Let sleeping vets lie, p.24
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.24

           James 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

  pretty dirty."

  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

  ill."

  "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

  knee."

  "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

  doubts.

  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

  quick."

  "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

  this morning."

  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

  you agree?"

  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
re lunch and the gate into the yard

  was closed.

  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

  hell?"

  "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.

  Chapter Twenty.

  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

  'stoppage".

  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

  upwards.

  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

  precariously.

  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

  asperity.

  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

  his clothes.

  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

  qualm.

  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
t

  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.

 
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