Freezing Fingers & ‘Cutting Deads’

Its a balmy -10C outside today as I write this and think fondly back on my last week. I drove out to Calgary to work at Veterinary Agri-Health Services (VAHS), a practice that does a lot of feedlot work. They also service cow/calf operations. It was below -20C almost every day–what a way to kick off the year!

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It is not the best time for cattle work in Canada–a little too early for calving season which is usually in the early spring and can be quite busy. So my mornings at the practice were spent in the offices either helping with drug orders or studying. I sat in on a webinar about a new vaccine in Canada, attended a pathology presentation for feedlot workers, and listened to a presentation on Johnes disease in beef cattle from a previous summer student. I really enjoyed the discussion about that topic.

This practice is completely ‘ambulatory’ which means that farmers/producers will call the practice and the vet drives out to their farm (or feedlot) with all the equipment they need. All the exams, treatment, and surgery the vets do happen on the farm. So each afternoon I hopped in the truck with a vet and we headed out.

I worked with a couple of female vets this week. I really appreciated this experience as it allowed some conversation about how to survive as a female in the world of large animal vetting and agriculture. We discussed confidence, work/life balance, how to protect your body from breaking down, and how to pee when you haven’t seen a washroom in 100+km…

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I honestly have missed seeing that big Alberta sky, but that doesn’t leave a lot of spots for privacy…

Feedlot vets do a lot of post mortems (autopsies); while this might sound a bit morbid to some of you I actually quite enjoy them.  The colloquial term a lot of vets use is ‘cutting deads’. It is very exciting to be able to open up an animal and look at 1 or 2 organs and diagnose why the animal died. We did post mortems everyday– they aren’t easy work but it will keep you warm outside!  Its not the safest work either—when you can’t feel your hands and your standing on ice—it just takes a few tries to learn some of the tricks! At the beginning of the week I struggled with finding where to put my knife and remembering all my respiratory pathology from first year–by the end of the week I felt a lot more confident about what I was doing and what I was seeing. But I’m sure I’ll be getting a lot more practice with this.

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Twice this week we looked at some cattle for export. This means that they are being transported across the border from Canada to the United States before they are slaughtered. This involves walking the pens and looking at the animals– and holding back any animals that look sick or have sore feet/legs and who would not transport well.

We got asked to check out a cow on a feedlot that had been acting a bit weird–when we got there the cow had neurological signs. There is a lot of things that can cause a cow to have neurological problems. We often don’t investigate these problems in cattle the same way we would in small animals — with x-rays, CT scans, and diagnostics. Sometimes you can figure out what is going on in cattle but it is quite hard.

On the Thursday the vet and I went out to a large feedlot where they had two bloat surgeries for us to do. Depending on what cows are eating sometimes their stomachs can fill up with gas or bubbles and become really bloated! This can actually be lethal for a cow if the problem isn’t discovered and treated and prevented. If you are interested, this is a really good article from Alberta Agriculture about bloat. The vet did the first bloat surgery and then I did the second one. We were in a shed and there was a heat lamp but it was still so cold! Loosing feeling in your fingers, freezing suture, and frozen blood on the suture is a whole new level of difficulty. Very simply speaking, a bloat surgery puts a hole from the stomach of the cow to the outside world so they can safely release gas!

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This was a great placement! Despite it being cold and a little slow I felt that I gained a lot of knowledge (or topics to study up on) about the Canadian cattle industry and common diseases in feedlots. I appreciated a chat I had about being a practice owner and what that could look like–this is something I have always aspired to! Lastly, and not related to cattle…. I now know which little town to stop in and find the best peanut butter pie on the prairies!

Thanks again to all the wonderful vets and techs at VAHS!!

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Eyeballs, ovaries, and anesthesia!

Its finally the start of our Easter break and its given me a chance to write another post. This has been a full on semester…the material is a lot more clinically relevant and interesting. I love that we get more hands on experience. This is the fun stuff, the stuff that counts, its what I’ve been looking forward to for years.

Recently I had a really good week of practical classes:

The first one was our Ophthalmology Practical class.  I’ve helped out with tons of eye examinations at work over the years, but only got to use the equipment myself a few times. I have never been overly interested in eye cases but this class was a lot of fun for me. We had our ophthalmology lectures a few days earlier which were full of different pictures and explanations of what to look for. Our lovely teaching greyhounds were present and we got to practice Schirmer Tear Tests (STT (measures tear production)), fluorescein eye stains (highlights wounds or ulcers in the eye), and examination of the eyeball with a focal light and an optivisor. I’m starting a clinical placement at a small animal clinic this week and I am really hoping to get a chance to practice my examination skills.

We had our second Bovine Reproduction Practical class where we practiced rectal palpation on female cattle. Our main objective was to attempt to find and palpate the cervix, bifurcation of the uterus, and both ovaries. I was able to find all the structures; one of our cows even had a cystic ovary. That ovary was a lot larger and easier to find than the normal healthy ovaries. The week before we had an Equine Reproductive Practical class where we felt for the same structures in horses. It was good practice to go between species and think about the differences in anatomy. Horse ovaries are bigger and you feel for them higher up than cow ovaries.

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We both found ovaries! Well on our way to diagnosing pregnancy…. 

Our Small Animal Reproductive Practical class finished off our clinical skills in our reproduction block. Unfortunately there was no dogs or cats present in our class so we mostly used microscopes to examine slides of swab samples. Cytology (the examination of cells) is one of the best ways to determine which stage of a cycle the bitch (female dog) is in. It is very important to know what stage she is in so that she can be bred on the right day and get pregnant with puppies. Looking through microscopes is definitely not my favorite part of vet med but after this class I understand a lot more what to look for in these cases.

My favorite practical class that week was our Equine Anesthesia class. We were split into 2 groups of students. Half of us were given a drug protocol and had to calculate drug doses and draw up our medications. The other half of the class had to complete a physical exam on our patient. My roommate and I were in the same group and we felt quite confident about how to start and complete a physical exam on a horse because of our time volunteering in the horse hospital. After we completed our exam we had to clean, prep, and insert a jugular catheter so we could administer the premedication drugs. Our group had a ‘Triple Drip’ drug protocol which is very common in horses. Then we proceeded to anesthetize our horse with our maintenance drugs. When the patient was asleep we were responsible for monitoring his vital signs and recording everything on the anesthetic record. We also practiced intubation. I’ve done intubations in cats and dogs before, horses are different because it is a ‘blind intubation’. That means that you cannot see exactly where you are placing the tube and instead have to rely fully on feel and knowledge of anatomy.

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I am holding the maintenance drugs we used for our TIVA (total intravenous anesthesia) Triple Drip protocol and equine intubation tubes. 

So vet school? Loving it!

After a full 9 weeks of class I’m ready for a 2 week break to catch up on lectures and complete some clinical placements…

 

Semester 2

I think its about time I sent out a quick little update! After finishing my first semester of DVM the winter break in July was much anticipated! Now I’m back into the thick of it, and have just finished my first midterm of semester 2. The classes I am in this term are:

Cardiovascular System

Foundations of Animal Health 2

Animal Health in Production Systems

Cardio takes up a lot of my time, but I find it quite interesting! This is the first class I’ve taken where I’m actually required to build on knowledge I’ve learned in previous classes (last semester) to understand whole concepts. Previously I’ve just gathered knowledge, but now I’m starting to integrate it. We have had some cool practical classes in cardio so far, listening to equine hearts and trying to hear murmurs, testing out our stethoscope skills on dogs, trialing drug reactions on organ tissue, and practicing blood pressure readings.

Foundations of Animal Health 2 is a continuation of FAH1 that I took last semester, currently we have been learning about controversial animal welfare issues. A lot of these issues I learned about, researched, or wrote on in my undergrad (beak trimming, tail-docking, de-horning, housing systems/confinement, sentience/ability to feel pain, etc), however, it is now very different to learn about the issue from an Australian perspective. I’ve also been able to discuss some more Australian-specific issues such as: jump racing, kangaroo culling, and mulesing. So far I;m liking this course a lot better than I did last semester!

Animal Health in Production Systems has so far covered the different types of animal industries that I might be working or involved in. We have focused on swine, (pet) exotic birds, dairy, beef, camelids, sheep, and horses. This course included the information and handling practice I completed during my very first week of vet school! The lectures we have had on birds have been really interesting to me! While working in vet clinics I have seen many sick birds come in; now I have the background knowledge and husbandry tips to better understand this cases. The dairy industry has probably been my favorite for a few years now; I love working with the sweet girls and learning about the reproductive management on dairy farms. The Australian dairy industry is vastly different from the North America one so that has been difficult to wrap my mind around!

That’s it for now, I’m out for some fun this weekend after a long couple of weeks of studying/cramming!

A group of us hanging out and learning how ECGs work and how to read the traces to tell us information on heart disease.

A group of us hanging out and learning how ECGs work and how to read the traces to tell us information on heart disease.