A vet’s duty – away in a manger

IT was the third night of broken sleep over the Christmas period when I found myself travelling east, following a star.

A cold wind and adrenaline soon heighten the senses, and eventually the star did alight as expected over a hemmel, albeit not in Bethlehem, but a little way up the Northumberland coast.

There were plenty of newborns and a somewhat frazzled shepherd and I was trying to make up the deficit in wise men, who must have left two nights’ prior.

There’s never any help when you need it!

Now it’s all very well synchronising oestrous and using artificial insemination in your pedigree sheep, but when it is effective, the end result can be quite dramatic and frantic.

The patient that required the call out for a Caesarean was made comfortable and put on hold while the farmer and I set to delivering another five wet, woolly bundles that were all trying to arrive at the same time. Eventually, a further two lambs were delivered alive and well through the ‘side door’ from the original patient.

By this time, the maternity ward was full to overflowing and the rain was lashing down outside, but there is something very cosy about working in a well-maintained, well-lit, dry lambing shed, so long as you wear plenty of layers. Eventually, I returned home to bed, probably sooner than my client with so many mouths to feed.

It never ceases to amaze me how well most of our patients do in what amounts to be less than idyllic conditions for surgical procedures.

Nowadays, it would be unthinkable for our medical colleagues (except perhaps those working in conflict zones), along with their mothers-to-be, to produce offspring in anything less than a sterile hospital environment with a full team to assist.

A bed of straw would not be acceptable, but Mary seemed to manage.

I recollect two occasions where the odds were stacked against neither mother nor babe surviving, but sure enough they did.

One was a cow calving in the open in what felt like a Force 10 storm, with a few ‘big bales’ failing to fulfil their role as a windbreak while I delivered the calf by Caesarean, after which the dam was rolled into the bucket on the tractor and, as gently as is possible in that situation, transported back to the cover of the farm buildings along with her somewhat lively calf.

The other was a cow that, on attempting to calve, had got herself cast in a stream and was successfully trying to drown. It is in these situations that one wishes that wellies were waders when trying to hold her head out of the water while the fire brigade (always a favourite with the lady vets) winched the patient to the safety of dry land.

Once free of the water, the calf was delivered safely and both went on to do well.

On both occasions a lovely warm bath came to the rescue of the vet!