Scary

This week I spayed Dagny’s cat. She has asked several times before whether I would commit this terrifying act, but until now each query has been a false alarm. Not so this week when this cute, fluffy being arrived in the practice looking a little afraid… with her cat in a basket. But that was Friday, and as I like things neat and tidy we should return to the beginning.

I’ve worked four days this week, Tuesday through to Friday, and I confess that I have found it exhausting. Tuesday was particularly traumatic. I can only assume that on Monday they were short-staffed in terms of assistants because though for the clients everything was still running smoothly, from my point of view I arrived to chaos. There were four kits (I counted them!) in the sink waiting to be washed, dried and sterilised. There were no sterile kits in the cupboard. There was wet washing in the machine and dry washing in the tumble drier. Crazy. And of course my job as an assistant is to clear the backlog and ensure everything is in place so that the vets can perform their duties. Obviously I have to achieve this Herculean task invisibly, and sadly unlike Harry Potter, my cloak is faulty. And so it was that Dagny came upon me dithering in the autoclave room, trying urgently to get a sterile kit ready for the operation that had arrived at nine o’clock.

I was away on holiday for five weeks. Rather too long, I suspect, as my head still wasn’t quite back in its Norwegian groove. So much so that when Gerd told me it was a dog to be sterilised, I hadn’t picked up on the fact that in Norway, “sterilised” is only used for females. This then was a bitch spay. Not the much smaller castration I had been fondly imagining. So there she was. Dagny in full serious operation mode.

“What are you doing here Sarah? We need you in theatre. We need to get the dog onto Isofluorane.”

“I’m getting you a kit. You’ll need one.”

“There’s one in Magne’s room.”

There you go you see. Still so much I don’t know. My faulty cloak is slipping as Dagny disappears and I follow. Set up the anaesthetic machine. Turn on the oxygen generator. Connect the hoses and set the correct bag in place. Switch on the blood-gas and pulse monitor. Attach the mechanism that registers the breathing and measures the carbon dioxide levels. Then test the machine to make sure there are no leaks. Fine to do so with the oxygen on 0.2. I know this because Kari Anna told me. All the same as usual and now Magne has entered with the patient. We connect her up.

“Shouldn’t the oxygen be on 2?” I’m slightly surprised. It’s not like him to ask questions. The patient is on the border: close to needing 1.2 litres per second, just below the limit. I have her on 1. She definitely doesn’t need 2. To keep him happy I turn the knob slightly and now she’s on 1.2.

And then Dagny is there and the operation is underway and I realise that although everything is working fine, I haven’t printed off the form to record the gas levels. I’m swithering again. Do I leave the room to try to get one printed and leave the anaesthetic unattended or do I stay and monitor but not record? Happily Gerd passes the door at that moment and I rush out and ask her to print one. She’s busy though. it might take a few minutes. Dagny is speaking again. I brace myself. My performance this morning has not been faultless. She’s not unkind, but it can be difficult when everything is falling about your head and searching questions are asked.

“Did you check the anaesthetic machine this morning? Was the pressure stable?”

“Yes.” I’m on sure ground here at least. Perhaps she doesn’t understand that my fluster this morning has been caused by the fact that I am utterly aware of the consequences of not being thorough. I would not allow an operation using a faulty anaesthetic machine any more than I would allow them to go ahead with instruments which were not sterile.

“Are you sure? There wasn’t a leak. Did you have the oxygen switched off?” Still on relatively firm ground, though the 0.2 oxygen is a pulse in my head. Kari Anna said so but she isn’t here to defend me. I’m on my own.

“Well there was a small amount of leakage. I had the oxygen on 0.2. Kari Anna said that was okay.”

“Well we checked it yesterday and it was definitely leaking then. We can check it again at the end. If it’s leaking, the oxygen should be up at two.” She isn’t being mean, just practical, and yet I feel like a teenager caught in some act of defiance, faced with irrefutable proof of my guilt, even though I know I have done nothing wrong. Pah to my highly-disciplined, polite, British upbringing where nothing was direct and everything was couched in euphemism.

But I had checked that machine. I had. Everything had been normal: the same as all the other times I had used it and all those times it had functioned perfectly. Not only that but the bag is full now. I can see there is no leak. Despite my personal feelings of disquiet I stand my ground and the oxygen stays as it is. It’s not as if I’m not watching the monitors after all. And then the ultimate jab of the knife as my final weakness is uncovered.

“Do you have an anaesthetic form?” I quit my dithering and run.

The mood improves. Dagny is talking now about families, food, normal things. When the operation is over I check the anaesthetic machine instructions. The pressure check can be carried out with the oxygen up to 0.3. Feeling vindicated I rush out to find Dagny and tell her.

“Oh yes,” she says. “That was all explained. Magne told me that it was a different bag we checked yesterday. He saw you reaching far back on the shelf to get that one.” Magnific Magne riding to my aid again, even though I hadn’t exactly needed rescuing. The day progresses and chaos no longer reigns. Guro has told me she thinks I am efficient.

“I didn’t know you were in charge of the washing as well as everything else,” she says. So much work. All of it invisible. Until it is left undone and then everything falls apart. The life of a veterinary nurse or lay assistant. I had always helped them out when I saw they were busy, but never really understood what they might be going through.

Wednesday was a good day. It started with helping Jan-Arne to anaesthetise a parrot. Happily I had arrived to the relative tidiness I had left behind me by the end of Tuesday and therefore I had time to read up on bird anaesthesia. Just as well because I was undoubtedly rusty. The book was reassuring; Isofluorane was the drug of choice and that was the regime that had been proposed. In place of Gerd, Leah was there behind the front desk and generously she helped me set up the machine. The parrot didn’t like men apparently. I’m not sure it really approved of me either as I wrapped it in a towel and inserted its beak into the mask but there was not much it could do. It couldn’t have gone much better. Jan-Arne was able to drain the lump on the parrot’s face and clean it out and the bird was happily back in his cage, clicking and muttering to himself as we handed him back to his owner.

By Thursday everything was so much under control that I had time to clean down the cupboards and the walls in the consulting rooms. Goodness knows what Jan-Arne (or maybe it was Dagny) had been aiming at the bin in room A. I wiped it away, wondering whether anyone would ever notice and yet feeling good about doing it. Surely it must be reassuring for the clients when everything looks clean. To my delight, I won the “Weeks smile”. Two votes, only one of them written down. “To Sarah for her skills in clipping claws”. Oh yes, I’m a talented woman! And then Dagny told the room I would be spaying her cat tomorrow. “I’m going to be talking about this for days,” she said. “Everyone must know.” She should steady on, I thought. Otherwise I might have to start calling her Lovely Boss Lady, and that just wouldn’t have the same ring about it.

Friday morning arrived and I thought for a couple of hours that it just wasn’t going to happen. Then Dagny arrives looking glamorous as she does in her non-working clothes. The cat is glamorous too, with its basket all covered in bows. Actually it looks a little like Sophie, my cat from the UK, now residing with my mother whose cute photograph I included at the beginning of last week’s blog. Dagny’s cat is fluffier though, and much younger. “I’ll leave it up to you,” Dagny says. “I don’t want to hang over you.” And she disappears for a moment. I rush through and check with Marita for the dosage of the sedative in cats. I have it in my head for dogs now, but I haven’t anaesthetised so many cats. She and Jan-Arne help me. Thank goodness everyone is so patient with me this week. For some reason I have been asking for help all week and everyone has been fantastic. Seamlessly I return. As does Dagny. So much for leaving me to it.

And then the cat is on the table and I am gloved and capped. The scalpel blade is in place and suddenly everyone in the practice files into the room, fascinated by this incredible event. No pressure then! I start to cut. The hole is bigger than I intended but there’s no going back and happily as I cut through the peritoneum, the ovary pops into view, to audible amazement from the audience. It isn’t always so easy, but I try to look nonchalant, though I am given away slightly by my not-quite-steady hands.

“You don’t need to shake,” Dagny says with a laugh. She always knows just the right thing to say! Happily the operation goes smoothly and within a few minutes it’s all over. The room is empty again and after spraying the wound and applying some Mepore, slowly I begin to tidy the theatre and wash everything down. Well some things just never change.

And for those who can’t speak Norwegian, the banana featured at the top of the page says “Have a good day.” It was sitting on the table when I arrived on Friday and I couldn’t resist its smiling presence.

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