There are always two questions; am I on duty and, if I am, is there anyone with whom I could arrange a simple swap? This brings the issue of whether anyone else needs to be off that weekend, or if a colleague is away on holiday.
In a smallish veterinary practice, there is never any guarantee of being able to make a social occasion, attend an important family event or significant engagement. A compromised life away from work is something to which most veterinary surgeons become accustomed.
I’m not sure if the disappointed family ever completely reconciles the conflicting pulls of normal life and ongoing on call commitments.
However, I can now say with certainty that there will definitely be no clash with a busy weekend rota and the important upcoming event, involving all members of my close family. Because I have just completed my final weekend on call, at least for the foreseeable future.
Once, this would have invoked feelings of being a skiver, shirking my share of the work and not pulling my weight within the practice team, but a quick calculation revealed that this was approximately the 600th weekend of my career, on call, with a beeper in my pocket, at the mercy of emergencies, which I reckon is more than sufficient. I can’t wait for the shift to my shifts.
The weekend in question was anticlimactic. Saturday was a quiet day, the highlight of which was two successive – but unrelated – clients who had the same surname. One had a rabbit that had stopped eating and the other a cat with an abscess on its head.
Sunday was more eventful and saw me performing a post mortem on a recently deceased tup, treating a horse with choke and visiting a pony, at 10.30pm which, a bit like me, had only eaten half of its tea.
But I’ve had some shockers over the years, full of attrition as well as adrenaline-fuelled dramas. It’s not the working of a weekend per se that’s hard. Work is work, whatever the day of the week. It’s the fact that a normal week precedes the 72-hour stint and an equally full week follows.
There’s sometimes a half day off the following Monday, if you’re lucky, but not if you’re not – I’ve just finished a run of 26 days of working without a day off, due to various swaps and rearrangements. By the end of a run like that, instead of using any free time to go on a long bike ride, see your family or pursue your hobbies, you end up asleep on the sofa.
One ridiculous, super-Saturday some years ago, I performed three bitch caesarean sections, completing the final one in a state of semi-consciousness at midnight. At the start of my career, when farm calls were much more frequent, I had 13 calls in one Sunday, four of which were to treat the same cow. But it is being repeatedly woken up that wears you down the most.
A terrible Sunday night in March had me replacing the uterus in three cows, on three different farms at exactly two-hour intervals.
The end of my weekends on call might mark the end of an era. I prefer to see it as the start of a new one, a little further down the A1 to the banks of another marvellous Yorkshire river, where many more, exciting veterinary challenges lie ahead.
■ The Yorkshire Vet continues series 11 on Tuesday night at 8pm on Channel 5.
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