Yorkshire vet Julian Norton teams up with wife Anne for one of his most challenging operations in surgery

On Thursday mornings, I often get the chance to work with my wife. This is a good thing. We work very well together as an efficient unit.

Yorkshire vets Julian and Anne Norton had their work cut out operating on Sid the Labrador.

Any minor squabbles about whether the dog’s feet are clean enough to enter the house after a muddy walk, or if the Saturday night pizzas have sufficient toppings quickly evaporate when there is a veterinary conundrum to solve, or a serious surgical challenge requiring more than one pair of hands, or more than one set of eyes.

There is no faffing and no vacillation when Team Norton is in action. I’ve worked well with other colleagues in the past. Sue and I, back in Thirsk, were a force to be reckoned with. Ben and I could tackle pretty much anything, too, back in those youthful, halcyon days. But as a veterinary combo, Anne and I are definitely up there.

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On Thursday this week, we saw a case that called on our combined powers like never before. That sounds dramatic, but we did a very nifty bit of surgery.

Yorkshire vets Julian and Anne Norton had their work cut out operating on Sid the Labrador.

Sid, a middle-aged Labrador was not looking too good. He’d been in a couple of times over the previous few days, having suddenly gone off colour. He’d improved after each injection, but still, to quote a line from a children’s book, “something wasn’t right with Sid”.

“His back’s up,” was the accurate, but non-specific sign described by Neil, his owner. I knew Neil from having treated various of his cows, but I hadn’t met his dog before. Neil, wasn’t aware of anything that might have happened to cause a problem.

Sid, however, was certainly sick. He was painful in his abdomen and around his back, and I thought I could feel a mass. X-rays and an ultrasound examination were required.

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Julian Norton faced one of his most most challenging pieces of surgery ever. Picture by James Hardisty.

So we embarked on one of the most challenging pieces of surgery we had ever carried out.

The last time I’d called for Anne’s help was to assist me with a procedure on an alpaca called Ebony. There was a large mass on her lower leg. It was not as immediately life-threatening as Sid’s kidney cancer, but it was causing problems and its size and position necessitated removal.

Kneeling together, over an alpaca’s leg, in a cold barn was, in many ways, a very different experience to today’s operation. It was “work in the field”, out on a limb (quite literally), but it was just as rewarding. As soon as I’d placed the final suture and cleaned the area, Ebony jumped to her feet and trotted off across the yard. Teamwork in action.

Back with Sid, we carefully dissected the cancerous kidney from its attachments, methodically tying off the abnormal blood vessels supplying the aggressive mass. I looked to Anne again for reassurance.

The most dangerous part of the operation was upon us: identifying and ligating the renal artery, as it branched off the aorta. The kidneys receive one third of all the blood pumped by every heartbeat, making this artery one of the biggest in the body.

There was no room for error. I took a deep breath and hoped it would go as smoothly as our last operation together.