Yorkshire vet Julian Norton on coping with being woken up during busy week on-call

Read Julian Norton's column on veterinary life in North Yorkshire in The Yorkshire Post every Saturday. Picture by Gary Longbottom.
Read Julian Norton's column on veterinary life in North Yorkshire in The Yorkshire Post every Saturday. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

I was in the middle of another run. Nine nights out of ten on call, either first or second. Normally, second on call means keeping a vigilant eye (or rather, an ear) out for the phone, either ringing or pinging to signify another pair of veterinary hands is needed.

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This is often for a difficult calving that requires a caesarean, but also can be for an operation (like the dog with a bladder tumour, that needed emergency surgery on Sunday night), or if two emergencies happen at the same time (like the horse with grass sickness that came in at exactly the same time as a calving).

Second-on-call is usually fairly quiet, but not so this week, as two of my nights on second were very busy. Both times my phone pinged into life just after midnight, a time when I am often fast asleep. Bank Holiday Monday did not prove to be much of a holiday.

The series of Whatsapp messages told the story in increasing detail. “C-section cow” was the first message, swiftly followed by the name and address. Then more messages appeared as I fumbled for my clothes. “2 front feet”, “2 hind feet”, “and a head” told me that this was going to be a long night.

Four feet and a head means one of three things. It could be twins, all jumbled up. It could be one calf in a very odd presentation with all its limbs trying to exit the birth canal at the same time. Or worse, it could mean a deformed calf.

I shook myself awake and headed south, trying to steer a straight line and not fall asleep. It had been a busy weekend and I was already exhausted. A disturbed night’s sleep and the prospect of a caesarean in the dark and the rain was the last thing I needed.

Candela was on first call and had already prepped the cow for surgery. I had a feel to see if there was any way the calf could be delivered naturally. The multitude of limbs was confusing and, more importantly, there was no way of manipulating them into a more sensible order. It would need to come out of the ‘side door’ – a phrase used by many experienced farmers to describe a caesarean section. Candela made the first incision. I pushed the legs back inside at the same time to make it easier.

But easy it was not. The limbs had no flexibility and could not be easily manoeuvred into position, making this one of the hardest caesarians I had done.

We huffed and puffed, made our incision longer, pulled and pushed, until eventually the calf was out. It was very abnormal, with a horrible deformity called ‘schistosomus reflexus’. Its legs were all wrong and its intestines hanging out. It wasn’t alive but at least the cow was safe.

Forty-eight hours later, we were at it again. This time I headed north from the warmth of my bed, again just after midnight, again with Candela the unfortunate first on call vet. She was all set to go as soon as I arrived.

“I’m terribly sorry, Julian,” were her first words, full of apology for another disturbed night. But there was no need to apologise – she would have been even more tired than I was. Before I scrubbed my arm, my first job – the most important one of the evening – was to give my exhausted colleague a hug.

We both needed it!

Within the hour, we had a healthy calf, a contented mum, a happy farmer and two delighted vets. We were exhausted, but the successful outcome made it all worthwhile!

Julian Norton’s new book On Call with a Yorkshire Vet is available for £11.99 at www.ypbookoffer.co.uk or call 01274 735056.