Suzanne was worried about Rowan, one of her youngsters, who had suddenly stopped being able to eat. Food was spilling from his mouth along with drool and blood. Something was obviously seriously wrong and I arranged to go and visit as soon as I could. We were anxious that the jaw might be fractured.
The drive along the banks of the Nidd gave me time to recollect a similar llama drama, about five years ago. A huge and handsome boy called Dobbie had been injured and I can recall the case with clarity. The suspicion was that Dobbie had been kicked in the head.
His sad, floppy and asymmetric face had a long stream of bloody saliva dripping steadily onto the straw. Laura, my PD (producer-director) had travelled with me that day, pointing her camera from the passenger seat of my car and interviewing me all the way.
I stared at Dobbie and she stared at me, her camera poised. “What are you going to do, Julian?” she asked, probing for a decisive plan or an answer that might build jeopardy.
But there was already plenty of jeopardy. Dobbie clearly had a broken jaw and I had to work out a plan to repair it. If I couldn’t, he would need to be put down, which wasn’t a palatable option. I peered inside his mouth and then started to ponder. But beyond ponder, I needed to do something and this wasn’t in the veterinary text books.
I decided to try to lasso the loose jaw fragments with strong nylon sutures, to act like a set of braces that a child with wonky teeth might wear. It seemed to work and Dobbie’s mouth started to look much more normal. Moments later, he shoved his head into the hay net and started munching with miraculous abandon.
Dobbie recovered well and is still an important and senior member of the herd. I often think about that successful day, with a delighted owner, a cured patient and an unusual and popular story for my television series. If Rowan had a broken jaw as well, at least I could tap into previous experience. This time (and with the benefit of that experience) I had prepared myself with more appropriate surgical tackle.
Orthopaedic wire, cutters and twisters and a small, hand drill in case I needed to drill a hole in the jaw. I had no X-ray facilities, but I hoped a clinical examination would suffice to provide the diagnosis.
The other difference was that, this time, I had no PD riding shotgun, but I’d messaged Ross (my current cameraman) who arranged to meet me at Suzanne’s to capture the action, should there be any. I’ve worked hard on The Yorkshire Vet over the last six years and we’ve managed to capture and share hundreds of stories of veterinary action during this exciting period of my career.
Obviously, we need the cases and also the co-operation and compliance of veterinary staff and clients. Without them and their enthusiastic assistance, we have no programme and so everyone involved with production is endlessly grateful for this.
It’s also imperative there is always someone nearby with a camera, so the action can be captured. It’s tough for the camera team, who have to juggle things constantly to try to cover veterinary action from the Pennines to the Dales and now the North York Moors.
I was delighted Ross could drop everything and come to film Rowan. He was there when I arrived. I just hoped I could help.