Opening with his award of Membership of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the book relates John’s personal and family history from his English and Belgian parents and grandparents and their roles in two World Wars. His Belgian grandparents were evacuated to England in the first war: his father was shot at by the Germans during the liberation of Antwerp and his mother bombed in a pub in South London while serving in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service in the second.
Managing to get into veterinary college from a large comprehensive school in South London, John recounts tales from his studies and goes on to discuss various major debates which occurred during his career, including vaccinations and the anti-vaccine lobby. The role of badgers and TB is also discussed. The tale of his experience of meeting children with the drug-induced injury of thalidomide is both life-affirming and tear-jerking.
His time in East Africa, including his experiences in Uganda under Idi Amin’s dictatorship, is chilling but still funny and up-lifting. The tales of his experiences in general and specialist veterinary practice, with memorable farm, horse, dog and cat cases are enlightening, educational and sometimes sad but often very hilarious. The horrific experiences with foot-and-mouth disease will get any animal lover in tears and questioning what happened and why? But the option of a Vegan Utopia in a world without farm animals is dismissed as a sad alternative as demonstrated when large swathes of the United Kingdom were left without stock after the outbreak.
The adage about his and other doctors’ and vets’ handwriting being illegible is well told when visiting his father in hospital and leaving him a message on his bedside that he should either get the nurse to read the note or take it to the pharmacy and see what they gave him is discussed.
John’s personal life gets off to a bad start but has a happy ending. The birth of his children and grandchild highlighted when the midwife said, “I called for a paediatrician,” but when one didn’t arrive, she announced to the surgical and anaesthetic team, “I will get a vet instead.” And so veterinary surgeon John Sauvage played a key role in the birth of his daughter by caesarean.
The background theme to the whole book is the leaps forward taken by both veterinary and human medicine in the last seventy years, especially in disease prevention by vaccination. The story is brought up to date with the coronavirus pandemic and its vaccination programme. The stories are always self-effacing and amusing where possible but the big questions in our relationships with animals are openly discussed.
Autobiology of a Vet by John Sauvage
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