After inserting the needle, I picked myself up from the straw into which I had been kicked - Julian Norton

I’ve been trying to follow the advice in Kipling’s famous poem “If” about keeping my head etc.

Julian delivers a calf by cesarean while trying to social distance

Normally, I’m very good at this but the current restrictions and general lack of a proper plan is playing havoc with normality.

Under normal circumstances, I’m good at assessing risk and mitigating its consequences by devising a practical solution. It’s a self-protection mechanism, which vets have to acquire from their very first day.

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One cow I treated this week had a huge swelling in front of her udder. As I arranged her and the farmer (safely standing two metres away) so I could insert a long, thick and sharp needle into said lump to ascertain its contents, memories came flooding back of the first time I carried out this procedure.

It was in my first weeks of veterinary practice, when I was at the bottom of an exponential learning curve of risk and consequence.

Several minutes after inserting the needle, with stars spinning in front of my eyes, I picked myself up from the pile of straw, some five metres way from the patient, into which I had been kicked. But it was a lesson quickly learnt and this week’s bovine needle aspirate, despite rapid-fire feet, was accomplished without catastrophe.

But rhetoric of catastrophe is the order of the day. Whilst commenting on the possibility of the long-awaited return to school for our children, a friend was concerned. “It’s a matter of life and death though, isn’t it?” She said.

But is it? At the time of writing and according to the Office of National Statistics, of seven million children in the UK between five and 14 years, only one has died as a result of the corona virus outbreak.

Phrases like a “second wave” and “spike” immediately invoke fear. Would the nation feel less anxious if words like “ripple” or “blip” were used? Or maybe “bleb”?

We are doing our best to avoid a second bleb by fastidiously following the rules or guidelines, some of which offer more practical solutions to mitigate risks than others.

The new plastic screen in the waiting room, for example, will surely offer a good level of protection for client-facing staff. Before I headed out to calve a heifer, I briefly looked at some of the other directives we had recently received. If we couldn’t stand two metres apart, we should position ourselves “back to back” where possible!

I was still pondering how that would work when I arrived at the farm, to see the young heifer in question charging around the dimly lit pen.

She had two large feet sticking out of her back end. The wildness in her eyes told me that this would be another exercise in risk assessment.

Proper practical measures would be required to mitigate the very real risk of catastrophe.

Eventually, after several abortive attempts, my patient was captured. It didn’t take long to realise that a caesarean section was needed.

Despite instilling plenty of local anaesthetic to numb her side, for the second time in one morning I was dodging lightning-fast kicks, while trying not to incise my own hands with my scalpel.

As the youngster objected to my efforts, the job was made even more difficult as she contracted her abdominal muscles, forcing part of her swollen rumen out of the hole I’d just made. This bleb was the size of a space-hopper and I even found myself using my forehead to try and keep it in place.

Eventually, despite huge challenges, as always, it was done.

Assisted by the farmer pulling on one leg, a huge calf was delivered onto the straw. The new mum, now calm, looked on. I pondered my flagrant disregard for the guidance of “working back to back”. But, like I say, vets are good at finding practical solutions to risky situations.

*Catch up with Julian in the Yorkshire Vet which is showing on Channel 5 at 8pm on Tuesdays.