For a vet during the festive season, it is very much a case of business as usual. Animals, whether a constipated cat, a wheezing westie or a calving cow do not know about Christmas. They do not know about bank holidays, nor about spending time with the family and enjoying delicious seasonal meals.
Time off over the festive period is shared out, but the general precedent is that vets with small children have first dibs at the rota. I remember one year being on call on Christmas Eve, but off duty on Christmas Day to allow my young kids to spend some time with their dad, unencumbered by a beeper and on-call responsibilities.
It had been a busy night. Calving a cow at 2am was actually a wonderful experience. The farmer and his wife were embarrassed at calling the vet when it should have been Santa out delivering things, but a healthy calf and a happy cow was the earliest and best Christmas present they could have wished for.
I had delivered countless of their lambs and calves over the years and it was a privilege to be the first to wish two of my farming friends a happy Christmas on that frosty night. It was just like a Nativity scene – cows were literally eating from a manger and lowing softly. Sadly, I don’t think the calf was christened Jesus. I suppose that would have been wrong.
I went back to bed briefly, but then, like children all over the world, I rose early. I had inpatients to check – catheters to flush, bladders to empty. I also had a turkey to cook.
I reckoned I would be out an hour and I rose at 4.30, intending to be back before six so I could watch our young kids open their presents. The proper magic of Christmas.
My plan failed. The catheters and bladders took a bit longer than expected and my kids got up earlier than I expected. They were as excited as you’d imagine – Father Christmas had been in the night and filled their stockings. On finding my car once again not in the drive, they presumed I was tied up with work (I was). They could not contain their excitement.
I returned home, shortly after 6.30 on Christmas Day morning, to find Anne half asleep, two over excited kids and a big pile of screwed up wrapping paper. I’d missed it all!
On my first ever Christmas on call, I went to see an old man who had an elderly terrier. Both the owner, whose name was Mr Moss, and his canine companion, had the same problem – severe emphysema. We visited him regularly, when the dog’s lung function dipped to a serious level. The steroid injections we gave seemed to provide relief for a few months but apparently, the drugs had worn off at eleven on Christmas Day morning. The terrier’s breathing was bad and my beeper went off.
Because I’d visited the house several times before, I knew Mr Moss and his dog lived alone. The wheezing dog was all the company he had on Christmas Day. I checked my emergency box. It was full of all I would need – stethoscope, syringes, drugs and even the equipment to administer the final injection if the worst had happened and the terrier’s lungs had deteriorated to an impossible state of health (thankfully, that wasn’t the case).
But as I headed out of my front door, I had a thought. I had forgotten some essential kit. I went into the kitchen and grabbed a box of mince pies and a half-opened bottle of Merlot, which Mr Moss and I shared after I’d treated his dog.
They were not conventional medicines, but those mince pies were the best treatment I’d dispensed all year!