Although I have now moved on from my veterinary career (an ever increasing trend in Australia), some things will stay in my mind forever.
It’s 2am. The middle of Winter in deep South Gippsland. For those of you who don’t know exactly where this is- it’s about as close as you can be to Tasmania, whilst still being in Victoria.
It’s about 2 degrees Celsius and it is drizzling with rain. I’m woken from a fitful sleep by my pager- there’s a cow having trouble calving on a small farm in the hills. I get a map reference and in my half awake state, visualise where I am going. It’s dark. There will be no mobile phone or 2 way radio reception where I’m going. 6 years at University has come to this. I wonder if life as a Vet is going to be all it’s cracked up to be. I seriously question my career choices! “WHAT WAS I THINKING?”
I arrive at a tiny side road up the back of nowhere and the old cattle crush is barely visible through the mist and rain. The old Landy is idling noisily, shining unsteady lights on a poor wet heifer in the crush, clearly uncomfortable.
I jump out of my car, bundled up in my warmest sleeveless clothes, baggy green overalls and a woollen beanie on my head. I really wish I was back in bed.
Determined to get this over and done with quickly, I nip around to the back of my car, grabbing my calving pulley, buckets and my plastic pants and sleeves and gum boots. I greet the two elderly farmers, handing them my gear and ask them the usual questions. This girl has been calving for quite a while- so it’s not looking good.
Organised now, I walk towards the heifer who has a large bull calf firmly wedged, half in, half out. As I enter the beam of the Land Rover’s lights, one of the old fellas gets a good look at me for the first time.
“Oh Gawd! She’s a Girl!” he blurts out. And then promptly mumbles and stutters and blushes with embarrassment (as do I!) Obviously it’s not every day that these two 70-something blokes get to see a female vet (in fact they rarely need to call a vet) and clearly they wonder if I am up for the job.
Using every skill and trick I know, I extract the calf- still alive and quite beautiful in all its steamy, slimy glory in the headlights. Satisfying, even if it is some ungodly hour and I’d rather be in bed.
But the best is yet to come. My new friends present to me, a bucket of beautifully warm water, a new cake of Velvet soap and a neatly folded Chux wipe- (just what every vet needs to remove the layer of blood and faeces that accompanies such a procedure). As I bend over the bucket in the long wet grass near the crush, I feel a gently scraping on the back of my arm. While one brother is tending the new calf, the other brother (who had been standing quietly in the shadows), notices that I have missed a patch of muck up high on my arm and gently wipes it away with the spare Chux. “You missed a bit, Doc” he mumbles. “Couldn’t have got that calf out me self, be damned”.
And in that moment, I feel a privilege that is hard to describe. Never in my suburban, middle class life would I have ever met these unique elderly brothers if I had not become a vet. I realize that being a vet is about people as much as it is about the animals.
Despite the cold and the wet and the ungodly hour, this is an experience I would not trade for the world.
Post Script. No old farmers were injured in the making of this memory. They went on to recover from the experience and lived a long and happy life in the green hills of South Gippsland- “Gods own country”.