An Excerpt from Chapter 15

This is the first draft of the start of Chapter 15 I wrote yesterday.  It is Malcolm speaking. Hope it brings a smile.


“It’s a breech birth and we have to turn it or it won’t come out and they could both die.”  My head was turned to speak to him as I was palpating her abdomen and vagina.  He’d crouched down to be close, kneeling on the straw beside me.  I knew by his well-stained clothing and crumpled cap that he couldn’t afford this so I was prepared to work pro bono, but a loss like this could end him.  He’d come at dawn to ask for my help, said he lived a short walk away in one of the farms just outside of Torrport on the road west to Edinburgh. “I can see the water sac has broken awhile ago.  It should’ve already come out.”

“Aye that was more than two hours past, and she’s been fussing since.” His curly dark beard was moist from exertion and well-lined face showed every year of toil and worry.

“Get some clean water, soap, oil and cloths.  I’m going to try reaching in and turn it manually, so it can come out properly.”  I sat back on my haunches and took a few deep breaths as he gathered the supplies.  This would work provided it was done quickly and safely.  I didn’t want to end up injured again, so soon after…well you know.

He returned in a few minutes and I pulled up my shirt sleeves and washed hands and arms thoroughly.  I’d be inserting at least one arm up to my elbow and didn’t want to hurt her, so I liberally coated myself with his used cooking oil.

“I see you already have tied her legs, so if you’ll secure the ropes so she doesn’t kick me, I can begin.”  I got into position behind her, speaking to her soothingly and touching her gently on the rump.  It’s always best with females to work into things gradually.  He was sitting on the ground now with boots braced and the rope to her legs wrapped around his wrists.

“Ready?”  I asked to be certain.

“Aye, Doctor.”  I could hear him mumbling a prayer as he leaned back adding tension to the rope.

The feet had just emerged and the top of the calf’s feet were pointed in the wrong direction.  Normally they are pointed up, toward the cow’s tail.  Oh, did I not mention, she was a cow?  But this calf was wrong side up in the birth canal and had to be turned or it wouldn’t come out.

“Going in.”  I slid my right hand in on the top-side past the hoofs and legs ‘til I found the head.  One had to go slowly, any pain would cause her to lurch and make it worse for us both.

“I’ve got the head, now the other hand.  Keep her steady.”  I looked up to assure myself he was focused because this was the critical part, getting both arms in and turning it without having my arms broken and rupturing her.  I pushed my left hand in now, a much tighter fit, and underneath in an awkward position.  You have no idea how vulnerable it feels to have both arms locked in the vagina of a frightened cow who could decide to stand up or kick.  It was reassuring to see the farmer straining on the ropes holding her in place when, finally I got both hands around the calf’s shoulders.

“Ready to turn.”  I grunted and stopped for a few deep breaths. It had to come one eighty degrees around in stages to let the back end slowly twist in place.  “She’s doing well, should have it out in a few minutes.”  He looked up and smiled slightly.  I knew getting it out was no guarantee it would live, but at least we would save the mother.

“I have her, no worries.”  The cow gave a mournful bellow and I knew it was now or never.

I gave a series of turns and pauses that took several minutes, ‘til eventually the calf was in the proper position to come out.  “I’m going to pull it out of her.  Steady now.”  My arms came out easily then I grasped both front legs of the calf, leaned back letting my body weight do the work.  I could see it start to move slowly, “It’s coming!”  The farmer grinned and we both knew the cow’s ordeal would be over soon.

Just as the head emerged, a boy came running in and shouted. “Doctor Forrester, please come, Lady Elspeth needs you!”  It was Jocki and he was panting heavily.

“Can’t you see….!”  I blurted gruffly and heard the cow let out an even louder bellow as the rest of the calf’s body squirted out and landed mostly on my lap, covering me with birthing slime.  I let go of the calf and lay back laughing.

We ran through town, with me having trouble keeping up with little Jocki.  He told me there was a body at Aggie’s laundry, found with his head immersed in a tub of dirty water.  It wasn’t far but my back already was starting to twinge and I was glad we didn’t have to go further as we turned the corner at the back of the tavern and I saw Elspeth kneeling over the body, her moss green skirts forming a partial drape over the man I instantly knew.

“It is Captain Spence.  We are too late.”  She said without emotion as she stood, brushing a strand of auburn hair out of her eyes.



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