I woke up in the cold grey morning, and steeled myself to get out of the warm cocoon of my feather doona. It was dark outside, bleak, the icy fret wafting up from the northern ocean, foggy. Newcastle upon Tyne, in the North of England, had been my home for months now, and I had a long term locum job in the scruffiest clinic I’d ever seen, deep in the heart of the poorest and roughest suburb of the city. I gritted my teeth and leapt out of bed, jumping into warm clothes, shivering. I lived in the upstairs room, tucked away in the roof of the three story terrace house. Downstairs, my friends who owned the house, both vets as well, were stirring. A quick bite to eat, then I was in the vestibule downstairs, donning a full length coat, gloves, a warm hat, and wrapping myself in scarves. I cracked the door open, and stepped outside. My nose began streaming from the cold, and the wind cut through all of my layers. The wan sunlight was starting to light up the day. I jumped into my mini cooper, and she roared into life. I rolled off, waiting for the heating to kick in.
Before long I was walking into the dingy, worn out and faded (but blessedly warm) waiting room of the clinic. As soon as I stepped out the back, the 4 or 5 rescue dogs that hadn’t yet found a home all jumped on me and licked me, and one of the nurses handed me a steaming cup of tea. I had a busy morning, consults flowing in and out the door – dogs vomiting, dogs with mange, dogs with worms, old and decrepit dogs with arthritis and worn out bodies, cats with cat fight abscesses, all accompanied by people with impenetrable Geordie accents, and wrapped up tight against the cold in worn coats. The clinic was humming!
Then it was into the surgery to work through the list- a couple of speys, the cat bite abscesses to be popped and drains inserted, a few x-rays, all accompanied by the palpable smell of halothane, the anaesthetic gas. The scavenger system consisted of sticking the exhaust tube from the animal out a crack in the window, hardly the best OH&S!
Then it was lunch time, and the two Irish locums who managed the practice swept me off to the pub across the road for a “bite to eat”. Well, I suppose Guiness is pretty chewy, after all. As soon as we sat down, three pints materialised. Then they poured them down their throats in approximately 1.25 seconds, and looked at me with mildly accusing eyes until I’d managed to swallow all of mine.
“Next round then,” the gentle Irish tones said, and another round appeared, as if by magic. Soon the table was adorned with a lovely, greasy, English pub lunch (nothing quite like it for arterial health and well being), and the stories began to flow.
“I was examinin’ this little dog one day,” the larger of the two said, inhaling large gulps of Guinness now and then, “and when I stuck the thermometer in his bum, the little bastard spun around and bit me, right on the face, he did. Jaysus! I was standing there, hand clapped to me face, blood streamin’ out of the wound, and this feckin’ lady said to me – can ye guess what she said to me?” he asked.
We pondered, and said no. He drank half a pint with one gulp, and his eyes were bright with outrage as he paused for effect.
“She asked me this, she did… ‘Oh dear, did he bite you, the little rascal?’ I was furious, I was, steamin’ with rage, but I held me temper as best I could, and told her, with immense dignity ‘Oh no, I just had a minor thermonuclear explosion spontaneously break out on me face, didn’t I!’ I walked out, left her standing there, couldn’t bring meself to go back in. The other vet had to deal with her….”
By the time we’d got through lunch, three pints had been demolished.
“We’d best have one for the road, eh?” the smaller vet queried.
“Ah, why not, indeed,” came the ready reply.
The pints arrived, and vanished so quickly and effortlessly I watched in awe. Me, I was feeling well wobbly, and it was a herculian effort to get mine down, all the time under the accusing gaze of the two Irish fellows. They couldn’t understand why I was so slow…