Category Archives: Vet

Always Vet in Norway – A Blog

Boxes

Sunrise/sunset: 05:12/ 20:29. Daylength: 15hr 17mins

Anyone else love hotels? For me there are few things more pleasurable than travelling somewhere and checking in to a hotel with a comfortable bed with clean white sheets. Better still is waking up in the morning to a lovely breakfast someone else has cooked. I will add that if you have spent a long day working out on farms in cold weather, then stepping under a powerful shower with sweet-scented soap to wash away the chill and the farmyard smells is blissful.

The only imperfection for me, was that I had forgotten to take my book. I am trying to cut down my internet time and take up reading again. There is something about escaping into the world of a book that can never be simulated by online conversation.

Things are, of course, slightly odd at the moment. I spent Thursday night at Vollan Gjestestua (pictured above) with five colleagues from the DyreGo Team, which covers animal health and welfare. Business travel in Norway is limited at the moment, but there is a certain amount of work we have to carry out over the course of the year. The area we cover between us is too large to do it easily and then drive home afterwards. In addition, lockdown and working from home is increasingly wearing, so although we had to all sit at separate tables in the restaurant and communicate by lip reading and sign language, it was good for my mental health to see my working colleagues in the flesh and not just on a screen. Yesterday we had a similarly distanced meeting.

Birgit, Thomas and Anja. Astrid was to my left and I couldn’t fit her into the photo – socially distanced pictures are hard to take!

I read a blog entry earlier in the week by Iceland Penny. It draws attention to some of the contradictions in life, things she came across that held both good and bad/beauty and ugliness. Both/And by Iceland Penny. I was reminded of the post by a discussion in the meeting we had about technology.

I have come to Mattilsynet at a time of upheaval. Some of it is driven by the drive to use less paper and more technology, but the process has been speeded up by coronavirus. If you hand over a pen and paper for a signature, you increase the risk of infection.

When we carry out a visit, whatever the reason for it, we summarise our observations on a Tilsynskvittering. This is an outline of the visit and what was checked, split into different sections related to Norwegian law, stating whether the things we saw fulfilled the legal requirements. This receipt, until very recently, was written on paper, which you then photographed before handing it over to the owner. But since December, we have moved over to using an App.

Astrid pointed out that the new technology could be rendered useless if, for example, you were in an area with no phone signal. I would add that with the small screen on a mobile phone, it is hard to do a lot of typing. In theory you could take along your laptop and connect it to the phone, but then you are still reliant on being connected and anyway, there comes a point when you have to remember to take so many things that the entire process becomes unwieldy. “There’s a lot to be said,” she commented, “for pencil and paper.”

I guess this might be partly influenced by age. I mentioned escaping into a book upthread, and said I never managed to escape into another world online, but I know there are immersive games where my children manage to do just that. But most of the DyreGo team, like me are upwards of fifty.

While I can see that all this new technology has benefits, I also see that it’s challenging when change is brought in so fast. There was an older farmer we visited last year who had been asked to make a number of improvements and Thomas had asked him to send photos once he had done so. Having not received any, Thomas arranged a revisit, assuming the work had not been carried out. When we arrived, Thomas was delighted to find out that it had. When he asked the elderly farmer why he hadn’t sent the proof along, the farmer told us he didn’t have a phone with a camera. I think when we are so connected ourselves, sometimes it’s easy to forget that others are not.

Personally I am on the fence. There is increasing connectedness that I feel ought make us more free, but instead sometimes ties us down. In the meeting, I found myself thinking about the issue of traceability in farming and food production. When an outbreak of food-borne illness breaks out, it’s an advantage that we can find out more easily where it came from. But there is an enormous amount of work in ensuring all the information is put into the system within a very short timeframe. To me that seems like a lot of pressure on farmers who grew up in a time when most of the connections were with family, local farmers and the vet, and the only technology was your machinery and the weather forecast on the radio.

There are periods when I find myself hankering after pre-internet, pre-mobile phone times. It was way easier to go “off-grid”. Anyone else remember those announcements on the wireless (BBC Radio 4) appealing to people on holiday to get in touch as their relative was seriously ill?

I worked in large animal practice, and once you were out on your calls, there was a kind of freedom, though of course that could be inconvenient if you went all the way back and then found there was another visit in the same direction. I think there was less pressure in practice to be right all the time and to know everything. You built up knowledge through experience, through speaking to colleagues, through reading books that were probably already out of date as they had been sitting on the shelf in the practice for several years.

Nowadays, if you know where to look online, there are answers to be found and groups you can join. Anaesthetists discuss the intricacies of different protocols, breed and species differences and how to achieve perfect pain relief. There’s good and bad in that. Better specialisation, increased cost. Some things are lost as well, in this new world. A safe path can be equally well achieved with long familiarity with drugs and techniques, built up over a lifetime of experience. Sometimes I feel everything is now moving too fast.

That said, I can’t put aside the positives. I wrote six books while living in Norway with a co-author in Somerset for a company based in London. Victoria Holmes and I batted ideas across the ether in e-mails in a way that allowed thinking time without excessive delays. We couldn’t have done that over a traditional telephone line or in letters. I am also connected to friends I went to school with and teachers who would otherwise only be a pleasant memory (hello Mr Gorski!). I would never have heard from them again without it.

Even so, despite the positives, I find myself wishing that we could insert a grandfather clause into modern life. A grandfather clause, for those who don’t know, is an exemption from following new laws if doing so would be too costly or difficult. The most obvious example would be with building regulations that require new business premises to follow certain rules with regards to toilet provision, but don’t require that older buildings are brought up to the same standard.

I can’t help feeling that if staff who have worked adequately for years with a pen and paper are retiring within the next ten years or so, they could be allowed to continue without it doing a great deal of harm. It would save them a lot of grief. There is an aspiration that wherever you are in Norway and whatever your business, Mattilsynet will assess and deal with your case in the same way. I can see the value in that when it comes to assessing whether legal requirements are fulfilled.

But whether the report is sent online or on paper? When it really comes down to it, that doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, in the grand scheme of things.

Road Stop

Sunrise/sunset: 05:44/ 20:00. Daylength: 14hr 16mins

Easter is a big deal in Norway. The first year we came, we were looking forward to the Easter break. The children were off school and work stopped right through from the Wednesday afternoon until the following Tuesday. Thursday morning dawned bright and sunny and I recall we headed into Stavanger, thinking we would go swimming in the outdoor swimming pool. We were disappointed to find it was closed. Who would close a swimming pool in the school holidays, we wondered, in our quaint British ignorance? Many swimming pools in Norway, we have discovered since, close during school holidays. That still seems bizarre to me as in the UK they are thought of as an entertainment and teaching venue and a useful and healthy one at that.

But the realisation that it wasn’t just the pools that were closed but also the shops was the real show stopper. While we probably had enough in the freezer to get by, we had assumed we could buy Easter eggs and all the celebratory food during the first day of our break. It wasn’t our finest hour.

Nowadays I am a little more prepared. I spent Monday out on a visit with Thomas and Tuesday at the abattoir. Charlie had originally been due to arrive on Wednesday, but due to coronavirus the planes continue to be erratic, so in fact he came on Tuesday evening. I had already planned for five days of dinners. Not for the Tuesday itself though, so Charlie bought us a meal from the local Chinese restaurant, which we ate at home due to lockdown regulations. Travel around Norway wasn’t recommended, but as Charlie hadn’t seen John or Anna for months, both our region and his have low infection rates and the planes were already booked, we had decided to go ahead, but take extra care to avoid contact outside the family while he was here.

Because he had arrived early, we were able to take a trip around Senja on Wednesday. We were lucky with the weather. It has been snowing on and off most of the time here, in between massive almost daily thaws, but there was an oasis of calm on the far side of Senja island and at one point, the sun even came out!

We made a stop at Steinfjord rest stop, a sandy bay at the end of a short fjord. The tiny village of Steinfjord nestles right at the base of the steep mountains. It’s a beautiful place.

Triar was, of course in his element, though he did have to wait patiently with his ball as Charlie spent some time taking drone footage of the surroundings.

The drive back was also beautiful, though as we rounded the north end of the island, the snow set in and after one final picture of another mountain range receding into clouds, I didn’t get any more worth sharing.

The end of Triars day was not so cheery. He had rolled in something or other back at the beach and so when he came home, he went straight into the shower and emerged, clean but not delighted.

And so for now, I will wish a very happy Easter to you all. See you again soon.

Big Red Barn

Sunrise/sunset: 06:18/ 17:38. Daylength: 11hr 20mins

If you were raised in the United Kingdom, as I was, you might occasionally have found yourself wondering why all the barns in picture books and on those alphabet pictures on the wall of your classroom were painted red. Barns in the UK tend to fall into two types. Traditional farmhouses often have a yard surrounded by byres or a steading where the animals were kept before farming was industrialised. They are often constructed of brick or stone, depending on the area.

Those traditional buildings are often now used for stock which require a lot of close attention, for example calves that need to be fed twice a day, cows that are about to calve, or which have recently done so, and animals which are sick.

The newer barns, which have been built to house the main herd or flock, tend to be huge affairs, built high, with solid walls at the base to reduce draughts and open spaces or slats higher up to allow good air circulation. Red paint doesn’t feature in either the old or the new.

I had concluded, when I thought about it, that the red barn picture-book phenomenon was probably a US import. But why were so many barns painted red? They certainly look attractive, but how did the tradition begin?

When I moved to Norway, one of the very obvious differences from the UK was the way houses are built. Here, most houses are made of wood. Nowadays, they are painted many different colours, but in contrast with that, most barns are painted red. One of my neighbours in south-west Norway explained to me that traditionally houses had also been painted mostly in two different colours: red and white.

A white house was a sign of wealth. White paint was more expensive, red was cheaper, both because the paint was less expensive and also because it was less obvious if it became dirty or discoloured. Quite often, the houses of well-to-do farmers would be painted white, but the barn continued to be decorated with the cheaper red paint.

And so it seems likely that the reason barns in the United States are red is because the tradition (and the methods of making paint or stains) were taken over from Scandinavia. Presumably red barns in children’s picture books will remain that way, even if the tradition stops. They are, after all, much more distinctive and picturesque than modern barns in the UK.

Anyway, I have been meaning for a while to get photographs of some of the barns I see as I am driving around as I work and yesterday I took the afternoon off to do it. They are a very distinctive part of the landscape. Some of them are old, some look newer. Unlike most British barns, they are built on different levels and as you will see, many have a kind of bridge through which you can enter the upper levels. Building to fit the steep, mountainous landscape is definitely a feature.

I have been saddened to find that quite a number of these barns are no longer in use. I hope that they will not gradually disappear, although I confess I have seen a few which are falling down and in a state of decay, they still hold onto their romance and beauty. I didn’t get any photographs yesterday of those, but hopefully at some point, I will.

Anna was with me on my trip and she couldn’t resist taking a snap of this buried van with its tiny house and the wonderful backdrop.

And though today it is snowing again, this was the sunset behind the gathering clouds as we drove home from our trip yesterday. The mountains of Senja taken from Sørreisa.

The Open Road

Sunrise/sunset: 06:49/ 17:11. Daylength: 10hr 21mins

The feature photograph above is of a message Anna left me on Tuesday, having watched the snow gradually deepen as she sat up into the early hours, knowing I had an early start. She left it propped against the cream in the fridge, correctly surmising I’d see it when I made my coffee before heading out. She knows me so well!

I read an interesting report this week. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have carried out an assessment on Norway’s food safety, which includes an assessment of agricultural practices. I’ve probably mentioned before that when I visit farms in Norway, a lot of attention is paid to biosecurity. There are laws requiring certain measures, including notices placed outside the barn or shed to say that entry is restricted and a “lock” area with some kind of physical barrier or line which requires a change of footwear (and often clothing) to enter.

I don’t know the current situation in the UK. Presumably in some areas, such as poultry production, they employ a similar system and change clothes on the way in and out, but when I went on cattle or sheep farms, I would travel around using the same wellingtons and waterproofs with only a quick wash between each visit. Even during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001, the only difference was that the wellie wash was a bit more thorough; disinfectant was used and sloshing down the car tyres was added in.

So I was interested to see what the OECD had to say. Unsurprisingly, Norway scored very highly on food security. This is surely a good thing, you would imagine. But the feedback messages were mixed. Despite the high score, the OECD criticised the system for being too expensive. The word “overfulfilling” was used. The rules don’t allow enough potential for increased value, apparently. Of course, that is business bunk for “your food is too expensive and therefore not competitive in our international markets”.

The Norwegian response to this was rather predictable. They know (of course they do) that their food is not competitive. I have been reading a lot around pig farming in Norway and it is specified and fully accepted that almost all the pork produced in Norway goes directly into the Norwegian market for exactly that reason. But they feel it’s a price worth paying to ensure health and welfare are prioritised. Biosecurity in the food industry is the cornerstone of the Norwegian government’s agricultural policy. Meat in Norway is, of course, notoriously expensive, but perhaps it should be. The recent discussions during Brexit about chicken washed in chlorine were an eye opener for many people. There are lots of ways to keep food safe and ensuring your animals are as free of disease as possible is, in my opinion, beyond criticism.

Anyway, enough politics. This week has been noteworthy because after two months of working almost exclusively from home, there has been a big change this week. Birgit, Thomas and I have been visiting our local veterinary practices. Building up links is a useful thing to do. Mattilsynet carry out some routine inspections on farms, but we can’t check everywhere and rely on reports from other people to direct us to places where there are concerns about welfare. There’s a very human side to that, of course. Animal welfare doesn’t always suffer because of intentional negligence. Sometimes animal owners are ill or unable to cope. Sometimes they are uncertain of how to care for their animals too, and part of our job is to step in when there are problems.

So we want the vets who cover our patch to be part of something bigger than Mattilsynet. We need a network of support. During the visits, Birgit explained that there are now two dedicated “animal crime” police officers in Tromsø who form part of a new initiative . This is important when it is potentially unsafe for us to carry out visits, for example, and in the other direction, when police activity leads to the discovery of neglected pets during the course of carrying out their routine duties.

And so, I have been out and about a lot more, and of course here in Northern Norway, that requires assessment of (and allowances for) the weather conditions. After a huge thaw at the beginning of the week, with landslide warnings all over the place, it has now settled back into seemingly perpetual snow showers. The thaw, while rather alarming, was beautiful. Instead of a huge flat expanse of snow, the lakes took on some colour, though the thaw was not long enough for the ice to melt.

But now the snow has returned with a vengeance. One of the veterinary practices we visited was up a narrow track between snow-capped trees. I confess I was rather envious of the vet who had set up her one-woman practice in such a wonderful place.

The Norwegian road agency do a great job keeping the roads clear. On the way to my last visit, I was a little early and I stopped in a layby and took a photograph of the E6 road. This is the main trunk road that stretches down through the whole of Norway and then to the southern tip of Sweden. One day, perhaps I will drive the length of it. But that will be a whole new project.

Colour

Sunrise/sunset: 09:30/ 14:33. Daylength: 5hr 02min

There is so much colour in the world. The changing sky continues to amaze me. I suppose one advantage of living so far north is just how long the sun lurks just below the horizon. And now it has finally risen, there are wonderful shadows and reflected light everywhere. The photo at the top is of the view from our garden, and though I see it every day, it never grows old. This was the first day I’d really seen the brand new sunshine on the snow-covered mountains. How wonderfully pink they are under the arching blue sky.

I was struck by the pink and powder-blue backdrop as I drove home from Bardufoss on Tuesday as well. So wonderful to drive home in the light. Of course, I stopped to take a photograph.

I had hoped to be travelling up to Storslett next week to the northernmost office in our region. I was waiting until the last minute, as the upper echelons of Mattilsynet had a meeting on Friday, but in the absence of any government lifting of the regulations, I will wait a few weeks longer. John tells me that two abattoirs further south in Norway are currently closed, one because a member of staff tested positive and the other because it’s in the area where the biggest outbreak of the English variant has taken hold. They are right to be cautious, but like others everywhere, I am champing at the bit to have a bit more freedom of movement.

Still, there are things to look forward to. I have booked a weekend away in a log cabin on a husky farm near the end of February. It’s only an hour and a half away, so hopefully there should be no travel disruption! And we have designated this weekend as 1980s party-food weekend. Last night there were sausage rolls, ham and crisp sandwiches and chocolate tiffin. Today I will be making pastry cases filled with creamy chicken, scones with jam and cream and it will be followed by ice-cream and jelly.

I don’t have a lot to write this week, so I will leave you with this video that Konstantin sent me. It features overhead footage of reindeer herding. I mentioned a while back that they hadn’t been able to bring the reindeer in before Christmas because of the lack of snow, and this gives an idea of why that would be a problem. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It’s truly a beautiful spectacle.

Thank you Konstantin. I hear you are coming back in May, which makes me happy. It’s good in the depths of winter to have things to look forward to.

Humour and Humanity

I have seen a lot of SBL and Magmatic Magne this week: a lot of time in theatre, though I also endured some sessions with Mr Ikea, trying to follow the instructions for putting together a small and inoffensive chest of drawers. The thing had been undergoing assembly over several weeks now and the already-completed drawers had been huddling on a table in the corner, minding their own business except for the odd occasion when it was necessary to squeeze past them to get to the dog food. As is the tradition with Ikea furniture, a small error had been made at a crucial point about half-way through, thereafter it followed that everything else was just far enough out of place that the finished product wouldn’t go together. Dagny, active in this, as in all things was the perpetrator of this tiny error, and Magne had seized upon the opportunity to remind her of this fact, every time anyone went near. Still finally the thing was done, and all the drawers were in place. My first achievement of the week.

About an hour later, I found myself managing the anaesthetic for a mammary tumour operation. Dagny asked me to get theatre ready, and when she asked “Are we all set,” I replied (with the honesty and diligent self-confidence I try to maintain at all times) “I hope so.” In fact I wasn’t. I had failed to check if she wanted to use gaseous anaesthesia (a lot of the operations are carried out with a combination of deep sedation, local anaesthesia and propofol infusion) so she went and switched the machine on herself. A few minutes later, with the dog prepped and installed, I noticed the ominous stillness of the patient’s chest. She wasn’t breathing. The usual sense of consternation kicked in. Just work through it logically, I told myself, trying to remain calm. I checked the dog’s colour. It was pale, but it had been pale before we began. That meant that it was even more urgent though to discover what was wrong. I checked the level of anaesthesia. The eye was rotated down. Fine. I grabbed a stethoscope and listened for the heart because the heart-rate monitor wasn’t detecting anything. The heart was racing, as at this point was my own. It was at that point that Dagny quite casually pointed out that the rebreathing bag had filled up completely because the pressure valve hadn’t been reopened after testing. She hadn’t been aware that the dog was not breathing, and in her calm assessment, had just noticed what I was failing to pick up. Panic is a terrible thing. I can recall a time in the emergency clinic when whatever life threw at me, I knew I could handle it but five years off has sent me tumbling back into “starting out” mode.

Dagny talked a bit about her life during the operation. She told me that she was only six years old when she decided that she wanted to be a vet. Despite discouragement from those around her, who thought that as a woman she should do something less ambitious, more feminine, she planned out her life with ruthless efficiency and finally achieved her aim. No wonder then that with such determination to succeed, she ultimately went on to become a partner in the very first dedicated small-animal clinic in Norway.

By Thursday, I started to feel everything was more under control. I assisted Magne with a cherry-eye operation. It’s amazing to see him putting in the tiny sutures, ensuring that nothing is left to irritate the eye. Just before lunch a dog came in which was in respiratory distress. To my amazement my self-confidence suddenly kicked in and I was easily able to help out and even offer guidance. At one point, I suggested the possibility of draining the chest and Magne and Irene looked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted green bushy eyebrows. How odd it seemed, and yet it brought it home to me that despite the irony of the situation, I am much better with a frank emergency than with anything routine, and perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising given my history of working in an emergency and critical care setting for the last few years of my career in Scotland.

Later I found myself back in theatre once more, as Dagny and Magne, without even the benefit of Ikea instructions, set out to fix a fractured humerus in a young dog. After the lunchtime emergency, I managed to impress Magne once more with my astonishing ability to intubate a dog without a laparoscope. This has never seemed like any great achievement for me. I started out, all those years ago, in a small animal practice where everything was on gas, and everything was intubated and I don’t think I ever even saw a laparoscope. As with everything else, a good nurse and the correct positioning is essential, so thanks to Irene for that. When Magne returned from the hunt for the missing laporoscope, he found to his amazement that the dog was already in theatre, fully hooked up to the machine and almost ready to go.

“You know,” he said to me as he walked to the table, “you’re really quite useful to have around. I think you should work more hours!”
I felt rather diffident about this. I actually like just working two days a week and keeping my options open for overtime. “Well maybe I could come in and work Fridays as well,” I offered.
He just shook his head. “That would be no good at all,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I don’t work Fridays,” and with that, he turned away and started to cut.

Not German(e)

A short week this week because Thursday was Ascension Day or as it is amusingly known in Norway, (assuming you have a mental age of six, as I do) Himmelfartsdag. I started out the morning anaesthetising a dog for a cruciate operation. For those who don’t know, the cruciate ligament is within the knee joint and it can rupture on occasion causing instability of the joint. The operation replaces the ligament, thus re-establishing normal movement. Kari Anna thought she would test me out by asking whether I had remembered to take the Gentamycin injection into theatre, and with a triumphant smile I was able to wave the box at her. Not quite so jubilantly, an hour and a half later I slunk towards the fridge with the drug opened and drawn up into a syringe, presumably to be wasted. When I had offered it to Dagny, she had said “No thanks!” with a radiant smile. I felt a little vindicated when I told Kari Anna I was placing the labelled syringe into the fridge. Like me, she had believed the official Spraying of the Gentamycin was a routine part of the operation.

Dagny has been talking on-and-off about the possibility that I might begin to consult on an official basis. The only spanner in the works (and admittedly it’s quite a hefty spanner) is that on the days I am working, there is no spare consulting room. Often they already have a vet in all three rooms as well as one taking up space in the prep-room. This time, for the first time, she mentioned something about the idea of building another room. Personally I think they should build it of brick and designate it the British Wing. Given the Norwegian love of DIY and my current observations of practice protocol, I expect Dagny will begin construction herself as Magne skulks around, unobtrusive but observing carefully, and he will smile to himself as she fails to line up the bricks correctly before stepping in and… getting me to fix it.

As well as the cruciate operation, I assisted with another two cherry-eyes. For some reason Magne has started to ask me for his surgical gloves in German, as if it wasn’t complicated enough working in Norwegian. “Do you speak German?” he asked me. “Just enough to know that you are asking for gloves,” I might have replied. Actually that wouldn’t be entirely true. I know three other very useful things in German (I won’t count the phrase, “That is a lamp” which was the very first thing I learned when I bought a German picture dictionary as a teenager). I know how to ask for beer of various kinds. And when I’ve had the beer, I know how to ask where the toilet is. But most importantly, I know the very useful word “scheiße” I always thing it is a very expressive word, and as my best friend when I was learning Norwegian was German, for me scheiße is a word that is screaming to be incorporated into the Norsk language. Anyway, back with the cherry-eyes, this time Magne encouraged me to sit at the end of the table instead of on the other side so that I could see better what he was doing. Perhaps having me sitting in the wrong place was a distraction however. He paused as he started to cut into the tissue and frowned. “What is it I have forgotten?” he asked, looking puzzled, but I couldn’t help. Then with a smile, he grabbed the head-piece with the magnifying lenses and placed them in front of his eyes. “I thought everything had suddenly got very small,” he said.

In all of this theatre work though, I feel I am seeing very little of Vivek, Guro and Jan-Arne which is sad. Perhaps if I begin to work sometimes on a Friday (the only day when there might be a room free) I will get to see them a bit more. In the meantime, I hope to spend some time with Jan-Arne at the weekend as he does some large animal work. Maybe if I’m really lucky, I may even get to bury my arm inside a cow. How about that for wallowing in nostalgia? Of course, at this time of year, with the cows just out on all that luscious new grass, nostalgia may not be the only thing I end up wallowing in. Only time will tell.

Blissful Ignorance

Sunday this week: a lovely day, and the day I had arranged to go out and “see practice” with Jan-Arne. I had been hoping to do this for a while, but it had proved difficult to arrange. In the event I ended up seeing only one patient, though Jan-Arne did all that he could to drum up some additional business, first by telephoning the previous days clients to see if they needed a follow-up call, and secondly by driving me around the entire district in a vain attempt to run over an animal (or cyclist).

The single call was to a cow with mastitis. I walked into the barn and as with the small animal clinic, had an immediate feeling of coming home. I miss farm work so much. I love the sense of peace that I experience when I am in the presence of dairy cows. These large animals are so docile; they allow us to stand so close and rarely object to being handled, except now and then when they need to protect their calves and even that is mostly done with a doe-eyed gentleness. But there is also a sense of community in farming that is so very different from city life. Years ago in Scotland, working in a dairy practice, I felt almost (only almost) as if I belonged. I wasn’t born to it, and yet as a vet there was a sense of integration. I was wanted and needed within their society, and it is that feeling of belonging that appealed to me, almost as much as the animals themselves.

There were some interesting differences. Norwegian farms are strict on biosecurity. I was fascinated to see the gigantic pair of wellington boots that the farmer’s wife brought out from a cupboard. They fitted right over Jan-Arne’s trainers and he clomped around with feet like those of a yellow elephant. I had to make do with special plastic wellington boot covers. I had the tremendous feeling that I could just walk back into that lifestyle. It all felt so similar to the old days that I could almost see myself there.

Any delusions about that were shattered later when we visited a farm where Jan-Arne was friendly with the family. We looked at a couple of their bottle-fed lambs and all the time the conversation was rattling on around me. I couldn’t follow a word and the farmer couldn’t speak any English. They had a lovely young daughter though, who kept grinning at me conspiratorially. She wanted to show us her pet lambs and tried various methods to capture them, including an attempt to entice them with some food. Afterwards, she raced around the field chasing them, a streak of pink in a pair of purple wellingtons, childish hair flying everywhere. Finally she managed to catch one, a sturdy black lamb of a traditional Norwegian breed. My biggest regret of the day was that in my haste to leave the house I managed to forget my camera. Jan-Arne very kindly offered to take some shots of the field and the child and the sheep and here they are…

Jan-Arne's Sheep 1

Jan-Arne's Sheep 2

Jan-Arne's Sheep 3

Always difficult to get a good action shot, but it was a beautiful setting on a wonderful day.

The biggest revelation occurred when we got back to the practice where I had left my car. Jan-Arne pointed to the house next door.

‘I wonder if Magne and Gerd are in there, enjoying their day off,’ he said. ‘Did you know they lived there?’

Did I know they lived there? My mind was screaming.’Magne and Gerd are married?’ I managed to croak it out at last.

‘Didn’t you know?’ He was laughing at me.

Amazing the things I fail to register. Everyone else knows presumably and maybe they just forgot to tell me, but more likely I missed it. Perhaps they stand and chat at the desk about what they are going to have for dinner. I have no idea because after so long in Norway, my brain just switches off when other people are chatting to one another. They could be talking about me, and I would remain in a happy state of oblivion.

I realised recently that this was, in many ways, a blessing. When I return to Scotland, it always comes as a shock to overhear conversations which my mind automatically processes. There are so many preconceptions based around accent and word use, instant frustration at the banalities of life. Here I escape all of that. I wouldn’t change it, even if it means that occasionally things pass me by. I wondered recently whether this must be like for a young child, having a mind that passes over incomprehensible things that don’t really matter.

When I discovered Magne and Gerd were married, it leaped into my head that I should be worried about whether I had ever said anything reprehensible about one to the other, but of course I was able to dismiss that in an instant. I just don’t have those kinds of conversations. I would love to say I have never said anything offensive about anyone, but of course, there is Scary Boss Lady. Apparently the other staff found “All Change” so amusing that they had to tell her and she read it. Since then, she has tried to convince me she isn’t scary. She even appeared one day in a poncho with the words “Love Me” woven into it. I left no doubt, she told me over a mammary tumour, that it was her I referred to. In case there was any confusion, I had clearly stated “Dagny, the scary boss lady”. She tells me that it will follow her now. Even at the Christmas party, she is in no doubt that her name-tag will read “Scary Boss Lady”. Still, she can’t have been too offended. Apparently she told her friends in the cycling club about me on a train journey. I can imagine their wide-eyed shock as they asked her, “Did she know you would read it?” Of course, I didn’t know. But I was aware it was possible, because I had already friended some of the others on Facebook. Ah well, it’s always a good idea when starting in a new job to begin on good terms with your boss!

Smil

Beike came in last week to have his teeth cleaned. For those who aren’t aware, Beike is my friend Marian’s dog, a handsome Border Collie with a passionate love of balls and Frisbees. That’s him at the top of the page. Beike, Marian and I often go walking together and so I know him well. I think most vets would agree it’s more difficult treating an animal that has become a friend, whether it is an acquaintance from outside work or a long-standing patient that you have got to know over time. Anyway, I was nervous before he arrived and there was no escape because Marian had specifically requested that I treat him.

He went to sleep very quickly and we soon had him through in the dental room. The dental room is one of my favourite parts of the clinic. I’ve never worked in a practice with a dedicated dentistry area, but it undoubtedly makes for better treatment, both for the vets and for the animals. There is suction ventilation to remove the spray from the ultrasound descaler, excellent lighting that can be manoeuvred into position so you can see right into the mouth, polisher and drill, as well as more dental instruments for removing teeth than I have seen anywhere else. There’s even a specialised x-ray machine.

Anyway, back to Beike. The only complication was that he had a broken tooth right at the front of his mouth. In fact, if you look at the picture at the top of the page, you can see it. Happily for me Wivek was available to help. As well as wonderful facilities, Tu clinic has the best veterinary dentist I’ve ever come across. The more I get to know Wivek, the more impressed I am. She seemed very quiet to begin with, she never shows off, and yet she knows an incredible amount. If I read up about anything I can talk to her, and she is still ahead of me. Anyway when it comes to removing teeth she is second to none. I began to loosen Beike’s tooth, but as usual I came to a (literally) crunching halt. Wivek came to the rescue and very patiently worked away until, as if by magic, she produced the intact root. I, of course, was watching carefully. It’s great to learn new things!

After Beike’s teeth, it was nearly time for lunch. Every Thursday lunch is laid on and we have a practice meeting so that SBL can tell us all that we’ve been doing right and wrong. This week it was car parking. Apparently we are supposed to park down the side of the building, leaving the spaces in front for the clients. I kept my head well down at this point of the meeting because since arriving I have invariably parked my car in one of the prime sites. I have always stayed away from the doorways. I had worked out that when people had to take their sleepy animals to the car, it was better they could park there. But other than that, I have shamelessly avoided that difficult, overcrowded corner where all the staff seemed to leave their vehicles. Not any more it seems.

The meeting always ends with the Ukens Smil (The Week’s Smile). This is when the staff get to thank each other for favours done and congratulate one another for their achievements. There’s a little box in the staff-room with a hole in the top, and when someone does something nice, you write your thanks on a piece of paper and slip it into the box. Every Thursday the compliments are read out for everyone to hear. The person who gets the most smiles gets a packet of chocolates, conveniently named “Smil”. Incidentally, Marvellous Magne, whose English is good, but not as good as the vets who studied in English has never read my blog and therefore was wholly unaware of the extent of my evilness. He finally discovered last week that I had given Dagny the nickname, Scary Boss Lady. Since then he seems to have been Smil-ing rather a lot!

And finally, as promised two weeks ago, I attach below photographic evidence of the chicken-head ritual. There has been speculation that these events are part of contemporary Norwegian culture, similar to their habit of filling highly flammable wooden houses with candles each Christmas, or the more localised Jaeren farming custom of blasting liquefied animal dung into the air whenever washing is hung out to dry. However my personal theory is that this particular activity is related to Norse mythology, more specifically to Thaw, Goddess of Deep-Chilled Poultry. Irene has now gone on holiday and is sunning herself in Thailand amongst the mosquitos. If only it had been Turkey….

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The Hooded Flaw

A number of new faces have appeared in the clinic in recent days. Jenny is working with us for the summer and (unlike me) she can work in reception. She’s always ready with a smile, and (fortunately for me) yesterday morning she was ready with some Voltarol when I arrived at work with a searing pain in my sacro-iliac joint. Relief all round, me for the pain, and everyone else because they didn’t have to put up with me being grumpy all day!

Leah has worked in the practice before as a nurse and is studying to be a vet. It was a proud moment when I entered theatre on Tuesday and found Jan-Arne teaching her the McGurk Method of cat castration. I did spend some time yesterday trying to convince Wivek that is what the technique should properly be called so that when it spreads throughout Norway (carried by emissaries such as Leah) I will become famous. Sadly she didn’t seem convinced.

In addition Marita, tall and blonde from the North of Norway is the new vet who will be covering for Guro when she goes on maternity leave in a few weeks time so it all seems very organised. I found extra-instruments in with standard operating kits, a bin-liner in the bucket used for draining water from the autoclave and three black bin bags in the paper-bin (down to a new night cleaner apparently – just making her presence felt) which I found strangely reassuring. It’s nice not to be the newest person!

Whilst I am not regularly consulting yet, I have begun to do a number of operations. Despite my experience (for a while in the UK, I locum’d in a practice where the main part of my job was as a soft-tissue surgeon) it is still a relief when I hear that things have worked out. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to suture a bite wound which had failed to heal and was worsening. In my alternative life as a superhero lay assistant, I have spent a great deal of time searching cupboards to find out where things are and where things should be put away and in my exploration, I had spied what I thought was a Penrose drain (soft rubber tubing that allows fluids that might prevent healing to drain away) lurking amongst a tumble of stomach tubes. To my delight I found I was correct and I was able to rescue the drain from it’s dark corner and slide it into boiling water to sterilise it. I have always had a love of Penrose drains as I have had very good success with them in the past, but of course this was the first time I had tried it in Norway and it obviously was not routine practice at the clinic. To my delight Jan-Arne told me yesterday that he had taken the final stitches out and the wound had healed well. Bounding towards the list of things-to-be-ordered with a happy cry of “I’m going to order some Penrose Drains now” I was stopped in my tracks By Wivek. “They’ve already been ordered,” she said quietly as ever, and not long afterwards, she happily held up some new packs. Just bring on those dirty wounds!

Back to my favourite topic of food and drink. I was sitting having lunch with Guro on Tuesday when Jan-Arne appeared and grabbed a carton of Biola (a sweet fruity yogurt drink) from the fridge. Watching him with interest, I asked “Aren’t you supposed to be on a low carb diet?”. He shrugged and grinned sheepishly. “Yes but just this otherwise,” he said. Then throwing back his head, he took a large gulp straight from the carton and closed his eyes blissfully before announcing, “It just tastes so good.” Still walking forwards, he was suddenly arrested by something on the carton and with a cry of disgust, he strode over and tossed it in the bin. “It was out of date,” he said in horror as Guro and I just burst out laughing. A little later in the laboratory, I noticed a cola bottle filled with yellow fluid. It’s amazing what owners will use to submit their pets’ urine samples to us. Goodness knows how their persuaded their dog to pee into a bottle, but happily when I checked the expiry date, I discovered that there was still plenty of time to go, so if you are thirsty next week Jan-Arne, you know that that the content of that bottle is safe to drink!

Finally, before I consign myself to my holiday fate, I must mention hoodies, or more precisely hoods. It struck me a while back that it was quite unfair that all of the women in the practice have to wear surgical caps whenever we enter the operating theatre, whilst Jan-Arne’s beard is allowed unfettered access. Now it seems I have found the perfect answer in a Small Animal Surgery book. In a picture entitled “facial hair and sideburns should be covered with a hood” there is the most fantastic picture of 1970s man, all kitted out with enormous glasses and the most amazing blue paper hood. I just can’t wait to see Dagny again so that I can show her. After all, Norway is famed for its sexual equality. It wouldn’t do for the practice to let the side down.