Tag Archives: Veterinary

All Change

Things have changed since I last posted. So much so that this is the first time I have been able to sit down and record it. On the calendar downstairs, back on the 24th March, written in pink felt-tip pen, is the name of my nearest veterinary clinic. To distract my mind from my echoing e-mail box, I had wandered in off the street and asked (in my best Norwegian) whether I could come in and “see practice”, just for a week or two. The smiling receptionist, looking bemused promised to get the boss to call me, and I left, feeling, to be honest, like a bit of a tit. After all, I could have made that contact over the phone couldn’t I? Still, later that day, I received the call, and at 9a.m. on Monday morning, I presented myself.

I confess that the first question confused me somewhat. Peering into a cupboard filled with uniforms, Kari Anna (practice nurse) asked me whether I was a small or a medium. How to reply? I was obviously neither. Promising me that the medium was VERY stretchy round the waist (yes but what about the bum?) she handed over the medium overalls and commanded me to change. Shovelling me into a pair of green clogs (more on those later) she started to show me things on the computer. Obviously it was all written in Greek… or maybe Latin. Actually I might have understood those bits, but the rest was a mystery. Being me, I set out to solve it, and armed with a trusty pen and a post-it note, I gradually began over the course of a fortnight to decipher the runes.

I also made some new friends. So much for the much-fabled Norwegian stand-offishness; we spent the next two weeks laughing. And on the Thursday of the second week, I was offered a job. Dagny, the scary boss lady said I should talk to my husband… who of course said “What are you waiting for. Get signed up immediately!” So I did, setting out to work two days a week. The past fortnight has been a whirlwind of bank accounts and tax office visits ( yup, I didn’t have the former and have never paid the latter here) and getting the paperwork together to try to get myself authorised to carry out veterinary work in Norway. Currently I’m working as an assistant, which suits me down to the ground as I am helping out without having to consult (without knowing all those crucial anatomical words) and in the meantime, I am gradually picking up more Norwegian, though there is the terrible temptation to revert to English, especially as some of the clients immediately start to chat to me when they find out where I am from.

It’s a wonderful feeling, picking up the reins of something I used to be good at. Some things come back so quickly. Others are filled with fog. I suspect that when it comes to real knowledge, I have always been very reliant on books, and for the moment, I don’t have the right ones to hand. The BSAVA Manual of Emergency and Critical Care was my constant companion for all the years working in the emergency clinics. It’s at the top of my shopping list as even though there aren’t so many emergency cases during the day, I seem to recall it had a lot of fantastic tips on how to work cases up in the first instance. I’m slowly regaining knowledge, refilling the blanks, remembering the things I was never good at (I can take a mean x-ray, but I have never been on a course to learn to use ultrasound). I am learning new things as well. Who knew that it was illegal to castrate a dog or spay a bitch in Norway without good clinical reason? Apparently they have to be allowed freedom to explore their wild-side, though how that works when using drugs to prevent ovulation I have no idea. Bang goes the idea of opening a spay clinic in my nearest city!

This week started badly. I tried to anaesthetise a dog without having the machine fully switched on. Never a good idea. Worse still, it transpired that the green clogs actually belonged to the boss lady. Well I always did like to walk in shoes that were hard to fill. I’ve bought my own now. And Dagny has not yet used the whip on me that I took in for Irene (fabulous receptionist) to use on Jan-Arne (crazy vet).

Been out walking (the picture at the top is taken from south of our village, looking up the coast) and skiing, both downhill and cross-country. I would like to say that I didn’t fall over once, but sadly I can’t. Still things are looking up on all fronts. There might even be some movement on the book, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself so I’ll leave that for next time.

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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.

Shameless

So life is going on and work is getting better and better. Tuesday was a bit mad because Kari Anna is on holiday this week. She’s the clinic’s resident veterinary nurse, and like most veterinary nurses, when she is there, she flits calmly around the practice and suddenly all the mess has disappeared and everything is under control. On Tuesday morning there was just Gerd (a veterinær assistent like me … well actually not much like me because she is sensible and mature and… well you get the picture) and me there, and Gerd was busy on reception where the phone was ringing madly and about a thousand people were waiting to be helped. So I found myself rushing around, trying to make sure everything was reasonably tidy. Unlike Kari Anna, I was unable to do this invisibly and just in case I thought I was doing rather well, mid-morning Jan-Arne came up to me with a look of confusion and asked why I was doing so much cleaning up today.

Anyway into the midst of all this came scary-boss lady herself [hei Dagny!!!!] and demanded asked very kindly that I should get theatre ready for two cat sterilisation operations. Despite the fact that I had done it before under the steady eye of Kari Anna, immediate panic set in. I knew which surgical kit it was, but which size of drape had I been told again? And which suture materials? What size was the pack of gauze swabs, two or five? So many things to go wrong. Worse still, as I commandeered the last two surgical kits from the shelf, I realised that very probably I should have put the other kits that I had so carefully sorted out into the steriliser, because if any other operations were coming in immediately afterwards…

AAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaargh!

So with my head spinning round on its axis like the child from the Exorcist, I started to hunt around for everything I needed. At that moment, Magnanimous Magne (the other boss) stuck his head round the door and asked whether I could help him with a blood sample. I’m sure I snapped “No” rather rudely, but he didn’t seem to notice anything untoward, and a few minutes later, fortunately I found a spare minute to set up the haematology analyser and run his test for him. The operations went smoothly and there were no screams from outside theatre, so presumably nobody needed another kit during the time we were busy. It was with relief that I finished with the surgery and was left to sort out the two patients and clean up the theatre while Dagny went to get on with other vetty things.

As soon as that was all clear, I rushed to the autoclave. Now what was it I had to do again? I had to drain some water out of one of those little tubes but was it the water from the tube on the left or the right? I thought it was probably the left, but when I tried to open the tube up for emptying, I couldn’t get the rubber bung off the end. Was it meant to come off, or was it attached and needing to be twisted or opened somehow? I didn’t want to rip it off and then find I’d broken it. And was it the left tube? There didn’t seem to be anything in that one. So it was probably the right. Gerd was still stuck with her three million clients, and there was nobody else around, so taking my life in my hands, I approached my scary lovely boss and asked her if she knew. Very helpfully she came through. She hadn’t used the machine for three years, but she would try to remember. Within moments she had successfully removed the bung from the right tube as I had asked. With a triumphant nod she left me to it.

It was only when I was still standing there, with about a gallon of water in the bucket at my feet that I began to have some disquiet over whether it really was the right tube. When Kari Anna showed me, surely there had only been a little drainage? Now there was something approaching a flood threatening to overwhelm the bucket. Shoving the bung back into the tube, I rushed through, and happily Gerd was able to spare me a moment. I had, she confirmed, as I had suspected, made a brave attempt at emptying the entre autoclave, but fortunately all was not lost. There was enough distilled water to refill it and no harm done. Better still, she even showed me how to make more distilled water. Lets face it, by the time I have to do it, I’ll probably have forgotten, but I’ll deal with that when it happens!

Thursday and Friday weren’t so fraught thank goodness. This afternoon I even had a brief period when I wasn’t sure what to do. Irene was being terribly efficient, and there is another girl doing work experience who was rushing round after everyone tidying up, and as I don’t like to sit around doing nothing, I went in to see if Jan-Arne needed a hand. He was examining a cat with mastitis so I helped him to sedate her. As he was cleaning out her wound, Irene put her head around the door. Was I available, she wanted to know, to help with a dental? Her question was directed at Jan-Arne. Did he really need me?

Jan-Arne looked up with a grin. “No,” he said, “I don’t really need her, it’s just more fun when she’s here.” ** And really, when all is said and done, that’s good enough for me.

Here he is:

Jan Arne and pig

That’s him on the right….

And what is it that is shameless? Well I shamelessly stole Jan-Arne’s beautiful photograph of a foal for the top of my page. Who could possibly resist?

**Technically he said it in Norwegian, but it’s a near enough translation.

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!

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?

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….

IMG_2728

Laden Bin and the Exploding Tomato

It’s holiday time here in Norway. Irene has been away two weeks, Boss Lady was off last week and next week Magne will go as well. It seems almost unthinkable, for me with my British mindset, for the two practice partners to be away at the same time. In the practices I worked for in the UK it would have been inconceivable for even two of the vets to vacation simultaneously, nor was anyone ever allowed to take more than two weeks in a row. The attitude here is quite different in all areas, health work seemingly included. The local car-workshop shuts for a month. Even the Thai take-away van in our village, which potentially might have had a roaring trade with all the campsites locally, has disappeared. Family and holidays come before trade and profit. Four or five weeks off in a row is normal and none of the businesses seem to have broken.

In the meantime, things are going on in the practice more or less as usual. The practice is busy, but not (to me) unbearably so. I spent most of yesterday sedating dogs and cleaning their teeth. I am gently sliding into doing consultations without ever setting out to do so, though the computer system remains a mystery and all my cases so far have been chalked up to other people. There are happy cases and sad ones. Euthanasia is always difficult. Jan-Arne asked yesterday whether it ever got any less emotional, and I had to reply that for me it hadn’t. I still routinely find tears in my eyes, even after twenty years. There are funny cases too. Yesterday a dog came in because its owner was worried about some lumps on his abdomen. Turned out they were nipples. Cue mixed relief and embarrassment on the part of the owner and laughter all round. As Jan-Arne said, it’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.

On the assistant/nursing front, I continue to be busy. I haven’t mentioned it before, but Kari Anna is in the latter stages of pregnancy, and I am trying to learn as much as I can before she disappears. I can now carry out the early-morning room-checks before most of the vets arrive, and cleaning and sterilising the instruments has become routine. Some things continue to take me by surprise though. Periodically there is a problem with the bins. With all the waste, and especially with all the cardboard delivery boxes, there never seems to be quite enough space for all the rubbish. By the end of the cycle everything is starting to burst out of the top. A while back, Gerd had said something to me about hopping up on top of the paper-bin to squash down the contents. I dismissed this suggestion. I presumed that I had misheard, or misunderstood, or even perhaps this was a joke where she hoped I would climb up there and she could laugh at the naïve Scot who believed that anyone would really climb into a bin. So when Kari Anna suggested it again this week, I presumed the joke was continuing. To my horror, when I just laughed, she pulled up a wooden pallet and shinned up it. Before I knew what was happening, she was stomping around on top of the cardboard. I was petrified that she might fall and something awful might happen to the baby, but fortunately she made it down safely. Next time she suggests it, I’ll be up there like a shot.

Thursday’s communal meal is a highlight for me. There’s something very positive about getting everyone together in a room in a relaxed atmosphere and discussing how things are going. I’ve joked before about Norwegian attitudes to health and safety, but there is an injustice there; though safety may not be at the top of the agenda, health often is. The foods widely served in workplaces and schools seems to consist of brown bread, salad and fruit and a selection of toppings for the bread: cold meats, smoked salmon, eggs and cheese. There is some risk however, in even these innocent-sounding foods. Last week I popped a whole cherry tomato between my teeth and when I bit into it all the seeds exploded from my closed mouth all over the table. Luckily only Wivek and Dagny witnessed the ugly mess. Scarily, Dagny asked “What are you doing Sarah?”, but Wivek just giggled.

Yesterday there was a fly in the staff room. Most of us had eaten already. It was filled rolls this week for a change, and only one and a half remained on the unfolded cardboard box. After watching it for a moment as it took off and re-landed on Magne’s lunch, Kari Anna got to her feet, fetched a decorative orange and black fly swat from the kitchen and returned to the room with narrowed eyes. The evil-one was sitting at this point on the flattened cardboard a few inches from the food. A devastating flick of Kari Anna’s arm and there remained only a black full-stop adhering messily to the box. For a few long seconds, we sat there looking at it, and for a brief moment I thought it was just going to stay there, but Kari Anna retreated and came back with some paper towel and, efficient as ever, wiped it away. Just remind me never to get in her way if she’s carrying a whip.

Always Wet in Norway

And so we have returned from our wanderings in Denmark and the UK. I will upload some holiday photos shortly. We arrived home in a rain-storm very late on the 6th of August. Allegedly there had been warm weather the whole time we were away, but despite exhaustion from our journey, undisturbed sleep was impossible due to the most incredible thunderstorm I have ever (mostly) slept through. Periodically I was awoken by an explosion of thunder (it only rumbles when it’s a long way off; when the lightning is almost upon you the sound is like the crack of a shotgun) so loud and so brief that it felt the house was under siege. I was vaguely aware that it seemed to be going on for hours. The full extent of the attack only became visible in the morning when dawn dragged the world into some kind of daylight. The field behind our house was under water, and there was a river flowing through the farm that hadn’t been there before.

A new river.
A new river.

Remarkably the cellar was still dry, but as the water rose it started to fill. Unlike Noah we were unprepared, so instead of relaxing and gradually unpacking the car, we spent the day removing everything from the cellar that we could shift in time. The washing machine, freezer and fridge all had to go. Most of the food, the bottles of wine on the lower shelves, all the tools and batteries and drawers full of debris, and still the water was rising. The neighbouring village had been evacuated. We were told this when we went to ask the neighbour if we could move our car onto higher ground. We didn’t know if we should try to get out but most of the roads were blocked anyway. Eventually, some time in the afternoon (five o’clock came round while I thought it was about lunchtime) the fire-brigade arrived and started to pump the water out of the village, over the main road and down into the lagoon beside the beach. Later still, a small fire-service van made its way through the water at the side of the house and knocked on our front door. An unnamed neighbour had informed them our cellar was flooded. Could they pump it out for us? We were immensely grateful, both to them, and to the unknown neighbour who had bothered to let them know our plight.

The view from the front door.
The view from the front door.
The wonderful fire and emergency services.
The wonderful fire and emergency services.

Various things happened while I was away. Kari Anna has had a beautiful baby boy. That much I was expecting. After my return, on Facebook on Sunday there suddenly appeared photographs of Irene dressed mysteriously as a bride. Strange, I thought, because when I went away she had no holidays booked. Monday morning there were pictures of a champagne breakfast. I confess I was a little saddened that in the photographs of these events there was no sign of the chicken-head mask but obviously her plans must have changed while I was away and I concluded it could be a little busy at work as she would undoubtedly be on honeymoon.

By the time I returned to work on Tuesday I was, at least, fully rested, though as sometimes happens, the practice was going crazy. It’s always that way with veterinary work. Some days there are no emergencies and other days there are so many that it is impossible to fit everything in. As soon as I was in the door, Marvellous Magne, smiling (mostly I think with relief, possibly there was some pleasure there at my return but there was no time for chat) grabbed me and asked me to help him put a dog on a drip. For the next few hours I was in constant motion. All the bottles of Virkon for cleaning the tables needed to be refilled. I did them one at a time. Setting up the operating theatre, I noticed we were down to the last sterile surgical kit. As I held up the testicle that Magne was removing, my mind was working through my plan of campaign. From there I moved smoothly through to get the steriliser in action, set up the machine to distil some water, and then back to help with yet another case. It was an unusual case, a dog which probably has an insulinoma, and so it has chronically low blood sugar. It also seemed to be anaemic, and so we got permission to give the dog a small blood transfusion from a generous donor dog. Having added some blood into one vein, we set to and removed some from another to send into the laboratory to assess the dog’s insulin levels. In the meantime, Magne set up a programme of medical treatment to try to alleviate some of the dog’s clinical signs.

More cases followed, and for the first time since I have met him, Magne seemed weary. I offered to finish up his operations for him. Falling to his knees in gratitude (no not really, he’d only shatter his kneecaps which would be quite incapacitating) he thanked me and disappeared. A happy moment for me as I love surgery. To my amazement as I escaped from theatre at about one, Irene appeared, hair still tousled and highlighted as in her wedding photographs. She had got married, but for practical reasons she wasn’t going on honeymoon until next week. I was immensely glad to see her.

Thursday was much calmer and there was more time to ensure everything was up-to-date. Most of the afternoon was spent clearing some of the shelves in the Prep-Room as part of it is to be walled off to create my new consulting room (scary boss lady has declared that it is hers, but obviously it’s really for me). Every little corner that isn’t in constant use is now taken up with towels, uniforms, dog and cat food, reams of toilet paper, bottles of washing up-liquid, and some very strange unidentified instruments of torture including padded rings encased in (generally rather filthy) bandage with metal bars protruding out at strange angles and a special visor apparently for dogs. Maybe they need to be protected from the riots that regularly occur in the clinic on a Friday night. There was just one classic Irene moment. We had retrieved some boxes from the paper bin (this really is the most glamorous job anyone could devise), and stuck them back together, I was packing one box with huge soap and detergent bottles, and Irene was packing a smaller one with washing up-liquid. To fill up the remaining space, we piled in packets of toilet rolls and as she handed me a pack, she remarked, “You’ll have to stick it in yours, my hole isn’t big enough.” Luckily I didn’t quite wet myself laughing, so the rolls remained wrapped up.

At the end of the afternoon, Jan-Arne showed me his new baby: a Toyota Auris Hybrid Stasjonsvogn. It’s not quite as beautiful as Kari Anna’s new son, but I think Jan-Arne is almost as proud.Jan-Arne's car