Friday, 26 November 2010

Working Relationship

When I was a young slip of a lad (which is rapidly becoming far longer ago than I care to comfortably admit), love seemed a very long way away. This was no bad thing, because at the time I was dreaming of dragons, and swords, and all manner of things generally deemed unhealthy for a young chap to think about, but which never did me any harm. (Quiet! Who's blog is this, anyway?)

The years have passed, and I have achieved many things of which I am proud, some of which I am not proud at all, and some ambitions which have never come to pass (like never managing to get a 20th level magic-user. Bah. I suppose our dreams must surpass our reach, though). But, of all the things that bring me happiness and pleasure in my absurdly forrtunate life, the greatest is the happy series of accidents which allow me to hold a cat's small intestines out of the way so that the woman I love can stitch up its diaphragm.

My wife and I work together, which to some people would sound like a cruel and unusual punishment, or at least fodder for a crappy 'gentle' sitcom, but for me it is a source of pleasure and fun, and more than anything else makes my job an awful lot easier.

If I go on in this manner of how blessed and happy I am to have such a beautiful, loving and lovely wife I suspect you are likely to vomit all over your computer, so I'll try and explain why before too many electrical goods are wrecked. (Also, as I'm tapping away here it occurs to me that this particular entry seems to have more than a touch of 'luvviness' about it, rather than my usual alcohol-fueled misery. It can't be a coincidence that I've just finished reading Stephen Fry's autobiography, and if this torrent of sugary cheerfulness is too much for you to take, then please send Mr Fry an angry letter of complaint. It's definitely all this fault.)

My wife and I are fortunate to have a similar attitude to work. Fortunate because it prevents blazing rows in the practice, which would be awkward and embarrasing for our nurse and vet colleagues, and distressing for clients and their animals (although I can't help feeling that a blazing row would be closer to the 'family' atmosphere we like to promote at our practice than the more usual good-natured abuse). We like to get on with things - if there's an op on the board, or somone in the waiting room, we'd like to operate on them, or take them into our consulting room (hopefully not getting the two the wrong way round), and get the job done. If there's something outstanding, we find it difficult to sit down, relax, have a coffee, read a textbook, ponder our next move.

This isn't the only way or working, nor is it the best, but it's the way we like to work and so it means we don't get frustrated with each other. It also means that when a cat with its stomach herniated up into its thoracic cavity comes in as an emergency, as happened this week, we know each other well enough to get on with the job at hand with a minimum of panic and stress.

It leads to a more-or-less harmonius working relationship. There are some drawbacks to working closely to a loved one. The principle one that springs to mind is that if another vet does something which we would do differently ourselves, we generally keep quiet about it and don't say anything. There's no right or wrong way to do things, after all, and a lot of approaches to cases work as well as each other (unless you're doing it differently to me. In which case, you're just wrong. Okay?). If I or my wife do something that the other considers to be wrong, however, we'll generally point it out to each other. Forcefully. Often prefaced with the phrase 'You bloody moron! Don't you know that...'

It also makes for very tedious talking-shop evenings at home. If we were more diligent, perhaps we would have a 'no-vet-talk at home' rule, but neither of us can quite muster up the energy to enforce such a thing. Plus, there is then the dreadful danger that either my wife will start talking about horses, or I will start talking about zombies or the imminent rise of the machines, and I think that the veterinary world is a slightly less tedious solution for us in these cases (though I would like to once again pledge my allegience to our metallic masters. Just in case.)

So, a happy working relationship, and blog that is, on the whole, cheerful! The only problem I have with my wife's veterinary abilities is that she seems to believe that surgery is, is some way, clever. Well, I'm sorry to tell you it's not. It's not big, and it's not clever. You could literally train a monkey to do it. It is not brain surgery (unless, y'know, it is). I'm proud to be a medic, and my feelings on this matter in no way reflect my own ability with a scalpel. At all.


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Cult of Personality

Towards the end of a busy afternoon surgery last week, I had the following appointment waiting for me -

'New client, elderly dog. Check over.'

Sounds fairly innocuous, eh? Not the kind of consult to lose any sleep over the night before, trying to decide how to approach it? Not the kind of consult to worry a young and ruggedly handsome vet? (Or me, for that matter). Well, that's what I thought as well, dear reader.

Just shows you.

Disposing of my used syringes from the previous consult, and wiping my table with a practised swish (just writing that has made me wonder how many times I've done that in my career so far...a depressingly large amount, I suspect. Hence why it's a practised swish and not an amateurish smear. Anyway...) I walked out to call in the next client. Readers of previous blogs will be aware that this in itself can be a bit of a minefield, and has on occasion led to me being mortally insulted in front of a packed waiting room. Well, this isn't what happened to me this time. Quite the opposite, in fact. Disturbing, but definitely opposite.

As I called the name of the animal, I was met by the sight of a woman, who I had never met before, light up with a broad grin (a broad, gap-toothed grin at that. I wasn't going to mention that as it doesn't seem relevant but there, I've done it anyway, further confirming to the minds of any American readers that we Brits have the worst dental care in the developed world. Oops) and say (well, t was more of a shriek, really)

'Here he is! It's NICK! Nick's come to see you!' (This last was said to her dog, just to clear up any confusion. I was certainly confused by this point)

She jumped up as quickly as her new hips would allow, and rushed into the consulting room as if she was a teenage girl heading for the front row at the latest Twilight movie.

That was just how the consult started. By the end of it she was singing my praises to the heavens. When she made her appointment for the following week, she apparently told my receptionists (in front of my next, somewhat shell-shocked client) that she would 'always have time for Nick', and threatened something to the effect of taking me away on a leash.

And what had I done, this paragon of veterinary medicine, to receive such effusive praise? I expressed her dog's anal glands. Apparently she had taken a shine to me when I called the previous client through. Well, I have this effect on women (elderly, toothless women).

This may seem something of a mean-spirited blog. Why I am complaining that I'm liked? Well, (and I may have touched on this point before from a few other angles, but what the hell, I'm going to make it again) the problem is it was undeserved praise. Nothing I could have done it that situation would have made any difference, she would still have walked out of the room floating on air as if I was James Herriot reincarnated. It had nothing to do with my skills as a vet, or my ability to talk to people. She just liked me from the outset.

And here's the problem - I've been on the other end as well. The sort of consult where the client's face darkens like a thundery sky when you open your mouth to call them in. It just seems unfair that you're arbitrarily judged, when it's nothing to do with your clinical expertise.

Now, I can understand it. A few blogs ago I was talking about how much I hate going to mechanics, because I know less about car repair than Jane Austin, and all I have to go on is how nice they are to me. This is, of course, the same situation that a lot of clients find themselves in when they visit the vets. There's an old saying at vet school - People don't care what you know, they only want to know that you care. The reaction above, extreme though it was, I suspect comes about because it is quite a nerve-wracking thing taking your pet into the surgery, and it comes as such a relief that the man calling you into the room doesn't immediately have the bedside manner of Harold Shipman that some people sort of...over-compensate.

(Sorry, there was a brief pause there whilst I went to get my fingerless cycling gloves, because I'm bloody freezing. I'm now tapping away looking like an entrant in an Extreme Typing competition)

I'm not that keen on having personal appointments, myself. I get a little depressed when I see an evening surgery that is full of little 'NM' markers, that means the client will only see me. Partially because I slightly resent the implication to the other vets that they can't do the job, and partially because I feel a bit more pressured not to let people down when I am, shall we say, 'the man' (No? Okay, let's not say that).

(Incidentally, I don't want to give you the impression that this is something unique to me - everyone in the practice has a similar string of personal clients. My boss has at least twice as many as I do. It's true that I get more than my fair share, but that's largely because I've simply stayed in the same practice long enough for people to remember my name. The point I'm trying to make is that it's no reflection whatsoever on how good a vet you are)

Well, there you have it. The cult of personality that grows up around vets in their practices. I understand it from the client's point of view, and I'm all for it if it reduces the stress of going to the vets, but I'll never quite lose my tiny twinge of depression that it's nothing to do with your skill in the job. (I should be careful what I wish for - imagine if it was a true measure of my medical knowledge and skills? Not sure I could face looking at the list of consults every day!)

So it goes. Whatever else I leave you with from this blog, you can take one thing for definite.

There'll be at least one more little 'NM' in the consult lists from now on. She's back next Friday. I think I feel a sickie coming on...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Battle of the sexes

It's just possible that, because of my profession, I have a slightly skewed view of humanity. In fact, I'm certain of it - and reason I'm certain of it is because of my answer to the question 'What is the main difference between men and women?'

My answer would be 'Women seems to like pus a lot more than men do.'

This is perhaps a surprising answer. AFter all, aren't the fairer sex made of sugar and spice and all things nice?

(Incidentally, what a horrible, sexist poem that is - so all boys are made of slugs and snails, eh? Might as well say that they're made of dog turd and have done with it. Imagine if the lines of that poem were reversed?)

Anyway, if that is true, then it must also be true that opposites attract because I have yet to work with a woman who didn't look upon the prospect of bursting a ripe cat bite abscess with a glee that would more normally be associated with a minor lottery windfall.

What is it about pus that is so exciting and endlessly fascinating to girls? To me it's a foul-smelling mix of white blood cells and bacteria that is better removed by necessity from an animal. To the ladies in my life it's like wine produced from God's own vineyard. They actually battle over who will get to lance the abscess when a particularily unfrotunate specimen comes in.

It seems to be quite specific to abscesses, too - I've yet to work with a female that will jump up and down with excitement at the prospect of picking maggots out of a rabbit's backside, or providing relief to an obstipated cat (obstipation is like constipation only much, much worse. Think of a cement mixer and you'll be in the right ball park). But thrust a juicy cat bite abscess towards them and they'll be charging for the scalpels quicker than you can say 'purulent'.

(I'm mostly talking about cats here for a few reasons. Dogs are less likely to get into a fight than cats - there's a reason for all that rolling on the back, submissive behaviour. Cats don't do that so much. If they don't get on, they'll generally settle it with physical violence - they're a bit like rednecks in that respect. Rabbits, on the other hand, simply have a problem with their pus. It's more like cottage cheese than anything else, and doesn't squirt satisfactorily out of a hole like lovely cat pus. You generally have to scrape it out with a curette. Apologies if you're eating, by the way.)

This may or may not be a surprise to you - I bet you are either a perpentrator or a victim of the lesser phenomenon, though - humans seem to be another source of endless fascination for daughters of Eve. Anyone who has ever sat through an evening having their spots squeezed (or squeezing the spots of) their siginificant other knows what I'm talking about here. In any case, I'm more than happy to hand the victims of feline violence to my female colleagues for rapid and gleeful lancing. Hey, it saves me a job.

Well, there you have it. The lesson for tonight - there's something in the feminine psyche which takes great delight in seeing nice fresh pus oozing from a gaping wound. Whether this lesson is of any use to anyone is another matter entirely. Hey, I don't make this stuff up, I just report it.

And please, next time your cat has a suspicious sweling on it's head two days after getting into a fight, ask for a female vet. They, and I, will be very grateful.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Youth in Asia - part three mark 2. Once more, with feeling!

Okay, here's the thing.

Kerry and I went out for a nice evening's gaming with a a friend last night, and also checked over his jack russell, Max. I've known Max for years. Lovely little dog, he sits under my legs when I'm playing games, and I absently tickle his ear when I'm rolling dice (Yes, yes, I know I'm a nerd! I'm fine with it, so there)

Anyway, Max has been ill for a while, and last night was also a 'check up'. It had been on the cards that he might be needing to be put to sleep, by friend had phoned me last night and told me that Max was doing much better, so Kerry and I took some wine, a nice board game, and looked forward to an evening's gaming.

When we got there, we checked Max over, and sadly, he was much worse. He needed to be put to sleep. And so that's what we did.

Then I came home and wrote the blog below. I was in a funny frame of mind - mentally, I'd been set up for relaxing, fun, gaming, and then suddenly had to shift the gears round in my head and turn into caring vet mode. I was sad, and upset that I'd in some way betrayed Max - all those times I'd been tickling his ear, or his belly, then one night I came round and killed him. Unfortunately, this seemed to warp my fragile little mind, and I'm sorry to say that the blog post that came out of it wasn't very good at all. I deleted it after I'd written it, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it was intended to be an exploration of how performing euthanasia affects the person performing it. I wanted to explore the idea of what it might mean for human euthanasia, and how doctors may cope with it. Instead, it turned into a self-pitying 'poor me' polemic on how I don't like putting animals to sleep - fair enough, you might say, but it wasn't really what I was trying to say.

Secondly, it didn't feel very respectful to Max to be whinging about how unhappy -I- was.

Thirdly, I'm a bit of a drama queen. Anyone who follows me on twitter or facebook may be familiar with the intermittent angst-ridden 'waah! this happened' type of post that I like to squeeze in between puns just to throw everyone off track. What can I say? I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I'm miserable, I want everyone in the world to know! Thanks to the magic of the Internet, that is now possible. Ahh, technology :) This behaviour is not something I'm proud of, but it's part of me and there it is.

Fourthly, it made me sounds like a suicidal nut-job. This is not the case, honestly! I was just having a 'black dog' moment, if you'll pardon the pun (there I go again!)

So, I've decided this morning to reinstate the blog, in a slightly more rational, and hopefully light-hearted, frame of mind. I've chosen to do this for several reasons...

(Oh for God's sake! Get on with it!)

Firstly - well, the blog was at least partially successful in that it gives you an insight into the mind who has just put a well-loved dog to sleep. Well, my mind, anyway. Morbid chap that I am, I always find it slightly awkward meeting a friend's pet, because there's a little voice inside me that wonders if I will ultimately be the person who puts them to sleep. Yes, I'm a lot of fun at parties.

Secondly, I thought it might help to comment on some of the things I said in it. I'll add in some further thoughts in italics as we go - the great benefit of arguing with a past self is that they can't answer back. Take that, Nick from last night! Ha ha!

Thirdly, did I mention that I'm a bit of a drama queen? The blog from last night, poorly written and rambling though I feel it was, does reflect a piece of my personality that is, in it's own way, just as valid as the normal, handsome, well-adjusted fella that I am this this morning.

As you read the blog, especially the self-indulgent 'pity me!' parts of it, bear in mind that the guy below has got a pretty good life - a nice house, a lovely wife, great friends. How many people in this world have as much as him? Don't feel too sorry for him, he thrives on that sort of nonsense. Anyway, on with the show!

It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got, and all he's gonna have. - Will Munny, Unforgiven

I'm not a cowboy. I've never held a gun, and I haven't really got the swaggering gait required. We do seem to have collected a number of horses here, but neither my wife nor myself use them to round up cattle, or escape from Red Indians (or Native Americans if you prefer...calling them that doesn't change what we did to them though...). I have never been part of a posse. But there's a part of my life that resonates with the gravelly-voiced Clint quote above. I've never taken the life of another human being, but by any definition, I am a killer.

This is a selfish post. It's selfish because it's about me - or, at least, about vets. I've talked about the act of putting an animal to sleep several times in this blog, but tonight I'm not thinking about them, for a change. I say for a change because during the process itself, it's all about them. The animal comes first, and rightly so. I feel guilty even writing this, because I am aware that I am alive, and all those many that I have seen, have killed, no longer have a voice for anything.

The more perceptive amongst you may have realised by now that this one isn't going to have many jokes in it. Sorry about that. Scroll down a few, I'm sure you'll find one. If you've all tuned out by now and I'm just talking to myself, well that's just fine too.

Most of these blogs are precipitated by an event in real life. Tonight, my wife and I went round to my friends house to play a board game, and check over his poorly dog, Max. Instead of playing the game, I put Max to sleep.

So tonight, I want to consider the effect this has upon me, upon the vet. Upon the instrument of the animal's destruction. I'm aware that to some of you - those of you who, mistakenly in my opinion, believe that humanity is something special, something quite apart from the rest of the natural world - may feel I am being melodramatic. They're only animals. All I can tell you is that this is how it makes me feel, and that, to me, the difference between humans and animals is not as great as is commonly regarded.

Except, young Nick from last night, it's not quite as simple as that, is it? I stand by my assertion that humans are animals, but, much as it pains me to admit it, a human leaves a much bigger hole behind them than an animal. This is probably because we're humans (well, most of us). What I'm trying to say is - human euthanasia, though I wholeheartedly agree with the idea in principle, would be much...well, messier, than animal. No-one's ever going to conspire to murder a dog in order to gain their inheritance, for instance. Humans leave a lot more clutter behind from their lives, which would makes things much more complicated that I suggest above.

Still, personally, and as an aside, I would be happier having the occasional person bumped off deliberately before their time than the current situation, where every single one of us is dragged on and on until our bodies litter ally stop working. Ugh. Anyway...

Early on in our career, vets learn (much as in many other professions with unpleasant tasks, I suspect) to suppress it, not to think about it, to joke about it, and to reassure ourselves that we are doing the right thing, that we are relieving suffering. Most of the time we are. Some of the time we aren't. We do it regardless, because we know the alternatives are not good.

Here is how the act of killing another animal makes me feel - a little sad. That's it. If it made me feel any worse, I wouldn't be able to function on a day to day basis. So, I feel sad, and usually professionally proud that it went well, that no more suffering was caused than was necessary.

At least, that's how it makes me feel most of the time. In my darker moments - moments like now, for instance, it makes me feel...well, it's a hell of a thing, to kill an animal. Taking away all those moments, for ever. In my very dark moments my mind conjures up a special hell for people who killed, who are confronted with all the lives that they have taken, and all the person can say is that they were doing their job, that they were relieving suffering. It's crazy, I know, because I'm pretty sure that there is nothing after death just as there was nothing before birth. Pretty sure. I think of the times when I haven't been entirely sure of the decision, and I have allowed the owner to influence the outcome. I think about the times when I knew it was the wrong thing, and I did it anyway, because there was 'no choice'. (Here I'm skirting around the issue that I sometimes do it because it is the easiest, and not the right, thing to do.) I think about the times when it was the right thing.

This may sound like I don't believe in euthanasia, but that's not true. I passionately believe that quantity of life is nothing if there is no quality. What is the point of continued existence, if all of that existence is pain? My wife once was peripherally involved with the case of a dog, rushed into emergency surgery, that was found to have a bleeding inoperable tumour on its liver. The vet in charge informed the owner, and sadly recommended euthanasia. The owner absolutely refused, and made the vet stitch the dog back up. He came and collected his dog, and took it home. It died overnight. That single case tells you all I rationally believe about the continuation of life. It is a concern to me that most of the patients I treat will have better deaths than my own.

No, this post is nothing more than a single, selfish lament. A long drawn out 'why me?', railing against the choices which have lead me to be the one responsible for the deaths of so many. I want to say that it isn't good for the soul, but I don't believe that such a thing exists so I'm stuck with simply saying that it doesn't feel good.

I'm running out of steam, (I think I mean 'wine' - I certainly found an empty bottle next to the laptop when I came down this morning!) and I think I'm glad for it. Other concepts flit through my mind - the idea of death as simply a loss of time. The process of dying. The culpability of the killer. But I find myself unwilling or unable to explore them as I thought I would.

I'm not sure I'll even publish this post - it seems very out of my normal writing style. Perhaps I'll re-read it in the morning. If I do, and if you're reading it, then rest assured, normal service will be restored soon.

I -did- mention that I was a drama queen, didn't I?

In the meantime, I can think of no better way to end this morose rambling than with the save words of Mr Eastwood, who says more with six words than I can manage with this whole blog. After the opening quote, his sidekick, the Schofield kid says 'Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.

Clint looks into the middle distance.

We've all got it coming, kid.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The other side of the table

I don't like mechanics.

Okay, that's not entirely true. I'm sure there are lots of mechanics who I'd really like if I met them socially. (Well, okay, even this is stretching the truth - being a socially-inept geek I don't really have a lot in common with the average grease monkey) What I'm trying to say is - I don't like taking my car to mechanics.

Part of the problem is that I'm a man (please don't take that quote out of context) and so it seems to be assumed that I was born with some deep underlying insight into how a carburettor works (or even what it does) and so the fact that I don't have the slightest clue already marks me out as a failure the second I step out of my car.

But how do they know you don't really understand the secrets of the internal combustion engine, I hear you cry? Don't try that with me. They know all right. They know the second they lay eyes on me, that I'm not the kind of man who takes pleasure in reading What Car magazine. They can tell just by looking that I used to get picked last in PE lessons. The bastards.

Once, taking my car in for a routine service, the guy behind the counter (with deep, ingrained oil around his fingernails - the kind that looks like it could never wash off even if he had his hands flayed0 asked me the mileage of my car. I had no idea. He looked quizzically at me like the cop in the Terminator when Kyle Reese grabs him by the lapels and demands to know what year it is. How could anyone not know what their mileage on their car is? I felt such a deep sense of masculine failure, I wanted to jump up on the desk and cry out 'I changed a tyre! I changed a tyre once, and it was raining, so there!'.

I didn't, of course. I was too humiliated, because his first question was 'What is your registration?' and I hadn't known that one, either. I had to go outside and check. Once, I was standing in a queue to pay for my fuel at a petrol station, and a woman in the shop was looking for oil for her car. She wasn't sure which one it needed, so she glanced around. It suddenly dawned on me that I was the only man in the whole building. The fact did not escape her either, for rather than ask at the counter she approached me, waving a tub of Castrol something-or-other, and asked me 'Is this the right one for my Peugeot?'

Everyone in the shop turned to look at me. I was so caught between umbrage at her sexist assumption and embarrassment that I didn't know the answer (of course!) that I just mumbled 'Don't know.' I couldn't leave the shop then, which would have been my preferred option, because I still had a car full of unpaid-for petrol, so I had to slowly wend my way up the queue of shame to pay, everyone there knowing that I had failed at some unwritten man-test.

You may get the impression from the above that I have something of a man-chip on my shoulder when it comes to mechanics, and you may well be right. You may also be wondering by now what the hell this has got to do with being a vet. Well, be patient (heh. Little medical joke there, see. Patient? No? Please yourselves.) Here is the tenuous link...

What I really don't like about going to the mechanics is that, basically, if something is wrong with my car, I don't have a clue what to do about it. I'm going to have to take it to someone else, who is going to look at it, tell me what's wrong with it, and then, hopefully, fix it. I will wait anxiously for the bill, really not having the slightest idea what it will be, and hoping that I haven't picked some cowboy who instead of fixing my car has just hastily Sellotaped in back together. I have no way of telling a good mechanic from a bad one, and all I can do is pick someone who seems vaguely nice and hope for the best - though whether being vaguely nice has anything to do with some one's skills in engine repair, I have no idea.

Sound familiar?

What I'm saying is - it is very easy to forget, as a Veterinary surgeon, what a depressing, stressful, expensive and scary experience it can be to take what is essential a family member, and leave them with a stranger for a day whilst they do unpleasant things to them, and charge you for the privilege. Now (and I cringe at saying this because I'm a thoroughly middle-class English person, and any hint of self-praise is usually enough to send me almost into a coma of embarrassment) I am, as it happens, fairly popular with clients, and they seem to quite like me. Part of the reason for this is that I'm a dreadful toady, and am almost unbearably nice to people because I don't like to cause a scene, but a lot of it is because that I do understand that it's not fun to take your animal to see a man in a green coat, and the more you can relax people, and explain as clearly as you can what you think, why you think things happening, and why you would like to stick sharp things into their beloved friend, the more they will trust you.

I do keep that in mind, but even so, a number of things have rather reminded me what it is like to be on the other side of the consulting room table. The first is that my own dog is not very well herself. Being vets, we thought that anything that happened to her we would probably sort out ourselves, but being the stubborn little so-and-so that she is, she decided to develop a condition that needs surgery, the success of which greatly depends on the experience of the surgeon with that particular op. And the experience we have with the op is zero, so we have had to refer her.

Which basically means we have had to ring round vets, getting appointments, getting (dare I say it) quotes for the operation, and generally worrying. Then we've had to sit in vets waiting rooms, trying to make small talk with other people whilst worrying about leaving our dog, and the bill, and whether the anaesthetic would go okay, and whether the vet would be nice to us, and so on. Karmically, it was probably some form of cosmic payback for the stress and misery I have unwittingly caused to other clients in a similar situation. Doctors, apparently, make the worst patients, but it's a fair bet that vets make the worst pet owners, because I was a blubbering mess the night before she went it.

(By the way, the operation has been delayed for the moment, because the condition - laryngeal paralysis - isn't quite bad enough for the surgery (a laryngeal tie-back) yet - some more stress ahead! Yay!)

The second thing that reminded me was talking to some friends a few weeks ago - they had taken their cats to see their local vet to get them vaccinated prior to a house move - and ended up feeling cheated and a little annoyed because the vet responsible gave a vaccine that they didn't feel was necessary without telling them, and generally not really explaining what they were doing. To use my mechanic analogy - it's like me being told that my flange nuts needed tightening, and it would cost me eighty quid. I've no idea whether they do or not, but if the mechanic doesn't take the time to tell me what a flange nut is, why its come loose and why it needs tightening again, I'm going to feel a bit ripped off even if my car would have exploded in a shower of oil and surprised vet had he not done so. It's not so much what they did, as how they did it, and this kind of thing contributes to the feeling amongst people that vets are money-grabbing bastards. We really don't do ourselves any favours on this front.

The third thing is the elephant in the room. Not literally (at least I don't think so - I'll go and check, Hang on....nope, no elephants) - but this week a programme was shown on BBC called 'It shouldn't happen -in- a vets' (very clever, see what they did there? I would never stoop so low to use a pun of a James Herriot title for my blog). Now, I have my fair share of issues with this programme, and I don't want them to turn into a rant, but I'll mention a few here. Panorama (which I think the program was - it wasn't clear from the opening credits. I do wonder if it was supposed to be a Panorama but was extended into it's own show? Anyhoo...), which used to be a paragon of impartial reporting, seems to have stooped to the lowest brand of journalistic mischief making. It always starts with the worry-maker-in-chief, Jeremy Vine, standing outside (see! This is an important issue, far too important to sit around behind a desk and tell you about), suddenly telling you that something you previously had no worries about at all may actually kill you/spend all your money/give you cancer. The programme then goes on to tell you, in no uncertain terms, exactly what you should think about this particular issue (which is always WORRY WORRY WORRY WHY AREN'T YOU WORRIED THIS PERSON/THESE PEOPLE IS/ARE OUT TO KILL YOU/STEAL YOUR MONEY/WORRY YOUR LIVESTOCK) - and the vet episode was no exception, right down to the freeze-framing the bad vets in black and white vaguely mugshot poses whilst apparently throttling cats, whereas depicting the nice vets in their living rooms, or in a lovely green field surrounded by nice cows.

I could write a whole blog on the show (which seemed to suggest you'd be far better taking your animal to a vet who has worked on his own for twenty years, than a large, well-supported practice with state of the art facilities. I don't work for one of the large franchise practices that seemed to be taking the brunt of the flak from this programme, but take it from me, I would rather have my own dog operated in one of them than in a single-vet practice.) but that isn't really what I want to waffle about. The thing that upset most of my clients, watching the show, was a brief image of the EVIL vet swinging a cat around the room holding it by the scruff of it's neck. Well, it may be a surprise, but this is a recognised restraint technique for cats if you're on your own - watch the video again and you may well notice that the cat itself doesn't look stressed or upset, and neither vet or cat were at risk from harm during the procedure. It's a technique I have used myself on many occasions (including on my own cat!) and in front of clients too - the point being, I have explained to the clients first what I am about to do, and why. Everything looks bad taken out of context (like my comment above, about it being a problem that I'm a man)

(Incidentally, don't get me wrong - there were a several rather upsetting things shown, like the dog which had it's leg amputated being -very forcibly- restrained post operatively, and a senior vet squeezing used blood back into a bag so it could be re-used on another dog, as well as a pretty depressing laissez-faire attitude amongst student nurses towards animals)

The point, for the purposes of this blog, was that scenes of animal restraint that look fairly routine to me, can be extremely shocking for people unused to such a thing - especially in the animal being restrained is their beloved pet. I'm sure those clients, with horrified looks on their faces, would understand a lot more if they weren't shown the footage of such by the pantomime Jeremy Vine, which accompanying operatic music, but were talked through the procedure by someone who actually knew what they were talking about.

Well, the torrent of words is slowly so I feel I need to creep towards a conclusion, which I suppose is this. If you're a vet, try and remember how horrible it is taking your pet in when you've been worrying about that cough he had all week. If you're not a vet (and really, why would you want to be?) - shop around! Find a vet that explains things to the level you want them explained. If they don't, you'll feel ripped-off whatever the bill, and it's a recipe for misunderstanding and all manner of Royal-college nastiness.

We're all human, you know. Well, except for mechanics, that is.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Seen and not heard...

This will be a brief one, but it's a neat little illustration of...well, I've not really got the faintest clue what it illustrates, or why, but I'm pretty sure it illustrates something. When I work out what it is, I'll probably make some money out of it.

It wasn't the busiest surgery this evening - the waiting room wasn't packed, which in light of what was about to follow is probably a good thing. I walked out into the waiting room to call the name of the cat I was about to see (see my previous post for client-calling in strategies through the ages). I saw the woman sitting with a cat box, and standing next to her were her children, a little boy and a little girl. They were...oh, I don't know, I'm not good at estimating child ages. Puppies, kittens, I'm fine with, but kids...well, they were about yea high. Old enough to walk without dribbling, just about. They both looked cute to my untrained eye, anyway - the boy looked a little like a smaller version of Phil Mitchell's sprog in Eastenders.

So, I stood in the waiting room, patented vet-smile (TM) on my face, and called out the cat's name.


The boy looked at me, caught my gaze, smiled, and shouted out 'You sound gay!'

Now, I've had a number of unusual responses in waiting rooms, but I'll be honest, this was a new one on me. I believe I might have lost control of my jaw for a moment, but years of practice left the smile on my face, so that my mouth lolled open like a sedated guppy's.

Okay, any of you who know me, it may have crossed your mind by now that our young Satan had a point. I have not been blessed with the deepest voice in the civilised world. I have, on occasion, been known to mince, and it's true that most practices I've worked at have been surprised to discover I had a girlfriend (or, as is now the case, wife). It's not the worst disability in the world, having a rather effeminate manner without actually being gay, and I genuinely don't mind it, but it can get a bit wearing at times. Still, old ladies seem to like it, and if works for the clients it works for me.

The lady uttered not one word of remonstration to my new arch-nemesis, but picked up the cat box and headed towards my consulting room. As I closed the door to the waiting room I could see the receptionists leaping to my defence by doubling up with laughter at the front desk.

The rest of the consult was, if possible, even less fun. The cat was fine, it was only a second vaccination, but Tiny Terror had decided that the next torment to inflict was to loudly repeat everything that I said, in a rather unflattering tone of voice. Whilst I longingly looked at the needles in my cupboard and wondered if it acutally might be worth doing some prison time, the mother decided to very quietly say to the monstrous spawn that she had produced 'Now, be quiet, the man's trying to work'.

Well, at least she said 'man'. Sigh. I managed to complete the consult without strangling anyone to death, or bursting into tears. As the woman left, she let her offspirng out before her, then turned to me and said in a conspiratorial tone 'He's autistic.'

Great, so not only had I been bullied by a child for my entire consultation, and ridiculed for it, I was now also a complete bastard for wishing various sharp unpleasant things to happen to the kid because he was disabled, rather than, say, an undisciplined little turd.

I was hoping to come to some great insight for having jotted this down, but thus far none has come to me. I'm no expert on autism, or children, or anything to be honest that doesn't involve animals (or science fiction), but it strikes me that children can get away with any behaviour they like so long as you put a label on it.

The label I have chosen for this paticular behaviour is 'bastard'. (I probably would have felt much better about the whole incident if the woman had turned to me at the end and said conspiratorialy 'He's a bastard.')

Anyway, if anyone wants me I'll be in the x-ray room, repeatedly radiographing my testicles until they couldn't produce a sperm if their life depended on it. Thankyou, and good night.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Really Wild Show

Whilst we're on the subject (see my blog...okay, rant...below about natural things) let's talk about wildlife. Ah, wildlife. What to do. How can I best express my feelings about wildlife work?

Best place to start is read my previous blog post, the one about natural oil. Yes, yes, I go on about that tea tree oil a lot, don't I? Sheesh, what's my problem with it? Never mind that. Keep reading. Get to the bit about pain and suffering. What do you mean you didn't get that far? Well go back and read it again! I haven't got all day.

All done? Okay. So now you know what I feel it's like to be in 'the wild'. It's bloody horrible. When I get creatures brought in from outside, you know what I think of them? They're not fluffy, cute animals. They're wounded soldiers. They're on the front line. It's war out there for them - literally, a life and death struggle every single day of their lives.

I once heard a story from an acquaintance of mine who just found out that I was a vet. She had found a wounded sparrow in the garden, attacked by a cat. It was very small, and weak. My friend and her daughter decided to take the sparrow in, and put it in the sink of their bathroom. They gave it a little water, tried to help it recover. It was too ill to drink. It was too ill to do anything. The sparrow died after a day or so.

So I asked why my friend had not taken the sparrow to the local vets, who were literally just up the road, and she said 'I was worried that they would put it to sleep.'

Stop and consider that for the moment. Stop and think about what that sparrow experienced from the moment it was injured, until the moment it died. Put yourself in that sparrow's position.

I'm spelling this out because, if I had been the vet on duty in that practice, then my friend's worst fears would have been confirmed. I would, absolutely, have put the sparrow to sleep. And you know what? I'd also do it for about 90% of the wildlife you would ever bring me. And if you can explain to me why doing that is worse than what that poor sparrow went through in my friend's sink, you have a different view of morals and ethics than I do.

So there, I've said it. All that preamble, so that I can reveal to you that I will, with a clear conscience, kill nine out of ten wildlife casualties that are brought in to me. As for the lucky 1 in 10, well, there's usually nothing wrong with them, and I'll tell you to take them back where you found them.

The animals that are brought to me are not pets. They don't behave like pets. They are scared of humans. They are scared of confinement. They are scared of just about everything in the world, because just about everything in the world is trying to kill them, directly or indirectly. If I see, for instance, a blackbird that has been attacked by a cat, I have a few choices. One is to say 'Let's just see how it goes overnight', give it a few jabs, and not worry about it until the morning. The other is to put it to sleep straight away. One of these choices is immediately very tempting for me, because (despite what you might believe after reading the above few paragraphs) I don't actually enjoying killing things. In fact, it would be fair to say that I bloody hate doing it.

But that won't stop me making choice number two. The overnight option is much easier, nicer for all concerned, and when I come in the next morning to find the blackbird has died overnight, then myself and my nurse can say 'Ah, well, we tried.'

Except that I can't do that. What I'm thinking about is that blackbird, alone in a cage. Terrified and dying. What kind of a night do you think it had? Any better than the sparrow in the sink?

What about the ones that wouldn't have died overnight? Well, firstly, it's less than you probably think. I didn't always adopt this attitude, you see. I've had my fair share of nocturnal deaths. It's not a good feeling. Secondly, remember what I said earlier - these are soldiers. I'm patching them up the get back in the fight. If I can't guarantee that this bird, or mouse, or whatever, won't be at the absolute top of it's game when I release it, then I am condemning that animal to die, either at the hands of a predator, or from starvation.

A lucky few of these wounded soldiers will be adopted by people, and become their pets. Well, that's fine. If they're never going back to war again, then I'll do all I can to help them. Some species also seem to cope better with captivity than others - hedgehogs, for instance, often cope a little better than some others once you've got them through the first few days (they bloody hurt to examine, though!) But that isn't the way for most of them.

And so I kill, or to use the polite term, euthanase, most of them. And I feel sorry about that, because I don't like doing it, and I don't like death, but I don't feel ashamed about it, because it's the right thing to do.

T'aint natural!

There is a substance on Earth more ubiqitous than water, more precious than gold, and more magical than Harry Potter's pants. Apply it to any wound, scrape, blemish, graze or scald in existence and all ills and pains will melt away (like that cool bit in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy pours water from the Holy Grail onto his Dad's gunshot-wounded belly, and the wound is washed away). There is a name for this fabled mystical ointment, and it is spake thus - Tea Tree Oil.

I am daily reminded of the power of this wondrous elixir by clients of mine, who have invariably rubbed/poured/applied it on/to their faithful companion's skin. Well, let me pose the heretical question - if this stuff is so bloody good, why are you coming to see me now, eh?

Now, listen, I don't have a problem with tea tree oil (previous paragraphs to the contrary); I'm aware that it smells quite nice, and that your friend recommended it, y'know, the one who's son has got that terrible eczema, and the man in the health food shop said it worked for his irritable groin, and there's a nice picture of a leaf on the bottle. I would simply suggest that you can't go wrong with a nice bit of bathing in warm salty water, that's all. Pint of warm water, teaspoon full of salt, bit of cotton wool and bajinga! Robert's your mother's brother.

This may seem trivial (okay, okay, it is trival, but it segues me onto a wider point. What is the reason behind the supposed majestic power of tea tree oil? I know the answer. I get told it several times a day.

It's because it's natural, that's why. And natural has got to be good, hasn't it?


I really don't understand Joe and Jane public's obsession with things being 'natural'. In fact, I'm pretty sure they don't understand it either. Natural. What exactly does that word mean?

Here's the dictionary definition (according to Encarta, anyway) - present in or produced by nature; of, relating to or concerning nature.

Well, I don't know about you but I don't remember the last time I was walking through a forest and I was hit on the head by a bottle of tea-trea oil shampoo falling from a ripe tea-tree oil shampoo tree. I don't want to labour the point of this particular product, but my point is that tea trea oil, like any other product, must be produced - extracted from the tree (melaleuca alternifolia, if you must know; no, I'm not writing it again) via a commercial and highly mechanised industrial process. It may be present in or produced by nature, but it's also produced by a lot of machines, manpower and energy, then put in a plastic bottle.

Good thing, too. You know what 'natural' means to me? It means dying alone from septicaemia contracted from an infection you got from a thorn in the foot. It means watching your baby cubs be mangled to death by the new male lion who's muscled his way into your pride. It means getting very nasty cramping diarrhoea and vomiting from taking tea tree oil internal, as it happens to be toxic.

'Natural' isn't great. It's horrible, because nature is horrible. It might look very nice having a picnic in a buttercup-strewn field on a summer's day, but try spending the same day in the same field as a field mouse and see how much you enjoy it. If you end the day with some food in your belly and not dead, then you're having a good day. Even then you'll probably get even by an owl overnight.

It's war out there. If there isn't at any one moment within a few hundred yards radius from where you are sitting now a large amount of creatures fearful, starving, killing or dying, then you're probably sitting on Pluto (in which case it's probably you doing the fearful and dying bit unless you're in a space suit or you're an alien - in which case I'd like to say - Greetings, my alien masters! Spare me, and I'll give you the rest of them! Ahem.)

Nature is pain, and death, and starvation. It necessarily follows from evolution - you're either the absolute best at extracting a particular kind of resources out of your enviroment, or your dead. So don't come to me with your 'natural'. Your arnica cream might be 'natural' (although it isn't), but so is getting your arm bitten off by a polar bear. Take your pills, and thank God for Western medicine. It's not perfect, but it's a bloody sight better than the alternative.

Friday, 14 May 2010

One of those days...

It's been, as the cliche says, one of those days. It was one of those days, in fact, that made me start this blog in the first place. I don't know where those days come from, but wherever it is they can piss off back there, as far as I'm concerned.

It was the kind of day, in fact, that reminds me that we are, all of us (except for our mighty Robot Overlords, of course) basically fleshy machines, and that when something goes wrong with a bit of the machine that happens to house you, well, it's not great news.

Not a revelation to rival the Buddha's, perhaps - but it is a very obvious fact, the more you work in any kind of medicine. We're machines. Very complicated, self-repairing, self-aware and quite amazing machines, but machines. And machines break. And there's no reason behind this any more than there was a reason behind my Xbox breaking (THREE TIMES you bastards Microsoft! Ahem. Sorry.)

And that's the point of this blog. In fact, it's a bit of a cheat of a blog because it's really just an introduction to my very first blog, which I had to delete from my site (you'll find out later why. Just keep reading, you inpatient bugger. Or skip to the end. I'll put a joke there, I promise.)

So, the reason I'm in that kind of mood today - I came in this morning to find one of my inpatients, a very sweet cat called Humphrey (it really shouldn't matter whether he was sweet or not, should it? He didn't deserve what happened. But I'm getting ahead of myself, hang on...) feeling very poorly indeed. He'd been on intravenous fluids since Wednesday, and this morning his blood results were waiting for me from the lab. And they were not good news. Humphrey was very severely uraemic - that is, his blood urea and creatinine were something in the order of fifteen times the normal upper limit - that is, Humphrey's kidneys were buggered. He hadn't passed urine since he came in, despite all the fluids we were pouring into him, which meant his kidneys had pretty much shut down. Maybe better medics than me could save a cat like Humphrey, but I've never managed to get a cat in this state any better.

So, with a heavy heart, I phoned the owner (who must have seen the number calling, because she answered the phone with a hearty 'Hello! How are you?', which made me feel great). Humphrey was five years old, and I had no idea his kidneys would be in anything like the state they were. Fortunately, being the cautious chap I am, I had admitted him straight away for fluids, which was the right thing to do in such a situation. Unfortunately, for Humphrey especially, it hadn't made a blind bit of difference.

Now, there's not many things that can balls up a young cat's kidneys so severely and so quickly. A blocked bladder would do it, but Humphey had been peeing fine before this happened. Which leaves a rather short list, top of which would be poisonings. And top of that list would be antifreeze.

(which reminds me - please please don't use antifreeze in your nice water features in the garden. Cat's love running water. Antifreeze kills cat's kidneys, followed fairly quickly by the cat. Learn to love your frozen over water feature!)

But, talking it through with the owner, it wasn't antifreeze. Here comes the heartwarming part of the tale (I'm using a sarcastic voice here, if you wan't to read it to yourself like that. Ta.). The other poison that destroys cat's kidneys very quickly and irreperably is lilly pollen.

And as it turns out, Humphrey's owner's house had a lot of lillies in last week. On account of her father dying suddenly and unexpectedly the week before.

I put Humphrey to sleep today, because he licked a lilly plant last week. Because his owner's father died the week before.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is - there's no blame, there's no malice or hatred, or anything, behind any of these events. They just happened. Just like one day, they'll happen to us. I don't know why we seem to have this inate feeling, this need that life should be fair. To the point where if it isn't we tell each other its our fault that it isn't, because of what we like to do in the bedroom, or because we eat fish on the wrong day, or pray pointing in the wrong direction, or some other crap like that. I see, every day of my life, that life isn't fair, it isn't anything other than life, and it still surprises and upsets me when it isn't.

My wife has had a bad day too. A Staffordshire Bull Terrier that she operated on today, and removed an enormous tumour from it's spleen, died suddenly a few hours after it woke up, likely from a pulmonary embolism. It was less of a shock, because we already knew that the tumour had spread to the dog's liver (and possibly heart), and it almost cetainly wouldn't have lived more than a few months. They would have been comfortable and mostly normal months, though, at home with his owner, and he had them all snatched away in the space of a few seconds.

So, in the spirit of that, I'm re-instating my old first blog post, which was inspired by much the same sort of thing, and it expresses it better than I'm managing here. It might be grim, but keep reading! I promised that joke at the end, didn't I?

* * *

Life, death, and blogging.

As I walked into work today, I was immediately rushed downstairs by Chris, to help one of my vets. On the operating tablet was Maisie, an eighteen-month old Dogue du Bordeaux (if you don't know this breed, think of a slightly more canine version of Bungle from Rainbow and you won't be far wrong. Man, Bungle used to scare the crap out of me when I was a kid)

As I rushed into the theatre, wrestling the stethoscope from around my neck, Maisie gave a great shuddering cry, and vomited copious stinking bloody fluid all over the floor, and all over Jenny, one of our junior vets.

Several minutes later, despite much ER-alike injection, pumping, tubing and thumping, Maisie was dead. Not one of us could do a damn thing about it. When we opened up her abdomen, her guts were purple, and stinking. She had an intussuseption - where the intestines telescope into themselves, effectively causing a blockage - but this was likely secondary to the inflammation in the bowels.

Two hours earlier, Chris had walked Maisie out from the practice to go to the toilet - Jenny had admitted her the night before to keep in for observation for her vomiting - and she had wagged her tail, and walked (if slowly) out to the grass verge opposite the hospital, sniffing around in the way that dogs do to show they know more about the world than you do.

Jenny and I have both spent the rest of the day feeling miserable and useless. Partially because it's one of those cases where we feel there are no lessons to be learned - if we saw a case like Maisie's again tomorrow, we wouldn't have treated her case any differently. There was never any indication to operate before - Maisie's abdomen felt normal, her temperature was normal, she was bright and wanting to eat - but mostly because it was just so damn unfair. What did Maisie do to the world to deserve to die in such a terrible way? She wasn't even two years old.

Is there a point to this blog? I'm not sure. Nobody ever said the world was meant to be fair. I deal with death and suffering ever day of my life, but there's still some part of me that's hard-wired to think that there should be some justice in the world. Today I had yet another reminder that life is fleeting, and precious.

So I'm starting this blog - to remind you all of this simple fact, possibly the hardest one for any human to digest. The blog is primarily about my work life. I'm hoping to show you what it's like being a vet in a world like this. Hey, it's a living.

Also to vent my spleen. Trust me, I'm a vet, spleens need to vented regularily or damage will ensue.

More tales from the front line to come.

* * *

Okay, you've made it to the end! Well done! Hopefully you don't need counselling at this point. The reason I deleted that post originally was because the case concerned, and both myself and Jenny, became the subject of a Royal College investigation at the request of the owners. This was sad, but not surprising - you've just read how I felt about the case, imagine how the owners felt. It was a senseless death, very depressing and very unexpected.

I can post it again because the investigation concluded that we had done nothing wrong, and there was no case for us to answer. The owners don't believe that of course, and without understanding, neither would I. The simple fact is, we did our best to save her, and she died anyway. It's a hard thing for our society to accept.

Right, you've made it through all the depressing stuff, now here's the joke....

There isn't one! It was a cruel literary subterfuge all along to further illustrate the point of life's unfairness. Except in this case it was a quite deliberate unfairness orchestrated by me. So it doesn't really make the point at all. Sorry.

Ah, never mind. I'm getting a drink. Anyone want one?

Monday, 8 March 2010

The Mutt's Nuts

Just wanted to blog a quickie whilst a consult I did this evening was fresh in my mind. You could look upon the consult in two ways - either (if you're feeling charitable) it gave me an interesting perspective on how people view their animals, or (if you're not) it sent me into further despair about the future of humanity (maybe it's something of a relief that it doesn't look like we've got much of one)

I was seeing a dog out this evening after his castrate. The consult hadn't got off onto the best start when the owner (who I will refrain from describing because I don't want to predjudice anything. Let's just say she was 'dog rough', and leave it at that) was a bit aggrieved that I suggested we might have to charge her for the special shampoo I suggested to cure her dog of its potential fatal skin condition that I had diagnosed during the procedure (I didn't dare charge her for the skin scrape!)

'I haven't got that kind of money, what you doin', tryin' to rob me?' was the general gist of her reasons for not wanting the twenty-quid bottle of shampoo. (along with the polite 'Where the fuck did he get those fuckin' mites from, then?')

That's when we got onto the castrate. I explained that her puppy should have a light meal tonight, as he might feel a little sick after his anaesthetic.
(How the fuck am I supposed to cook fuckin' rice without a cooker, eh?)

Moving on, I explained where the wound was, and how although her dog's scrotum would look a bit peculiar now it was empty, it would all shrink down over the next few months.

Long pause.

'You what?'

'Erm...I'm just saying, it will all shrink down, and look very normal in a few months.'

'Are you telling me you've cut his bollocks off?'

(My turn with the long pause)

(slightly nervous at this point)'Well, he was in today to be castrated, wasn't he?'

'Yeah, but I didn't think you'd cut his balls off as well!'

Now, at this point, dear readers, I wasn't really sure what else to say. My gaze moved to the consent form for her dog, which she had signed, right under the words 'Dog Castrate'. The owner was now in a state of some consternation, huffing and swearing, and muttering 'I don't believe it.' I decided to go for the scientific approach.

'Erm...can I ask you what you think castration is?'

'It's the snip, innit? His tubes. Don't fuckin' believe it!'

', I think you're thinking of a vasectomy. Castration is...well, removing the testicles.' Distressingly, I caught myself gesturing to my own crotch, as if this would somehow help to illustrate the procedure. Thankfully, the owner distracted me before I got too much further.

'Well, that's great, he's gonna attack all the other dogs now, isn't he?'

I didn't really follow the logic there, so I resorted to 'What?'

'He's gonna be jealous, isn't he? Lookin' at himself, and then seeing them with their balls hanging out, he's gonna kick right off, innee?'

It slowly dawned on me that the owner genuinely believed her dog was going to have such a self-image problem that he was going to take out it's anger and frustration on other dogs.

' don't really think that way, to be honest.'

'Are you saying my dog is stupid?'

This is the point where my last, faint hope for humankind waved it's little white flag. Several minutes, and lots of swearing (only slightly on my part) finally convinced my owner that her poor puppy was not going to develop some kind of castrato-complex*, and that castrated dogs tended to be less aggressive than uncastrated. Somehow, I managed to survive the rest of the consultation without getting thumped, and even managed to get a 'Thanks' from the owner. We might even convince her to get her dog treated for that potentially fatal skin condition, if we're really lucky...

And that is my story. Bit too early to have much of a point to it, other than I wanted to write it down before my brain rejected it as too strange to be true. If there's a lesson to this tale, I suppose it might be this - if you need a surgical procedure, make sure you know what it is before you sign on the dotted line. Not much of a moral, I know, but what do you want from me? I'm a vet, not a philosopher (though I am occasionally a reluctant social worker too)

*(which, it occurs to me as I type, opens on to another issue, slightly less flippant and so not really belonging in this blog - is it justifiable to mutilate an individual of a species, for the good of the species as a whole? My honest answer is yes, I believe it is - I've seen too many unwanted puppies and kittens get euthanased or suffer to even slightly think otherwise - but I'm not blind to the fact that being neutered is a stressful and unpleasant thing to go through, and given the choice dogs and cats probably wouldn't go for it - I mean, a good way to add eight years to my own life would be to get castrated, but you don't see me lining up for it, do you? Anyway, I digress....maybe the subject for another blog, that one)

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The art of veterinary medicine

It is said, by some, that at University you learn the science of veterinary medicine, and then in practice, you learn the art. Well, I've always resisted this - I consider myself a scientist, and would like to think that I at least try to practice evidence-based medicine.

(I was surprised when I qualified to find this is not the view of all vets - possibly not even the majority. I know a few vets that would be almost offended to hear themselves described as scientists. But my degree says Bachelor of Veterinary Science, so I'm right and they're wrong. Nyah.)

(Okay, okay, not all veterinary degrees are BVSc - there's Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine, Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Science, etc... but I'm cheerfully going to ignore that point in the interests of brevity. Or I would have done if I hadn't rudely interrupted myself)

However, there is one aspect of being a vet that even I must admit has something of an art to it. Consulting (or convulsing, as my wife happily calls it). The (inexplicably named) surgeries, the part where we, the vet, actually meet the public.

The artistry begins in the waiting room, when you go out and call the client into the consulting room (unless you have a nurse do it for you. In which case you're lazy. Ahem.). This in itself is a bit of a minefield. Do you call out just the animal's name? The clients surname? The animal's name followed by the surname? All have their pitfalls.

In a full waiting room just calling out 'Tyson' generally leads to three different owners standing up at once (probably all bringing a Rottweiller in. I'll have to do a blog on animal names at some point...). Also, you run the risk of calling out 'Princess' or, worse, 'Honey', and having a large, hairy and slightly pissed off man stand up with a cat box, to the titters of the rest of the waiting clients.

Just calling out the surname, as my boss tends to do, strikes me as a little public school, and always makes me think of the Rowan Atkinson sketch where he is a teacher calling out increasingly bizarre and rude names from the register (Mydic? Has anyone seen Mydic?). It seems brusque and rude (though my boss is charming enough to pull it off effortlessly). It can also cause embarrassment when you fail to pronounce a surname correctly (especially if it's Greek - some real tongue twisters there), and it may well have got me into trouble last night when I saw someone with the unfortunate surname 'Fuchs'. (Other potential problem surnames - 'Cock', 'Uren' and, (honestly) 'Handaside-Dick').

A variant of this option is to call out 'Mr Smith' or 'Mrs Jones' or whatever. The problem here is that the person who registered the animal is not always the person who is bringing the animal in, often leading to you having to make a snap judgement of the marital status of the person in the waiting room. Getting in wrong risks a withering look and an 'It's Miss, actually.' (I once had this delivered not with a withering look, but infinitely more frighteningly, with a wink). Even worse (as has happened to me sadly often enough) is having to make a snap judgement of a person's sex. Bear in mind, if you get this basic fact wrong you will be spending at least ten minutes talking to them, and it's not the best way to start a conversation.

The third option, calling out the animal's name followed by the surname often leads to an exasperating reaction from the client of a puzzled look, and a giggle, and a comment like 'hee hee, 'Bilbo' Maclean, like he's one of the family!' - possibly funny at first, but when you've seen that reaction thirty times a day it does get a little wearing.

My personal preference is for option one, but scanning the list of names first to make sure we don't have duplicate animal names in, defaulting to option two with a particularly embarrassing animal name (a la Peaches Fru Fru...or for those bizarre times when the owner has seen fit to call their animal 'Mr' or 'Miss' (never 'Mrs'!) something - we saw a lot of mice called 'Mr Jingles' after The Green Mile came out. For the record, none of them lived quite so long as the one in the film) or option three with multiple-monikered mutts. (I don't mean mutts offensively, I just wanted an 'm' word for my alliteration. For what it's worth, if you've got a mutt, you've probably got the healthiest animal in the room. And that is definitely a subject for another blog)

One last point about waiting rooms - it happens to me about once a month, that I go out and call a clients name (with all the pitfalls mentioned above), and the client looks at me questioningly and says 'Yes?'

Now, I don't mean to be rude, but you are sitting in a WAITING room, in a veterinary surgery, with your animal, and a man in a green coat with a stethoscope sexily wrapped around his neck (okay, okay, just wrapped, then) walks towards you and calls your name. Is it possible you might have some contextual clues about what he wants?

Sigh. Okay, I know it's stressful taking your animal to the vets, so I apologise if that comes across a little mean-spirited. But really. Some people. I don't know.

Well, I was going to talk a little about the process of the consult itself, but I seem to have rambled on somewhat just about the waiting room, so I'll leave you in suspenders for the next exciting installment!

Happy new year, by the way :)