I have been at the dentist’s this morning. It struck me as I was lying with my mouth gaping, my gums being probed and scraped, that our animal patients are fortunate to be asleep through most of the dental process.
As I have mentioned before, Wivek is a very skilled veterinary dentist. Todays image is a series of x-rays she took to examine a cat with FORL, (feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions) a condition where the teeth are eaten away, both above and below the gums. I can recall years ago, long before this condition was commonly recognised, trying to clean cats’ teeth and finding great difficulty. The hardest thing was despite the fact that although the defects are obvious, such teeth are desperately difficult to remove as they fracture so easily, but Wivek works away with them very patiently. Our patients are very lucky to have her.
A little later I was helping Jan-Arne with an x-ray. I have had a cold this week and spent most of Monday sneezing. Happily by the time I had to go to work on Tuesday, things had improved slightly. There are few things worse than having to consult with a streaming nose, although operating while trying not to sneeze is probably one of them. Anyway, I felt uncomfortably overheated as I stood there with the lead gown wrapped around me, trapping the air as well as weighing me down.
‘Is it very warm in here, or is it just me?’ I asked. I knew it probably was hot. It generally is. Really I was just making conversation although I had it in mind I might be a bit under-the-weather and was all ready to elicit some sympathy.
‘How old are you?’ was his unexpected question. I looked at him in confusion.
‘Well have you reached that age yet?’
‘What age?’ I was struggling to see what possible relevance this could have to my illness.
‘You know, with women when they… oh what would it be in English?’
It dawned on me what he was talking about. ‘You mean the menopause?’ Instead of the quick kick in the shins that this probably deserved, I just laughed. ‘Yes I suppose I probably am. But really, I was just wondering if I was running a fever.’
‘Oh’ I thought he might have had the grace to look embarrassed, but of course he didn’t. ‘In my family it comes very young,’ he said with what I am sure was accidental tact. I asked him what was normal in Norway in terms of coming to work with a cold. In the UK, unless you were on your death-bed or couldn’t leave the toilet, you were generally expected in, but here in Norway I was less sure. Despite that fact that in any small practice, the absence of a member of staff has a huge knock-on effect on those remaining, I am always so aware that going into work spreads germs.
‘Oh, unless I have a fever,’ he said, ‘I usually try to come in.’ I was relieved. The last thing I want to achieve at work is some kind of pariah status.
In the afternoon, Jan-Arne had booked in a bitch-spay for me to do with him assisting. Mostly in the UK, these are performed on slim, young animals, but with the law in Norway requiring a medical reason for neutering, here it is often more complicated. Everything went smoothly however, and with a final check for bleeding, it was time to close up.
As so often happens, the stitching at the end of the operation took about as long as the removal of the uterus. Jan-Arne had to return to his consultations long before I was finished, which left Jacqueline and me alone in theatre.
‘Did you watch this week’s Supervet?’ she asked. I had to confess, I hadn’t. ‘This weeks one was really the most dramatic yet,’ she said, and I could tell from her tone, that this wasn’t necessarily going to be complimentary. I was all ears.
‘Oh yes?’ I prompted.
‘Well he had just finished one of his marathon operations,’ she said, ‘when this other dog arrived which had been in an accident and had this terrible neck injury.’ From the smile in her voice, I could tell she was amused by what she had seen. ‘And they said that this neck injury was so severe that the dog needed surgery immediately. Anyway, he was a bit iffy about whether he could do it. He wanted to do it so badly, he said, but he was so tired.’
‘I know that feeling,’ I said. Even the more moderate surgery I am generally involved in can be fairly draining.
‘So he decided that he was going to do it, but instead of going into theatre to get on with it, he went up to his office and started to cry. He wanted to do it so badly, he sobbed, but he was so exhausted that he couldn’t help himself.’
By this time, the cynicism was dripping from Jacqueline’s voice, and when I looked up from my suturing, she was grinning broadly at the memory. I found myself smiling too, trying to picture the scene, but somehow it was impossible.
Jan-Arne reappeared just then. ‘The dog we operated on last week. The one that had eaten the wood. It’s in to get its stitches out. Would you like to see it?’
I confess this filled me with happiness. That was the exploratory operation last week which lost me some sleep. I looked down at my gowned and gloved person. I couldn’t really go out trogging around the clinic.
‘Can he come and do a walk-by?’ I asked. Jan-Arne disappeared and I carefully set a swab over the wound to obscure the view. Big handsome dog that my previous patient was, I couldn’t have been more delighted to see him and his owner, both grinning happily.
‘That’s fantastic,’ I said, and thanked both the owner and Jan-Arne before removing the gauze to continue.
I had almost finished up, and Jacqueline looked pleased as I inserted the last stitch. It was already an hour after my shift should have finished. Like Mr Supervet Fitzpatrick, I was feeling drained at the end of what had been a long day. Irene poked her head around the door. Her face was apologetic and yet there was a suspiciously wheedling tone in her voice as she greeted us. I could tell she needed something.
‘Yes?’ I said.
‘Well… is there any chance you could see a rabbit for me after this? I’m sorry to ask you, but I don’t have anyone else.’
‘What’s wrong with the rabbit?’ I asked. It turned out it had a head-tilt. Neurological problems can be complex, but equally it wasn’t fair to leave the poor bunny.
‘I’ll see it,’ I said, and peeled off the sweaty gloves and face-mask. Suddenly recalling Jacqueline’s Supervet story, I stood for a moment, dredging for my inner-drama queen. After all, I was near to exhaustion. Maybe a few tears would be appropriate here. But with a heavy heart I was forced to accept that I was never made for those flights of fancy. My feet are grounded firmly in the Jaeren mud, which as those of you who live in Jaeren will know, is regularly doused in pig slurry.
I fear this will mean that it is unlikely anyone will ever make a television programme about me. But as with most other things in my life… I can probably live with it.