Locuming at Gatehouse

I am sitting in the kitchen of Chris Foster in Thornton near Bradford, just a few hundred meters away from the birthplace of the Bronte sisters.

Chris is a sheep farmer and he has worked this land for over 50 years. There is hardly a tree on these hills and wind turbines and power lines are dominating the landscape.

I have been fortunate to get a simple room on the first floor of his small B&B and every morning Chris is preparing black tea and a couple of slices of toast. In the kitchen, which was state of the art in 1965, we are joint by Jordan – probably thirty years my junior – who, without a formal qualification, is the man for everything at the clinics I am working at and who is at the moment spending his holidays helping Chris with the lambing. I sense that we are an interesting group of people, all separated by decades in age, but feeding of each others life experiences or youth.

Chris used to be a keen cyclist, touring with his bike central Europe and as it turns out he even speaks German. Until last year he was building with his own hands an extension to his farm before arthritis started to slow him down and left him in a state of constant pain.

Jordan is at a different sort of crossways: with his physical health not an issue, he has to decide what to do with his life. Although he is satisfied with his current job, he is realizing that it is not enough as a long term solution. His stay at Chris’ farm gives him the necessary peace and time to think and it is providing Chris with a valuable pair of hands to do all the delicate manual tasks that the raising of sheep demands.

And in comes me – located somewhere between the two, a traveler, a fly on the wall, someone who has not the answers for their questions, but in the sum of our little party I am at least a potential source for good entertainment during the demanding lambing schedule…..

I couldn’t have asked for better company or for a better location!

My new place of work for the following two weeks is the Gatehouse Veterinary Group with branches in Bingley and on the Allerton Road in Bradford. My locum placement starts at the newly refurbished and extended clinic in Bingley where I meet Terry Groud, a towering, but very kind and gentle man, who, as one realizes very fast, is adored and worshipped by many pet owners in the region and beyond. He is without doubt one of the dying breeds of what can be called a “Veterinary Personality” and once again I find myself re-assured about my resolve of stepping away from my own clinic 2 years ago to hit the road: without this decision I would never have had the opportunity of working together in a team with this great man.

Although the new facilities are admittedly impressive, with new stainless steal cages and the smell of fresh paint still in the air, the real revelation for me is the nursing team. When I entered the surgical department on Monday morning, the white board was packed with cases and I realized with some unease that I was also expected to do a full block of consultations in the afternoon……

However, I shouldn’t have worried: Nicola the head nurse and her team had it all covered…..patients were admitted, checked , pre-medicated and prepared for surgery in a smooth running operation and the same applied to their aftercare and in most cases for the pricing up and for the writing of notes. There was an excellent flow of communication and because of this, the throughput of cases was impressive, but at no point at the cost of the level of care for the patients.

This was followed in the afternoon with fully booked consultations and in-patient care at the busy branch at Allerton Road. Here I met with Hanna Langley another great colleague, a true leader for the 21st century, someone I would wish on every new graduate:

Highly competent in her field, but yet always calm and approachable and happy to discuss or to explain. Not judgmental and a great team player, consistently looking out for everyone, making sure that everyone was taking their brakes and putting herself always last. With – as it turned out -two vets down, bursting appointment books and at times very demanding clients (and this under ongoing COVID restrictions), Hanna was the anchor you need when facing a storm…..

Summing it up, I think one realises that this time I really had to “earn my keep” but to be honest….I loved it !….

A lot of the work was of a reproductive nature (neutering, caesarian sections, misalliance treatment, post partal complications etc) and I was somewhat shocked by the high number of brachycephalic patients we were seeing. This was in a stark contrast to my clientele in Virginia Water, but it reflected very much the increased demand for these breeds and the commercial value of the puppies, especially in an economically more challenged environment like Bradford.

For me as a veterinary surgeon it also raises some fundamental ethical questions which to explore would go beyond the remits of this (travel) blog, but I have always felt myself very comfortable with the following principle:

If faced with an animal that is in pain or is suffering (eg. because of obstructed airways or because of an inability to deliver puppies because of physiological restrictions (puppies too large, pelvis too small etc)) as a veterinary surgeon I have to do my utmost to ease the discomfort or resolve the problem. This would include the performance of caesarian sections (with the offer to spay the dog at the same time) or air way surgery. I would not however support the breeding of – in my opinion – unsuitable dogs (or cats or rabbits) with advice or technical assistance (like artificial insemination). To keep myself in very low demand for these requests right from the onset, I have admittedly invested very little time over the years in continuing education on this subject and I am considering myself as a very bad choice of a veterinarian for breeders of these animals….. Unsurprisingly my team and I have lived very well with this point of view.

This didn’t apply though to the performing of some pretty good (I think….) caesarian sections during my stay in the North, with us not loosing a single puppy and – of course – not a single mum……

Another highlight of my work in the North was a fair amount of work with exotics for which Terry appeared to be a bit of a magnet.

Parrot beaks had to be trimmed, anorexic tortoise had to be fitted with feeding tubes, Bearded Dragons were assessed for rib fractures due to calciums deficiencies

and a large number of patients were just the victims of poor husbandry with ill-informed owners.

The remaining caseload was varied, but mirrored very much the one in the South, which included the occasional absolutely adorable kitten that is greeting you as the first patient on a Monday morning, reminding you that you still have the best job in the world……