Tough Week

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day

So much for trying to take a week off. The photograph of the ice bridge at the top of the page was only taken last Saturday, but it feels a very long time ago. John and I drove across it (just for fun) when we went to buy parts to try and fix the snow blower. It’s not quite working yet as one of the belts keeps jumping off, but John thinks he will be able to resolve that shortly. After working on it for several hours in significantly sub zero temperatures last weekend, he has made a lot of good progress.

My week off didn’t go as planned though. I was on my way to buy some gifts for John and Andrew’s stockings, on Monday morning, when I received a phone call from Thomas asking me to attend a meeting. Fortunately I have Teams on my phone, so I was able to join the meeting as I drove home. It was, of course, regarding last week’s tragedy, when one of the farmers in our district was shot by the police. I can’t share any details of the case itself, but Thomas and I spent a very long day out, in very low temperatures (round -15°C) working together to ensure that all the animals at the farm were either moved or would receive ongoing care until they can be.

I think the worst thing was the mental toll. Hard to deal with a case where it was so obvious that this was a person who had been badly failed by the system, but it was physically challenging as well. I hadn’t realised we would be there so long, but when I was preparing to go out, the only gloves I found were thickish waterproof gloves with no lining. Thomas, generous as ever, on seeing this lent me one of the two pairs he had brought. In fact, I think he lent me the warmer pair and that meant a lot. Sometimes it’s the small things that really help. It was a long and difficult day though, and we didn’t get back to Finnsnes until about midnight. I left Thomas working, with the agreement that I would go to the abattoir next morning, to oversee some ongoing work with the case.

The next morning’s trip didn’t go to plan either. I had taken one of the Mattilsynet lease cars. They are all quite new, and I wasn’t expecting any trouble, though one of the tyres was registering as having slightly low pressure, as sometimes seems to happen when it’s very cold. I was about half way there, when the car suddenly lost power and began to slow down. I was on a main road, where stopping would be dangerous, so I pushed the accelerator down further and the car speeded up a little, but was obviously not normal as it surged and slowed. I know the road very well, fortunately and knew there was a large bus stop up ahead where I could pull in. By this time, a message had popped up to say the motor was overheating. I managed to coax it into the layby before I turned the engine off.

My situation, even then, was precarious. I couldn’t run the engine to keep the car warm and the outside temperature was -25°C. I called the breakdown services and got through to a central line, who said someone local would call me back. I had a warm Mattilsynet jacket and hat in the car, which I quickly put on and fortunately, within a few minutes, I was talking to someone from Viking rescue, who was only about half an hour away. He wouldn’t be able to pick up the car, he told me. He already had one on the lorry, which he had to take to Tromsø ( a two hour drive) but he could pick me up and drop me off at the abattoir. I can honestly say, I have rarely been more grateful. I had been contemplating ringing Trude to collect me, but there was no guarantee anyone would be available for a while.

So I limped on to the abattoir, but then without a car, I couldn’t get back to collect my own from Finnsnes, so had to wait until my colleague was finished on the line. I also didn’t make it to the blood test I had booked in that afternoon.

Wednesday, I actually did manage a day off, though I was so exhausted by this time that it wasn’t really enough. I also received a phone call from work to ask if I could take Thomas’ shift at the abattoir on Thursday, starting at 05:45. Thomas had been working continually throughout and was even more exhausted than I was, so of course, I said yes. It was just one of those weeks!

On Thursday, just as I was contemplating the fact that I might manage to get home a little bit early to start my long weekend, which would be good as the weather forecast was awful, my phone rang. It was John, who often calls to tell me he’s going to be late home, or ask whether I want him to get anything at the shop, so I answered without any concern. John sounded a little bit shaky though, as he told me he was at the local doctors’. He had fallen and hurt his ankle, and as there was no longer an x-ray facility in Finnsnes, he had to go to the hospital in Tromsø. He was waiting for a taxi, he told me. Fortunately my generous colleague Konstantin said they would manage without me.

There was heavy snow forecast, but we made it to Tromsø in good time. It was a nightmare trying to find a place where I could park near an entrance to drop John off though, given that he couldn’t bear any weight on his foot. The doctor in Målselv had told us to take him to Accident and Emergency, but there didn’t seem to be any access there for ordinary cars. Eventually, we went to the main entrance, where there were wheelchairs available, but even then it wasn’t straightforward. Manoeuvring a rickety wheelchair in snow and ice isn’t easy. Then we couldn’t find anyone to tell us where we needed to be. I know the UK health service is on its knees, but I was thinking fondly of the old days in Scotland, where every hospital I ever attended had A&E department where you could drive up to the door, and walk in to find a receptionist who, one way or another, would register you and get you into the system.

We finally managed to find our way to the right place, but after the x-ray was taken, we had quite a long wait. I spent the time worrying about the fact that my phone was (uncharacteristically) low on charge, I didn’t have a charger with me, and that finding a hotel in Tromsø with parking at five or six at night would be difficult as well as heinously expensive.

To our relief, John’s ankle wasn’t broken and he didn’t need to stay in, but as we set off to drive back, it started to snow heavily. Visibility was awful and for a while, I couldn’t manage to limp along any faster than 40km/hour. The headlights clogged up with snow and the windscreen wipers were icing up and smeary and I had been up since four in the morning. Once again, we limped along until we could find a place to get off the main road. Fortunately, John had declined to take any strong painkillers and even more fortunately, it was his left ankle that was damaged and my wonderful, workhorse car is an automatic. In any other circumstances, I wouldn’t have let him drive, but driving onwards felt almost impossible. Still, we contemplated stopping at Vollan Gjestestue, which would be halfway home. By some miracle, the snow stopped at Nordkjøsbotn and John felt able to carry on and we made it home at about nine in the evening.

The storm finally hit properly yesterday and I was super-glad we had made it home on Thursday evening. It took a very long time to dig out the car yesterday. Have a good week all.

And so here I am, after my hoped-for week off ended up being anything but. We haven’t decorated for Christmas yet and I haven’t done the edits to my book that Ger, my agent, has asked me to do. I am now very much hoping that I can use some of my flexitime hours to take some shorter days next week, but of course it will depend what work comes in. When I decided, forty years ago, that I wanted to be a vet, I had no thought at all, and no understanding of how tough it can be to work in a profession where you never know what the next days, or even hours might bring. It’s mentally so much tougher than I could ever have imagined too, but one thing I can say about my life is that it is rarely ever boring.

So here’s hoping that there isn’t too much more snow and that I have a bit more time this week. This was the view from my kitchen window yesterday, during the short, twilight hours.

2 thoughts on “Tough Week

  1. I’m glad John’s ankle was not broken and you were able to find that out before the storm struck. As you say, your life is never boring but I bet you wish for just one boring predictable week! Hope next week is better.

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