Must Be Love
muzzling Petra, who’s an HWC or Handle With Care, and bringing her over to the prep bench. ‘She has to start from the bottom like I did. When I started my training, the first thing I had to do was clean the flat above the practice – it wasn’t here, of course – and the vet who lived in it was rearing a baby pigeon. It was disgusting.’
    I try arguing that you don’t have to inflict the same trials and tribulations on the next generation of trainee nurses, but it doesn’t wash with Izzy.
    ‘It’s character-building,’ she insists. ‘I didn’t get where I am today –’
    ‘All right, I get the message.’
    Izzy passes me a swab and syringe.
    ‘No puppies for you, Petra,’ I tell her as she falls unconscious on the end of my needle. I remove Petra’s muzzle, and Izzy passes me an ET tube, which I slide into Petra’s windpipe and attach to the hose on the anaesthetic machine before turning it on. Izzy inflates the cuff on the ET tube with air from a syringe. The procedure runs like clockwork and I wonder how long it will be before Shannon gets close to matching Izzy’s competence and efficiency.
    Soon, I’m in theatre up to my wrists in Petra’s belly, fishing about for the womb, while Izzy monitors the anaesthetic and Shannon looks on. Izzy is doing her best to unravel the mystique of spaying, but Shannon retains a mask of indifference. At least, I hope it’s a mask. It’s difficult to tell. The expression in her panda eyes is guarded, her bloodless – and wordless – lips pressed together.
    ‘Would you mind moving the light over for me, Shannon?’ I ask, and she looks at me as if I’ve asked her to finish the op herself.
    ‘There’s a handle on the theatre light,’ says Izzy.
    Shannon reaches up and tilts the light to give me a better view of Petra’s innards. When I thank her, she yawns.
    ‘I hope we aren’t boring you,’ Izzy comments sarcastically.
    ‘Abdominal surgery isn’t much of a spectator sport,’ I say lightly, although I do feel that if you’re just setting out on a career as a vet nurse, it might be politic to at least pretend to have some interest in the procedure. ‘Move a little closer, Shannon. Don’t touch the drapes, though – they’re sterile.’
    I give Shannon a guided tour of the bitch’s reproductive system, a miracle of nature that never ceases to amaze me, but Shannon doesn’t seem to share my fascination. I don’t know what it is: the creamy fat glistening beneath the bright lights, the delicate pink of the uterus itself, or the pulsating coils of the blood vessels, but one moment Shannon is there, and the next she’s disappearing, crumpling from my view. And then my confidence starts crumpling too, as pictures of Shannon lying like a ghost on a hospital bed and a pack of Dobermanns from the Health and Safety Executive come snapping through my brain. What have I gone and done?
    Izzy abandons her post at the dog’s head. I can’t abandon mine because I’m at a critical point in the surgery, so I keep going, removing Petra’s womb and ovaries, complete with attached artery forceps, plonking the complete ensemble onto my instrument tray, and turning my attention to checking the stumps inside her belly. No bleeding. Ligatures all secure.
    I glance towards Izzy, who’s kneeling at Shannon’s side. ‘Is she okay?’
    Shannon raises one hand to her temple, pressing at her skull with her long pale fingers.
    ‘Keep still.’ Izzy dashes out to fetch a piece of Vetbed, which she rolls up and slides beneath Shannon’s head. ‘No, don’t try to get up yet.’
    ‘What happened?’ Shannon mutters.
    ‘You fainted.’ Izzy doesn’t sound overly sympathetic as she returns to the operating table.
    ‘I, er – everything went swimmy …’ Shannon groans, hiding her eyes with her hands. ‘Oh-mi-God, I’m so embarrassed.’
    ‘You’ll get over it,’ Izzy says.
    ‘I’m so sorry,’ I say. Shannon’s expression reminds me of another, similar

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