Exhilarating, daunting, never boring

2011-09-30 00:00

THE bitch was struggling to give birth.

It was the dead of night when we started the Caesar.

She was swaddled in so many drapes that she resembled King Tut on a good day. I was similarly encased in green garb — sterile smock, mask and headgear. Our vet nurse was also on hand, kitted out and ready to assist under the stark surgical lights. The respiratory monitor was clicking merrily, attached to the tubes emerging from her mouth and leading to the gas anaesthetic apparatus. The whole procedure was so sterile, so clinical, that any self-respecting contaminating bacterium would have packed their bags and headed south in disgust. Just over an hour later, seven pups had been delivered and were suckling from the recovering mother.

Some days later, a cow was struggling to give birth. The calf was dead. The weak winter sun had set when we discovered that the reason for her condition was a cruel genetic abnormality called Shistosomal Reflexus, where the organs of the calf develop outside of its body and the extremities are twisted backwards. A monster of diabolical proportions. Certainly not possible to deliver through the natural aperture.

It was the dead of night when we started the Caesar.

The tranquilised cow was standing in a dusty holding pen near the milking parlour. Car lights partially illuminated the scene. A brace of assistants restrained the patient. In addition, Tara was perched on a railing, operating a hand-held spot light, a task complicated by a continuously moving target. Her big sister, Amy, had a hand torch while Dad, Robin, was occupied as an assistant surgeon and Mum and a friend draped the fence in support of the pantomime within.

Reedbuck whistled in the oat fields and the occasional jackal barked.

At the first slice of the scalpel blade, the two adult female observers decided that a glass of Merlot in front of the fire in the hearth of the cosy farmhouse held more appeal and departed.

And as the incision deepened the cow started moving, carting the assistants and the surgeons around with her. The bearers of light were dancing around like pixies in the moonlight, trying to keep their beams focused. Dust from our boots and vapour from our breaths formed a pall over the patient and moths flittered across our field of vision. Eventually, the calf was pulled out of the side of the mother and was laid in the dust, observing our labours with its dead, dull, deformed eyes. Someone put their foot on a tray of instruments and syringes. A pail of disinfected water went tumbling. At some stage I slipped on afterbirth and ended up underneath the long-suffering mother.

Sterility was unattainable, cleanliness a goal never quite achieved.

The laborious process of stitching the multiple layers of incision lines began. Robin had his arms deep in the cow, trying valiantly to extricate the ruptured uterus into a position where I could suture her.

The cow was getting restless, the tranquilliser wearing thin. We were wet, dirty and freezing cold when the final stitch was placed.

It is certainly a profession of extremes.

Some procedures are technologically advanced, others archaic, limited by a multitude of environmental challenges.

It is daunting for some, exhilarating for others. For sure, it is never boring.


• The author is a practising vet with a passion for his profession and a giggle in his heart.

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