SLIDER

The Vet's Assistant

Monday, August 12, 2013
You know how every little girl (well, most little girls I've met) say they want to be a vet when they grow up? Well, I never did. Being a vet was not one of my childhood ambitions. I did want to be an astronaut though. I was tossing up between that and midwifery. It's true! I wanted to be an astronaut, but one of my best friends wanted to be a midwife, and she thought it would be cool if we could be midwives together and go and study in Switzerland. So, the moon or Switzerland. Tough choice.

And in the end, I picked neither of those. My best friend didn't either. But I did grow up on a steady diet of James Herriot books and the tv series, and I loved them. I still do love them. And I'm sure there have been many moments when I have been immersed in a James Herriot book experiencing the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales and the warmth and humour of Skeldale House that I have romanced about becoming a vet. Just like James.

This week I got a taste of that. And I have decided that I do not want to be a vet when I grow up. And I don't want to be a farmer either. Or marry a farmer for that matter.
It's not that I didn't enjoy myself, because in spite of what came, I did really like it. I was looking after some sheep and young calves that were not my own. I just got to play farmer for a week. I pictured happy mornings in gumboots tossing sweet-smelling hay to the cows and spreading sheep pellets for the pregnant ewes, waking one morning to find fresh, newborn lambs frollicking over the rolling paddocks.


This is how my week started. A perfect Monday morning in the warm sunshine with pretty calves to greet me. Then I turned to go and feed the pregnant sheep, and this is what I saw.


Uh oh! At twelve o'clock. What is that sticking out of the sheep's bottom? And so this was the start of my distressing fight against death.

I ended up having to call the vet. And the poor sheep had what is called a 'bearing' where she pops her insides and lady parts out into the open air. And she was still pregnant.

I had to heave a very heavy wooden gate open so we could corral her into a pen. I did that all by myself while the vet stood by and watched. We then had to run. RUN. (I do not do running), to get the sheep into the pen, whereby with much grunting and groaning by the vet (a big, hefty man), and the poor sheep herself, everything got pushed back in. And then he used massive safety pins to hold it in.

"What if she starts birthing while the pins are in?" I asked, in my ignorance.
"Then you'll have to come and take them out." He said, nonchalantly, as though taking safety pins out of a sheep's bottom was an everyday occurance, like taking pegs off a clothesline. 

WARNING: Don't look unless you want to be a vet or a farmer.


So, over the next day or so, I kept a pretty close eye on the sheep. And it wasn't until Wednesday that I noticed a change. She had something long and stringy and red-looking hanging out the end, almost to the ground.

Another phone call to the vet, and I got someone different this time. He said to take the pins out, and if there's no change in an hour, he'll have to come out. I wanted to say down the telephone, "Oh, can't you come and take them out?" But I knew that was silly, and I was already running up a pretty big vet's bill. There was nothing for it, but I'd have to do it myself.

So, I called in on Jim, our neighbour, who is retired and one of those amazing guys who can do anything. And I called one of my brothers-in-law who happened to be home that day to come and help. Mostly to help with the gates. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get them pushed open wide enough on my own strength.
And I knew that I had no choice but to go over there and RUN again across the paddock to get the sheep into the pen, and then I would have to go into that pen and pull those safety pins out. With my own hands. Hands that are used to typing and putting on makeup and wearing nail-polish and folding clothes and cooking food. Hands that are not used to pulling out safety pins from a birthing sheep's bottom. But, we come from good pioneering stock, right? And there's nothing we kiwi girl's can't do if we put our minds to it, so I thought of my ancestors and I went at it. There's nothing like tasting the variety of life.

But I was shaking so much, but I did it. And my brother in law took a photo of the pins.


But this was not the worst. And here I will skip over details, because an hour later the poor mumma sheep had not given birth and I had to phone the vet. And he came and he was kind, and we had to RUN again to get the sheep, and he found that she had two dead lambs inside her, and that if they didn't come out then, that she would die also.
So, for the next few minutes, while Jim and I held the sheep, and I stroked her nose and ears while she grunted and heaved, the vet had to tie rope around the poor lamb's legs and pull them out. It was horrendous and I never want to do that again. The lambs were very dead. He thought over a week, so there was nothing I could have done to save them. But it was very traumatic, and I was crying. Yes, I'm such a baby and not farmer material at all, because I'm sure farmer's never cry over dead lambs. And I had to go and get a tetanus injection afterwards, and I cried in my doctor's office too. Pathetic, I know. I'm sure my Great great Grandmother Sarah-Jane Weavers, the pioneering Canterbury farmer's wife never cried over dead lambs.

But it was touch and go with the mother sheep. But the kind vet said she may pull through and that Jim and I were such a great team, that she had every chance.  I came back from the doctor's and dear Jim had buried the lambs for me. I can't tell you how grateful I was to him for that, because I was dreading coming back and finding their poor, cold bodies lying forlornly on the grass still.

And we did everything we could for that poor sheep. We fed her extra food, water and gave her a bed of straw. We checked on her hourly some days and she made it through 4 nights.  She got to know us. She let us come right up to her and feed her and talk to her. The vet had given her some pretty strong pain killers, so I knew she wasn't in any pain, but on Sunday it must have been all too much for her and she died. Just like that. Gave up. I can't say I was surprised. She had been through a lot. But I had hoped that she would be ok. I know she's just a sheep among millions, but me and Jim really fought for her. We wanted her to survive. But in the end, nature had its way.

But, I hated seeing two dead lambs. And I hated seeing that poor sheep go through so much. So in spite of the fact that two lambs were born healthily and happily to one of the other pregnant sheep on the last day I looked after them, it was not enough to take away the awfulness of that day or the sadness. But I might just add here quietly, that I was a leetle bit proud of myself for doing something totally not on my scale of things to do in life.



4 comments :

Elizabeth said...

Well if crying means you're not up to being a farmers wife, count me in as well! Just reading your story made me cry...

Well done you, what a horrible thing to have to do, and then to have to watch her die as well. Urghh.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rach, You are a great story teller! The children and I were in hysterics at the beginning of your story ... but then we all sobered up. So sad about the lambs and the mother sheep. You did amazing! I'm impressed. Love Penny and children

Lisa K said...

eeeeeep Poor Mama and her lambies :( Made me cringe.. not a farmer here!

L Walker said...

I just happen to run across your story, and I have to tell you I cried too! I am an American, and a woman Farmer/rancher and have been all life. And I cry every time one is hurt, dies, losses a baby, losses a momma. We all do!

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