Let sleeping vets lie, p.22
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.22James 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
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."
"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
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?
"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
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.
"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'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
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
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
"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
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes