A lesson for Mr.Beamish
Mr Beamish received the sulphonamide unsmilingly, and as I opened my car door I felt a gush of relief that the uncomfortable visit was at an end. I was starting the engine when one of the apprentices panted up to the trainer.
“It’s Almira, sir. I think she’s chokin’ !”
“Choking!” Beamish stared at the boy, then whipped round to me, “Almira’s the best filly I have. You’d better come !”
With a feeling of doom, I hurried after the squat figure back into the yard where another lad stood by the side of a beautiful chestnut filly.
She stood immobile, and the rise and fall of her ribs was accompanied by a rasping, bubbling wheeze.
“What the devil’s wrong with her?” Beamish exclaimed. I didn’t have a clue to the answer. As I walked round the animal, taking in the trembling limbs and terrified eyes, a jumble of thoughts crowded my brain. I had seen “choking” horses—the dry choke when the gullet becomes impacted with food—but they didn’t look like this. I felt my way along the course of the oesophagus, and it was perfectly clear.
“Well, damn it, I’m asking you! What is it?” Mr Beamish was becoming impatient, and I couldn’t blame him.
“Just a moment, while I listen to her lungs.”
“Just a moment!” the trainer burst out. “Good God, man, we haven’t got many moments ! This horse could die !”
He didn’t have to tell me. I had seen that ominous trembling of the limbs before, and now the filly was beginning to sway a little. Time was running out.
Dry-mouthed, I put my stethoscope to her chest. I knew there was nothing wrong with her lungs—the trouble seemed to be in the throat
area but it gave me a little more
time to think. Even with the stethoscope in my ears I could still hear Beamish’s voice.
“It would have to be this one ! Sir Eric Horrocks gave £5,000 for her last year. Are you sure Mr Far-non isn’t available ?”
“I’m sorry,” I replied huskily. “He’s over 3o miles away.”
The trainer seemed to shrivel within himself. “That’s it, then. We’re finished. She’s dying.”
And he was right. The filly had begun to reel about. It was when I was resting my hand on her flank to steady her that I noticed the little swelling under the skin. It was a circular plaque, like a penny pushed under the tissue. And there was another one higher up on the back . . . and another and another. My heart gave a quick double thump. So that was it.
“What am I going to tell Sir Eric ?” the trainer groaned. “That his filly is dead and the vet didn’t know what was wrong with her?”
I called over my shoulder as I trotted towards the car. “I never said I didn’t know. I do know. She’s got urticaria.”
He came shambling after me.
“Urti . what the blazes is that?”
“Nettle rash,” I replied, fumbling among my bottles for the adrenalin. “It’s an allergic condition, usually pretty harmless, but in a very few cases it causes oedema of the larynx. That’s what we’ve got here.” I drew 5 cc of the adrenalin into the syringe and started back.
It was difficult to raise the vein as the filly staggered around, but she came to rest for a few seconds and I dug my thumb into the jugular furrow. As the big vessel came up tense and turgid I thrust in the needle and injected the adrenalin. I stepped back and stood by the trainer.
Neither of us said anything. The spectacle of the toiling animal and the harrowing sound of the breathing absorbed us utterly. Finally I shrugged. “There’s a chance, if the injection reduces the fluid in the larynx in time. We’ll just have to wait.”
He nodded, and I could read more than one emotion in his face; not just the dread of breaking the news to the famous owner but the distress of a horse-lover as he witnessed the plight of a beautiful animal.
At first I thought it was imagination, but it seemed that the breathing was becoming less stertorous. Then I noticed that she was able to swallow.
From that moment, events moved with unbelievable rapidity. The symptoms of allergies appear with dramatic suddenness, but mercifully they often disappear as quickly, following treatment. Within 15 minutes the filly looked almost normal.
“I can’t believe it,” the trainer muttered almost to himself. “I’ve never seen anything work as fast as that injection.”
I felt as though I was riding on a pink cloud. Thank God there were moments like this among the traumas of veterinary work; the sudden transition from despair to triumph, from shame to pride.
I almost floated to the car, and as I settled in my seat, Beamish put his face to the open window.
“Mr Herriot . . .” He was not a man to whom gracious speech came easily. “Mr Herriot, I’ve been thinking . . . you don’t really have to be a horsy man to cure horses, do you?”
There was something like an appeal in his eves as we gazed at each other. I laughed suddenly, and his expression relaxed. It was an indescribable satisfaction to hear voiced the conviction I had always held.
“I’m glad to hear somebody say that at last,” I said to him, and drove away.