New Year, for a vet, is very similar to Christmas. In most practices, it forms part of the ‘Christmas Rota’, so you either work one or the other.
But being on call on New Year’s Eve can be fun. A couple of years ago, I delivered a litter of pups at two in the morning, by caesarean section. I wished the owners a happy New Year when they arrived at the practice. I wished Katy, my colleague whom I had to call in to assist me, a happy New Year.
Then we had the privilege of wishing a happy New Year to each of six tiny puppies as they squeaked their first squeaks. Bringing new life into the world was a good start to the New Year!
Much better than nursing a hangover, like much of the country.
Another year, I was called at a similar time of night, in the small hours. This time it was to a cow belonging to John, a farmer, who had just got home from a New Year’s party.
Despite being somewhat the worse for wear, he had diligently set about checking his stock before going to bed.
He’d spotted a cow that had just calved and called me immediately.
“Thank goodness, Julian,” he slurred anxiously down the phone. “I’ve just got back from the pub and this cow has calved and she’s pushed her calf bed out.”
A “calf bed out” is the lay term for a prolapsed uterus. It is a serious problem and one that demands strenuous, messy exertion and some skill. I braced myself for a tough job on that freezing cold and crystal clear New Year’s morning.
When I arrived, I found John staggering around, sloshing water over the side of the bucket he was carrying, as he meandered across the dark farm yard, illuminated by the light of his mobile phone and a full bright moon.
I parked, got my wellies on and left the car engine running and headlights on, to provide some much-needed extra light. He beckoned me over and I followed, avoiding muddy puddles.
We met by the gate and peered into the yard of cattle. I hoped the patient would be easy to get hold of, but she was not even easy to identify, let alone catch.
“Which one is she, John?” I asked, peering into the darkness. “Oh, and happy New Year!”
“And a very happy New Year to you. It’s the brown one,” slurred the farmer, referring to the patient rather than the New Year.
It certainly wasn’t going to be a brown year. “She’s over there! Near the calf.”
But when we climbed over the gate to try and catch the patient, it turned out she wasn’t a patient at all.
“John, that’s not a prolapsed uterus! It’s just some cleansing. She’s fine. I can go back to bed!”
Cleansing is the remains of the placenta and is completely normal to see after a calf is born. What a relief!
But possibly the most memorable of all New Year’s calls was to see a whole herd of cows. Overnight, the cows had enjoyed their own party and broken into the feed store, gorging themselves on cow-cake.
The result was acidosis, the signs of which look very much like a person who is drunk.
The sight that met me, around eight in the morning on New Year’s Day, was very similar to the scene in towns, pubs and houses all over the country, as pretty much the whole herd staggered, drunk and disorderly around the farmyard.
I wonder what’s in store for me this New Year?