. A lot of the

  cats were obviously uncastrated Toms because the atmosphere was vibrant

  with their distinctive smell - a fierce pungency which overwhelmed even

  the sickly wisps from the big sauce-pans of nameless cat food bubbling

  on the stove. And Mr. Bond was always there, always in his shirt sleeves

  and reading his paper, a lonely little island in a sea of cats.

  I had heard of the Bonds, of course. They were Londoners who for some

  obscure reason had picked on North Yorkshire for their retirement.

  People said they had a 'bit o" brass" and they had bought an old house

  on the outskirts of Darrowby where they kept themselves to themselves

  and the cats. I had heard that Mrs. Bond was in the habit of taking in

  strays and feeding them and giving them a home if they wanted it and

  this had predisposed me in her favour, because in my experience the

  unfortunate feline species seemed to be fair game for every kind of

  cruelty and neglect. They shot cats, threw things at them, starved them

  and set their dogs on them for fun. It was good to see somebody taking

  their side.

  My patient on this first visit was no more than a big kitten, a

  terrified little blob of black and white crouching in a corner.

  "He's one of the outside cats," Mrs. Bond boomed.

  "Outside cats?"

  "Yes. All these you see here are the inside cats. The others are the

  really wild ones who simply refuse to enter the house. I feed them of

  course but the only time they come indoors is when they are ill."

  "I see."

  "I've had frightful trouble catching this one. I'm worried about his

  eyes there seemed to be a skin growing over them, and I do hope you can

  do something for him. His name, by the way, is Alfred."

  "Alfred? Ah yes, quite." I advanced cautiously on the little half-grown

  animal and was greeted by a waving set of claws and a series of

  open-mouthed spittings. He was trapped in his corner or he would have

  been off with the speed of light.

  Examining him was going to be a problem. I turned to Mrs. Bond. "Could

  you let me have a sheet of some kind? An old ironing sheet would do. I'm

  going to have to wrap him up."

  "Wrap him up?" Mrs. Bond looked very doubtful but she disappeared into

  another room and returned with a tattered sheet of cotton which looked

  just right.

  I cleared the table of an amazing variety of cat feeding dishes, cat

  books, cat medicines and spread out the sheet, then I approached my

  patient again. You can't be in a hurry in a situation like this and it

  took me perhaps five minutes of wheedling and "Puss-pulsing" while I

  brought my hand nearer and nearer. When I got as far as being able to

  stroke his cheek I made a quick grab at the scruff of his neck and

  finally bore Alfred, protesting bitterly and lashing out in all

  directions, over to the table. There, still holding tightly to his

  scruff, I laid him on the sheet and started the wrapping operation.

  This is something which as to be done quite often with obstreperous

  felines and, although I say it, I am rather good at it. The idea is to

  make a neat, tight roll, leaving the relevant piece of cat exposed; it

  may be an injured paw, perhaps the tail, and in this case of course the

  head. I think it was the beginning of Mrs. Bond's unquestioning faith in

  me when
she saw me quickly enveloping that cat till all you could see of

  him was a small black and white head protruding from an immovable cocoon

  of cloth. He and I were now facing each other, more or less eyeball to

  eyeball, and Alfred couldn't do a thing about it.

  As I say, I rather pride myself on this little expertise and even today

  my veterinary colleagues have been known to remark: "Old Herriot may be

  limited in many respects but by God he can wrap a cat."

  As it turned out, there wasn't a skin growing over Alfred's eyes. There

  never ~s.

  "He's got a paralysis of the third eyelid, Mrs. Bond. Animals have this

  membrane which flicks across the eye to protect it. In this case it

  hasn't gone back, probably because the cat is in low condition - maybe

  had a touch of cat flu or something else which has weakened him. I'll

  give him an injection of vitamins and leave you some powder to put in

  his food if you could keep him in for a few days. I think he'll be all

  right in a week or two."

  The injection presented no problems with Alfred furious but helpless

  inside his sheet and I had come to the end of my first visit to Mrs.


  It was the first of many. The lady and I established an immediate

  rapport which was strengthened by the fact that I was always prepared to

  spend time over her assorted charges; crawling on my stomach under piles

  of logs in the outhouses to reach the outside cats, coaxing them down

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