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Horse Doctor - an American vet's life Down Under

Horse Doctor

an American vet's life Down Under, by Elizabeth Woolsey Herbert; iUniverse. 181pp, RRP $A22. ISBN 978-0595368488.

June 16, 2006

Long days, longer nights, messy clothes, and patients who can't say what's wrong: nobody said being a veterinarian is easy. Add to that the extra obstacle of practising in a foreign country, and you have the recipe for an entertaining memoir about life as a horse vet in Australia.

American horse vet Elizabeth Woolsey Herbert moved Down Under from California in 1991, and, despite going to an English-speaking country, discovered quite a cultural gap. They just do things "different" there - and they say 'em different, too (thankfully, for our American readers, there are translations: having tea (dinner), brekkie (breakfast), being crook (sick) and so on). But the one thing in common, in most cases, is a love for the equine.

Veterinary stories are always a good read for animal lovers - there are sad bits but there are also those miracle stories of survival and the beating of the odds.

And there's always something to be learnt in the experiences of other people. Herbert has had her share of ups and downs - just like any vet. When you've got livestock, you've got deadstock, as they say. But there are also some funny stories, too, like preg testing a miniature stallion, and the fainting owners ... and more!

From her practice in South Australia, Herbert's clientele includes a broad spectrum of horses - from standardbreds and thoroughbreds, to miniatures, show and sport horses. Their owners are from a wide range of backgrounds, too, from backyarders to the professionals.

Herbert's bright, chatty writing style makes for an easy read. She doesn't take herself too seriously but takes her work very seriously. Each story is contained in a chapter - so you chapter-a-night readers will be fine. You may even squeeze in two chapters a night.

This is an entertaining read for horse lovers - and you're bound to learn something along the way, too.

Excerpt from chapter 9 - "George Birchmore and Naryilco Lad":

One day, when Herbie was about one year old, George called me to come out in a hurry. George wouldn't say it directly, but he indicated that Herbie was really sick and that I might "want" to get there quickly.

When I arrived, I was shocked.

Herbie was battered and staggering. His head was so swollen I couldn't see his eyes, and his gums were blue. He had no sense of our presence, and he was breathing rapidly. Herbie was the walking dead.

Knowing George to be a practical man and a realist, I told him there was no hope but quickly followed with the "never-say-never" speech.

He replied that I'd better be wrong and that I had better save Herbie or else. I would like to say I rose to the challenge, but I thought it was futile and only reluctantly agreed to treat him. I had no idea what had caused Herbie's condition.

I thought it might be colic, but there were signs of diarrhea all over the place. I hadn't yet discovered the Mallala Council wog. I treated him for shock, dehydration, and pain. I catheterized his jugular vein and gave him intravenous fluids, and I passed a naso-gastric tube and gave him oral fluids and electrolytes.

I gave him drugs for shock, steroids, and a drug called DMSO, which is a drug used in horses and in some people for neural trauma and brain edema. It is an industrial solvent that people in fish-packing plants noticed eased their arthritis.

After administration, it penetrates into everything and makes the horses smell. It is a sweet sickish smell, and my staff really groan if I use it at the clinic. However, my philosophy is: never let a horse die without the smell of DMSO on their breath.

 

 

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