Let sleeping vets lie, p.24
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.24James Herriot
wisteria climbed high over the old bricks of the tall Georgian house. In
the cobbled yard at the foot of the garden he looked up at the rooks
making their din high in the overhanging elms and he gazed for a few
moments through the trees to where you could see the bare ribs of the
fells still showing the last white runners of winter.
"Charming," he murmured. "Charming."
I was glad enough to see him to his lodgings that evening. I felt I
needed time to readjust my thinking.
When we started out next morning I saw he had discarded his check suit
but was still very smart in a hacking jacket and flannels.
"Haven't you any protective clothing?" I asked.
"I've got these." He indicated a spotless pair of Wellingtons in the
back of the car.
"Yes, but I mean an oilskin or a coat of some kind. Some of our jobs are
He smiled indulgently. "Oh, I'm sure I'll be all right. I've been round
the farms before, you know."
I shrugged my shoulders and left it at that.
Our first visit was to a lame calf. The little animal was limping round
its pen holding up a fore leg and looking very woebegone. The knee was
visibly swollen and as I palpated it there seemed to be a lumpiness in
the fluid within as if there might be a flocculus of pus among it. The
temperature was a hundred and four.
I looked up at the farmer. "This is joint ill. He probably got ah
infection through his navel soon after birth and it's settled in his
knee. We'll have to take care of him because his internal organs such as
the liver and lungs can be affected. I'll give him an injection and
leave you some tablets for him."
I went out to the car and when I came back Carmody was bending over the
calf, feeling at the distended knee and inspecting the navel closely. I
gave my injection and we left.
"You know," Carmody said as we drove out of the yard, 'that wasn't joint
"Really?" I was a bit taken aback. I didn't mind students discussing the
pros and cons of my diagnoses as long as they didn't do it in front of
the farmer, but I had never had one tell me bluntly that I was wrong. I
made a mental note to try to keep this fellow away from Siegfried; one
remark like that and Siegfried would hurl him unhesitatingly out of the
car, big as he was.
"How do you make that out, then?" I asked him.
"Well there was only the one joint involved and the navel was perfectly
dry. No pain or swelling there. I should say he just sprained that
"You may be right, but wouldn't you say the temperature was a bit high
for a sprain?"
Carmody grunted and shook his head slightly. Apparently he had no
A few gates cropped up in the course of our next batch of calls and
Carmody got out and opened them just like any ordinary being except that
he did it with a certain leisurely elegance. Watching his tall figure as
he paced across, his head held high, the smart hat set at just the right
angle, I had to admit again that he had enormous presence. It was
remarkable at his age.
Shortly before lunch I saw a cow that the farmer had said on the phone
might have To. "She's gone down t'nick ever since she calved, guvnor. I
doubt she's a screw, but you'd better have a look at her, anyroad."
As soon as I walked into the byre I knew what the trouble was. I have
been blessed with an unusually sensitive nose and the sickly sweet smell
of ketone hit me right away. It has always afforded me a childish
pleasure to be able to say suddenly in the middle of a tuberculin test
"There's a cow in here about three weeks calved that isn't doing very
well," and watch the farmer scratch his head and ask me how I knew.
I had another little triumph today. "Started going off her cake first
didn't she?" and the farmer nodded assent. "And the flesh has just
melted off her since then ?"
"That's right," the farmer said, "I've never seen a cow go down as
"Well you can stop worrying, Mr. Smith. She hasn't got TB, she's got
slow fever and we'll be able to put her right for you."
Slow fever is the local term for acetonaemia and the farmer smiled in
relief. "Damn. I'm glad! I thowt she was dog meat. I nearly rang Mallock
I couldn't reach for the steroids which we use today, but I injected six
ounces of glucose and 100 units of insulin intravenously - it was one of
my pet remedies and might make modern vets laugh. But it used to work.
The cow, dead-eyed and gaunt, was too weak to struggle as the farmer
held her nose.
When I had finished I ran my hand over the jutting bones, covered, it
seemed, only by skin.
"She'll soon fatten up now," I said. "But cut her down to once a day
milking - that's half the battle. And if that doesn't work, stop milking
her entirely for two or three days."
"Yes, I reckon she's putting it in "'bucket instead of on her back."
"That's it exactly, Mr. Smith."
Carmody didn't seem to appreciate this interchange of home-spun wisdom
and fidgeted impatiently. I took my cue and headed for the car.
"I'll see her in a couple of days," I cried as we drove away, and waved
to Mrs. Smith who was looking out from the farmhouse doorway. Carmody
however raised his hat gravely and held it a few inches above his head
till we had left the yard, wh:eh was definitely better. I had noticed
him doing this at every place we had visited and it looked so good that
I was playing with the idea of starting to wear a hat so that I could
try it too.
I glanced sideways at my companion. Most of a morning's work done and I
hadn't asked him any questions. I cleared my throat.
"By the way, talking about that cow we've just seen, can you tell me
something about the causes of acetonaemia?"
Carmody regarded me impassively. "As a matter of fact I can't make up my
mind which theory I endorse at the moment. Stevens maintains it is the
incomplete oxidation of fatty acids, Sjollema leans towards liver
intoxication and Janssen implicates one of the centres of the autonomic
nervous system. My own view is that if we could only pin-point the exact
cause of the production of diacetic acid and beta-oxybutyric acid in the
metabolism we'd be well on the way to understanding the problem. Don't
I closed my mouth which had begun to hang open.
"Oh yes, I do indeed ... it's that oxy ... that old beta-oxy ... yes,
that's what it is, without a doubt." I slumped lower in my seat and
decided not to ask Carmody any more questions; and as the stone walls
flipped past the w.indows I began to face up to the gradually filtering
perception that this was a superior befog next to me. It was depressing
to ponder on the fact that not only was he big, good-looking" completely
sure of himself but brilliant as well. Also, I thought bitterly, he had
every appearance of being rich.
We rounded the corner of a lane and came up to a low huddle of stone
buildings It was the last call befo
We might as well go through," I murmured. "Do you mind?"
The student heaved himself from the car, unlatched the gate and began to
brtog it round. And he did it as he seemed to do everything; coolly,
unhurriedly, with natural grace. As he passed the front of the car I was
studying him afresh, wondering again at his style, his massive
composure, when, apparently from nowhere, an evil looking little black
cur dog glided silently out, sank its teeth with dedicated venom into
Carmody's left buttock and slunk away.
Not even the most monolithic dignity can survive being bitten deeply and
without warning in the backside. Carmody screamed, leaped in the air
clutching his rear, then swarmed to the top of the gate with the agility
of a monkey. Squatting on the top spar, his natty hat tipped over one
eye, he glared about him "What the hell?" he yelled. "What the bloody
"It's all right," I said, hurrying towards him and resisting the impulse
to throw myself on the ground and roll about. "It was just a dog."
"Dog? What dog? Where?" Carmody's cries took on a frantic note.
"It's gone - disappeared. I only saw it for a couple of seconds." And
indeed, as I looked around it was difficult to believe that that
flitting little black shadow had ever existed.
Carmody took a bit of coaxing down from the top of the gate and when he
finally did reach ground level he limped over and sat down in the car
instead of seeing the case. And when I saw the tattered cloth on his
bottom I couldn't blame him for not risking a further attack. If it had
been anybody else I'd have told him to drop his pants so that I could
slap on some iodine but in this instance I somehow couldn't bring myself
to do it. I left him sitting there.
When Carmody turned up for the afternoon round he had completely
recovered his poise. He had changed his flannels and adopted a somewhat
lopsided sitting position in the car but apart from that the dog episode
might never have happened. In fact we had hardly got under way when he
addressed me with a touch of arrogance.
"Look, I'm not going to learn much just watching you do things. Do you
think I could carry out injections and the like? I want actual
experience with the animals themselves."
I didn't answer for a moment but stared ahead through the maze of fine
cracks on the windscreen. I couldn't very well tell him that I was still
trying to establish myself with the farmers and that some of them had
definite reservations about my capabilities. Then I turned to him.
"OK. I'll have to do the diagnosing but whenever possible you can carry
on from there."
He soon had his first taste of action. I decided that a litter of ten
week old pigs might benefit from an injection of E cold antiserum and
handed him the bottle and syringe. And as he moved purposefully among
the little animals I thought with gloomy satisfaction that though I may
not be all fait with all the small I print in the text books I did know
better than to chase pigs into the dirty end of the pen to catch them.
Because with Carmody in close pursuit the squealing creatures leaped
from their straw bed and charged in a body towards a stagnant lake of
urine against the far wall. And as the student grabbed at their hind
legs the pigs scrabbled among the filth, kicking it back over him in a
steady shower. He did finally get them all injected but at the end his
smart outfit was liberally spattered and I had to open the windows wide
to tolerate his presence in the car.
The next visit was to a big arable farm in the low country, and it was
one of the few places where they had hung on to their horses; the long
stable had several stalls in use and the names of the horses on the wall
above; Boxer, Captain" Bobby, Tommy, and the mares Bonny and Daisy. It
was Tommy the old cart horse we had to see and his trouble was a
Tommy was an old friend of mine; he kept having mild bouts of colic with
constipation and I often wondered if he had a faecolith lurking about in
his bowels somewhere. Anyway, six drachms of Istin in a pint of water
invariably restored him to normal health and I began automatically to
shake up the yellow powder in a drenching bottle. Meanwhile the farmer
and his man turned the horse round in his stall, ran a rope under his
nose band, threw it over a beam in the stable roof and pulled the head
I handed the bottle to Carmody and stepped back. The student looked up
and hesitated. Tommy was a big horse and the head, pulled high, was far
beyond reach; but the farm man pushed a ramshackle kitchen chair
wordlessly forward and Carmody mounted it and stood swaying
I watched with interest. Horses are awkward things to drench at any time
and Tommy didn't like Istin, even though it was good for him. On my last
visit I had noticed that he was becoming very clever at holding the
bitter mixture at the back of his throat instead of swallowing it. I had
managed to foil him by tapping him under the chin just as he was toying
with the idea of coughing it out and he had gulped it down with an
offended look. But it was more and more becoming a battle of wits.
Carmody never really had a chance. He started off well enough by
grasping the horse's tongue and thrusting the bottle past the teeth but
Tommy outwitted him effortlessly by inclining his head and allowing the
liquid to flow from the far side of his mouth.
"It's coming out t'other side, young man!" the farmer cried with some
The student gasped and tried to direct the flow down the throat but
Tommy had summed him up immediately as an amateur and was now in
complete command of the situation. By judicious rolling of the tongue
and a series of little coughs and snorts he kept ridding himself of most
of the medicine and I felt a pang of pity at the sight of Carmody
weaving about on the creaking chair as the yellow fluid cascaded over
At the end, the farmer squinted into the empty bottle.
"Well I reckon t'oss got SOME of it," he muttered sourly Carmody eyed
him impassively for a moment, shook a few ounces of Istin solution from
somewhere up his sleeve and strode out of the stable.
At the next farm I was surprised to detect a vein of sadism in my
makeup. The owner, a breeder of pedigree Large Whits pigs, was exporting
a sow abroad and it had to be subjected to various tests including a
blood sample for Brucellosis. Extracting a few c.c."s of blood from the
ear vein of a struggling pig is a job which makes most vets shudder and
it was clearly a dirty trick to ask a student to do it, but the memory
of his coldly confident request at the beginning of the afternoon seemed
to have stilled my conscience. I handed him the syringe with scarcely a
The pigman slipped a noose into the sow's mouth and drew it tight over
the snout and behind the canine teeth. This common method of restrain
isn't at all painful but the sow was one of those who didn't like any
form of mucking about. She was a huge animal and as soon as she felt the
rope she opened her mouth wide m a long-drawn, resentful scream. The
volume of sound was incredible and she kept it up effortlessly without
any apparent need to draw breath. Conversation from then on was out of
the question and I watched in the appalling din as Carmody put an
elastic tourniquet at the base of the sow's ear, swabbed the surface
with spirit and then poked with his needle at the small blood vessel.
Nothing happened. He tried again but the syringe remained obstinately
empty. He had a few more attempts then, as I felt the top of my head was
going to come loose I wandered from the pen into the peace of the yard.
I took a leisurely stroll round the outside of the piggery, pausing for
a minute or two to look at the view at the far end where the noise was
comparatively faint. When I returned to the pen the screaming hit me
again like a pneumatic drill and Carmody, sweating and slightly
pop-eyed, looked up from the ear where he was still jabbing fruitlessly.
It seemed to me that everybody had had enough. Using sign language I
indicated to the student that I'd like to have a go and by a happy
chance my first effort brought a dark welling of blood into the syringe.
I waved to the pigman to remove the rope and the moment he did so the
big sow switched off the noise magically and began to nose, quite
unperturbed, among the straw.
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes