Julian Norton: No choice but to operate to resolve bull's bulging eye

Exactly a week after my first visit to see the case of the bullock-with-the-massive-eye, Richard called back at the practice to give an update.

The Yorkshire Vet camera crew was on hand to capture Julian Norton's hour-long surgery on Richard's bull.

“It’s just the same, Julian,” he reported. “No better, no worse. What shall we do? I’ve been keeping a close watch on him over the last week. He eats and gets on alright, but he definitely can’t see anything out of that eye.”

It was the news, deep down, I expected even though I’d hoped it wouldn’t be the case. I mulled over the options.

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“Is it watering at all?” I asked.

A week later and the bullock's eye condition had not improved.

“Yes, it is actually,” Richard confirmed. “There’s always a trickle of water out of the corner.”

This was vital information. Excessive lacrimation is a sign of pain in an eye - imagine how your eye waters when you get grit behind a contact lens. On top of the risk that the eyeball would rupture, the animal was experiencing increased pain.

“We’d better have it out.” I said.

“When can you come?” asked Richard. “I’m busy tomorrow but I can have in him in the crush in an hour’s time if you can fit it in.”

A week later and the bullock's eye condition had not improved.

Coincidentally, an eye operation scheduled for that morning on one of my canine patients had just been cancelled so we made our plan.

I had two important jobs to do before I set off: one, research how to provide adequate local anaesthesia for the operation - in our small animal patients we always do this procedure under general anaesthetic, but this was not an option for the bullock, as general anaesthetics in cattle are fraught with risk and complication; and two, find the camera crew.

The latter was easy. Laura and Rory were on the scene in seconds. They knew this had the makings of an amazing story for series five of The Yorkshire Vet.

The former was a bit more involved. I had to decide between the Petersson block, which involved a six-inch-long, slightly curved needle, or the Four Point Retrobulbar Block. The fact that the practice didn’t have any six inches long, slightly curved needles made the decision considerably easier.

The bullock was waiting patiently in the crush when I arrived. The eye looked exactly the same as it had the previous week, with the addition of a watery discharge from the inside corner. The main difference was that I now had a large collection of onlookers eager to observe the spectacle, which did little to quell my anxiety.

The four point retrobulbar block worked a treat - I injected slightly more local in each site than the recommended 10mls, just to be sure, and I was ready to go. So was Felicity, Richard’s wife, who was on her way to a birthday treat at a local spa. Her friend had arrived to collect the birthday girl, just as I made my first incision. Both ladies were wearing pretty summer dresses.

“You might want to stand a little bit further back,” I suggested. I knew there was the potential for blood spurting great distances.

“We’d better go,” said the friend. “We don’t want to be late.”

“I’m not going anywhere yet,” objected Felicity. “Not ‘til I’ve seen what happens with this eye. It’s amazing!”

The op went perfectly. After an hour of surgery, the Friesian was happily munching silage as if nothing had happened. It really was amazing. As Felicity and her friend headed off to the spa, I could only imagine the conversations that would unfold as the masseur made their customary small talk.

Julian’s book, ‘Horses Heifers & Hairy Pigs: The Life of a Yorkshire Vet’, is on sale now.