I ran through the options in my head - did this case need to be seen? - Julian Norton

Is life getting back to normal? For some, maybe, but for most, not.

Julian found it a struggle making diagnosis over the phone

Late one evening my phone pinged with a message. Attached to the message was a photograph. It was a picture of a nasty discharge from a llama’s vulva.

Aside from being something of a surprise, it was unlike anything I’d seen from the back of a llama before.

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“And she’s definitely not pregnant,” came the corollary to the message. Whilst the image on my phone looked irregular, I felt able to provide some advice remotely, fulfilling (anti) social distancing regulations as required. It might be simply a vaginal infection, or worse an infection within the uterus- maybe endometritis. But it could be something more serious.

I ran through the options in my head – was this a case that needed to be seen, or could it be managed “virtually”? I sent a message back suggesting a course of injections might work.

Inwardly, I suspected it would be better to examine the patient properly.

After several emails and photos, I eventually had a telephone conversation and realised I’d need to compromise the social distance rules to which the country was subjected in order to tend to a case of animal welfare. However, a llama’s body is long, so the owner could hold the head end whilst I examined the rear and we would still be the crucial two metres apart.

I headed across the wild hills of Yorkshire, enjoying its empty roads.

I listened to the radio for the latest news. Boris was out of hospital and busy quoting Cicero, the Roman statesman who gamely tried to uphold republican principles during various political crises in the establishment of the Roman Empire.

When I arrived on the farm it was clear that my patient did, as I had suspected, need more help than could be given by phone or email. I felt inside with my lubricated and gloved hand, not knowing quite what to expect.

There were some solid bits inside the llama’s vagina. I quickly ascertained that the solid bits were feet. The discharge was, contrary to the owner’s previous assertion, due to a pregnancy, but an unexpected one and I needed to deliver a cria. (A cria is the name for a baby alpaca or llama).

Llamas have very long necks and long legs, too, so a difficult birth is always challenging to sort out. In this case, the cria’s neck was bent right back, it’s head a long way in and hard to reach.

After some work, I managed to get everything lined up and shortly the baby was delivered. Sadly, it was premature and dead. It had clearly died some time earlier and there was no way that the outcome could have been any better. Mum would be fine though. The baby was destined never to survive, but at least a healthy mum was a good outcome.

Everyone was disappointed, but pragmatic enough to know that we couldn’t have done anything differently.

On my way home, I switched the radio off, fed up with the diatribe from the media and Government.

I pondered the words of Cicero and his Roman colleagues and also the words of Tacitus, possibly the most renowned of all the Roman commentators. His most famous line referred to the governing bodies, “They make a desert and call it peace.”

As I traversed the empty roads of the Dales and headed through empty towns and villages on my way back to the surgery, I couldn’t help but see what he meant- it certainly seemed like a desert.