When the phone rang on Christmas morning, the voice at the end of the line had a thick, Scottish accent and was full of doom and gloom. No Christmas spirit there.
‘What seems to be the problem? I asked trying to keep the chill out of my own voice once I’d confirmed that, yes, I was the vet on duty.
It’s Eve … our Macaw. She’s attacked our daughter’s moose.’
‘What?’ I replied, startled by the thought of a moose-savaging Parrot flying round the village like some sort of companion to Godzilla.
‘A moose,’ repeated the voice dourly. ‘You know, like in Tom and Jerry.’
‘Oh, you mean a mouse.’
‘Aye, Mickey. Our daughter’s pet moose.’
I hadn’t much experience in dealing with mice. ‘Is he badly injured then?’
‘There’s only his tail left. She’s very upset.’
‘I’m sure she is,’ I said. ‘But you can always get your daughter another one,’ I added somewhat tactlessly.
‘Noooo,’ drawled the voice. ‘It’s Eve that’s upset … I think she might of swallowed a bit of Mickey … She keeps gagging. Seems very wretched.’
‘You’d better bring her in then.’
I rang through to the hospital to warn the duty nurse, Lucy, that a Mr McBeath would be coming in.
The Blue and Gold Macaw that turned up on my consulting table half-an-hour was true to her breed in appearance: yellow chest, shaded blue back, the patch of green on the head and the white facial mask with the lines of black feathering.
She sat on Mr McBeath’s arm, hunched, her head straining forward. Every few seconds her beak opened and her neck arched as if she was trying to regurgitate something. Mickey? Surely not.
‘So, Eve’s being sick?’ I asked.
There was a big intake of breath. Mr McBeath exhaled, at the same time emitting a deep, booming fog-horn ‘Aye’.
My enquiry as to whether Eve had brought anything up elicited an equally sonorous ‘Noooo’. Mr McBeath was clearly a man of few words. But he then eased his hand over Eve’s head, sliding his fingers round her mandibles so I was able to palpate her crop without risk of being bitten.
It wasn’t grossly dilated, though it felt harder than I would have anticipated. Was it an impaction due to Mickey’s mortal remains? I explained this to Mr McBeath.
‘You do realise we may need to operate.’
‘Aye,’ he boomed.
‘But we’ll take an X-ray first if that’s OK with you.’
Another ‘Aye’ boomed out.
Once taken, the radiograph showed an opaque mass in Eve’s crop. I was going to have to operate and remove that mass, whether it was a mouse or not.
With Lucy’s help, the operation went like clockwork. My timely intervention ensured the mass was removed from the crop within minutes; and Eve was soon ticking over in the ward, well on her way to recovery.
As for that mass, I dissected it on the instrument trolley, teasing out bits of seed from what looked like tiny strips of wood, some with splashes of red on them, others green. Only when I picked out a tiny mashed head with a white beard on it did I realise this was no rodent. No Mickey. But the splintered remains of a Christmas decoration. A wooden Father Christmas.
When Mr McBeath returned to collect Eve, I explained what I had found.
His granite features remained impassive, not a crack on them.
‘So, for the time being,’ I said, ‘you must keep Eve on a mash of soaked seeds. OK?’
I saw him take a deep intake of breath. Then came a resounding ‘Aye.’
‘And bring her back in ten days’ time to have her stitches removed.’
Another ‘Aye’ rolled round the consulting room.
Then there was a pause. Mr Mcbeath reached under the consulting table and pulled up a carrier bag. From it he extracted a large bottle of whisky.
In a sudden rush of words, he said, ‘Hope you’re partial to a wee dram or two.’
With a big smile, my reply boomed delightedly across the room.
The Spirit of Christmas had finally arrived.
Malcolm’s memoir, An Armful of Animals, is available on Amazon at £7.99 and Kindle at £1.99
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