We had a 1 week surgery rotation at the university hospital. The university is a referral center with specialist surgeries being performed so we didn’t get to do much ourselves. We scrubbed into as many surgeries as possible and held tissues or passed instruments or operated the suction for the surgeon. We worked long days; coming in early each day to check on surgery patients from the day before. We also called patients a couple days after their surgeries to check on them and see how they were doing post-op. We wrote discharge notes and surgical reports. Surgical reports are different than a normal medical history. We made sure to include all the instruments used, the type of scalpel and suture, the pattern of closures, exact dimensions of any incisions, and carefully explained each procedure. Each evening we had rounds where we talked about the surgical cases for the day and looked at the pre- and post-operative imaging (x-rays, or CT scans or MRIs).
One of my first patients this week was a beautiful dog who had a significantly sized mass removed from his soft palate (roof of his mouth). Once the surgeon took the mass out there was a very large fistula which needed to be repaired with a skin graft. I was reading some of the articles the surgeon had with him to assist the procedure. It was very complicated, and the anatomy went over my head…that’s the thing about the field of veterinary medicine & surgery… there is always so much more to learn and do and practice! He stayed in hospital for a few days and had to be stomach tubed his meals (who wants to eat when you have a skin graft in your mouth anyways?!). When we went out for walks I had to stop him from trying to pick up sticks with his mouth! Unfortunately, after a couple days one side of his skin graft had failed and he needed a repeat surgery to close the fistula in the roof of his mouth again. After freshening the edges and making another mini-graft the fistula was closed. As far as I know, this patient recovered really well after his revision surgery!
I watched a couple of other mass removal surgeries this week, they were not quite as cool as the soft palate resection + graft. One poor dog had a mass in her rectum that was very uncomfortable. Another dog was very prone to developing lumps all over her body and needed those removed!
One girl in my group watched four splenectomies or something crazy like that this week. I managed to watch one! The university has this very cool surgical tool which makes splenectomies a lot easier; it basically cauterizes all the vessels and stops all the bleeding so the surgery is much faster and cleaner.
One day there was a cria (baby alpaca) that had come in for surgery. He was too big to stay in the small animal hospital so he stayed with his mum in the horse barn and then came to our small animal surgery team to have his bony sequestrum removed from his leg. A sequestrum is basically a dead piece of bone sitting within the limb; they can be associated with infections and sometimes draining tracts will form. The CT scan of his leg was particularly impressive!
If any spays or neuters were scheduled my group members and I were meant to do them. I watched one of my friends do a spay and a couple of my other friends did castrations. I was very unlucky all week and my cases kept cancelling or no-showing on me! I didn’t get to do any surgeries this week.
Towards the end of the rotation I had a very complicated surgical case! The patient was in the ICU. I completed my rotation in the ICU earlier this year. The ICU team determined that the patient had a septic abdomen. Which meant that he had a bacterial infection in his abdomen—this is really not ideal! We learned that this dog had previously been diagnosed with severe hydrocephalus and had previous brain surgery to put in a ventriculoperitoneal shunt (VP shunt). Very simply —this is a tube that goes from the brain (and tracks under the skin) to the abdomen where it drains the cerebrospinal fluid that builds up in the brain. The excess fluid cannot be in the brain and if it is drained to the abdomen it can be reabsorbed into the body there.
Unfortunately, the presence of this shunt complicated matters. We didn’t know if the bacterial infection in his abdomen had started in his brain or if it has started in his abdomen and then had tracked up to his brain. The surgery team spoke with the ICU team and then the surgery team liaised with the neurology team. Eventually we decided that it was in our patient’s best interests to complete his abdominal surgery first and then bring in the neurology team to remove his shunt. Then, if he recovered well in ICU he would require another brain surgery in a couple weeks to replace the VP shunt in his brain (this patient cannot live without the shunt). Both surgeries went really well! I helped put in the esophageal feeding tube at the end of surgery. I’ve been trying to keep up on how this patient was doing by asking my friends who were on their ECC rotation in the ICU room.