Category Archives: Requests

Portsmouth and Portchester Castle

I’m now back in Norway, but I have some wonderful memories of my last day with Anna. We spent the night in Portsmouth. On Saturday morning, with blue skies overhead and a cooling breeze to counter the heat of the sun, it was the perfect day to walk to Portchester Castle.

We passed through the gate and paused for a milkshake in the outer bailey. It’s years since I’ve had a milkshake that was actually made from milk, rather than ice-cream, and it was surprisingly refreshing. But the castle was calling, so braving the determined friendliness of the gatekeeper (who came close to selling me fifteen months membership to English Heritage, even though I live in Norway) we started to explore the ruin.

The entrance to the inner bailey

Does everyone find peace stealing into their soul as they explore ancient ruins? I find the old stone beautiful. Empty window frames filled with blue sky, doorways leading to nowhere, that will never be walked through again. Standing in what used to be the kitchen, gazing at the gaping hole that was all that was left of the fireplace, my mind was filled with a childish wish that some magic would take me back in time and I could see what it looked like then, to see the people who lived and worked here. What was it like for them? Were they happy?

The great tower that dominates the landscape still has a roof and we entered in and found a spiral staircase. We climbed up and up and up and emerged onto the leaded roof with shaking legs, happy hearts, and a small queue behind us of people who were fitter than me!

Going down, we took different stairs, and found a few small exhibits, like this map and the birds flying above it.

There was also a notice about prisoners and nails hammered into the beams. The explanation about what the nails were used for had a very different ending than that I expected!

Having explored everywhere, we returned to the shop at the entrance and I bought gifts of castle keys and medieval shot glasses for John and Andrew, and a wooden bow and arrows for Anna. Then we returned to the outer bailey and wandered over to St Mary’s church, which stood in a corner, within the castle walls. In search of good British food, we decided on a cream tea and a curry pie. Sadly all the curry pies were gone, so we plumped for a corned beef hash pie instead. Never let it be said that English cuisine is not the best in the world!

It was almost Easter, and there were beautiful flowers in the church.

And beautiful flowers and trees outside too, where we waited for the taxi we had ordered to take us into Portsmouth. For me, having left the rather grim and dirty end-of-winter melt, it was a welcome reminder that spring really is on its way.

Doors, Diver, Dumbledore

Anna and I started with Starbucks on Good Friday. I’d forgotten the ludicrous mug sizes, so unwisely ordered a medium. Norwegian coffee temperance has obviously invaded my soul as I would have preferred less than half the amount, but with the mindless illogic of someone brought up by waste-not-want-not parents, I drank it anyway.

We took a bus into Winchester and took a whistlestop tour of the town centre and the cathedral. It’s a gorgeous old city and we were basking in warmth that felt like summer to me.

We went into the cathedral. There was to be a service shortly, so there were no official tours. Anna has been in Winchester for three years and hadn’t been in before, so it was a new experience for both of us. We were handed a leaflet as we entered. Had I opened it, I might have seen that Jane Austen was buried there, but being a philistine, I didn’t. So I have probably walked over Jane Austen’s grave without being any the wiser.

There were, however, a great many doors in the cathedral, ranging from huge to tiny. I presume people were smaller when the cathedral was built, so most would require careful navigation by tall people. I may have got slightly carried away with photographing them.

I also loved these wonky pews and modern carved altar in one of the side chapels. I feel cathedrals should be living places and not merely monuments to the past.

There were many carvings, of course, in wood and stone.

Stained glass?
Of course!

Beautiful cushions to sit on. I found myself thinking about the (probably) women who sat and lovingly embroidered all of them.

There was also a statue of a diver. Anna obviously inherited her love of quirky things over higher forms of knowledge from her mother, as this was the one historical figure she was aware of. If you check the top of the page, he even had a pub named after him. After diving down into the foundations of a thousand year old building, he probably deserved a pint.

In the afternoon, we boarded a train to Portsmouth in preparation for a visit to Porchester Castle the next day. Having witnessed a lot of muggle history in the morning, in the afternoon we plunged ourselves into the wizarding world. Variety, after all, is the spice of life.

Homecoming

Sunrise/sunset: 04:45/20:53. Daylength: 16h08min (Finnsnes)

Sunrise/sunset: 06:08/20:02: Daylength: 13hr54min (Winchester)

I flew out over the snowy mountains around Tromsø in the early afternoon on Thursday and at twenty past seven, I caught my first glimpse of the UK since December 2019.

Bottom corner of England from the air

As I flew over, I was struck by how green it all was. There were so many small fields, with hedges as their boundaries. There were also mansion houses scattered among the fields, dotted with swimming pools and tennis courts. It is so different from Norway!

As the wheels touched down, I found myself smiling, then there were tears in my eyes. Being back in the UK after so long was very moving. I love Norway, but there’s something very special about returning to my homeland.

Anna met me at Gatwick. It was wonderful to see her again. We bought marmite pinwheels and chilled raspberry mohitos from Marks and Spencer and had a mini-party on the station at Clapham Junction.

Anna

I’m posting this belatedly, as the available internet for the past couple of days has made posting impossible. There are more photos to follow, but for now, I want to celebrate the memory of coming home.

The Art of Killing

Sunrise/sunset: 05:15/ 18:33. Daylength: 13hr 17mins

I started this week with a farm visit with Thomas. We were collecting cow poo to check for paratuberculosis (Johne’s disease). I had arrived prepared with some of those long orange gloves I used to use years ago in practice for calvings and pregnancy diagnosis, but in the event, Thomas simply scooped up dung from behind the oldest cows in the herd with a green plastic spoon. Don’t tell me my job isn’t filled with glamour!

I also spent part of the week at the abattoir, where on Tuesday I stood on the pig line by myself for the first time, and yesterday when I stood in for a colleague on the sheep line. Meat inspection of pigs is more difficult than inspecting sheep. This is partly because they are prone to abscesses in unpredictable places and partly because of their thick skin which remains in place rather than being removed, as is the case with other species. I have never been particularly fond of pigs, though my biggest veterinary claim to fame is that I once helped one of the stars of Emmerdale Farm (as it was then) to give birth to a very fine litter of piglets. As I work in the abattoir though, they are starting to grow on me as I become more familiar with handling them.

Compared with cattle and sheep, pigs are both noisy and noisome. Unlike the others, pigs are omnivores, which means their dung smells way more unpleasant than the digested grass or hay that herbivores produce. They are also descended from forest dwelling foragers, rather than being herd animals living on grasslands. They have a tendency to squeal very loudly when you try to get them to do something they don’t want to and when I first started to examine them in their pre-slaughter check, I would often find them squealing at the top of their lungs as I encouraged them to stand up. They mostly come into the abattoir the afternoon before, and when I arrive to check them at about six thirty in the morning, most of them are sleeping.

To carry out a thorough check, I have to go into the pen and wake them. I want to see them all walking about and check them more thoroughly than I can if they are lying flat on their sides. Obviously waking them up is never going to be particularly popular. Indeed sometimes when the whole pen is deep in slumber, I will check the other pens first, where at least one or two of the pigs are already up and rooting around. But I have learned, from experience, that most of the squealing comes when I disturb them unexpectedly and they want to get up but can’t due to a lack of space, or because another pig stood on them in the flurry of rising. So now I go through very gently and try to ensure that when I start to nudge a pig to get up, it has space around its head so that it can do so without panic. There are still occasional squeals when they come up against each other, but more often I elicit a rather pleasant grunting.

Controversial though it might be, I have also found myself watching the slaughter process with increasing fascination. As a very young vet, I once shot a sheep and was so horrified that I have never done it since. I suppose it’s cowardly to have taken that path as there are times when it is necessary and somebody else had to do it, but I wanted to mention it in light of my monitoring the pigs at the abattoir. It’s part of my job to check that the stunning and bleeding process is done properly, so that the animals do not suffer. I had no choice in the beginning, but I no longer worry about what I might witness. I have discovered that they are so efficient with the pigs that I now see it as being close to an art form. They bring them in in small groups, manoeuvre an individual into position without stress (the slaughter men encourage them to wander around the pen until they end up in the right place) and then stun them with a carefully placed tong that sends an electric current through them. There is no squealing and no sign that they are distressed by the smells in the pen or anything they can see. I can’t speak for any other systems, but I genuinely believe that the pigs in the abattoir where I work meet their end in a way that doesn’t cause distress. I take no joy in killing, but in doing it humanely? That is of the foremost importance.

Away with the Elg

Sunrise/sunset: 07:51/ 16:13. Daylength: 8hr 21mins

Just a quick warning that this post contains some details about meat inspection.

The days are getting longer so fast it’s difficult to keep up. From no sunlight a few weeks ago, to more than eight hours in a day is astonishing. It’s been beautiful weather for most of this week, and that’s very cheering.

Just as well for the good weather as there was a rather stressful incident at work on Tuesday. Regular readers will know that the tasks we have to carry out are many and varied and one of them is meat-control on elk.

It’s sadly not uncommon at this time of year for elk to be run over. This is the season when they migrate and unfortunately, despite all the warning signs, flashing lights and blue reflectors on the trees (which apparently help the elk to see when car headlights are coming) it still happens now and then. Once you have hit and injured an elk, there’s a phone number you call. Designated hunters are called in, who trace the animal, then shoot it humanely. They’re well trained and very efficient. Once they’ve taken it in and dressed the carcase, we are called in to carry out inspection of the meat. After all, it would be a waste to throw it away.

Anyway, back to my story. I went out to my first elk inspection on Monday with Ann. The stations where they are hung tend to be isolated places, so finding them isn’t always easy. But with most wild animals the meat inspection is straightforward. Other than their injuries, most are healthy. As well as checking the meat and organs, there is one routine test that has to be done. CWD is a disease that is similar to BSE (mad cow disease) and though it hasn’t been found here in northern Norway in elk, the decision has been taken to monitor the situation.

Sunlight through the forest

Thomas has trained the hunters to take the samples, and on Monday it had already been taken and sent off. The whole process seemed very straightforward. We had checked everything and marked the meat with the official stamp. So on Tuesday, when a second call out came in, Ann suggested I could go out on my own. I was working at the abattoir and it was on my way home. It wasn’t certain the sample had been taken, but Ann assured me it was similar to taking a BSE sample from a cow and I had done lots of those.

With a check of Google Map, I thought I had a good idea of where the station was situated. Despite that, I took a couple of wrong turns on the narrow snowy roads, but there was still plenty of time before dark. I felt a bit silly as Thomas had been at the abattoir and had offered to show me the way, but it was so beautiful that I couldn’t feel too upset about it.

I finally found the station, tucked away in a little clearing in the forest. It was minus twenty three, so I was glad when the key I had brought fitted and the door swung open. Inside, the elk was hanging. I checked the carcase without any problems and then walked over to examine the paperwork. The CWD sample had not been taken and so I made my way back to the tray where the organs and head had been placed.

For the first time since the start of my visit, I felt a quiver of doubt as I began to examine the head. To take the test, you need to get a sample of the brain. Though I could see a hole in the spinal column where the neck had been separated from the body, it didn’t look anything like the cattle I had sampled in the abattoir. There are different sized implements for taking the samples in different species and though I’d expected to use the cattle-sized tool, only the sheep-sized one seemed to fit.

Several minutes later, and despite the cold, I was starting to sweat. There was something far wrong. The sampling tool was going in way too deep: had been since my first attempt. I had tried to turn it as I had been taught, but it wouldn’t go. The knowledge was beating in my head; if I did it wrong, I could ruin the sample.

I took a deep breath. I wasn’t at all sure what the situation was in elk. In cattle over four years old that are taken for emergency slaughter it’s essential that the test is taken and a negative result received. Without one, the whole carcase has to be condemned. In sheep and reindeer it’s a bit different. A certain number of samples are taken each year, but if you can’t get one, you can sample another.

Stay calm, I told myself. I should try to call someone. Thomas had been at the abattoir. If I called him, he might still be there. But his phone rang out and there was no reply. I tried Ann. The same. In mounting frustration, I tried Ammar. He would be a couple of hours away in Tromsø and there was no way he could come out and help, but perhaps he could give some advice.

To my relief, after a few rings, he answered. As always, he was both helpful and upbeat. The sample you take is supposed to be nice and clean. There’s a specific area you are supposed to remove intact, but he told me it could be difficult in elk and to just take whatever material I could get. In addition to the brain sample, you also have to take some of the lymph nodes and he assured me that if I could take those and some of the brain, it would be fine. Call me back when you’ve done it, he said cheerfully, and then I was alone again.

I set to again with a feeling of determination. Many years ago, out on farms, I had learned that even if you think you can’t calve a cow, or return a displaced uterus, if you keep a calm head and persevere, you can achieve things you never thought possible. But despite all my efforts, I couldn’t retrieve much material. Nowhere near enough. In increasing desperation, I decided to find the lymph nodes. Ammar had told me ages ago with reindeer that if you can’t get a good enough segment of the brain, you should make sure the lymph nodes are there.

But when I started to look for lymph nodes, I felt equally out of my depth. The elg head looked completely different from anything I had seen before. I couldn’t even start to get my bearings. After several fruitless minutes, my determination had sped, replaced by a feeling of hopelessness. There was no way I was going to manage this.

Cleaning my hands again, I grabbed my mobile and rang Thomas again and this time, to my relief, he answered. He seemed astonished I was still working. He had assumed I was safely home by now. He was already back in the office. I felt my heart sink even further. I had been hoping against hope that I would catch him nearby so he could come and help. He talked to me for a few minutes about what was happening and then there was a long silence. I had the horrible feeling he was going to give me more advice and then I was going to have to try again, but I had no confidence left that I could achieve what I had set out to do.

When his voice came again, his words were wholly unexpected. “Do you have any rubbish bands there? Big ones?”

I walked around the corner into the little office area where there were shelves and a sink. There I saw what I had noticed earlier: a whole roll of black bin bags on the middle shelf. “There are,” I replied.

“In that case, pack up the head and bring it back here, and I’ll see what I can do.”

There was something rather surreal about driving several miles along snowy roads with a moose head in the car boot. I vaguely wondered what would happen if the police stopped me… but then as so many people hunt here, perhaps they’d think it completely normal!

I arrived back in the office with a feeling of huge relief. Even if I had messed the sample up in my attempts, at least I was doing something. Sometimes in those moments where you can’t see a way out of a situation, time extends and it’s hard to see an end.

I unpacked the head with Thomas’ help and he looked at it carefully. “No wonder you couldn’t get a sample,” he told me. “They haven’t taken enough of the neck away.” He reached out a gloved hand and grasped the section of spine from which I had been trying to take my sample. Wiggling it, he showed me a huge chunk of meat that moved easily up and down. “We have to take this whole piece off,” he said.

A few minutes and a very sharp knife later, he had managed it. Looking down at the head now, the anatomy was familiar, the sampling sites for both brain and lymph nodes were clear. Thomas went over the techniques again all the same. He has trained all the hunters and he made it really very clear.

As we filled in the paperwork, I suddenly remembered that in my desire to get help, I had forgotten to stamp the meat. It had been a very long day and there was no way I could go back tonight. With something of a sinking feeling – I had really messed everything up in a way I hadn’t for years – I headed home. Despite my awful day, there were still compensations. The sun was beginning to set as I stopped at the shop and so I took a photo.

Wednesday, despite all the finishing up I had to do, was much better. Having taken the sample to the post-office, returned the head, stamped the carcase and written the report (with help from Thomas) I was still finished just after lunch. I decided to use the flexitime I had gathered the day before to go back and take photographs of the places I had driven round. As you see above, it was a very beautiful day for it.

All’s well that ends well; though the sample Thomas had taken looked quite good, it hadn’t been possible to see the section that was meant to be intact. I had done too much probing around. There was still a worry that it might be rejected and if it was, then we would have to ring an expert to find out whether the meat could be used. So I was very relieved when the result came back clear on Thursday afternoon.

With a much lighter heart, I began to pack. We are away this weekend in a cabin, but more on that next week. For now I’m going to bank the fire up with logs and put my feet up. We’re not far from home, but this is the first time I’ve been away this year and I’m going to make the most of it.

Not Going Out

Sunrise/sunset: 10:07/ 13:53. Daylength: 3hr 45min

Another week working from home. It was only to be expected as the coronavirus figures, though steady, hadn’t begun to drop. The Norwegian government announcement was made on Monday, but they have promised to review it again next week. Numbers are now falling, so I’m hoping that next week I will be able to join some of my colleagues in the office.

That said, working from home has its advantages. The drive to work is shorter and the coffee is better. Aside from that, for the past two days, Storm Frank has been battering the Norway coast and going out hasn’t been so appealing. Luckily our apartment was protected from the worst of the wind by the steep slope that rises up behind it, but minus ten gusting up to sixty miles an hour is really quite chilly!

The company at home is furrier, though the conversation is less varied. Triar looks wistfully out of the window as Frank’s chilly blast keeps us sitting inside for another day.

There is now ice on everything. There is ice on this football field on Senja.

Ice on the pitch. Football… or curling?

There is ice in the ditches and escaping from rocks.

Frozen waterfall.

Even the snow is covered in ice. It cracks as you step on it, the deep sound echoing through the air trapped in the underlying snow: very satisfying to jump into!

All this is treacherous of course, but going out is still sometimes necessary. As well as boots with spikes on the soles, we have a bucket of stones in the porch that we strew on the driveway. These are not like the mealy, red grit-mixed-with-salt that they use in the south. These are serious stones and at minus ten, salt has no benefits. With excellent foreplanning, Anna and I covered the driveway when there was something of a melt last week and now they are well embedded in the minus ten ice.

I had my five month assessment at work this week. It went well. In spite of coronavirus, Hilde is satisfied that I am picking things up quickly enough and working well. My ongoing aims are to start to take the lead when I go out on visits with colleagues and to put forward my opinions more in meetings. I am definitely guilty of not speaking up in meetings. This quotation from verse 27 of an old Norse poem, Hávamál, the Sayings of the High One is pertinent here:

Ósnotr maðr
er með aldir kømr
þat er bazt at hann þegi
engi þat veit
at hann ekki kann
name hann mæli til mart
veita maðr
hinn er vætki veit
þótt hann mæli til mart

Translation by Olive Bray

For the unwise man
who comes among men,
it is best that be he silent.
None know
that he knows nothing,
unless he should speak too much. *
The man does not know it,
he who knows nothing,
whether he speaks too much.

Not that I am especially unwise, of course, but until I have a full understanding of what is going on, I always tend to listen more than speak. Silence among crowds comes naturally to me. But given that a few days back, I heard in a meeting that Anja would be conducting the visits to hens and chickens, and rather than speaking up at the time to say I was interested in chickens, I stayed silent and e-mailed her afterwards to ask if I could accompany her, there are definitely some changes I can make that shouldn’t be too difficult.

And I will leave you with two more pictures I took in the tail end of the storm (the first being at the top of this post). Removing my gloves to take them was painful, but definitely worth it.

Uneasy water in the fjord as back-lit clouds race across the sky.
The bridge to Senja.

Ognaheia and Valentine

Marian and I had a lovely walk up to Ognaheia on Tuesday. For once it wasn’t raining, snowing or blowing a gale, and for the first time in weeks we were able to have sandwiches and coffee overlooking the lake at the end of the track. How wonderful it is to be able to go out in company with a friend and walk in the fresh air amongst wonderful surroundings. We both agreed it was a far better way to get exercise than on a running machine in a gym. We saw the Highland Cows on the way home, so of course I had to ask Marian to stop so I could take a photograph.

IMG_1908

And of course, yesterday was Valentine’s day. It’s not something we celebrate madly, but we did buy some food from the Thai Take-Away van in the village. It’s the only take-away for miles around, and only appeared relatively recently, so it’s quite a novelty. We’ve been once or twice before, but for some reason yesterday, the food was much spicier than it has been previously. It suited our tastes much better. Here’s hoping it continues. I also made a cake. Well any excuse really.

In addition to the cake and the take-away food, I bought Charlie some coffee beans from Steam, my favourite breakfast coffee shop in Stavanger. In return, he used the beans to make wonderful coffee to go with breakfast this morning. He makes breakfast every weekend, and brings it to me in bed. Delicious toast with a mixture of cheeses melted on top, along with slivers of onion and tomato and pieces of salami. And freshly ground coffee with frothed milk. It’s my favourite part of the week. I’m really very lucky.

Love you Charlie.IMG_1923

Bodies

Language is an odd thing. Now I am using Norwegian more often, I notice strange things occurring with greater frequency. For example, I sometimes have conversations with people and afterwards thinking back I can’t recall which language we used. More confusing still is the phenomenon which occasionally occurs when a sprinkling of “English” words are scattered amongst the Norsk. For example, I saw a headline in the newspaper the other day. “City løftet trofeet!” It said. Trofeet? I ran it through my mind. Not sure about that one. Something to do with three? Løftet meant lifted. I knew that. So something about a city being lifted? What could it mean? An earthquake? I was trying to work out how this incredible feat of tectonic activity had occurred without my being aware of it when I noticed the accompanying photograph of a bunch of football players and it suddenly crystallised in my mind. So much for earthquakes. I was halfway up the stairs before I registered that the Norwegian word for city is “by” Had I registered that City wasn’t even a Norsk word, I would have realised that this was all about the Norwegian obsession with English football. City had lifted the trophy.

So a day or two later, I should probably have been more alert to this phenomenon when I was looking for the soap. I found Irene and asked her where it was. “Det er I skapet der bodies holdes.” she told me. My mind worked that one out. It was in the cupboard where the bodies were stored. That much I registered. But really? The soap was in cold-storage with the bodies? It couldn’t be. Or did she just mean in the room? Was there another cupboard in there? I shook my head in confusion and she must have taken pity on me because instead of trying again, she led me into the prep-room, skirted round the piles of dog food that were sitting there and opened the cupboard where the clean laundry was stored. “There!” She pointed to the big container. I just stared at it. “What?” she asked, looking at me still. “But the bodies?” I asked her. She took out one of the “Bodies” a cute little item of clothing that we use on dogs when they’ve had an operation. It was again at that point that I realised that the Norwegian for body is “kropp”. When I told her, she just laughed.

I received my authorisation notice last Friday. So now I am allowed to do official vet things like operations. I love operating. The vets here are fascinated with the way I sterilise cats. I learned a really nifty method for castrating cats years ago that involves tying a knot in the blood vessel and vas deferens using only a pair of artery forceps. Once you’ve done it a few hundred times, it can be done in about ten seconds flat. And much to their interest, I have always spayed cats through a hole in the flank. Here they go in underneath through the midline. Guro, whose middle name is Moira because secretly she’s actually Scottish, decided to jump right in there and we spayed a cat together on Thursday. Apart from the classic first-time error we managed to make when we failed to go right through into the abdomen and found ourselves having one of those odd moments when it seems the cat had no abdominal organs, the whole thing went very well. I’m glad to work with such open minded people who are keen to try different things.

Another big event on Thursday, seeing my first patient alone. It was a dog with a broken claw. Not so much to go wrong I thought. But when I looked at the dog, it was hard to tell what I should do. Dim light from the window and a dog the colour of Yorkshire jet meant that I had only the faintest sight of the claw I was examining. Happily Magnificent Magne rode in to the rescue… and switched on the light. I felt just like a new graduate again: a mind so filled with uncertainty that common sense was as elusive as the light had been. The uncertainty was replaced by a booming knowledge, reflected in the client’s eyes… “Oh no. This one’s clueless.” Still, I managed to sedate the dog and the ring block around the claw worked perfectly. The patient never even twitched as Magne gouged away the outer layer of the claw using the dental instruments. The usual frustration entered my mind as I bandaged the foot without dressing or K-Band (how am I going to survive without K-Band????) but the finished product looked neat and tidy. And the next time could only be easier surely? And so I thought, that was my week over, but on Friday morning, as I sat in bed contemplating a lovely relaxing day, a message popped up on Facebook. “Are you there?” said Irene. Wondering whether she would be eaten alive by SBL for using Facebook at work, I replied that I was. “I didn’t have your telephone number,” she said. “Guro has rung to say she can’t come in. Could you come instead?”. I was tired from a midnight run to the airport, nevertheless I like working Fridays, so I wasn’t going to turn this down.

And so I found myself in a room examining my second patient. It was one of Guro’s and she has an interest in small pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs and this one was a hamster with a lump on its bottom. I was amazed when I took it out of its cage to find the “lump” was actually the most enormous pair of testicles that I have ever seen. If a bull had an equivalent pair, they’d be dragging on the ground. Aside from their massive size, everything seemed to be normal but as Madam Self-Confidence had still not installed herself in my head, I scurried off to get a second opinion. I found Vivek first. She was probably trying to hide, but there was no escape. Scouring the books in the back-room, we couldn’t find a thing, but happily Google Images came to the rescue. Apparently these gigantic appendages were completely normal. Of course, with the client now in “Oh no. This one’s clueless” mode, I couldn’t saunter back in and casually tell her that everything was quite in order, so happily this time Vivek came in to reassure her. One day perhaps I will manage to see a patient on my own again.

Later on I found myself helping out Jan-Arne. He was going to see a few more of Guro’s clients and so I examined a dog with him that was in for a biopsy of a lump beside her bottom. Obviously a day for it. It felt to me a bit like a lipoma, albeit in an awkward position, so I asked for permission to remove the whole thing, rather than doing the biopsy, if on inspection it turned out to be just that. And it was. It came away beautifully. My satisfaction was complete when I saw the owner’s face when I told her that it had been a benign fatty lump. To me, it was a small, if very satisfying operation. To her, it meant so much more. It is those moments that make life as a vet worthwhile.

The Girl with the Chicken Head

I didn’t have time in my last entry, but in the car on Sunday Jan-Arne told me a bit more about Mystical Magne. As well as being married to Gerd, Magne is seventy-seven years old. I would never have guessed. According to Jan-Arne, Magne has said he will only retire when he doesn’t get up and look forward to coming to work every day.

Jan-Arne himself was off work on Tuesday… which just goes to show that large animal work can be bad for you. He told me on Sunday that he was hoping for a “small colic” in a horse. You should be careful what you wish for. Instead of the minor ailment he desired, he ended up dealing with a major incident. He carried out all kinds of treatment to try to alleviate the problem, including introducing a large-bore needle into the caecum to allow the gas to escape. At one point he was trying to get some liquid paraffin into the poor animal without much success. Rather than using a pump (which he felt would be unsafe for his patient) he tried to blow the solution down the tube… and landed up in a battle of rills where he couldn’t determine whether he or the horse ended up swallowing more. In addition he inhaled the stuff, and attributed the hideous cough he came down with the next day to this, as well as to a cold triggered by staying up half the night in his shirt-sleeves battling to save the horse. He is (as yet) not very experienced, but he is determined and innovative and shows a degree of dedication that I admire very much. Sadly this wasn’t a story with a happy ending. The poor horse was eventually put to sleep, but Jan-Arne tried all he could to resolve the problem and had done all that was possible to alleviate the animal’s distress. Sometimes that is all you can do.

On Thursday, still sounding like a rendition of the frog chorus, he turned up at work in a T-shirt and a pair of pyjama trousers. It is possible that he felt so ill that he didn’t have time to change, but more likely he thinks it is time to start a new trend. This is Norway after all, the land of cosmopolitan chic, and whatever you feel about maroon pyjama trousers, nothing could be worse than the hip-hugging, bum-crack showing jeans and white-socks-with-sandals look that has permeated the summer fashion parade here in recent years.

In the meantime Irrepressible Irene, short of veterinary work, had decided it was time to clean the windows. It would be more fun with two she told me, and so convincing was she with her foxy grin, that I found myself outside a few minutes later with a blade in one hand and a drying cloth in the other. Round the front of the building was easy enough, though there were a few girly screams as some spider’s webs came into contact with Irene’s hands. It must be said that she is a very attractive young woman, an opinion which must have been shared by two friendly spiders (both of them named Scott [after Sir Walter]) which felt so drawn to her that they began nesting in her hair and had to be removed.

Round the back of the building was a different matter. Not only were the windows higher off the ground, but there was a foot-deep runnel running along the side of the building that meant that the step-ladder Irene had fetched could not stand flat on the gravel. So with no discernible respect for Health and Safety* (yay for living in Norway) we mounted the precariously wobbling stairs and continued our perilous trip around the outside of the building. As we burnished the final window into glinting brightness, I thought we were finished, but with her usual thoroughness she insisted we should clean the inside as well. Unfortunately for her, there was some evil condensation in between the double glazing that even she was unable to banish. There was, however an interesting ritual that I observed. I can only assume that it is a Norwegian idiosyncrasy. At one point in the proceedings, Irene donned a rather natty chicken mask and continued to climb on swivelling chairs (*see earlier note on Health and Safety) to polish the glasswork. During this mysterious ritual, Gerd even came through to take a photograph. And so, dear reader, if you are really lucky and come back next week, I may be able to share some solid evidence of this fascinating local custom. Who could possibly resist that?

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.