Tristan had a remarkable propensity for bouncing back and as it eventually transpired Siegfried need not have worried about his little brother. Doctor Alanson came by that evening as he'd promised, bringing with him the required medical equipment to set Tristan up with an IV. He showed Siegfried how to inspect the port site for possible infection and inflammation, and how to change the canula and choose another suitable site if necessary. He also showed him how to replace the bottle of fluids when the first one was finished, although this didn't take long – the anatomy of the human body may have been different from that of the animals he was used to treating but the basic principle remained the same, and Siegfried was a quick learner. The doctor then promised to call in again the following lunchtime, after morning surgery.
Siegfried sat up with his younger brother again that night, but to his evident disheartenment there seemed to be little change in his condition the following morning. Although the IV fluids were keeping him hydrated his fever still raged and he remained relatively uninterested in food. Siegfried understood the importance of good nutrition however, especially for someone was as sick as Tristan, and he wouldn't let him get away with eating nothing at all. To fight the infection and try to prevent it from overwhelming his system he needed to feed his body to keep his strength up, but the amount he did manage to get him to consume was so small as to appear inconsequential. It mainly consisted of a few small sips of weak soup, tiny bites of bread soaked in milk to soften it, and a small amount of water.
Doctor Alanson seemed slightly more concerned when he next paid Tristan a visit, observing that the young man's temperature was still climbing and his blood pressure was dropping. It was very upsetting for them all, and a sign that his immune system was losing its battle with the infection – although he hadn't yet developed any signs of respiratory distress. The doctor decided to increase his fluids and try a stronger course of antibiotics. He was so weak that he still didn't want to move him unless it was absolutely necessary, his life would currently be at even greater risk if they tried to move him, but he told Siegfried that if he still hadn't shown any sign of improvement by the end of the following day and his condition continued to deteriorate they would have to risk trying to get him to hospital. It meant yet another sleepless night for Siegfried – the third in a row – and Caroline was starting to worry about the possible effect the lack of sleep was having on her husband. He wasn't eating properly, and she didn't want him getting sick too.
The next day brought with it some hope of reprieve however, when Tristan finally started to turn a corner. The increased fluids and stronger antibiotics seemed to be all his body needed to gain an upper hand over the infection and when his fever finally broke the delirium which had gripped him gradually started to subside. By the time the sunrise came the following morning Tristan was still very weak, and his skin was still quite warm, but he was at least dry – the cold sweats and thin sheen of perspiration were gone.
He spent the remainder of the day resting in bed, still too weak to get up, and the one and only time he tried he nearly ended up flat on his face, if Siegfried hadn't of caught him. He still couldn't put any weight on his injured leg, which was now swollen to nearly twice it's normal size – but Doctor Alanson said that that should improve in another day or two, once he was able to get up and start walking around again.
He still wasn't showing much interest in food, but with some gentle coaxing by Siegfried he did manage to take a few glasses of water to supplement the IV fluids he was still on, and by mid-afternoon the hunger pangs had returned – protesting the lack of food in his stomach over the past couple of days.
Although he was still feeling somewhat nauseas he did manage to keep down a decent breakfast of weak tea and porridge, and even managed a couple of slices of toast a couple of hours later.
Callum brought home some kippers – a present from a grateful client – and Deidre cooked him a couple for his lunch. He seemed to enjoy them – savouring the taste – and when he managed to keep them both down as well they all knew he was finally on the mend. In fact the young woman thought he looked significantly better when she went in to check on him later that same afternoon – he was no longer as pale as he had been, and there was a little more colour in his cheeks.
"Well, you're certainly looking a lot better." She smiled, her relief evident at seeing him awake – sitting up in bed and reading a magazine. It was the latest edition of the veterinary journal – she'd seen Siegfried reading it the evening before and Tristan appeared particularly engrossed – although in an article about what she couldn't see from where she was standing. He put the magazine aside as she entered, and watched her as she pulled up the chair beside his bed.
"I feel a little better today." He nodded. She was glad to see that the haze of delirium had gone and that his eyes were now clear and bright.
"How's your leg?" She asked him.
"Hurts like hell." He grimaced, looking down to where the heavily bandaged limb was, beneath the blankets. He gripped the top of his thigh thoughtfully, but looking back up at her and seeing the expression of concern on her face he forced a smile. She thought to herself how tired he seemed, and it wasn't just his eyes that gave him away, nor the fact that he still seemed somewhat lethargic – his voice sounded as weak as he looked.
"I still can't bear any weight on it." He told her, remembering his near fall earlier in the day.
"Well, Doctor Alanson said that it's probably going to take a while for the bruising and swelling to go down." She told him. "You're probably not going to be able to bear weight on it for a long time."
"Siegfried told me I had to have stitches." He said, and she nodded.
"It was a deep wound Tris." She explained – remembering the mangled mess of torn and jagged flesh, encrusted with clots of dry blood. "It required twelve stitches in all." She continued. "I've never seen you as sick as you were the other night Tristan. It was scary to watch so I can't even begin to imagine what it was like for you to go through."
"To be honest Diedre," He confessed, "I can't really remember very much about it after you and Siegfried helped me into the living room, at least not in very much detail." He added. "It's all a bit of a blur."
"Well you had one hell of a fever." She told him – remembering how quickly his temperature had spiked. She decided to fill him in on some of the details he was clearly lacking. "You were delirious for days. It took a few hours for Doctor Alanson to finally arrive, his wife couldn't get a message to him. Siegfried had to make the call on whether or not to begin treating you himself. It really wasn't an easy decision for him to have to make, but there was no sign of the doctor and you were getting worse so he gave you some painkillers and a tetanus shot. From what I've heard the penicillin he also gave you may very well have been what helped to slow the spread of the infection." She explained. "You were so sick, he really didn't have any other choice, but he's been very worried about you – we all have."
Deidre leaned forward and slid herself from the chair onto the edge of his bed.
Tristan appeared surprised, Siegfried hadn't told him any of this, and as a vet himself he realised what a terrible dilemma this must have placed his brother in. He knew that what he had done could be considered highly unethical. As veterinarians theirs was only a very limited knowledge of the human anatomical structure, and the margin for error was greater than most people would think. It was a true measure of just how ill he must have been, for Siegfried to feel he had no other choice but to intervene. He knew that his older brother wouldn't have compromised himself in this way otherwise – and he didn't mind admitting to himself that that scared him a little.
"I didn't realise he cared so deeply." He laughed, but Diedre knew that he was only joking. They could lock horns like two rutting stags sometimes, but deep down everyone who knew them knew that both brothers loved each other very much. "It might have all been worth it to see how much if it hadn't been quite so painful." He continued.
Tristan's hand then moved from his thigh as he reached up to rub at the needle in the back of his hand. He was already on his fifth bottle of IV fluids, and along with the additional antibiotics Siegfried was having to inject him with several times a day, as well as the drugs being fed through his canula, it appeared to her as though the infection was receding more rapidly now. It was as though his immune system had finally gained the upper hand, and was working quickly to neutralise the invading pathogens.
Now that he seemed to be showing some signs of improvement Doctor Alanson had prescribed him powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories to be taken orally four times a day, but he'd told Siegfried that he could give him an additional dose of a painkiller – via injection – such as a small dose of morphine about an hour before he was due to have his dressings changed. It was a lot of work and a huge responsibility to take on, and it meant that for the next few days at least Siegfried was going to have to remain closer to home – leaving it up to James and Callum to take on the bulk of the farm visits and large animal work. All routine and non-urgent house calls had been rescheduled.
Siegfried was aware of the fact that it was a lot to ask of the two men, who were already overstretched with their workloads, but all were in agreement that if the new regime kept Tristan on the road to recovery and out of hospital it was worth it.
Most of the clients had been understanding of the situation once it had been explained to them – wishing Tristan well, and bidding him a speedy recovery – but there had also been those, a small few, who'd not been quite so sympathetic, and Deidre feared that it might have cost the practice business at this busy time of the year. Siegfried too had echoed her concerns, but hadn't appeared particularly phased by the prospect – simply stating that those clients who would refuse to pay them because of Tristan's incapacitated condition would be those they'd struggle to get payment from anyway. There could be no pulling the wool over Siegfried's eyes, he was a shrewd judge of character and perfectly aware of those handful of individuals who would try to use his brother's injury, and the extra strain this placed on the practice, as an excuse not to pay their bills.
"Is it sore?" She asked him, indicating his hand, which was looking a little inflamed to her – the area around the canula was pink and swollen with edema. He nodded.
Siegfried would probably have to change the site at his next IV change, which would also mean giving him a new canula. He hadn't had to do it himself yet but had watched Doctor Alanson feed the needle parallel to the vein and secure it in place with a keen and attentive eye.
"It aches." Tristan told her, and she smiled sympathetically, taking him by his one free hand and squeezing it gently within her own.
She sat with him for about an hour, revelling in the young man's company. She was painfully aware of the fact that if Joe Hepton hadn't come along and found him when he had the infection would have probably spread quickly, and as Tristan grew steadily sicker his weakened body would have been rapidly overcome by the frigid temperatures of the Yorkshire moors. They could very easily have lost him – even if they had have found him eventually it may already have been too late, and she realised how lucky she was to be able to share this moment with him now. She didn't want it to end, but after about an hour it became obvious that Tristan was struggling to stay awake. His mind was no longer on their conversation and his eyelids started to droop. He apologised to her for not being able to keep his eyes open, but realising that his body was screaming out for rest she settled him back down in bed. There was no protest from Tristan, who was asleep within minutes, and Deidre crept quietly from his room, taking what was left of his lunch trey with her.
Out on the landing she could hear Siegfried having a rather heated conversation with someone downstairs. She could hear two voices – Siegfried's own and one female – and as she approached the banisters she leaned over carefully so she could hear what they were both saying and to get a better look. The front door was open, and Deidre could see that it was Mrs Butterwoth standing on the front step – Siegfried seemed to be baring her way into the house. She couldn't see her face from her current position, but judging by the tone of her voice the woman clearly wasn't happy about something – and it didn't take her long to find out what.
"I'm afraid, Mrs Butterworth, you're going to have to find another practice to take care of Timmy from now on." Siegfried was telling her. "We can no longer respond to any call outs relating to your dog's health."
"Why on earth not?" Mrs Butterworth shrieked, and Diedre flinched away instinctively from the shrillness of the woman's voice.
"Mrs Butterworth your dog damn near put my brother in hospital a few days ago!" Siegfried exclaimed. "He's vicious!"
Deidre could tell that he was struggling to remain calm and professional, but she thought that he was doing a pretty good job of reigning in his temper. She wasn't sure that she would be quite so restrained under the circumstances if she'd been the one confronted by the loathsome woman.
"He's not vicious! He was only playing!" Mrs Butterworth's voice went up another couple of octaves in her rage, becoming a painful screech. Callum had brought home an injured barn owl once, which had shrieked for half the night and had kept the whole household up – but she still didn't remember it's calls being anywhere near as unpleasant her voice was to now listen to. Siegfried however managed to stand his ground – his own anger surpassing that of their outraged client – and Deidre screwed her eyes shut and tried to close her ears to the unpleasant squealing sounds as she began to make her way downstairs – being careful not to drop the trey in her hands.
"Playing? Mrs Butterworth you wouldn't be saying that if you'd seen the state of my brother's leg!" He told her – his own voice too now increasing in volume, although he still managed to remain in control. "He's taken a chunk out of it the size of a golf ball! As things stand it'll be several weeks before he's able to come back to work – meaning that we are now a man down at a time when we have already been short staffed." He explained. "But aside from that the wound is severely infected and my brother is very ill! I will not risk anyone else in this practice for your wretched mutt!"
"But I pay your fee!" Mrs Butterworth howled. "You can't turn me away!"
Deidre had made it to the bottom of the stairs, and could now see the young woman's face from over Siegfried's shoulder. It was red with rage, and covered in a thin and shimmering sheen of sweat. There was a smudge of dirt – which looked to be something akin to soot – on the bridge of her nose, her hair was dishevelled and there was a badly misshapen hat perched precariously on the top of her head. There also seemed to be quite a crowed gathering on the opposite side of the street. People were evidently curious to see what all the commotion was about, and she knew that the Butterworth's were not particularly well liked in the village. The children were frequently getting themselves into trouble, and their mother didn't exactly set a good example for her offspring to follow.
"That matters not to me Mrs Butterworth!" Siegfried shook his head. "I think we can manage perfectly fine without the pauper's pittance you pay us! That is when you pay us at all!"
"You can't talk to me like that!" She screamed, taking a step forward, and for a moment Deidre thought that she might have been about to try and force her way in, but Siegfried had had enough, and he certainly wasn't going to run the risk of allowing her to gain entry to the house.
"Goodbye Mrs Butterworth." He said before slamming the door in her face. Deidre had to stifle a small laugh. She could still hear the woman muttering to herself on the doorstep on the other side of the door as Siegfried turned to see her standing on the bottom step looking back at him – she couldn't hear exactly what she was saying to herself, but she couldn't imagine it being anything good.
"Tristan will be pleased – he's never liked Timmy." She smiled meekly.
"The dog's always had a bit of a vicious streak." Siegfried explained – taking the trey from her hands and observing what was left of Tristan's lunch, as he headed off in the direction of the kitchen. Deidre followed. "I've never much liked him myself, and I should have put my foot down a long time ago. Then again what sort of chance does any dog stand with the likes of Mrs Butterworth and her brood – they're all malnourished. They can barely afford to feed themselves, let alone Timmy – but Wendy dotes on him, and let's face it, the child doesn't exactly have much does she?"
"I suppose not." She sighed sadly, thinking of how little the girl had in her life to be thankful for. She had been born into poverty and seemed destined to remain so for the rest of her life.
"How is my brother this afternoon anyway my dear?" He asked her as he put the kettle on the stove to heat some water. It would soon be time for Tristan to have his bandages changed. Deidre thought it seemed a pity to wake him when she'd only just got him settled, but she knew it would have to be done. Siegfried would have to give him his next injection of morphine soon.
"I think he's doing a little better." She smiled. "He's eaten most of his lunch, and he managed to keep his breakfast down this morning so it looks like his appetite is coming back."
Siegfried nodded, he too had been encouraged by the improvements he had observed in his brother as the day had progressed. He'd had a little listen to his chest when he'd been in to check on him not yet a couple of hours since, after afternoon surgery. He'd been concerned that being laid up in bed for the past couple of days may have allowed the congestion to settle on his lungs and fester, leading to pneumonia, but he'd been relieved to find that they were now clear. It seemed as though the antibiotics which had been prescribed to treat his leg, had also worked to treat the chest infection.
"I do believe my little brother is doing better today." He concurred. "He does appear to be on the mend."
"Will he be alright do you think?" Diedre asked him, knowing that despite the improvement they'd observed in his condition they still couldn't take it for granted that he was over the worst.
Siegfried seemed to think about this for a moment, and then a small smile spread across his face as he wrapped his one arm around her – pulling the young woman into his embrace. Diedre still thought he was looking pretty pleased with himself for finally getting rid of Mrs Butterworth. One thing was for sure, nobody would be sad to see the back of her vicious dog.
"He's still got a long way to go." He told her, cautiously. "He will need to rest, and stay off that leg for the next few days. It's going to be a while before he'll be well enough to come back to work, but he certainly seems to be out of danger."
Diedre rested her head on his shoulder, and she could sense Siegfried's own relief too. The past few days had been hellish for them all, and it felt like a massive weight had been lifted to know that it was finally over. She was under no illusions that the road to recovery would be easy for Tristan. She had seen it in his eyes just now that he was still in a lot of pain, but Siegfried seemed to have confidence in his brother, and she knew now at least that he would eventually recover. It was just going to take time – something of which they had in plenty.