Friday, November 7, 2014

Creative NaBloPoMo #7: A dog story

Everyone has comfort books and comfort series; I, inveterate reader that I am, have many. One of my favourite mental-blankie series has always been James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small books about his life as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales from the 1930s to the 1970s. I enjoy them for their warmth, immediacy, and vivid picture of a changing agricultural world.

I also enjoy them because my Dad, until his retirement in April this year, was a vet (albeit a surburban one, with a primarily small animal practice rather than farm animals), and I grew up around sick and recovering animals and hearing many similarly bizarre and hilarious stories. My Dad, who is also a talented painter, has no gift or inclination to write, which is a shame, because his memoirs, which he always used to say would be called "All Creatures Grunt and Smell", would be worth reading.

The story below is a thinly fictionalised version of one of my Dad's funnier tales of life in small animal practice in the 1980s, before email did away with the prime importance of paper communications. I wasn't actually present when it occurred, but I could easily have been, as I often did just as I have described below, hanging about in the surgery (attached to our house) and occasionally deigning to do something useful if I ran out of things to read.

The Dog Ate It

The man burst through the door of the surgery and yelled, "I HAVE TO SEE THE VET NOW! This dog needs to vomit!"

As the other clients in the waiting room moved surreptitiously away from the action, my father, the vet, opened the door and said, "Do I understand you to have an emergency? You had better come right -" Before he could finish the sentence, the man had dragged the dog inside and hefted him up onto the table, grunting a bit at the effort.

"He needs to vomit!" the owner declaimed again.

The dog looked fine. Maybe a little surprised to have been dragged in to the clinic and dumped unceremoniously on the examination table, but other than being a bit wounded in its dignity - basically, it was in the pink of health.

I'd been skulking about, drinking tea and scoffing chocolate royals with the cheerful vet nurse who'd worked in my father's practice as long as I could remember, and I could see my Dad's slightly puzzled face through the open door of the examination room as he carefully palpated the abdomen of the clearly untroubled and slightly bored Golden Retriever. "Good boy," he murmured to the dog, and the dog waved its plumy tail gently and panted with the smiley-faced patience of a good-natured animal.

"I'm sorry, Mr X, I don't see what -"

"Doctor! You have to make him vomit! Now!!" bit out the wild-eyed owner, a pasty-looking guy in his latish 20s. (Or maybe older; at 13, I was no judge of men's ages). "I was just going to feed him salt, I should have just fed him salt, but the missus said no and I -"

"You definitely mustn't feed a dog salt, Mr X," said my father sternly. "Salt's very damaging in large quantities. No, if he needs an emetic, I have an appropriate one here, but you need to tell me why you want your dog to vomit. Has he eaten something he shouldn't?" The vet nurse and I exchanged worried glances. "Something he shouldn't" was usually code for rat poison, and the outlook was often poor.

The man groaned and ran a despairing hand across his face. "Something he shouldn't? I should say so, doctor! I should say so!" The dog, panting happily, licked his owner's wrist encouragingly.

My Dad gestured through the door to me, and I slid into the room, ready to hold the dog steady for the shot. Not that I expected much trouble from this goofy fellow. Dad drew up the injection, saying, gently, "Do you know what poison it was, Mr X? If we know what he's had, it can help in the treatment." And in predicting whether he'll die, I thought sorrowfully; I'd seen quite a few dogs and cats not recover from eating poison.

Pasty-Man stared at Dad as if he was talking Swahili. "Poison? He hasn't eaten poison," he said flatly. "God, no. No, no." He fell silent, staring into some alarming future only he could see.

Dad and I exchanged a puzzled look as he withdrew the needle and reached behind him for the bucket. "Well, then...?"

"He ate the mail," said the man in a voice of doom. "ALL the mail. The full enchilada. The whole bl-" he paused as he registered my presence - "blinking LOT."

Quizzically, Dad said, "Well, that's very annoying, no doubt, but -"

"There were three birthday letters from abroad. From my relatives, abroad," Mr X continued. "The ones who usually send money. A lot of money. In cash. In the birthday cards." He sighed heavily. "My aunt in London, she's a prickly old biddy. She expects a thank you letter that refers to all the stuff she told me about in HER letter." He turned puppy-dog eyes on my Dad. "Do you think, maybe, they'll be alright...?"

Just then, the injection kicked in and the poor Golden started heaving, chucking into the bucket until his stomach was empty of all but acid and affront. He gave us all a bitterly disappointed look and lay down on his paws, clearly intending to pretend this entire nasty incident had never happened.

My Dad looked down at the bucket and sighed. "OK then," he said. "Gloves for everyone, and steady as she goes..."

Gagging slightly, I helped my Dad pick through the mess. One by one, we extracted soggy, greenish fibrous objects that might have been paper (oh man I hope that's paper) and laid them out on towels. Mr X was waiting, the picture of tense anticipation, as I trotted back upstairs for the hairdryer and came back down to give the whole lot a going over.

Shape and meaning was restored as the objects dried (one wasn't paper, but let's not dwell on that) and with a happy cry, Mr X pounced on one sad exhibit that was pretty clearly letter-shaped. "Aunty's letter!" he crowed, cradling it gently, oblivious to the pong rising from it. "Doctor, can I borrow something to open it -"

Dad took the letter from him and very delicately sliced open the top with a scalpel. He shook, and two British money notes, miraculously largely intact (if misshapen), fluttered out. "YESSSSS!" hissed Mr X, looking happy for the first time since arriving. Then his face changed. "But the letter..."

Just then, I was called upstairs to assist with dinner preparation. The last thing I saw as I glanced over my shoulder was the Golden Retriever deep in his sulk and Mr X squinting up at the X-Ray light box as my Dad carefully spread the pages out across it. "I think that's a "lovely", don't you, doctor?" said Mr X anxiously.

My Dad just sighed.

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