"As someone once said it shouldn't happen to a vet - unfortunately it does" - The Yorkshire Vet Julian Norton recollects on past patients

The sedation I’d injected into Godzilla - the Rottweiler - was strong and he slept soundly as I clipped and treated his horrible infection.
With a Rottweiler under sedation, Julian reflects on other near misses in the pastWith a Rottweiler under sedation, Julian reflects on other near misses in the past
With a Rottweiler under sedation, Julian reflects on other near misses in the past

Underneath the pus, the skin was discoloured with shades of everything from purple to green. As we clipped and cleaned, we chatted about some of the accidents we’d had over the years.

Thankfully, bites, kicks, scratches and so on are not that common in a veterinary practice. At least, that’s what we tell the Health and Safety Inspector. But, however you look at it, being a vet puts us in harm’s way most days. It’s impossible to avoid.

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Irascible feral cats can be the worse, with too many unpredictable sharp bits to keep contained. I know a veterinary nurse who, many years ago, was the victim of a nasty penetrating bite to her elbow.

The stiffness that ensued lasted for almost six months. Cat bites, or even cat scratches, often lead to nasty infections. People rush to the doctors for an anti-tetanus injection, but the real risk is from sepsis caused by bacteria called Pasteurella.

The penetrating injury I once sustained whilst performing a tuberculin test on a herd of cows left me with a similarly lengthy stiffness, luckily of just one finger. It was another accident, pure and simple and unavoidable, when a cow lurched unpredictably.

The 4mm needle entered the base of my finger and the gun discharged its contents. Luckily, for all it was painful, I didn’t register as a positive reactor, so it could have been worse.

Following the MAFF guidelines, I might have been culled.

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Treating hind limb injuries in horses is always fraught with risk. One friend of mine said this was the sole reason for his change of career, moving to the safer world of a veterinary pharmaceuticals.

“Jules, the thing is, I just got fed up with the constant risk of being kicked in the head,” he sighed.

We can all empathise. I still recall the chilling time when I felt the air rush past my forehead as the back foot of the sedated yearling skimmed past, before making a hoof-sized hole in the stable door.

On that occasion, I decided the small laceration would heal perfectly well by secondary intention. I’ve still got the scar inside my lower lip, where another horse landed its limb with more accuracy one Sunday morning.

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But the biggest surge of cortisol came one foggy November day, whilst trying to pregnancy test a herd of suckler cows. The cows most definitely didn’t want to be inside a dingy barn.

Despite protestations at every point, we steadily made our way through them, ushering them through the cattle crush so I could insert my arm into the rectum of each one in turn. With wild cattle, this can be dangerous enough, as the reluctant patients twist and turn, lurch and dip.

You’re in a compromised position with your arm shoulder-deep inside a wild cow. And if one coughs at the wrong moment, there’s the added danger of becoming splattered in semi-liquid faeces.

The last cow did not want to be corralled into the crush and jumped a fence into the barn where the straw bales were kept. I followed. My plan was to shoo it back towards the crush. The cow, intimidated, lowered first her ears, then her head, then pawed the ground like a bull in Spain, then charged at me.

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For my part, I screamed as my life flashed before my eyes. Luckily, I developed transient superhuman powers and levitated onto the top of a large, round bale. The attacking cow was as surprised as I was. I’d escaped otherwise certain death.

As someone once said, it shouldn’t happen to a vet - unfortunately, it often does.