This week’s picture is of Daisy, a West Highland White terrier who came in yesterday morning to be inseminated. I have seen cows inseminated before, but never a bitch, so I was interested to watch Magnificent Magne as he took a swab to check if Daisy was ready, and looked at the sperm under the microscope to see whether the sample was healthy. Apparently both were good enough. Daisy’s mum used to come in for Magne to inseminate her as well, so her owner told me, so obviously it’s a successful technique. Hopefully in 63 days or so, there will be some more puppies as beautiful as she is.
The microscope in the practice does get very well used. Far more so than any practice I worked at in Scotland. I was very interested when Jan-Arne called me over to look through the lens a little later to show me a blood-sucking louse. For some bizarre reason, when he showed Irene, she said ‘Awwwwwww’. Obviously her idea of cute differs slightly from mine. I wonder whether this extends to her taste in men.
On Thursday, Jan-Arne came in in his pyjamas again. He actually admitted this time that they were his pyjamas. Obviously an eleven a.m. start is too early for him. I went into the changing room a few minutes after he had left and found his trousers decorating the floor and his boots haphazardly strewn . This amused me, so I took Irene to see, then asked him if he thought we were his servants. I threatened to take a photo, and he rushed to tidy them away. ‘Otherwise my mother will say I’m just the same at home, and Steinar (his partner) will as well,’ he groaned.
Still, he made up for it easily by bringing in the biggest Suksess Cake I’ve ever seen. For those of you not in Norway, this is a delicious cake with an almondy base and a sweet creamy yellow topping. It’s definitely my favourite Norsk cake. When I asked Jan-Arne what the success was that we were celebrating, he replied that the success was getting the calories out of his house. A few of them are undoubtedly now in mine. Still it was worth it. And just in case that wasn’t enough, at the meeting yesterday, everyone was handed an advent calendar. It seems that Scary Boss Lady really is into Christmas. It all looks veldig gøy. I wonder how many dogs will enjoy the tree.
Saturday night was the Julebord (Christmas Party). It was held at GamleVærket in Sandnes, and happily Charlie and I were able to book a room to stay overnight, which made for a very relaxing evening.
For me this was a very special event as it was my first Norwegian Julebord and though there were some similarities to those I have been to in Scotland there were also some major differences. I have a suspicion that J.R.R. Tolkien must have been to a Norwegian Julebord just before writing the dwarf party scene in the Hobbit. Very early on, it became apparent that throughout proceedings, people would randomly burst into song for no obvious reason, prompting everyone else to join in. Each of these rousing choruses culminated in a toast, which certainly got the event going.
Unlike the often uninspiring turkey dinner that is generally served in the UK, there was a huge buffet of traditional Norwegian Christmas delicacies, including ribbe, pinnekjøtt and lutefisk. I have mentioned ribbe before because we usually have it on Christmas day and it is a roasted pork joint with delicious crackling. Pinnejøtt is a kind of dried, salted lamb. But for me, the lutefisk the most interesting offering. For the uninitiated, lutefisk is white fish which has been slowly dissolved in caustic sodium hydroxide until it becomes gelatinous. Yum! Actually, this was my first experience of lutefisk, and when combined with chunks of bacon, mushy peas, and a delicious cream and mustard flavoured sauce, it was quite delicious. I would definitely have it again.
Dagny’s husband Sondre had brought his guitar, and he was mostly in charge of the entertainment. Per Egil (Irene’s husband) was first up. He shared a very baaaaad sheep joke with us. Charlie also had to talk. Happily, he is almost always prepared for public speaking and was quickly ready with a joke.
Jan-Arne got up at this point to take Steinar to work as he was due to work the night-shift. For some reason, their departure was marked with a song, to the tune of God Save the Queen, which roughly translated as “The old people are going home now”. I’m not sure her majesty would approve.
After a rousing rendition of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, some musicians very kindly came in and gave us their Jærsk version of King of the Road. Quite appropriately, this was all about a farmer and his enormous tractor. I couldn’t follow all of it, but if it was completely accurate, I am sure there must have been a mention of slurry in there somewhere.
For some reason, at this point all the women whose dresses had been bought by their husbands had to stand up and give a fashion parade. Irene, Dagny, Marita and me all had to give our version of the catwalk strut. Irene was definitely the most assured.
Then it was the turn of the husbands who bought the dresses to talk about the occasion. When asked the theme he had considered when buying Irene’s outfit, Per Egil stated he had been going for the ‘F****** Sexy Look. I was a bit worried about Charlie at this point, because I had a suspicion that he very likely had no memory of buying my dress. It was a couple of years ago, and just after Christmas in the sales. Still, he managed to hide his amnesia well by saying he just felt it was important that I did not outdo him for glamour. He then stated that unfortunately, as it was me he had to contend with, he had failed in his objective. In Glasgow, I fear this might have raised a chorus of gagging noises, but happily for me, Norwegians are far more romantically inclined and instead everyone said ‘Awwww……’
Christmas is a time for the giving of gifts, and so now it was time for us all to play the klinikk version of pass the parcel. Instead of music, the package started with Magne, who had to pass it to “a lady beside him,” who then had to pass it to “the person who was sitting furthest away.” The first few directions were innocuous, but gradually the theme descended towards more personal things. The final few were decidedly risqué. I really want to know how Kari Anna knew that Dagny’s husband was “owner of the biggest dick,” though not perhaps so much as Dagny wondered…
Of course, no Christmas party would be complete without some dancing, and so at this point everyone had to dance around the mulberry bush, or as they would have it here, the enebærbusk. I suppose that given the fact that one of Norway’s most popular Christmas songs states that the celebrations can’t begin until the floor has been washed, that a dance involving ironing the clothes and cleaning the windows would also be still all the rage.
Happily Jan-Arne returned in time for dessert. I particularly enjoyed the multer (cloud berries) with cream. Jan-Arne managed to pull one of the tiny Christmas crackers that was attached to the kransekake, and to my surprise, there was actually a hat and a joke inside. Jan-Arne seemed to enjoy the rice porridge with raspberry sauce best. Fortunately he didn’t get called out to any calvings with his crown on.
The evening was drawing to a close now, and people started to depart, but a few stout-hearted and dedicated partygoers continued down into the main bar area downstairs where a band were playing. Charlie, still swirling around in his kilt experienced some most enjoyable Norwegian sexism in action. Apparently not only was he accosted many times to be asked what he was wearing underneath, but he also had his bum felt a couple of times. I think it rounded off the evening well.
Anyway, for those who have reached this point, thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. And for anyone who is interested, I will attach a few more photos below. Maybe some of them will be a little more flattering…
There’s only a week left until Christmas, but there is still lots going on in Tu. Tuesday started with a bitch spay. The patient was a lovely little dog, and naturally her owner was worried. Happily, with Dagny and Magne’s nimble fingers, the operation was very swift and her owner was hugely relieved to see her friend back safely. Even with surgery that seems routine to us, for every owner it’s a unique and frightening experience.
For some reason, every time I walked into the laboratory, Marita was there using the hairdryer. We have quite a lot of technical equipment in Tu, but there are also some much more down-to-earth items that we use, and the hairdryer is one of them. It’s used on microscope slides to dry the material before staining and to me this is usually a very prosaic action, but as Marita stood there with her left foot at a rakish angle, right hand merrily oscillating, she looked very glamorous. Maybe in a previous life she was a stylist to a famous film star.
Although the day was busy, somehow in the afternoon, Magne and I managed to sit down for a cup of coffee. I think it must be a first for us to have time to do that. As well as coffee, Magne took a chocolate from his advent calendar and immediately afterwards he began to cough. I wondered whether he was so over-excited that he was choking, but when I asked he assured me it was only kennel cough and he acquired it because he hadn’t been vaccinated with sufficient aquavit.
Thursday was the day of our Christmas lunch in the klinikk, but before that, I had to help Magne clean out a dog’s ears. Pio, who weighed in at about seventy kilos was probably the biggest dog I have ever seen. Happily, he was also very good-natured. He and I had a lovely cuddle.
As for the fest (party) of the title, everyone in the clinic was invited, including the large animal vets whose office is in the same building. In the UK, an office Christmas party might consist of crisps and mince pies, or on a good day, sausage rolls and turkey sandwiches. Here they serve risgrøt, or rice porridge, which is liberally sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, and garnished with butter. I still always find it slightly disconcerting to be presented with a plate of rice-pudding for lunch, but it’s definitely not objectionable. Somewhere in the risgrøt, there is usually an almond or two, and whoever finds one wins a prize. In this case, the winnings were three large bars of chocolate, and they were won by Gerd, Jaqueline and Jan-Arne.
Of course, no Christmas party would be complete without the Christmas Banter. This year it was provided by Scary Boss Lady and her Whipping Boy. It began with Dagny laughing at Jan-Arne for the fact that he had been caught for a second time leaving his trousers on the floor of the changing room. Then she asked,
‘Is it true as well that you came to work in your pyjamas?’ Jan-Arne flushed slightly, but valiantly defended himself.
‘Well at least I don’t scuff my feet along the ground when I come in in the morning.’
Dagny frowned and shook her head. ‘I don’t scuff my feet.’
‘You do. Everyone can hear when you arrive.’
Dagny opened her eyes wide. ‘It isn’t true,’ she said and looked challengingly around the room. ‘A show of hands please, who can tell when I come in?’
I fear that the vote would have been unanimous, if only I had been keeping up properly with the conversation, but as usual, I was five steps behind.
I suspect that Dagny is one of those people who believe that attack is the best form of defence, and so she returned to a subject that had been going on since before the meal had started.
‘Well at least I didn’t open the chocolates that were meant to be eaten with this lunch. I think you should give your bar of chocolate back so we can all share it. Without another word, Jan-Arne carefully lifted up his prize and slid it into his pocket.
But all in all, it just goes to show, that however much effort you make, and however far you travel at Christmas, there will still always be someone who has to argue over who it was that ate all the chocolates.
Even after many years, I still greet Christmas and the New Year with a heightened sense of joy that I don’t have to work on either day. All round the world, many wonderful people in the emergency services give up those days to help others, and I send my good wishes to all my friends and colleagues who have been, and will be working over the holiday period this year. I expect when I return tomorrow, there may be a few Christmas related cases. It only takes a moment or two for a dog to eat something that he or she shouldn’t, and chocolate and raisins can be toxic for dogs, as well as the simple problem of too much turkey.
Last Tuesday, the day began as I walked through the prep-room on the way to change into my uniform. Linus, (whose picture you can see at the top of the page) had been very ill and vomiting for a few days, and he was in a lot of pain and seemed utterly exhausted. His abdomen was so painful that Dagny had to sedate him to examine him properly, and when she did, she could feel something. Whatever it was, it wasn’t visible on the x-ray (some items show up clearly, but not all do) so the only way to help Linus was an exploratory operation. His owners were naturally very fearful. Linus is eleven years old and as the lump wasn’t visible on the x-rays, it could be anything from a peach-stone to a tumour.
As Dagny readied herself for surgery, I prepared Linus for the operation. The monitors attached, I was concerned to find that the oxygen levels in Linus’ blood were very low: not very surprising as I could see that his gums were pale, nothing like the fresh pink colour they are in a healthy dog. I turned the intravenous drip as fast as it would go, and kept the anaesthetic levels to a minimum as Dagny began to cut.
It didn’t take long for her to locate the lump, and it was immediately obvious that it was a foreign body and not a tumour. The gut was inflamed where whatever-it-was had already passed through. I opened up the set of special clamps and the multiple packs of gauze I had ready and Dangy placed them around the gut to keep everything clean.
Pausing for a moment, she looked up and smiled. ‘What do you think?’ she asked. ‘I’m betting on a kongle!’ Kongle is Norwegian for pine cone. Her attention firmly back on her work , she cut carefully into the segment of intestine and drew out what proved indeed to be a section of pine cone. Poor Linus. No wonder it had been so painful.
From that point in the operation, it was obvious that things were improving. As Linus’ guts began to function again and the fluids from the drip got to work, his oxygen levels climbed from sixty-two right up into the high nineties, which is where they should be when everything is functioning well.
‘Would you mind just quickly going and telling his owners that it wasn’t a tumour?’ Dagny asked, as with the hole in the gut closed, she began to stitch the abdominal muscles. ‘They were so worried.’ As everything was stable, I was delighted to run through and tell them. What better Christmas present could there possibly be for me and them?
There are one or two things I find difficult about being an assistant. It’s not so easy for me to telephone owners and ask for an update, as I might do with one of my own patients. But I hope that the signs that I saw during that operation boded well for Linus and that he and his owners have had a wonderful Christmas together.
New Year is almost here. I feel I have come a long way in 2014. Strange to think that less than a year ago, I drew up outside Tu Dyreklinikk and decided it was too daunting to walk in and ask if I could look around. I’m glad I changed my mind. That decision allowed me to meet some wonderful new friends, and has given me the opportunity to return to a life I hadn’t realised I was missing so much.
As I said in my last post, I was pleased that I was not working over Christmas. Jan-Arne was however, and somehow he managed to get himself on the front page of our local newspaper, JaerBladet after a Japanese Akita called Frøya accidentally got hold of a whole fruit and nut bar. Happily for Frøya’s owners, Jan-Arne was able to treat her, and by the next day, she was fine.
The picture at the top of the page is another of Jan-Arne’s patients. Lukas is a young Staffordshire Bull terrier with itchy skin. Feel better soon Lukas.
This week, I have only worked one day because New Year falls on a Thursday. I spent most of yesterday in theatre with Magne and Wivek. As usual I was on anaesthetic duty and it was an interesting day for me as Wivek was trying out a new form of pain relief called Recuvyra. Recuvyra is an opioid pain-killer, which is applied to the skin of a dog under its coat. It lasts for four days, so for operations which require analgesia for a few days, it is a good alternative to remaining in hospital, or coming back in for several days for injections. As always with new treatments, it will be interesting to hear from the clients how they got on. Yesterday’s patient, a sweet little Tibetan Spaniel with a displaced hip, seemed very stable throughout her anaesthetic and contented during the recovery period so I hope that when she went home, everything continued to go well. I remember when I started out in veterinary practice, there was much less consideration given to pain-relief, and very few pain-killers readily available. It’s one area where I feel the veterinary profession has made enormous leaps in progress and it is important for our patients that we keep up.
There were a few things that made me laugh. Obviously my Norwegian is still patchy, as when I asked Wivek how big the bladder dog was, (a lovely Schnauzer which was suffering from stones in her urine) she told me it was about the size of a grape. She was referring to the stones of course. No idea how I would go about anaesthetising a dog that weighed less than a box of matches.
For some reason, I was having difficulty with intravenous catheters, probably because Wivek was watching, and she always makes it look so simple. It’s much easier to find the vein with good lighting, so before I made my second attempt of the day (on the Schnauzer), I walked over and switched on the big overhead light. Except somehow, I got the wrong switch. I confess I was surprised when the light failed to come on, but not quite as surprised as Magne, who suddenly found himself plunged into darkness as he waited for us in the operating room. His face was a picture as he emerged.
The high point of the day though, was the moment when Wivek and I were discussing the Christmas period.
‘I went to see a film yesterday,’ she said, and gazed into the air for a moment. ‘I can’t remember the name of it though.’ She shrugged and then looked down to continue her suturing.
‘Not very memorable then,’ I suggested.
She frowned. ‘Good film, not a good name,’ she said. ‘It was about Alan Turing.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘The one with Benedict Cumberbatch?’
I have never seen such a blank look on anyone’s face. ‘Benedict who?’ she said. ‘I don’t know his name. The one who played Sherlock Holmes.’
I confess I was astonished. I thought that everyone in the universe knew who Benedict Cumberbatch was. Even if we had woken up the patient and asked her in dog language who it was that played Sherlock Holmes, she would probably have barked his name. So there you have it. If you want to consult Wivipedia, it’s probably better to stick to animals and Norwegian cookery. Whatever you do, don’t consult her about Tom Cruise. For her that would be Mission Impossible.
Anyway, to all of you who have supported me this year, thank you very much. I can hear fireworks outside already. By midnight, the sky will be bursting with light and colour. Happy Hogmanay, and I hope you have a wonderful time in 2015.
It has struck me often, even before I started to write this blog, that my life is filled with small irrelevant detail. In fact one of the reasons I selected WordPress was that I knew that you could create fixed pages, and hopefully, over time I will be able to build up a site that people can look round, rather than depending upon a blog that should probably be updated more frequently than things happen in my life. I look in awe at those people who have weekly columns in newspapers and manage to come up with something original, or even better, funny on a regular basis. Worse still, the news is filled with its usual stories of seasonal lack of cheer. I should be feeling guilty at setting forth all this trivia, however on the grounds that guilt is an over-rated personal attribute, I shall just go ahead anyway.
This morning, I crawled out of bed at about half-past nine. Charlie has returned to work, and the only things I have to do involve dirty clothes, and combining foodstuffs into tasty formats. The former is (of course) deeply boring. The latter, I found I had little enthusiasm for, on the grounds that after several days of over-indulgence, I can’t actually imagine what it feels like to be genuinely hungry. Still, I have promised Charlie that there will be trifle at New Year, and so it was necessary to make some kind of sponge. Given that we really don’t need any more cakes right now, I decided that perhaps small buns were the way to go. Having assessed my ingredients, and with the knowledge that blueberry muffins are without doubt the best of the muffin-based food range, I decided to add some blueberry jam. Given as well, that I had leftover green and red marzipan in the fridge (chocolate log, you understand) I thought I would add pieces of that into the mix as well. As I stirred the resulting hideous purple mess, I found myself happily contemplating the fact that perhaps, just perhaps, I was the first person ever to combine these particular flavours together. Given that there is chocolate icing left over from the chocolate log as well, I suspect that the finished product will be really quite delicious. Obviously purple sponge, red, jelly, orange fruit, yellow custard and white cream will look quite garish when mixed together, but the good news is, that if I add sufficient sherry nobody will give a toss anyway.
Rather more soberly, I have to announce that I have completed the redraft of “Tomorrow” and so find myself at the beginning of another quest for a literary agent. I would like to think I am inured this time, to the inevitable six weeks of emptiness (well in my inbox at least, it is unlikely I will be dieting during this period) followed by the brick wall of generic rejection letters, but I know it’s still going to feel like shit. And as usual, the beginning has been beset by cock-ups. I have perused books and many websites on the subject of “how to hook your agent” and yet none of them have ever given the advice “Don’t start out with your most preferred agent because you will almost certainly make an arse of sending out your first draft”. This time it was quite spectacular. I had decided to try out a somewhat cheeky vibe, and was speculatively writing a lot of trash in the happy knowledge I would be able to edit extensively thereafter, when I inadvertently pressed “send”. I still don’t quite know how it happened, but I sat there in horror with the realisation that I could not retract a single word. Instead, pulling myself together, I began again from the point where I had left off, attempting a light-hearted thrust or two, in the hope that the poor sod on the receiving end would be amused. It was only after I had sent out the second e-mail that I realised that the document I had uploaded, which I thought was a docx document, was actually odt… a format that agent doesn’t accept. I can’t face writing again. I can only hope that he is in generous mood when he comes across the wonderful item.
So much has been invested in the past weeks. The pre-Christmas anticipation (for me at least) lasted more than a month. And then the day arrived and was beautiful, yet so brief.
There were imperfections. It was impossible to get to sleep due to the activity in my brain, rehearsing for the next day, and (irony of ironies) the insomnia caused by the worry that I might not get to sleep soon enough. Soon enough for what, you may ask.
The oven decided to play up. The electrics in our house are old and… well cobbled together would probably be a good description. No neat and tidy holes through the ceiling or floor: the wires line the walls. When there is a surge of power in the kitchen, the fuse blows. After a bit of fiddling with the water heater, the electric radiator and the extractor fan, the vegetables managed to limp to boiling point, though limp is an inappropriate word because for once, they weren’t overcooked. At least it happened in the latter stages, by which time the pork had already achieved fragrant crispiness. We eat ribbe now: a wonderful side of pork with tasty crackling that complements the roast potatoes and stuffing rather better (in my opinion) than dried out turkey.
Anyway I have been fighting that sad day-after-Christmas feeling, on and off. We watched Call The Midwife this morning, downloaded from the internet. It was presumably meant to be uplifting. After last year’s sad topic, and the Downton death debacle of Matthew Crawley, I watched with the strangely demoralising certainty they would give it a happy ending, but it left me feeling a kind of melancholic nostalgia. Not that I was alive back then. It is set a decade or more before I was born; the costumes are notably like those I see in photos from when my parents were young. But these programmes make me yearn for “when things were less complicated”, which is odd because it isn’t as if things were easier back then, and that was clear in the storylines which were of post-war PTSD and polio.
I guess what I secretly yearn for, is that time when I was a child, and it was someone else’s job to ensure that Christmas went swimmingly. To a time when the world seemed wide open and anything was possible. I know that the reality wasn’t like that. Teenage was a difficult time of wanting and hoping so much. I achieved something wonderful, getting into University to study Veterinary Science, but what I really wanted was a wonderful man to sweep me off my feet. Some people are never happy.
But that’s just it, you see. On the whole I am very happy. I have that wonderful husband. My life is stable and fulfilling. I see on websites sometimes people setting out their “bucket lists”. I don’t bother because I have done almost everything that was really important to me. One thing remains and that is to have a novel published. I’ve already seen my name in print of course. I’ve had short stories published in the Veterinary Times, and even been paid for the privilege. But as I am about to embark upon the painful journey of trying to find a literary agent who loves Tomorrow, I can only hope that this time… this time I have got it right.