It shouldnt happen to a.., p.23
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.23

           James Herriot
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jugular and release about a bucketful of the precious fluid? I still

  don't have the answers because I never dared try it for.myself.

  Chapter Twenty-nine.

  "Could Mr. Herriot see my dog, please."

  Familiar enough words coming from the waiting-room but it was the voice

  that brought me to a slithering halt just beyond the door.

  It couldn't be, no of course it couldn't, but it sounded just like

  Helen. I tiptoed back and applied my eye without hesitation to the crack

  in the door. Tristan was standing there looking down at somebody just

  beyond my range of vision. All I could see was a hand resting on the

  head of a patient sheep dog, the hem of a tweed skirt and two silk

  stockinged legs.

  They were nice legs - not skinny - and could easily belong to a big girl

  like Helen. My cogitations were cut short as a head bent over to speak

  to the dog and I had a close up in profile of the small straight nose

  and the dark hair falling across the milky smoothness of the cheek.

  I was still peering, bemused, when Tristan shot out of the room and

  collided with me. Stifling an oath, he grabbed my arm and hauled me

  along the passage into the dispensary. He shut the door and spoke in a

  hoarse whisper.

  "It's her! The Alderson woman! And she wants to see you! Not Siegfried,

  not me, but you, Mr. Herriot himself."

  He looked at me wide-eyed for a few moments then, as I stood hesitating

  he opened the door and tried to propel me into the passage.

  "What the hell are you waiting for?" he hissed.

  "Well, it's a bit embarrassing, isn't it? After that dance, I mean. Last

  time she saw me I was a lovely sight - so pie-eyed I couldn't even


  Tristan struck his forehead with his hand. "God help us! You worry about

  details, don't you? She's asked to see you - what more do you want? Go

  on, get in there."

  I was shuffling off irresolutely when he raised a hand. "Just a minute.

  Stay right there." He trotted off and returned in a few seconds holding

  out a white lab coat.

  "Just back from the laundry," he said as he began to work my arms into

  the starched sleeves. "You'll look marvelous in this, Jim - the

  immaculate young surgeon."

  I stood unresisting as he buttoned me into the garment but struck away

  his l hand when he started to straighten my tie. As I left him he gave

  me a final encouraging wave before heading for the back stairs.

  I didn't give myself any more time to think but marched straight into

  the waiting-room. Helen looked up and smiled. And it was just the same

  smile. Nothing behind it. Just the same friendly, steady-eyed smile as

  when I first met her.

  We faced each other in silence for some moments then when I didn't say

  anything she looked down at the dog.

  "It's Dan in trouble this time," she said. "He's our sheep dog but we're

  so fond of him that he's more like one of the family."

  The dog wagged his tail furiously at the sound of his name but yelped as

  he came towards me. I bent down and patted his head. "I see he's holding

  up a hind leg."

  "Yes, he jumped over a wall this morning and he's been like that ever

  since. I think it's something quite bad - he can't put any weight on the


  "Right bring him through to the other room and I'll have a look at him.

  But take him on in front of me, will you, and I'll be able to watch how,

  he walks."

  I held the door open and she went through ahead of me with the dog.

  Watching how Helen walked distracted me over the first few yards, but it

  was a long passage and by the time we had reached the second bend I had

  managed to drag my attention back to my patient.

  And glory be, it was a dislocated hip. It had to be with that shortening

  of the limb and the way he carried it underneath his body with the paw

  just brushing the ground.

  My feelings were mixed. This was a major injury but on the other hand

  the chances were I could put it right quickly and look good in the

  process. Because I had found, in my brief experience, that one of the

  most spectacular procedures in practice was the reduction of a

  dislocated hip. Maybe I had been lucky, but with the few I had seen I

  had been able to convert an alarmingly lame animal into a completely

  sound one as though by magic.

  In the operating room I hoisted Dan on to the table. He stood without

  moving as I examined the hip. There was no doubt about it at all - the

  head of the femur was displaced upwards and backwards, plainly palpable

  under my thumb.

  The dog looked round only once - when I made a gentle attempt to Rex the

  limb - but turned away immediately and stared resolutely ahead. His

  mouth hung open a little as he panted nervously but like a lot of the

  placid animals which arrived on our surgery table he seemed to have

  resigned himself to his fate. I had the strong impression that I could

  have started to cut his head off and he wouldn't have made much fuss.

  "Nice, good-natured dog," I said. "And a bonny one, too."

  Helen patted the handsome head with the broad blaze of white down the

  face; the tail waved slowly from side to side.

  "Yes," she said. "He's just as much a family pet as a working dog. I do

  hope he hasn't hurt himself too badly."

  "Well, he has a dislocated hip. It's a nasty thing but with a bit of

  luck I ought to be able to put it back."

  "What happens if it won't go back."

  "He'd have to form a false joint up there. He'd be very lame for several

  weeks and probably always have a slightly short leg."

  "Oh dear, I wouldn't like that," Helen said. "Do you think he'll be all


  I looked at the docile animal still gazing steadfastly to his front. "I

  think he's got a good chance, mainly because you haven't hung about for

  days before bringing him in. The sooner these things are tackled the


  "Oh good. When will you be able to start on him."

  "Right now." I went over to the door. "I'll just give Tristan a shout.

  This is a two man job."

  "Couldn't I help?" Helen said. "I'd very much like to if you wouldn't


  I looked at her doubtfully. "Well I don't know. You mightn't like

  playing tug of war with Dan in the middle. He'll be anaesthetised of

  course but there's usually a lot of pulling."

  Helen laughed. "Oh, I'm quite strong. And not a bit squeamish. I'm used

  to animals, you know, and I like working with them."

  "Right," I said. "Slip on this spare coat and we'll begin."

  The dog didn't flinch as I pushed the needle into his vein and as the

  Nembutal Rowed in, his head began to slump against Helen's arm and his

  supporting paw to slide along the smooth top of the table. Soon he was

  stretched unconscious on his side.

  I held the needle in the vein as I looked down at the sleeping animal.

  "I might have to give him a bit more. They have to be pretty deep to

  overcome the muscular resistance."

  Another cc. and Dan was as limp as any rag doll. I took hold of the

  affected leg and spoke across the table. "I want you to link your hand

  underneath his thigh and try to hold him there when I pull. O.K.? Here

  we go, then."

  It takes a surprising amount of force to pull the head of a displaced

  femur over the rim of the acetabulum. I kept up a steady traction with

  my right hand, pressing on the head of the femur at the same time with

  my left. Helen did her part efficiently, leaning back against the pull,

  her lips pushed forward in a little pout of concentration.

  I suppose there must be a foolproof way of doing this job - a method

  which works the very first time - but I have never been able to find it.

  Success has always come to me only after a fairly long period of trial

  and error and it was the same today. I tried all sorts of angles,

  rotations and twists on the flaccid limb, trying not to think of how it

  would look if this just happened to be the one I couldn't put back. I

  was wondering what Helen, still hanging on determinedly to her end, must

  be thinking of this wrestling match when I heard the muffled click. It

  was a sweet and welcome sound.

  I flexed the hip joint once or twice. No resistance at all now. The

  femoral head was once more riding smoothly in its socket.

  "Well that's it," I said. "Hope it stays put - we'll have to keep our

  fingers crossed. The odd one does pop out again but I've got a feeling

  this is going to be all right."

  Helen ran her hand over the silky ears and neck of the sleeping dog.

  "Poor old Dan. He wouldn't have jumped over that wall this morning if

  he'd known what was in store for him. How long will it be before he

  comes round."

  "Oh, he'll be out for the rest of the day. When he starts to wake up

  tonight I want you to be around to steady him in case he falls and puts

  the thing out again. Perhaps you'd give me a ring. I'd like to know how

  things are."

  I gathered Dan up in my arms and was carrying him along the passage,

  staggering under his weight, when I met Mrs. Hall. She was carrying a

  tray with two cups.

  "I was just having a drink of tea, Mr. Herriot," she said. "I thought

  you and the young lady might fancy a cup."

  I looked at her narrowly. This was unusual. Was it possible she had

  joined Tristan in playing Cupid? But the broad, dark-skinned face was as

  unemotional as ever. It told me nothing.

  "Well, thanks very much, Mrs. Hall. I'll just put this dog outside

  first." I went out and settled Dan on the back seat of Helen's car; with

  only his eyes and nose sticking out from under a blanket he looked at

  peace with the world.


  . _

  Helen was already sitting with a cup in her lap and I thought of the

  other time I had drunk tea in this room with a girl. On the day I had

  arrived in Darrowby. She had been one of Siegfried's followers and

  surely the toughest of them all.

  This was a lot different. During the struggle in the operating room I

  had been able to observe Helen at close range and I had discovered that

  her mouth turned up markedly at the corners as though she was just going

  to smile or had just been smiling; also that the deep warm blue of the

  eyes under the smoothly arching brows made a dizzying partnership with

  the rich black-brown of her hair.

  And this time the conversation didn't lag. Maybe it was because I was on

  my own ground - perhaps I never felt fully at ease unless there was a

  sick animal involved somewhere, but at any rate I found myself prattling

  effortlessly just as I had done up on that hill when we had first met.

  Mrs. Hall's teapot was empty and the last of the biscuits gone before I

  finally saw Helen off and started on my round.

  The same feeling of easy confidence was on me that night when I heard

  her voice on the phone.

  "Dan is up and walking about," perfectly sound on that leg."

  she said. "He's still a bit wobbly but he's "Oh great, he's got the

  first stage over. I think everything's going to be fine." There was a

  pause at the other end of the line, then: "Thank you so much for what

  you've done. We were terribly worried about him, especially my young

  brother and sister. We're very grateful."

  "Not at all, I'm delighted too. He's a grand dog." I hesitated for a

  moment it had to be now. "Oh you remember we were talking about Scotland

  today. Well, I was passing the Plaza this afternoon and I see they're

  showing a film about the Hebrides. I thought maybe ... I wondered if

  perhaps, er ... you might like to come and see it with me."

  Another pause and my heart did a quick thud-thud.

  "All right." Helen said. "Yes, I'd like that. When? Friday night? Well,

  thank you - goodbye till then."

  I replaced the receiver with a trembling hand. Why did I make such heavy

  weather of these things? But it didn't matter - I was back in business.

  Chapter Thirty.

  terrible thing in a dog. It is painful enough in humans but an ~educe an

  otherwise healthy dog to terrified, screaming ,~ 6 ~ ~als suffered most

  and I went carefully as my fingers ad ~O ~ ~ `ceps and gluteals of the

  little Staffordshire bull terrier.

  Ot~ -* ys$ 11ow, afraid of nothing, friendly, leaping high in an I

  lookerl ~ ;5 ~.,'"es but today, rigid, trembling, staring anxiously in

  got a good ch~ ; 0~;~ head a little brought a shrill howl of agony.

  bringing him in. '1~)`you could put right and quickly too. I pulled the

  "Oh good. When wi~;~ected it rapidly. The little dog, oblivious to

  everything but the knife-like stabbing of the rheumatism did not stir at

  the prick of the needle. I counted out some salicylate tablets into a

  box, wrote the directions on the lid and handed the box to the owner.

  "Give him one of those as soon as the injection has eased him, Mr.

  Tavener. Then repeat in about four hours. I'm pretty sure he'll be

  greatly improved by then."

  Mrs. Tavener snatched the box away as her husband began to read the

  directions. "Let me see it," she snapped. "No doubt I'll be the one who

  has the job to do."

  It had been like that all the time, ever since I had entered the

  beautiful house with the terraced gardens leading down to the river. She

  had been at him ceaselessly while he was holding the dog for me. When

  the animal had yelped she had cried: "Really, Henry, don't grip the poor

  thing like that, you're hurting him!" She had kept him scuttling about

  for this and that and when he was out of the room she said: "You know,

  this is all my husband's fault. He will let the dog swim in the river. I

  knew this would happen."

  Half-way through, daughter Julia had come in and it was clear from the

  start that she was firmly on Mama's side. She helped out with plenty of

  "How could you, Daddy!" and "For God's sake, Daddy!" and generally

  managed to fill in the gaps when her mother wasn't in full cry.

  The Taveners were in their fifties. He was a big, floridly handsome man

  who had made millions in the Tyneside shipyards before pulling out of

  the smoke to this lovely place. I had taken an instant liking to him; I

  had expected a tough tycoon and had found a warm, friendly, curiously

man, obviously worried sick about his dog.

  I had reservations about Mrs. Tavener despite her still considerable

  beauty. Her smile had a switched-on quality and there was a little too

  much steel in the blue of her eyes. She had seemed less concerned about

  the dog than with the necessity of taking it out on her husband.

  Julia, a scaled-down model of her mother, drifted about the room with

  the aimless, bored look of the spoiled child; glancing blankly at the

  dog or me, staring without interest through the window at the smooth

  lawns, the tennis court, the dark band of river under the trees.

  I gave the terrier a final reassuring pat on the head and got up from my

  knees. As I put away the syringe, Tavener took my arm. "Well, that's

  fine, Mr. Herriot. We're very grateful to you for relieving our minds. I

  must say I thought the old boy's time had come when he started yelling.

  And now you'll have a drink before you go."

  The man's hand trembled on my arm as he spoke. It had been noticeable,

  too when he had been holding the dog's head and I had wondered; maybe

  Parkinson's disease, or nerves; or just drink. Certainly he was pouring

  a generous measure of whisky into his glass, but as he tipped up the

  bottle his hand was seized by an even more violent tremor and he slopped

  the spirit on to the polished sideboard.

  "Oh God! Oh God!" Mrs. Tavener burst out. There was a bitter note of oh

  no not again, in her cry and Julia struck her forehead with her hand and

  raised her eyes to heaven. Tavener shot a single hunted look at the

  women then grinned as he handed me my glass.

  "Come and sit down, Mr. Herriot," he said. "I'm sure you have time to

  relax for a few minutes."

  We moved over to the fireside and Tavener talked pleasantly about dogs

  and the countryside and the pictures which hung on the walls of the big

  room. Those pictures were noted in the district; many of them were

  originals by famous painters and they had become the main interest in

  Tavener's life. His other passion was clocks and as I looked round the

  room at the rare and beautiful timepieces standing among elegant period

  furniture it was easy to believe the rumours I had heard about the

  wealth within these walls.

  The women did not drink with us; they had disappeared when the whisky

  was brought out, but as I drained my glass the door was pushed open and

  they stood there, looking remarkably alike in expensive tweed coats and

  fur-trimmed hats. Mrs. Tavener pulling on a pair of motoring gloves,

  looked with distaste at her husband. "We're going into Brawton," she

  said. "Don't know when we'll be back."

  Behind her, Julia stared coldly at her father; her lip curled slightly.

  Tavener did not reply. He sat motionless as I listened to the roar of

  the car engine and the spatter of whipped-up gravel beyond the window;

  then he looked out, blank-faced, empty-eyed at the drifting cloud of

  exhaust smoke in the drive.

  There was something in his expression which chilled me. I put down my

  glass and got to my feet. "Afraid I must be moving on, Mr. Tavener.

  Thanks for the drink."

  He seemed suddenly to be aware of my presence; the friendly smile

  returned. "Not at all. Thank you for looking after the old boy. He seems

  better already."

  In the driving mirror, the figure at the top of the steps looked small

  and alone till the high shrubbery hid him from my view.

  The next call was to a sick pig, high on Marstang Fell. The road took me

  at first along the fertile valley floor, winding under the riverside

  trees past substantial farmhouses and rich pastures; but as the car left

  the road and headed up a steep track the country began to change. The

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