Morning surgery was just about at its end as I injected Alfie, a cheerful cocker spaniel, to reverse his sedation. I had been investigating a large and painful swelling above his right upper canine tooth. There was pus coming from the gap between the tooth and the gum, and the X-rays did not show anything sinister, so I was hopeful that the swelling was simply a tooth root abscess.
Alfie was an elderly dog with a multitude of problems, but he stubbornly continued to defy the odds and his little tail would always wag. I added yet another tablet into his daily concoction, to control the infection, then went to phone his owner to relay the news. As I made the phone call, my eyes scanned the daybook to see what my next job would be-
“Cow in field. Not right. Visit please – phone first for directions”
This seemed a bit strange, as I visited the farm regularly, but having finished speaking to Alfie’s owner, I called the farmer as requested.
“Ah, I’m glad it’s you Julian. You’re just the vet I need for this cow. She’s lugubrious, you see. More to the point she’s in a field in the furthest away, most inaccessible part of the farm there is. It needs a man with a good vehicle, otherwise you’ll never get to her.”
This sounded like an adventure.
It seemed likely that actually getting to the patient at all would present a greater challenge than usual.
“Go past the farm house, turn left along the track into the woods and after about quarter of a mile turn left. The track gets bumpy and narrow and, just before it turns into a path, turn left through a gate. You’ll know it’s the right one ‘cos that’s where the mud starts. Through that gate and down the hill and she’s in the field at the bottom. You’ll see the tractor. If you get stuck give us a ring.” And with that, he was gone.
I put Alfie’s tablets in a bag and left strict instructions for the nurse to pass on to his owner, including apologies for not being there to see her myself. Then, I collected all the medicines I might need to fix a “lugubrious” cow.
As I set off, I considered the case ahead. There were two problems facing me. Firstly, the description of the cow as lugubrious meant that its signs of illness must be very vague. A coughing calf, a convulsing cow or a lambing sheep are easy to treat, but a vaguely ill animal is much more difficult – in the words of James Herriot “if only they could talk”. Secondly, it seemed likely that actually getting to the patient at all would present a greater challenge than usual. I could picture the first part of the journey, but I had never ventured beyond the woods. The description of mud and steep hillsides suggested I would be gone for some time.
Sure enough, once I found the gate where the mud started, it was clear my off-road driving skills were going to be put to the test. John, the farmer, was on the far side of the gate, half way down the hill, which was of Sutton Bank proportions. He was waving me towards the best route to follow, so as not to take off my exhaust pipe on the uneven, rutted hillside. My trusty Mitsubishi has never let me down, and, if I’m honest, I loved the challenge of it!
Eventually, I got to the cow. The diagnosis was much more straightforward than the journey. She was suffering from tracheitis. I injected two big syringes of medication into her jugular vein.
Now, how to get back….?
Julian’s book, Horses, Heifers & Hairy Pigs: The Life of a Yorkshire Vet, is on sale now.