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I’ve seen the new face of veterinary medicine – and I don’t like it

How am I going to stop the last good vet in the world from retiring?

2 December 2017

9:00 AM

2 December 2017

9:00 AM

After a week of cold hosing, I decided I would have to get the vet to the small swelling on Gracie’s leg.

‘Dear Lord, be merciful,’ I prayed. But I knew that the quantity of mercy I would be shown would very much depend on the vet who came.

My usual vet is the last good vet in the world — the only vet in the western hemisphere who will make a realistic appraisal of a horse’s condition and give a quote for what can be realistically mended at a morally defensible price, by which I mean a price that will fix the horse without breaking the human owner. Consequently, he is very busy.

I rang the practice and was assigned a member of the team who was at a call-out down the road. When she arrived, my heart sank as I saw how young she was. She looked horribly sweet and idealistic, a bit like she might just have got out of veterinary college with the lectures of the visiting animal-rights activists still burning her ears.

I undid the field gate and beckoned her in. ‘It’s like Bute central down here,’ I said, referring to the phenylbutazone anti-inflammatories I had been giving to both Grace and Tara, Grace for her bad leg and Tara because she’s 32 or nearly 90 in human years, with all the aches and pains that entails. With a bit of Bute, she gallivants around kicking and biting as happily as she ever did.

But the young vet smiled weakly. She didn’t look like she did jokes. I explained as entertainingly as I could how Gracie had raced around the field to evade capture for an hour, charging and twisting away from me, and finally going over on her ankle.

As we approached the pony, I warned the vet to stand clear if she turned and charged. So naturally, Grace let me put a headcollar on without protest, very much to embarrass me. ‘Sure, go ahead,’ she said. ‘I never make a fuss. I was just minding my own business like this the other day when she pushed me over.’

The vet said ‘aw’ and ‘ah’ and complimented the pony on being lovely (yes, well, she wasn’t too lovely when she was chasing me round the field like a dog). Then she looked at the small swelling and made a face: ‘That is right on the suspensory.’


Great balls of fire! ‘What?’ I screeched. ‘I thought it was on the tendon. Don’t be saying suspensory. I’ll take a torn tendon rather than a torn suspensory ligament any day.’

‘Well, it’s hard to say. Carry on giving her Bute and keep her shut up in the field shelter, but if it’s no better in two weeks, we’ll have to nerve block.’

Great balls of fire again! ‘Nerve block?’ I gasped, feeling my own nerves actively twang themselves into multiple spasms making pound signs explode in front of my eyes. She left me doing my breathing exercises. A week later, when the small swelling was still there, I rang in and said I would take the next available appointment with my usual vet.

As luck would have it, he could come in a few days’ time. When he turned up, I was never so pleased to see his sardonic grin.

‘It’s like Sunset Senior Living for equines down here,’ I said, nodding towards Tara and Gracie grazing happily. ‘Just the two out-of- work horses lounging about high on Bute at my expense.’

He laughed heartily. We’re in business, I thought.

‘Your new vet…’ I said, as tactfully as I could as we walked to the field, ‘…very nice girl, but she told me she wanted to do nerve blocking.’

‘Well, I’m sure she thought that was the right thing to do,’ he said, in a tone that said ‘don’t go there’.

‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I’m the one who’s going to need my nerves blocking if you start doing investigations on a pulled tendon.’

But in the event, he simply took one look at the leg and said: ‘Tendon sheath. Small tear. How old? 14. Yeah. Sounds about right. We call it teenage cob syndrome.’

Gracie looked up from tearing off a mouthful of grass as if to say, ‘Who you calling a cob?’

‘She’s not really a cob,’ I said, to make her feel better.

‘Well, you know what I mean. She goes a bit funny, doesn’t she?’ And he imitated her choppy action.

‘That is pretty much how she rolls. Stomps along like a pony in a trap.’

‘Exactly. No point scanning, just a waste of your money. You won’t see anything useful. A month off, then start walking her out. They usually come right.’

‘Don’t ever retire,’ I told him, as he climbed back into his car.


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