…. until a kick from a horse.
I always wanted to be a vet, apart from a brief flirtation with the idea of being a cetacean biologist at the age of six. I grew up on Dartmoor and had horses from being about nine. I love the horse. Everything about it is so beautifully optimised for speed and agility; it’s capable of athletic feats and social interaction. I have loved individual horses, but I have always loved ‘The Horse.’ I find it fascinating.
I always wanted to work in equine practice. I spent up to four years in mixed and eventually one-hundred-per-cent equine. Unfortunately, I made what was – in retrospect – a very minor error of judgement. For the first time in my professional career I was kicked.
It involved a brood mare and her uterus, or ‘womb’ if you like. She’d recently given birth and there wasn’t an infection yet, but there would have been. We needed to give her uterus a sterile saline washout, a routine job that I’d done plenty of times. When we got to the yard they didn’t have any stocks or restraining equipment, but that’s not uncommon. I should have given her sedatives but she had a young foal and anything you give to the mother, you give to the foal through the milk.
So I said to the owner, ‘What’s she like?’ and the owner said, ‘Oh, she’s incredibly calm.’ I thought I’d see how far we’d get. While I was prepping her up she decided that she wasn’t happy. She lashed out without warning with both her back legs and hit my knee.
I consider myself very lucky because I felt the other hoof go right past my ear. The next thing I knew, I was ten feet away on the other side of the box, upside down against the wall.
I thought ‘That was silly,’ and tried to get up, but I couldn’t move my right leg. After a while it didn’t seem too severe so I finished the job, but a few hours later I was in hospital. It seemed to stablise but then it broke down completely, to the point that I could no longer walk. I ended up losing two of the four quadriceps muscles in my right thigh: I’m walking with just the two side ones. I’ve got a hole in the front of my thigh, filled in with scar tissue.
To begin with I didn’t realise how serious it was. I’ve had bruises and scrapes and torn ligaments and stuff before: an occupational hazard. I’d broken my shoulder TB testing cattle and I was confident this would recover just like that. But it didn’t. There wasn’t any tissue left for them to do the repairs with.
I was put onto some very potent pain medication. I was so focussed on trying to recover that I took all the medications they’d give me: Tramadol, Pregabalin, Cocodamol and Diclofenac. I was basically a walking pharmacy.
I was also completely out of it. I still felt like me but it was as though I was separated from the world by a glass wall. I could see through it, even talk through it, but it was very, very odd. I spent that time doing physio, rehab and learning to walk. I managed to get off the crutches onto a walking stick. It took me three years to walk without it.
I found that I was incapacitated every time we dropped the dose. One day I’d be high, euphoric, on top of the world and the next day, deeply depressed.
That’s not normal for me: I’m pretty equable and phlegmatic. I talked to the head of the practice and we agreed that I’d take a leave of absence. It was planned for two weeks; it took six weeks to come off most of the meds. At one bit the palpitations were so bad that they thought I was having a heart attack.
I was still dependent on pregabalin for a while. The drug had done its job, though. I have a strip of poor sensation down the side of one leg, but otherwise my nerves are working. Meanwhile, that glass wall narrowed and thinned but it didn’t completely go away.
The practice offered me small animal work, but I found all it very hard to cope with emotionally. Instead, I found a role running an online pharmacy. I started out on the dispatching side but after a while I took an Operations Management role.
We made the decision to sell it eventually. We couldn’t compete with the big online companies. They bought us out and I worked as a consultant for a while, but it wasn’t beneficial for either of us.
I had a big think about was it that I’d loved when I was a vet, and the answer when I thought about it, was helping people to understand their animals. I was incredibly fortunate that a maternity cover came up at the Duchy College in Cornwall. I applied and went to the interview and it was fun!
Good things are like busses. You look around and can’t see anything and loads of stuff comes at once. The company that had done the pharmacy’s digital marketing offered me a part-time copywriting role. The maternity role was two days a week; this was two days a week. It’s the same skill-set, somewhere between communicating and educating.
Then things slightly snowballed. At the teaching college, all the staff at another campus walked out. So I was then doing three days a week and loving it. The woman I was covering for decided not to come back. The copywriting also snowballed to the point where I got to cover the legal stuff as well, like data protection and contacts.
My leg is not fixed. I still limp but I’m good at hiding it and it hurts whenever the weather’s cold and wet. But the really funny thing is, that I don’t have any regrets.
What I do now is better suited to my natural abilities. I’m a generalist and can get an overview of different areas and pull them together. I don’t have to pretend to be a specialist – except possibly in pharmacy law, because one of my job titles is lecturer in applied veterinary pharmacology. I’m published in a BSAVA guide – I’m chuffed about that. I’m an academic eccentric. I’m not sure I’d ever have been this happy in veterinary work.