A woman’s touch

2010-07-16 00:00

PICK up a class photo from a veterinary college from years gone by — the sepia type with cracked edges and red wine stains over some of the sombre faces. It will immediately be obvious that this is a male-dominated profession. Only the odd female face will glare at you through the mists of history. And these will often (not always, I must add) be attached to physiques of the hairy-armpit variety, whose ample torso would culminate in appendages which could throttle a weaner­ calf with one hand.

Not anymore. Roughly 60% of our new veterinary graduates are female. It is enough to make your hair curl. With this sort of distraction, most of my peer group would still have been attempting to pass the exams 30 years on. Pheromones definitely occupy more grey matter than academia.

I ponder this fact as I watch our equine professor demonstrating the latest techniques in genital surgery, surrounded by three of his latest protégées, all young women, feminine and definitely capable.The anaesthetist has a bag of tricks that would make Michael Jackson’s physician green with envy. Her subtle and confident touch is keeping the young colt breathing steadily under his shroud of green surgical drapes, blissfully unaware of the drama surrounding his nether regions. The slim feminine grace of the blonde and brunette assistant sugeons contrast with the professor, who in his day, played competitive rugby in the old Northern Transvaal. The brunette has a retained testicle firmly grasped in her slender fist, prompting ribald comments and sniggers from our member from E.G. and other middle-aged colleagues. The young fresh- faced observers don’t notice — they are concentrating so hard that they would not have noticed Nagasaki if it happened next door.

I am attending a short course on the subject, one of many all veterinary graduates must attend on a regular basis to maintain his or her registration with the Veterinary Council — our permit to practice.

I look around. I am surrounded by familiar friends and colleagues, some of whose faces reflect the excesses of the previous night, garnished with anecdotes, memories and Castle Lager. My face as well, I guess. I did not sleep well. After swopping “remember when” stories with the member from E.G. and his sidekick from Umkomaas, I eventually dribbled my way to bed later than intended. I slowly, semi-quietly let myself into my room and laid my weary body into the soft duvet. The trouble is, I was sharing a room with a stranger, a nice young Afrikaans­ boytjie who had gone to bed many hours previously, and who was now softly emitting the gentle sounds of happy slumber from his bed which was far too close to mine.

Now I have been married to the love of my life for close on 30 years and one gets used to the familiarity of a pink, feminine aura close by when one closes one’s heavy eyes. Intimate masculine presence is foreign to me. I am also acutely aware of my own nocturnal sounds, which, by the way, I am convinced that my truly beloved enjoys with the security of familiarity. I am less than convinced, however, that my new roommate will share the artistic value of my snorts, sniffs, grunts and release of internal air, my nocturnal lullaby. Have you ever tried to sleep quietly­? It is impossible and after a fitful night I eventually rose early and went for a jog to share my stored night-time sounds with nature’s early risers.

So here I am, content but sleepy, warm Drakensberg sunlight on my back, surrounded by like-minded colleagues and participating in improving my knowlege within a profession of which I am justifiably proud. And, as I glance around, I am content that the future of the profession is in good hands.

Feminine hands.

But then a thought of disquiet ruffles my reverie. Perhaps we are progressing toward a situation where boys become redundant. Think about it. Mother Nature is keen on selecting her gender. For example, the females dominate the social structure of all the plains antelope. The impala social group comprise a veritable book-club of girls, as graceful and feminine as our prof’s assistants. One male guards the harem­. The rest of the boys are kicked out to fend for themselves.

The same goes for most of nature’s children. Elephant families comprise mainly females­, the matriarch being the biggest and ugliest with the hairiest armpits. There is even a female spider who eats the male after sex. Sis!

Domestic animals fare even worse. Twenty-five beef cows are allocated one bull. Sheep are even worse off — one male for roughly 40 females. Only the strongest and best looking boys are kept for this duty. If we were sheep, my mates from E.G. and Umkomaas­ and myself would have been mutton curry a long time ago.

I am getting grumpy. I think I am going to bunk the rest of the day’s lectures and go and join my mates watching rugby on the TV in the pub.

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

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