Times have certainly changed for me, as they have for many veterinary surgeons and veterinary practices. Twenty-five years ago, just about all veterinarians offered a very mixed range of services, because market towns were surrounded by agricultural land where farmers and their animals flourished in abundance.
Now, whether we like it or not, there are far fewer farms, but there are also many more dogs and cats, which demand a more complex level of care than once was the case. Times have, subtly, changed.
My morning had been busy with small animals at our practice in Wetherby. Consulting sounds straight-forwards. In some ways, it is.
There are no moments of high stress when a crucial incision or saw cut is required, or if a ligature slips off a pulsating artery. But consulting is intense in a different way. A full list of consultations requires complete concentration with many decisions to be made and clear communication required at every stage.
Henry was my final case. He was suffering from an inoperable rectal tumour that I was treating with metronomic chemotherapy – this sounds fancy but really it isn’t. It is a way to control a cancer using tablets rather than surgery or brightly coloured intravenous infusions. Henry’s wagging tail told me much of what I needed to know before I set about assessing his lump or taking his blood. He was responding very well.
Having dealt with my small animal patients, I headed out towards the open spaces of the moors. I had a pig to see. It was a huge boar with a melon-sized mass in its lower neck. I’d seen photos but today was the first time I would clap eyes on the lump. I’d met the boar, whose name was Hal, some years before.
He had been brought over from the Netherlands to introduce some much-needed extra genes into the rare-breed herd, and I was on the farm when he arrived. Age had crept up on Hal and the lump sounded serious.
My job was to try and find out what it was and work out what to do. A lump on a farm animal, as any fan of The Yorkshire Vet will know, is likely to be an abscess. So, plan A was to perform a fine needle aspirate.
Today’s attempt, in an uncooperative Mangalitza pig, was not exactly fine, but it achieved what was needed. The total absence of pus, but an abundance of blood ruled out an abscess but hinted towards a vascular mass.
Given its position, I suspected a thyroid growth. Could this be an enlarged thyroid gland? Did Hal have a goitre? Could he have low iodine levels? It was certainly possible and I set about extracting a blood sample to check. Back at the Thirsk practice, Lindsay, our head nurse, looked at my sample with some consternation.
“This is from a pig. Can you find a lab that can test it for iodine?” I asked.
As a small animal nurse, she had never handled a pig sample before (apart from a guinea one), but, being an excellent nurse she took a deep breath and set about calling round some labs for me. Some semblance of normality returned when another old friend appeared, clutching a lamb with a broken leg.
A late lambing ewe had delivered a lovely chunky lamb, even though it was now summer. But the lamb had had an accident and it’s right fore leg flopped unnaturally. It was an easier fix than Hal and rounded off another interesting day in the life of a Yorkshire Vet.