It shouldnt happen to a.., p.3
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.3

           James Herriot
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and the corrugated uterine cervix. But the farmer had wasted no time in

  calling for assistance; the mass was clean and undamaged.

  He watched me attentively as I swabbed the prolapse with antiseptic and

  pushed it back out of sight, then he helped me build a platform with

  soil and planks for the cow's hind feet. When we had finished she was

  standing on a slope with her tail higher than her head.

  "And you say that if I give her linseed oil for a few days that thing

  won't come out again."

  "That's the idea," I said. "Be sure to keep her built up like this."

  "I will, young man, and thank you very much. I'm sure you've done a good

  job for me and I'll look forward to seeing you again."

  Back in the car, I groaned to myself. Good job! How the hell could that

  thing stay in without stitches? But I had to do as I was told and Grier,

  even if he was unpleasant, wasn't a complete fool. Maybe he was right. I

  put it out of my mind and got on with the other visits.

  It was less than a week lateral the breakfast table and I was prodding

  at the inevitable porridge when Grier, who had ventured downstairs,

  barked suddenly at me.

  "I've got a card here free Adamson. He says he's not satisfied with your

  work. We'd better get out there this morning and see what's wrong. I

  dinna like these complaints." His normal expression of being perpetually

  offended deepened and the big pale eyes swam and brimmed till I was sure

  he was going to weep into his porridge.

  At the farm, Mr. Adamson led us into the byre. "Well, what do you think

  of that, young man."

  I looked at the prolapse and my stomach lurched. The innocuous-looking

  pink projection had been transformed into a great bloated purple mass.

  It was caked with filth and an ugly wound ran down one side of it.

  "It didn't stay in very long, did it?" the farmer said quietly.

  I was too ashamed to speak. This was a dreadful thing to do to a good

  cow. I felt my face reddening, but luckily I had my employer with me; he

  would be able to explain everything. I turned towards Grier who

  snuffled, mumbled blinked his eyes rapidly but didn't say anything.

  The farmer went on. "And you see she's damaged it. Must have caught it

  on something. I'll tell you I don't like the look of it."

  It was against this decent man's nature to be unpleasant, but he was

  upset all right. "Maybe it would be better if you would take the job on

  this time, Mr. Grier, he said.

  Grier, who still had not uttered an intelligible word, now sprang into

  action. He clipped the hair over the base of the spine, inserted an

  epidural anaesthetic, washed and disinfected the mass and, with an

  effort, pushed it back to its place. Then he fastened it in with several

  strong retention sutures with little one-inch lengths of rubber tubing

  to stop them cutting into the flesh. The finished job looked neat and


  The farmer took me gently by the shoulder. "Now that's something like.

  You can see it's not going to come out again now, can't you? Why didn't

  you do something like that when you came before."

  I turned again to Grier, but this time he was seized by a violent fit of

  coughing. I continued to stare at him but when he still said nothing I

  turned and walked out of the byre.

  "No hard feelings, though, young man," Mr. Adamson called after me. "I

  reckon we've all got to learn and there's no substitute for experience.

  That's so, Mr. Grier, isn't it."

  "Aye, och aye, that's right enough. Aye, aye, rightly so, rightly so,

  there's no doubt aboot that," Grier mumbled. We got into the car.

  I settled down and waited for some explanation from him. I was

  interested to know just what he would say. But the blue-veined nose

  pointed straight ahead and the bulging eyes fixed themselves blankly on

  the road ahead of us.

  We drove back to the surgery in silence.

  Chapter Four.

  It wasn't long before Grier had to return to bed; he began to groan a

  lot and hold his injured ribs and soon he was reinstalled upstairs with

  the pillows at his back and the little pink jacket buttoned to the neck.

  Whisky was the only thing that gave him relief from his pain and the

  level of his bedside bottle went down with remarkable speed.

  Life resumed its dreary pattern. Mrs. Grier was usually around when I

  had to report to her husband; beyond the bedroom door there would be a

  lot of whispering which stopped as soon as I entered. I would receive my

  instructions while Mrs. Grier fussed round the bed tucking things in,

  patting her husband's brow with a folded handkerchief and all the time

  darting little glances of dislike at me. Immediately I got outside the

  door the whispering started again.

  It was quite late one evening - about ten o'clock -when the call from

  Mrs. Mallard came in. Her dog had a bone in its throat and would Mr.

  Grier come at once. I was starting to say that he was ill and I was

  doing his work but it was too late; there was a click as the receiver

  went down at the other end.

  Grier reacted to the news by going into a sort of trance; his chin sank

  on his chest and he sat immobile for nearly a minute while he gave the

  matter careful thought. Then he straightened up suddenly and stabbed a

  finger at me.

  "It'll not be a bone in its throat. It'll only be a touch of pharyngitis

  making it cough."

  I was surprised at his confidence. "Don't you think I'd better take some

  long forceps just in case."

  "Na, na, I've told ye now. There'll be no bone, so go down and put up

  some of the syrup of squills and ipecacuanha mixture. That's all it'll

  want. And another thing - if ye can't find anything wrong don't say so.

  Tell the lady it's pharyngitis and how to treat it - you have to justify

  your visit, ye ken."

  I felt a little bewildered as I filled a four ounce bottle in the

  dispensary, but I took a few pairs of forceps with me too; I had lost a

  bit of faith in Grier's long-range diagnosis.

  I was surprised when Mrs. Mallard opened the door of the smart

  semi-detached house. For some reason I had been expecting an old lady,

  and here was a striking-looking blonde woman of about forty with her

  hair piled high in glamorous layers as was the fashion at that time. And

  I hadn't expected the long ballroom dress in shimmering green, the

  enormous swaying earrings, the heavily made up face.

  Mrs. Mallard seemed surprised too. She stared blankly at me till I

  explained the position. "I've come to see your dog - I'm Mr. Grier's

  locum. He's ill at the moment, I'm afraid."

  It took a fair time for the information to get through because she still

  stood on the doorstep as if she didn't know what I was talking about;

  then she came to life and opened the door wide. "Oh yes, of course, I'm

  sorry, do come in." I walked past her through an almost palpable wall of

  perfume and into a room on the left of the hall. The perfume was even

  stronger in here but it was in keeping with the single, pink-tinted lamp

  which shed a dim but rosy light on the wide divan drawn close to the

ckering fire. Somewhere in the shadows a radiogram was softly pouring

  out "Body and Soul'.

  There was no sign of my patient and Mrs. Mallard looked at me

  irresolutely, fingering one of her earrings.

  "Do you want me to see him in here?" I asked.

  "Oh yes, certainly." She became brisk and opened a door at the end of

  the room. Immediately a little West Highland Terrier bounded across the

  carpet and hurled himself at me with a woof of delight. He tried his

  best to lick my face by a series of mighty springs and this might have

  gone on for quite a long time had I not caught him in mid air.

  Mrs. Mallard smiled nervously. "He seems a lot better now," she said.

  I flopped down on the divan still with the little dog in my arms and

  prised open his jaws. Even in that dim light it was obvious that there

  was nothing in his throat. I gently slid my forefinger over the back of

  his tongue and the terrier made no protest as I explored his gullet.

  Then I dropped him down on the carpet and took his temperature - normal.

  "Well, Mrs. Mallard," I said, 'there is certainly no bone in his throat

  and he has no fever." I was about to add that the dog seemed perfectly

  fit to me when I remembered Grier's parting admonition - I had to

  justify my visit.

  I cleared my throat. "It's just possible, though, that he has a little

  pharyngitis which has been making him cough or retch." I opened the

  terrier's mouth again. "As you see, the back of his throat is rather

  inflamed. He may have got a mild infection in there or perhaps swallowed

  some irritant. I have some medicine in the car which will soon put him

  right." Realizing I was beginning to gabble, I brought my speech to a


  Mrs. Mallard hung on every word, peering anxiously into the little dog's

  mouth and nodding her head rapidly. "Oh yes, I do see," she said. "Thank

  you so much. What a good thing I sent for you."

  On the following evening I was half way through a busy surgery when a

  fat man in a particularly vivid tweed jacket bustled in and deposited a

  sad-eyed Basset Hound on the table.

  "Shaking his head about a bit," he boomed. "Think he must have a touch

  of canker."

  I got an auroscope from the instrument cupboard and had begun to examine

  the ear when the fat man started again.

  "I see you wereout our way last night. I live next door to Mrs.


  "Oh yes," I said peering down the lighted metal tube. "That's right, I


  The man drummed his fingers on the table for a moment. "Aye, that dog

  must have a lot of ailments. The vet's car seems always to be outside

  the house."

  "Really, I shouldn't have thought so. Seemed a healthy little thing to

  me." I finished examining one ear and started on the other.

  "Well, it's just as I say," said the man. "The poor creature's always in

  trouble, and it's funny how often it happens at night."

  I looked up quickly. There was something odd in the way he said that. He

  looked at me for a moment with a kind wide-eyed innocence, then his

  whole face creased into a knowing leer.

  I stared at him. "You can't mean ... "Not with that ugly old devil, you

  mean, eh? Takes a bit of reckoning up, doesn't it?" The eyes in the big

  red face twinkled with amusement.

  I dropped the auroscope on the table with a clatter and my arms fell by

  my sides.

  "Don't look like that, lad!" shouted the fat man, giving me a playful

  punch in the chest. "It's a rum old world, you know."

  But it wasn't just the thought of Grier that was filling me with horror;

  it was the picture of myself in that harem atmosphere pontificating

  about pharyngitis against a background of "Body and Soul' to a woman who

  knew I was talking rubbish.

  In another two days Angus Grier was out of bed and apparently recovered;

  also, a replacement assistant had been engaged and was due to take up

  his post immediately. I was free to go.

  Having said I would leave first thing in the morning I was out of the

  house by 6.30 a.m. in order to make Darrowby by breakfast. I wasn't

  going to face any more of that porridge.

  As I drove west across the Plain of York I began to catch glimpses over

  the hedge tops and between the trees of the long spine of the Pennines

  lifting into the morning sky; they were pale violet at this distance and

  still hazy in the early sunshine but they beckoned to me. And later,

  when the little car pulled harder against the rising ground and the

  trees became fewer and the hedges gave way to the clean limestone walls

  I had the feeling I always had of the world opening out, of shackles

  falling away. And there, at last, was Darrowby sleeping under the

  familiar bulk of Herne Fell and beyond, the great green folds of the


  Nothing stirred as I rattled across the cobbled market place then down

  the quiet street to Skeldale House with the ivy hanging in untidy

  profusion from its old bricks and "Siegfried Farnon MRCVS'on the

  lopsided brass plate.

  I think I would have galloped along the passage beyond the glass door

  but I had to fight my way through the family dogs, all five of them, who

  surged around me, leaping and barking in delight.

  I almost collided with the formidable bulk of Mrs. Hall who was carrying

  the coffee-pot out of the dining-room. "You're back then," she said and

  I could see she was really pleased because she almost smiled. "Well, go

  in and get sat down. I've got a bit of home-cured in the pan for you."

  My hand was on the door when I heard the brothers' voices inside.

  Tristan was mumbling something and Siegfried was in full cry. "Where the

  hell were you last night, anyway? I heard you banging about at three

  o'clock in the morning and your room stinks like a brewery. God, I wish

  you could see yourself - eyes like piss-holes in the snow."

  Smiling to myself, I pushed open the door, I went over to Tristan who

  stared up in surprise as I seized his hand and began to pump it; he

  looked as boyishly innocent as ever except for the eyes which, though a

  little sunken, still held their old gleam. Then I approached Siegfried

  at the head of the table. Obviously startled at my formal entry, he had

  choked in mid-chew; he reddened, tears coursed down his thin cheeks and

  the small sandy mustache quivered. Nevertheless, he rose from his

  chair, inclined his head and extended his hand with the grace of a


  "Welcome, James," he spluttered, spraying me lightly with toast crumbs.

  "Welcome home."

  Chapter Five.

  I had been away for only two weeks but it was enough to bring it home to

  me afresh that working in the high country had something for me that was

  missing elsewhere. My first visit took me up on one of the narrow,

  unfenced roads which join Sildale and Cosdale and when I had ground my

  way to the top in bottom gear I did what I so often did - pulled the car

  on to the roadside turf and got out.

  That quotation about not having time to stand and stare has never

  applied to me. I seem to have spent a good part of my life - probably
  too much - in just standing and staring and I was at it again this

  morning. From up here you could see away over the Plain of York to the

  sprawl of the Hambleton Hills forty miles to the east, while behind me,

  the ragged miles of moorland rolled away, dipping and rising over $he

  flat fell-top. In my year at Darrowby I must have stood here scores of

  times and the view across the plain always looked different; sometimes

  in the winter the low country was a dark trough between the snow-covered

  Pennines and the distant white gleam of the Hambletons, and in April the

  rain squalls drifted in slow, heavy veils across the great green and

  brown dappled expanse. There was a day, too, when I stood in brilliant

  sunshine looking down over miles of thick fog like a rippling layer of

  cotton wool with dark tufts of trees and hilltops pushing through here

  and there.

  But today the endless patchwork of fields slumbered in the sun, and the

  air, even on the hill, was heavy with the scents of summer. There must

  be people working among the farms down there, I knew, but I couldn't see

  a living soul; and the peace which I always found in the silence and the

  emptiness of the moors filled me utterly.

  At these times I often seemed to stand outside myself, calmly assessing

  my progress It was easy to flick back over the years - right back to the

  time I had decided to become a veterinary surgeon. I could remember the

  very moment. I was thirteen and I was reading an article about careers

  for boys in the Meccano Magazine and as I read, I felt a surging

  conviction that this was for me. And yet what was it based upon? Only

  that I liked dogs and cats and didn't care much for the idea of an

  office life; it seemed a frail basis on which to build a career I knew

  nothing about agriculture or about farm animals and though, during the

  years in college, I learned about these things I could see only one

  future for myself; I was going to be a small animal surgeon. This lasted

  right up to the time I qualified - a kind of vision of treating people's

  pets in my own animal hospital where everything would be not just modern

  but revolutionary. The fully equipped operating theatre, laboratory and

  X-ray room; they had all stayed crystal clear in my mind until I had

  graduated MRCVS.

  How on earth, then, did I come to be sitting on a high Yorkshire moor in

  shirt sleeves and wellingtons, smelling vaguely of cows?

  The change in my outlook had come quite quickly - in fact almost

  immediately after my arrival in Darrowby. The job had been a godsend in

  those days of high unemployment, but only, I had thought, a

  stepping-stone to my real ambition. But everything had switched round,

  almost in a flash.

  Maybe it was something to do with the incredible sweetness of the air

  which still took me by surprise when I stepped out into the old wild

  garden at Skeldale House every morning. Or perhaps the daily piquancy of

  life in the graceful old house with my gifted but mercurial boss,

  Siegfried, and his reluctant student brother, Tristan. Or it could be

  that it was just the realisation that treating cows and pigs and sheep

  and horses had a fascination I had never even suspected; and this

  brought with it a new concept of myself as a tiny wheel in the great

  machine of British agriculture. There was a kind of solid satisfaction

  in that.

  Probably it was because I hadn't dreamed there was a place like the

  Dales. I hadn't thought it possible that I could spend all my days in a

  high, cleanblown land where the scent of grass or trees was never far

  away; and where even in the driving rain of winter I could snuff the air

  and find the freshness of growing things hidden somewhere in the cold

  clasp of the wind.

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