Why do we do it?

2012-10-29 00:00

THE cow had gone down in the crush in the lee of the Ntimbankhulu on this dusty Saturday afternoon. Although it was mid-winter, the sun beat mercilessly down as I grovelled in the dirt, trying my best to squeeze a prolapsed vagina back through an orifice that was decidedly more narrow than the monstrous mass of tissue hanging from her. I had already performed an emergency Caesar on another cow that had been struggling to give birth for two days — a dirty, smelly, messy affair — and had now been presented with the prolapse. The farmer had departed in favour of a wedding and I was left in the company of the lone stockman and the operator of the fire-truck, someone who had made it abundantly clear that getting full of cow poo, blood and guts was not part of his job description, and that he was only there to provide water to maintain a semblance of hygiene. To cap it all, I had stuck the scalpel blade into the fleshy part of my index finger and my own blood contributed considerably to the bloody mess. And the Sharks were playing the Stormers shortly. I was not going to make it.

Not for the first time, I questioned my sanity and that of my colleagues, and reflected (with some considerable envy) on the lot of the accountants, lawyers and others , who, I was sure, were indulged in more civilised pastimes like playing golf or reclining on their couches prior to the rugby.

In this maudlin frame of mind, I leaned back and pondered why I was doing this at all. There had to be easier ways of earning a crust.

For starters, the veterinary course is long and arduous. Graduates have all completed seven years of intensive training, assuming no failure. And many student vets need to do previous studies to generate enough credits to get accepted to vet school. And then we have to continue studying just to maintain our registration.

It is also an expensive degree, more than double the cost of a conventional BA or BSocSc. New graduates consequently often graduate with student loans that may exceed a half-a-million rand and enter a work environment that, on average, is poorly remunerated in comparison with other professions.

It is frequently stressful, often dealing with life and death, and it is therefore perhaps not surprising that the profession has a high attrition rate. Recent research in the UK details that the suicide rate among British vets was twice as many as human doctors and dentists and four times as high as the general population. This is not a thumb suck. I have lost good friends and colleagues, too.

Dangerous as well. Stare into the yellow eyes of a 60-kilogram boerbul and tell me that you think otherwise. One’s heart rate reaches record levels and the sphincter’s controlling body orifices all quiver on the alter of the hooves of a fired-up stallion, the horns of an angry Brahman bull, the teeth of a croc, the talons of an eagle, the fangs of a snake. Or just the scratch of a cat. These are daily occupational hazards. I have a bone in my back broken by a panicked ram.

There are also a multitude of animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Some vets have died from psittacosis, rabies, Rift Valley fever, brucellosis, tuberculosis and others. Most of us have contracted one or more disease and recovered or have been successfully treated.

So why do we do it?

The tissue suddenly plops back into place, I complete my sutures and treatment, and the cow stands up and trots off.

The question is answered.

 

• The author is a practising vet with a passion for his profession and a giggle in his heart.

 

NOT FOR THE FIRST TIME, I QUESTIONED MY SANITY AND THAT OF MY COLLEAGUES, AND REFLECTED (WITH SOME CONSIDERABLE ENVY) ON THE LOT OF THE ACCOUNTANTS, LAWYERS AND OTHERS, WHO, I WAS SURE, WERE INDULGED IN MORE CIVILISED PASTIMES LIKE PLAYING GOLF OR RECLINING ON THEIR COUCHES PRIOR TO THE RUGBY.

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