I'm very clear where the true skill lies - and it's not with the vet lancing an abscess on the jaw of a llama

Vet and Country Week columnist Julian Norton recovers from back surgery
Vet and Country Week columnist Julian Norton recovers from back surgery
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I had spinal surgery a few weeks ago. Before my op, I was worried. Was I doing the right thing? Would the screws go in the right place…and what if they didn’t? How would I cope with being “out of action” for six whole weeks?

The problem in my back had been developing over some time, but the clinical signs had suddenly become dramatically worse. Clinical signs are what vets look for to make a diagnosis, as opposed to symptoms which are a human patient’s description of their problem.

Dogs, cats and horses, of course, can’t describe their symptoms, so we have to look for the clinical signs. It’s a phrase I find hard to abandon.

It was clear that something serious needed to be done so, despite my anxieties, seven weeks ago, after my pre op assessment, I found myself in the prep area, waiting to go into theatre. I could see the surgeon, gloved up and laying out his surgical equipment. It felt all wrong – usually I was holding the scalpel.

It would surely be easy to catch a duck who could only hobble - Julian Norton
Our lives are not spent locked in the middle lane - Jill Thorp

At that time, the theatre clock said quarter to nine. The next thing I knew, it was one o’clock and I was wiggling my toes to make sure they still worked. They did and, as I was to discover increasingly over the next few weeks, the operation had been a success.

I could walk but I couldn’t do much else. Moving the coal scuttle was a job too far. I learnt some French (despite the general mood of negativity towards Europe, I love France).

I did a bit of writing. I slept on the sofa.

I could feel myself recovering. Three weeks later, I went back for a check-up. The surgeon was as delighted as I was with my progress.

But work beckoned. I’d had plenty of messages:

“How are you getting on?”

“When are you back?”

“I’m lambing in January and I’m sure I’ll need some help.”

“When can you come and see my alpaca?”

“The puppy you delivered by caesarean a couple of months ago needs a first vaccine. When can I come in?”

The messages whetted my appetite to return to work. I missed my patients and their owners, the challenges and rewards of veterinary medicine.

But, hard as it was to admit, I was actually quite enjoying some spare time. I’d visited various charities to whom I had promised some time but never managed to find any – Vision 25 in Stockton, a worthy charity supporting adults with disabilities was just one – thank you to Matthew for introducing me to this wonderful place.

I was less stressed and my blood pressure was palpably lower. I needed to be back at work, though, as soon as I was able: being a vet.

I know what I’ll be doing on my first day back. One job is a llama with an abscess in need of attention. I will pack all my equipment back into the car and head off up to the hills.

I can’t wait to be back in action.

As I write this piece and run my fingers over the precise scars on my lower back, I think about the often-made comparison between vets and medics, (“it’s harder to be a vet than a doctor”, I hear people say).

I am very clear where the true skill lies. It is with the surgeons who can place four life-changing screws with perfect precision into the spine of a human and not with the veterinarian lancing an abscess on the jaw of a llama.

■ Julian Norton’s new book, A Yorkshire Vet: The Next Chapter, published by Hodder and Stoughton and costing £16.99, is out on February 6.