9 October 2012.

You know what that date represents? That’s right, my last blog post.

I’ve been asked about the blog, prompted by friends and family, nudged here ‘n there with friendly reminders, and I just keep forgetting.

But really, the 10 months between that post and this post are the very best representation of what vet school is like: everything other than school just gets away from you. Especially second year; at least for me.

So here’s a recap. And a promise … no … a commitment … no … a … a … a statement of intent (there, I like that – less commitment) that I’ll try to do better. That’s the most I can say. Before I start, I’ll say this: this post is basically a catch-me-up recap of the last year. If you read this for vet school info, the first bit might be interesting, but that’s it. The rest is just personal life stuff. So spare yourself, unless you’re also here for that, because it will be a lengthy post.

Second year of vet school was hard. (That right there wins the understatement of the year award.)

Like first year, there’s a virtual ton of information to absorb and memorize, and no time to do it. Many, many days consist of nothing other than lecture for 8 hours. My typical Monday actually started at 8am and didn’t end until 7pm because of an evening elective. Try going home and doing homework after that. Worse yet, second year is when you actually need to start thinking rather than just memorizing. Who knew how hard thinking can be?

The positive side is that second year is when you start getting medicine classes, so some of the material becomes more interesting, and much of the material becomes more relevant.

First semester last year consisted of (among other less interesting things), neuropharmacology, parasitology, bacteriology, more pharmacology, dermatology, systemic pathology, epidemiology, reproductive biology, and an entire course focused only on swine. Hopefully it’s clear why that’s a heavy load.

Second semester brought even more pain, with another imaging (radiology) class, toxicology, surgery, cardiopulmonary disorders, nervous system disorders, ophthalmology (eyes), urinary system disorders, clinical pathology, and a core avian course (similar to the earlier core swine course). So finally, this was the semester we really started hitting ‘medicine’ courses, with all those “disorders” courses. In that sense, the semester was a lot of fun – most of us went to med school to learn medicine, and even though we all love science, most of us are here for the nuts ‘n bolts of diagnosing and treating. It’s not that the basic science isn’t fun or interesting, it’s just that it gets frustrating feeling like you’re not making any progress toward actual medicine. So even though nervous system disorders, for instance, is a topic that makes me want to run the other direction, it was still a great class because I felt like it was relevant material that I had better remember. Try to remember, anyway. (I just tried to localize a neural deficit yesterday and didn’t get quite as close as I should have.)

So all in all, second year is an odd mix of overload and “whew, finally something interesting.” It’s very difficult to describe if you haven’t experienced it. I think, though, that those factors explain why some people say they love second year and some people hate it: it all depends on whether you’re talking about the overall workload, or whether you’re talking about the material.

I was surprised at the classes that turned out to be interesting second year. I feared dermatology and ophth… opho… I can’t spell it any more than you can. Eye stuff. But they were both taught excellently, and the hallmark of good teaching is that it captures your interest. Surgery was fun, although a bit anticlimactic because I had already gained a fair amount of experience via extracurricular activities the last two years. Urinary disorders made me wonder why anyone (me included) has cats.

Ok. Enough about school. There were lots of fun stories to relate, but they are all a year old now.

On the home front, one of the biggest challenges that I (foolishly, stupidly, etc.) overlooked when I left the workforce to head toward school was health care. There are a million things to think of, and I just plain forgot this one.

I know, brilliant. Try not to hold it against me when you’re considering where to take your animal for veterinary care.

The company I worked for (CenturyLink) gave me an extremely generous severance package when I left. Among other things they subsidized continued health care for one year for my family. All at once in November 2012 I got mail reminding me that the subsidized coverage was ending. Oh. Shoot. Anyway, that problem is now resolved after going one month without insurance for my kids and six months without insurance for me and my wife. Let me tell ya – for all the people who sit in their big, air-conditioned homes opposing health care for people without; you should try going without your employer-provided health care for a while and see how well you sleep at night. Once you’ve done that, I’ll respect your opinion opposing publicly subsidized health care. Until then, your opinion means absolutely nothing to me. I laid awake nights trying to figure out where to get health care coverage. In this case, our lack of insurance was because of poor planning on my part, so I’m completely open to criticism. But for many people out there, their lack of health care is because some “job creator” doesn’t want to provide them with affordable coverage, and any other avenues are just too expensive. Frankly, it’s reprehensible. Alright, I’ll get off the soap box.

Other family news…. Tirza finished kindergarten this spring. She seems to like school, which isn’t surprising – she’s a social butterfly. Clay finished third grade, and continues to do well. I think he’s hitting the point where school isn’t 100% fun and easy, though, and it’s a bit of an awakening. Ian is just Ian: he smiles, he plays, he throws a fit when it’s time for a nap. What can you do? Word to the wise: the kid has an arm – do not give him something to throw if you aren’t paying attention. He’s clocked me on the head more times than I can count. Usually what happens is I’m sitting somewhere minding my own business when out of nowhere a ball (or plastic toy, or pencil, whatever) smacks me on the side of the head and I hNew Kittensear giggling as he runs away.

We added two new members to the household December. I brought home a couple kittens (two little littermate brothers) from school that had been orphaned. (Yes. Many of us in veterinary medicine are actually big suckers just like you think we are.) They’ve both adapted amazingly well to the household. Really, we couldn’t ask for better cats. They behave themselves, keep each other occupied, are just social enough to be fun without being ‘needy’, and don’t cause problems. Sherman is a tuxedo undersized guy who runs the household. He keeps the other cat in line and, amazingly, while he hasn’t managed to take over leadership from Lucy the dog, he isn’t afraid to walk up and smack her on the nose. Herman is an all black guy who is an utter sweetheart. He’s quieter and keeps a bit more to himself, but has completely adopted my daughter Tirza. While he usually doesn’t sit on anyone else’s lap for too long, she plops him down and he stays right there. She grabs him to go to bed and he just curls up and lays there. Hard to figure out. I guess Tirza is a cat whisperer or something.

The biggest trick with the cats was … Lucy the dog. She had never, to our knowledge, really been around cats much. Twice I had seen her with cats in other homes, and both times she wasn’t quite aggressive but was somewhat more than just curious. So I didn’t really know what to expect in ‘her’ home. Sure enough, she viewed them as intruders. Or lunch. Both, probably. (Can you imagine how a dog’s brain works on that? “Wow! This is awesome! Lunch, and I don’t even have to run outside to hunt it!”)

Kelly politely suggested a few times that we probably should return the cats. I’m stubborn, though. And darn it, I’m supposed to be learning something about how to deal with things like this in vet school. So I threw together a quick and dirty behavior modification plan using some of the core fundamentals of habituation and desensitization. For the first week or so, I kept the cats confined to a small, mostly dark area with their food and litter. (As an aside, this is probably a good practice any time you move new cats into a home; give them time to calm down and relax. Cats just don’t do stress well.) A gate kept the cats in and the dog out, and I didn’t really let the dog spend any time near the gate. The idea is to separate them, while knowing that they can still hear and smell each other. After a week of that I gave them small doses of supervised interaction. I’d take the cats out into the living room, put a basket muzzle on the dog, and let them interact for a bit, and give everyone heaping doses of positive reward (petting for the cats, petting and treats for the dog). After a week or so of that, we did supervised interaction without the muzzle. All in all a pretty simple plan of attack. The problem with most behavior issues that are correctable is really human patience; not the ability of the animal to change. (But, the corollary is that not all behavior issues are correctable.) Even an imperfect treatment will probably work given enough time and patience.

This picture is the result of the ‘program’:

lucy_catsI won’t claim that Lucy is excited about the situation, but she’s at least not eating the cats.

In sad news, we euthanized Ivy in June. We had told ourselves we were going to let her enjoy one last winter since she loved the snow, but she didn’t really go outside much. She deteriorated to the point (mostly mentally) where things just weren’t good, so we finally had to let her go. She was a sweet HuIvysky: a little grumpy with age, but she loved people and had always been a reliably friendly, playful dog to us. We watched old videos of her; she used to race down the stairs at full speed and launch herself across the room to land sideways on the couch (only to leap off, run upstairs, and do it all over again). It was pretty hard on the couch, but it was hysterical to watch. Especially the time she missed the couch altogether and went careening off onto an end table.

I was reminded of her yesterday when the UPS guy dropped off some school supplies for the kids. I went out to meet him (because Lucy really, really hates the UPS guy). I heard her bark behind me, and I laughed and said to him “Dang. I was hoping to get to you before she noticed.” He said, “Don’t you have a Husky?” I told him we had just put her down a few months ago. He said he always looked forward to seeing her (because she laid outside in the front yard every day) and that she had always been sweet when he stopped to drop things off. The guy has a good memory if he can remember all the animals at homes along his route.

By the way, I’d encourage you to click on the picture of her. It looks a bit funny stuck in the blog post, but if you look at it full size I think it’s a very striking picture of a beautiful dog.

This summer (and last) have been a fantastic opportunity for me. Not too many guys my age get to just take two summers off to spend with the family, and I’m disappointed that it’s coming to an end. School starts back up the day after Labor Day, and then there’s no more lazy vacation time: we’ll finish up third year a month or so early and transition immediately into 54 weeks of clinical rotations. And then it will be graduation and (hopefully) transitioning into a job. Which, of course, means all the extra long hours that go with any new job.

Speaking of this summer, in addition to spending time with the family, I took a job working in ICU at the university. I’ve always felt like one of my challenges is lacking a clinical background, and thought that working in ICU might help. There are a lot of important qualities in a good clinician (judgment, knowledge, communication, …), but at the end of the day you also need to have some basic physical skills. Many of my classmates bring a background in clinical care with them to school; they’ve worked as vet techs or assistants or the like. Many of them already have developed those fundamental skills, whereas I hadn’t. I think the job has worked out very, very well. It’s an environment I love working in and I’ve gotten exactly what I hoped for out of it. In addition to the physical skills, being constantly surrounded by cases with interesting histories has given me the opportunity to work through a great variety of diagnostic challenges. One intern a few weeks ago, during a quiet moment in ICU, said “Hey, do you want to talk through these cases?” Obviously, anyone with that attitude is probably a born teacher, and she did a fantastic job of forcing me to think through the cases and verbalize my understanding of them.

I’m grateful to the hospital for giving me the opportunity (especially considering I had no experience going into it). Even better, the hospital has decided to keep the student employees once school starts again. In what turns out to be a best-case scenario (as far as I’m concerned), they will have regular ‘shifts’ but we will be able to take them as much or as little as we want. So if I want to work and get paid, I’ll take shifts. If I’m overloaded in school, I won’t. I can’t see how it could be any nicer than that.

That’s all I’ve got right now. There have been an incredible number of fun, interesting, or otherwise notable moments in the last year, but I don’t think I’m going to recap them all other than to say that vet school and life continue to be a wild adventure, a big risk, and a lot of fun. And, I will do my very best to write more regular, short updates.


Parasitology: Not Your Friend

We have our first parasitology exam tomorrow.

(What am I doing writing this, you ask? It’s called the Ostrich Effect. And no, ostriches don’t actually do that – it’s just a myth, sorry. They’re actually pretty ferocious when necessary.)

Anyway, I just wanted to say that parasitology scientists are among the most sick, perverse sadists ever seen. Imagine, if you will, that you have to name a couple chicken and turkey parasites. They’re similar parasites but cause completely different diseases. One of the upper GI track, one of the lower GI tract. Would you name them a) something similar but distinctive enough to clearly distinguish between them, or b) basically the same thing to create stress for vet students?

Of course you chose B. You’re an evil parasitologist. And so you came up with Trichomonas gallinae and Tetratrichomonas gallinarum. Because you want to make sure nobody understands what you actually do in parasitology – that’s all part of the mystery.

Or take Tritrichomonas foetus, which has the poor cow as its host. Pretty straightforward. Except – what’s this? It shows up in the cat?

Seriously? Cattle and cat? Is that some kind of joke? A small carnivore and a big herbivore, and nothing in between? Granted, this one isn’t the fault of parasitologists – this is more like a great cosmic joke played on veterinarians: “Hey, let’s just create a parasite that lives in cattle … and cats. Ha. That will fool them.”


Second year, first semester classes

A number of people have asked me what classes we have this semester. Here’s the list. It makes me wince to read it, much less go to all the lectures. That shouldn’t be taken as a knock on either our teachers or learning in general – it’s just a lot of material. And that’s an understatement. I can’t imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have the teachers we have.

  • CVM 6013
  • CVM 6025
  • CVM 6132
  • CVM 6142
  • CVM 6202
  • CVM 6203
  • CVM 6205
  • CVM 6220
  • CVM 6299
  • CVM 6303
  • CVM 6400
  • CVM 6840

And that’s it! See, not so bad. (Really, the list is more tolerable when I leave the names off.)

Ok, for real this time.

  • Professional Development III: Applied Communication. The “professional development” series doesn’t really end at UMN, which is a good thing. We talk about a wide variety of topics, generally centered around the professional life of a vet (things like how to communicate with clients and colleagues, how to approach ethical questions, etc.).
  • Large Animal Hospital Practicum: Year 2. This one isn’t a big deal – a day or two in the large animal reviewing some clinical skills. I think I’m in the minority, but I find it fun. I didn’t even realize it was a separate ‘class’ until a few minutes ago.
  • Reproductive Biology. Show up for the sex jokes.
  • Veterinary Neuropharmacology. This might be confusing to some people, who see ‘neuro’ and think of things like antidepressants for people. “Neuro” refers to anything in the nervous system, not just behavior or the brain or whatnot. So anesthetics (local and systemic), tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, and anticonvulsants fall into this topic (along with behavior-modifying drugs).
  • Infectious Agents: Parasitology. This covers some of the simultaneously coolest and grossest stuff you could ever learn about.
  • Veterinary Bacteriology and Mycology. This will be a huge memory-intensive course. The first couple lectures have been very basic, but I suspect this one will suddenly run away on me.
  • Clinical Epidemiology. I know what epidemiology is, but I have no idea what we’re going to learn. It has all the potential in the world to be awesomely interesting, or a big dud.
  • Systemic Veterinary Pathology. It makes me giggle that we tend to have this just after lunch, because it’s really just a semester-long slide show of guts-that-have-things-wrong-with-them.
  • Clinical Skills III. This is a continuation in our ‘clinical skills’ series designed to get us the physical/clinical skills we’ll need. This semester we start doing mini-rounds at the hospital. You don’t get into every service at the hospital, but I drew dermatology, surgery, ophthalmology, dentistry, and oncology. I’m bummed I didn’t get emergency care, but pretty excited that I did get five services I would have picked in a heartbeat anyway. Oncology and surgery were top of my list, and the others are just great, too!
  • Skin and Adnexa. This is taught by someone with a genuine enthusiasm for the subject who makes a compelling case for its importance. Can’t complain. Even if the pictures are gross. Adnexa, by the way, means ‘appendage’. In this context it refers to thinks like hair, sebaceous glands, sweat glands, hooves, nails, etc. Anything you might associate with skin that isn’t actually skin likely falls into ‘adnexa’.
  • Swine Core. I wish I could say I cared about pigs, but I don’t. Yes, it’s critical to have veterinarians caring for them as a way of safeguarding our food supply (and by that I don’t mean keeping the pigs safe, I mean keeping you safe if you eat pigs – that’s the big-picture role of a production animal veterinarian). But all I think about when I see a pig is breakfast. I’m sorry. (Not really.)

All told, 27.5 credits. It’s not so horrible – I think it’s a credit or two shy of last semester, actually. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned (hopefully there’s more, but….) it’s that credits don’t translate into difficulty. I got creamed by a couple insidious classes last year that I would never have guessed would be difficult – but those were the ones bringing my GPA down. A 6-credit semester-long physiology course? No sweat. An easy-peasy ‘behavior’ course? Oops.

Our first two days have been fine. We’re in an old classroom that they normally don’t use anymore, because our classroom is being remodeled. It’s a bummer we’re squished into the (smaller) room, but it’s working just fine. The seats were so horrible in the classroom being remodeled that you won’t hear any complaints about being stuck in a different building for a week or two.

Time to go read about Pasteurella multocida, the bug that makes your hand swell up after a cat bites you. Turns out it’s most likely just part of their natural flora, not something they pick up later in life. It’s like a build-in parasitic toxin/poison cats can inject in you (except that it’s a bacteria). Awesome.

Third semester … go?

Wow. A few days ago my mom politely reminded me that I hadn’t updated my blog in … far too long. My last update was at the beginning of second semester. Now here I am starting third semester. Yikes.

So here I am, and here’s the update. Last semester went somewhat smoother for me than first semester. It helped that there was no anatomy lab and really, very little reason for me to be around campus after classes were done. We had one class (histology – the study of microscopic anatomy of cells/tissues) requiring microscopy, but the instructor had made much of the material available online. That minimized the need for late-night campus study sessions. I also promised myself no all-night study sessions, regardless of how poorly I was prepared for an exam the next day. First semester I pulled a number of them, and the price is high: you make it through the exam, but you don’t learn anything in the next day’s lectures, and you’re too shot to study that night. Also, I switched to studying at a local Starbucks for the early part of the evening, and then wrapping up at home once everyone was in bed. Those adjustments made the semester much easier. Overall, there were a few exams I did quite poorly on because of lack of preparation, but GPA-wise I came out ahead of first semester, and wasn’t anywhere near as tired the whole semester like last fall. Considering the semester was significantly more credits (28.5) than first semester (23 credits), I’m calling it a win.

Somewhere in there in second semester was my first hands-on exposure to surgery. I’ve spent a great deal of time in surgery observing, but got my first chance to take the reins on a spay/neuter trip up north to the White Earth Reservation. I’ve posted about SIRVS before; this was the same group doing a surgery trip instead of a physical exam trip. I wish I could say I loved my first chance to drive at the surgery table, but it wasn’t very comfortable. The surgeon working with me hadn’t taught before, I hadn’t really done it before, and we were both uncomfortable – all in all, it was somewhat frustrating and left me feeling not very confident.

At the end of summer I had the opportunity to do a surgery trip in South Dakota through a private organization. That opportunity went far better than the first. Most of the teaching surgeons were experienced, they were flexible (they had their technique, but as long as your technique made sense they went with it), and they were encouraging. I walked in feeling not at all confident, and walked out feeling like I’ve got a huge jump on this year’s surgery class (second semester, I believe). I’m not fast enough to get through an entire spay in the time limit we were given, but between the different spays I did I was able to get through all the individual elements successfully – that’s a big confidence booster. Neuters are a comparatively simple procedure, and I can get through those in the time limit we had.

I opted not to look for a job this last summer. It was not the easiest decision, since we’re essentially living on savings, but in the end I decided that time with my family was more important, given how much they sacrificed it during the school year. We had a great summer with a few family camping trips, a day at Valleyfair (“best day ever,” says Clayton), and a lot of hanging around the house together. Clayton left for camp for the first time, which was a bit tough for Kelly and I. I did spend quite a bit of time at the clinic I haunt, and I continued to draw blood for the university’s canine blood donor program; so I was able to continue developing clinical skill over the summer.

The summer wasn’t all fun: my grandpa on my mom’s side died. He was my last remaining grandparent, and died just shy of his 98th birthday. He lived a rich-in-memories life, summed up best by the word ‘service’: Service to his family, his community, and his nation. He was an amazing man, and he had a positive impact on many, many lives.

Fall’s all set to unleash itself on us, and I’m not mentally prepared. As excited as I am about veterinary medicine, school is absurdly stressful and I’ve really enjoyed the summer with the family. Ian’s all set to (finally) walk (he could easily do it, crawling is just so much faster), Tirza’s off to her first year of school (her dad may or may not have teared up when he saw her dressed in her school uniform), and Clayton’s already into the school-play-homework-bed groove.

Our first day back in vet school is 8 hours of lecture. I think it’s the school’s way of sending a message: buckle up, this is going to be a long semester. But before classes start (the day after Labor Day), I’m spending three days at the state fair volunteering in the “Miracle of Birth Center” and the surgery suite, and three days doing orientation for the incoming freshman class. Next week will be a hectic week of preparation, followed by a long (and hopefully quiet) Labor Day weekend – and then it’s back to the action.

Second semester – go!

Examining a dog in northern MN

Performing exams in northern MN with SIRVS.

Greetings, friends! A month or so ago a friend remarked to another friend: “Tell Brett to update his blog.” Right – my bad. My last post? October 2011. As you can see, once vet school got rolling, a lot of things fell by the wayside. And so here I am, starting semester two tomorrow.

First, the brief retrospective. What did I think of first semester vet school? It’s a combination of fairly intense feelings: it’s tremendously interesting, a lot of fun, and a terrifying amount of work and stress. I have never felt such chronic fatigue in my life – I was tired after about the second week and never did really feel rested until the semester ended. Some of that was the nature of vet school, some of that was me needing to adjust to it. I’m pretty optimistic for second semester because I think I can do a better job of staying on top of classes now that I know generally what to expect.

My favorite class? Equine Neonatology, hands down. It was an easy class (that’s not why I liked it) because it was simply 7-8 online lectures with a highly abbreviated quiz following each (just to ensure you actually watched the lecture). We did have a couple in-class sessions that were largely case reviews. What made it my favorite class was that it  was straight-up practical medicine: here’s the neonate, here’s the type of problems, here’s how we deal with it. In your early didactic training you don’t get a lot of that (most classes are basic science classes), so it was a breath of fresh air every time I sat down to listen to a new neonate lecture. While other classes felt like ‘work’, neonate felt like ‘fun work’.

I’ll try and say more about first semester soon. But since second semester starts tomorrow, here’s the low down on classes. The pressure ramps up a bit, with more core required classes and a higher credit load (27 credits). We’re taking:

  • Critical Scientific Reading (2 cr)
  • Professional Development II: Communication (1 cr)
  • Organology (3 cr)
  • Veterinary Neurobiology (2 cr)
  • Veterinary Physiology (6 cr) (6?? Gulp.)
  • Veterinary Pharmacology (2 cr)
  • Host Defenses (2 cr)
  • Virology (3 cr)
  • Applied Veterinary Genetics (1 cr)
  • Basic Pathology (2 cr)
  • Clinical Skills II (1 cr)
  • Behavior Core (2 cr)
Kelly got to stick her arm into a cow's stomach!

My wife, Kelly, getting to experience the inside of a cow's stomach firsthand.

Oh, but that’s not really all: we have the second half of our GOALE course (more or less an orientation/introduction course designed to acclimate new students to the school and profession), and more large-animal clerk duty to fulfill the requirements of first semester Clinical Skills I (we all automatically got a grade of ‘Incomplete’ until we finish our clerk duty this semester). Also, I have an ‘Incomplete’ in Equine Neonatology because we don’t technically finish the class until foaling teams conclude this spring. So a few first-semester classes are still in play.

As well, I’ll have monthly VeTouch clinics in Minneapolis (more about that later, but in short it’s a free clinic put on in downtown Minneapolis that utilizes vet and vet tech students to provide a free well-animal care clinic once per month), another SIRVS trip to northern Minnesota in March, and a RAVS trip to South Dakota right at the end of the semester. I’m flying to Florida this Thursday to the VBMA conference (I am the president-elect of our local chapter.) and also will stay a couple extra days to attend NAVC, one of the largest veterinary conferences in the United States. Along with other club activities and trying to nail down a job or research opportunity for summer, this semester promises to be every bit as busy as the last.

SIRVSing in northern MN

Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel to northern MN with a University of Minnesota group called SIRVS: Student Initiative for Reservation Veterinary Services. We set up shop just outside the White Earth community in a town called Naytahwaush. Our purpose there was to provide free basic clinical care. Generally, we performed exams, administered vaccines, and made recommendations for longer-term care or more advanced care than we could deliver in two days. It’s a win-win situation: the clients, who often don’t have the economic wherewithal to afford veterinary care (or simply don’t have a veterinarian nearby), get basic health care for their animals and the students get experience examining animals, delivering care, and interacting with clients.

I’ve participated in vaccine clinics before, but I would say this was somewhat more advanced. While we were still quite limited, we had rudimentary diagnostic capabilities and a very limited pharmacy in order to diagnose and treat some problems. In vaccine clinics it’s been my experience that more often than not the exam is perfunctory – it’s point is simply to ensure the animal is sufficiently healthy to handle the vaccines – and there is no attempt to treat other issues.

Saturday morning started with a man with six dogs. Given the amount of paperwork we need to do, along with the relatively slow pace of a student exam compared to a longtime practicing veterinarian, that took my team quite a while. A few clients later, one of the supervising vets approached and asked if I wanted to help with a critical care case. After taking the history it became apparent that the dog was a likely candidate for parvovirus: the 5-month-old puppy was listless and uninterested in his surroundings, had just had a bout of hematochezia (bloody diarrhea) on our floor, and had a reported history of recent vomiting.

Unfortunately, successful treatment normally requires hospitalization, and we did not have the capability to provide 24-hour care. We were limited to administering fluids to combat dehydration along with antibiotics to ward off secondary infection and subsequent sepsis. We did provide this both Saturday all afternoon and Sunday all morning, so I suppose we gave the puppy a somewhat better chance than it had to begin with. Better care would have involved an antiemetic to reduce nausea along with different fluids than the LRS (Lactated Ringer’s Solution) that we had. Even with our efforts, the prognosis (assuming our presumptive diagnosis was correct) was not good; parvovirus is a particularly nasty, contagious, hardy killer of puppies. Fortunately, there is a vaccine available. Unfortunately, this puppy hadn’t gotten it. The rest of my Saturday was taken up with this dog due to his need for constant care. Also, the particularly contagious nature of parvovirus would have made it foolish for me to return to providing exams for other (probably non-vaccinated) dogs.

Sunday was full of little interesting details on examination: a dog that had gotten its head caught in a car door and damaged an eye, another with a large squishy mass under its cheek that defied aspiration no matter who tried, a chihuahua that lived up to its reputation by trying to eat my arm off, a mutt with a broken leg that was well on its way to healing, and a really cute puppy. Puppies are always nice.

This little patient on Sunday made my day.

The entire weekend was an interesting education experience when it came to clients. Just like clinics I’ve been in, they came in all stripes: some compliant, some not so much. Some with financial resources to provide our recommended additional care (like heartworm protection), some without. Some trusting of the vet care we were providing, and some not. For example, one client absolutely refused rabies vaccination for his animal because of concern that his animal and he might contract rabies from it. No attempt to educate or convince him on my part was going to have any impact, and, believe it or not, I understand his point of view: here’s some technology he doesn’t really understand but if there’s one thing he does know, it’s that rabies virus is a pretty horrible thing, so staying an arm’s length away from anything involving it probably seemed smart to him. He was wrong, of course; there’s zero chance of contracting rabies from the vaccination, but he didn’t know that or believe me. (Incidentally, I just read that the first MN canine rabies case of 2011 cropped up in western MN recently. Please vaccinate your pets.) There were also some cultural differences, and they made it a bit challenging to provide the best care possible. For example, down here in Minneapolis most animals are largely indoor pets. They may go to the dog park, or go outside to play during the day, but at night they’re inside. The animals we saw this weekend were, more often than not, the reverse: mostly or exclusively outdoor animals with only a few that spent the majority of the time inside. During one exam I asked a client what they fed their dog; the client looked at me and said “Feed? It hunts.” That’s not something you’ll encounter here in Minneapolis. Incidentally, that particular ‘hunting’ dog had the best body and coat condition of any I saw; I suspect strongly a neighbor feeds the dog without the client’s knowledge.

Our hosts were fantastic. In particular, a local conservation officer made food available to us all weekend. She also fried up fresh walleye filets on Sunday afternoon that had been locally netted a day or two ahead of our trip. I was struck by the level of effort that took, and the consideration that it demonstrated. I knew they were going to feed us, but frankly, I anticipated the bare minimum. I never expected to sit down to a meal of fry bread, corn on the cob, fresh walleye filets, a wild rice mixture, milk, and juice. It was humbling.

SIRVS intends to return, I believe, in the spring for a spay/neuter clinic along with a day of exams and vaccinations. I thought I heard talk of a winter trip for exams as well. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to participate in all of the future trips!


3 weeks down, forever to go…..

So that first week – the one where they let us play with horses and cows while lulling us into a false sense of security – ended. And then the other shoe fell.

Physiology? Light-speed. Radiology? Light-speed. Anatomy? Faster-than-light. Everyone gives you the “drinking from the fire hose” analogy, but I guess you don’t really understand until you’re trying to take sips and the water keeps banging your head against the wall behind you. It’s like we were test driving a Porsche around the parking lot for the first week, and then suddenly jumped to a no-speed-limit highway.

I had a couple (dim) light bulb moments last week. The first was “Oh my, I’m 3/16ths of the way through my first semester of vet school, and I’m pretty sure I don’t actually know anything yet except how to tie a few knots.” That wasn’t a glorious-feeling moment. The second was “I can barely remember what classes I’m already taking, and a few of them haven’t even started yet.” (That would be 4 of them, to be exact. I counted, later.) To give you a bit of an idea; we have four quizzes in our first-semester radiology class, plus a final. They’re pretty flexible – you have about a week to take them once they’re available and you can do it on your computer whenever you want – but the first one opens this Wednesday. We’ve had, I think, two radiology lectures so far. We have two more before Wednesday, but it’s basically four classes and then a test. Radiology is easily the class I look forward to the most, just because I think non-invasive imaging in general is a really awesome technology and it excites me. But it feels frightening to be taking a test after only a couple classes.

So vet school is a bit like frenetically treading water in the middle of some rushing rapids. You stay afloat, the river takes you basically where you need to go, and you just do your best to avoid drowning and getting smashed against the rocks.

As stinky as anatomy lab is, you get used to it, and it’s awfully cool to be able to take apart a dog and cat and see exactly how it all works. My appreciation for what’s going on underneath the skin has leapt forward. One of my (living) dogs doesn’t particularly like it so much because she’s tired of me trying to separate out the muscles in her limbs, but … you know … she gets a free massage out of the deal. I don’t know where the university gets their carcasses, but part of me wishes I could thank the former owners for donating them; it’s an invaluable experience. In our program we share one carcass per three people, and each group of three people is grouped into a row of two other groups of three. Each row has three animals, a male dog, female dog, and cat. Every week you switch tables within your row, so each group works on each animal as we progress through the carcasses. In an ideal world, I’d have an animal all to myself – I’ve found I learn really well on the days I dissect and not so well on the days my partners do – but there’s just not enough room for that.

Physiological chemistry – biochemistry – is baffling. The lectures seem a bit like a Jackson Pollock art: all complex, confusing, colors and lines and shapes with some supposed connection. But it’s far more than anyone could realistically memorize, and it’s not clear how deep to go with the material. So that one’s a bit of a puzzler. It’s a bit disappointing, because it’s actually really interesting material, but you’re left with the conclusion that you just have to skim off the top layer, grasp the basic concepts, and keep moving.

We’re also working through Histology, Animal Populations, Clinical Skills (final exam is Wednesday for the lecture and next Monday for the practical portion!), Foundations of Interprofessional Communication and Collaboration (where we go meet with dental, human medical, nursing, and other programs in some sort of effort to promote interprofessional efforts), Professional Development, a few classes I’ve forgotten, and then – oh yeah – those four that haven’t started.

Phew. Back to studying. I’ve got anatomy to learn.