Carry that Weight

Sunrise/sunset: 09:52/ 13:14. Daylength: 3hr21min

I love being a veterinary surgeon. I am in the privileged position of having a career that is built around helping animals and in addition, I get to spend some of my days driving round in wonderful scenery and meeting farmers and their animals, and that’s something I value highly.

But there is a flip side to being a vet, which I discovered very early in my career, and that is that there is a lot of responsibility and that sometimes we find ourselves dealing with very heavy events.

I qualified when I was twenty two and started working at twenty three, and still have a stark memory from that time when I had been sent out to euthanase an old lady’s dog. I had driven out to her house and was still green enough to be worried about the process itself. Even when you’ve done it a thousand times, there’s still a risk that something untoward will happen, but you learn to navigate around potential difficulties, explain the possible issues beforehand and cope on the odd occasions when something unexpected does occur. On that day however, I was still completely green and very nervous. The old lady grabbed my hand and looked up at me from her chair. “I don’t want her to go,” she said. “Can’t you take me with her as well?”

I had no idea how to respond then and I probably still wouldn’t. Fortunately I had a wonderful nurse with me that day who did manage to say something and even after all these years, I remember how wise she was in comparison to me. Nowadays, when things get tough, I have more experienced people like Hilde and Thomas I can call on. Good colleagues are incredibly valuable in a crisis.

This week has had a couple of those moments when I have been reminded of how fragile everything can be. The first was the discovery on Monday that there had been a horrible event on Sunday in which a number of animals had died. I can’t give details: the investigation is still underway. But the quiet Monday I had planned, where I caught up with some overdue paperwork, was disrupted completely as I ended up driving to Tromsø with some of the animals that had died so that post-mortems could be carried out. There’s an extent to which, when tragedy hits, you have to act first and deal with the situation before you start to think too deeply about it, and that’s what I did. It wasn’t until I came home at the end of a twelve hour day, that I had time to process what had happened and what the animals had gone through, and then I cried briefly and hugged Andrew and Triar and then posted on Twitter, asking people for pictures of their pets and what they loved about them, so that if I woke in the night, I’d have something lovely and positive to read.

Our events here however, have been rather overshadowed by the news that Norway is experiencing its first ever outbreak of bird flu in domestic hens. Periodically last winter, there would be reports of bird flu being found in wild birds and Norwegian hen keepers have strict rules about outdoor access for their birds. When migration is happening, they all have to have a roof over them at all times. It had struck me, when doing our twice yearly emergency readiness exercise that if there was an outbreak of a serious illness in our area, that we would be in the front line and would be part of the team who had to go out and deal with the consequences. What hadn’t really struck me was that before we attended, there would likely be another vet who had been called out and might have been exposed first and a farmer too, and that they would be even more at risk, because they wouldn’t know beforehand that layers and layers of PPE were necessary.

This only came home to me when I read where the outbreak had occurred. It was (is) in Rogaland, where I used to live and work. Before I got the job here, I had applied for a job working with chickens down there, and it struck me that I could potentially have been that vet. Then it struck me further that the vet in question might be someone I know. It turns out the vet is indeed someone I know and they are still dealing with the possible fall out. So now I am hoping that there is nothing more serious to come, but the weight on them must be very heavy indeed.

But there was some lightness this week too. I have a busy few days planned, with lots of farm visits to different types of animal and with lots of different colleagues. Yesterday morning, I headed down to the fast boat in the dim pre-dawn November light. I was going up to Tromsø, where I would meet Birgit and we would visit a pig farm in the area. It was a routine visit, taking samples and carrying out a welfare inspection as part of Mattilsynet’s campaign to improve pig welfare.

The boat trip was a wonderful start to the day. The waters between Finnsnes and Tromsø are sheltered by islands and peninsulas and so it was a very smooth journey. It was getting lighter as we travelled and we went from farmland backed by low hills to much more sheer mountainsides, their peaks shrouded in snow and clouds. I had brought a book, but in the event, I couldn’t stop looking out of the window. The sunrise (picture at the top of the page) came when we were only a few minutes outside Tromsø. This is definitely a trip I want to repeat in my spare time.

The farmer was lovely. His pigs all looked in very good shape and he proudly showed us his sheep afterwards. Not all visits are like that, but it is great to see healthy animals being cared for well.

And it was fantastic to meet up with Birgit again. She had driven down from Storslett for a meeting the day before and had stayed overnight in Tromsø. She had her dogs with her and after the visit, we stopped briefly to give the dogs some fresh air. Kvaløya is beautiful. As I work in this area, I often look around me in wonder and think how lucky I am… as well as that I want to spend more leisure time exploring these different areas.

There was just time to stop for something to eat before I headed back on the boat. I ate a very tasty smoked salmon and cream cheese roll and was very pleased to see that the coffee shop were selling Senja Roasters‘ Christmas coffee. It was a good end to a very pleasant trip.

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