The Apprentice

2014-06-13 00:00

SHE had nearly six years of full-time study under her belt. It was that exciting time during the veterinary curriculum when all that accumulated academia would be put into practice — the start of clinics. Tonight it was the turn of her group at the companion animal ICU. At long last, she would be getting a sniff of what it was like to be a professional and boy, was she excited!

There was trepidation, too, of course. Would she cope? Would she remember the recommended doses for the various treatment protocols? What if she gave the wrong medication? But she had a confident disposition and she knew that she would be supervised by a qualified veterinary intern and an experienced nursing sister. She dressed with care and with pride. Blue top, stethoscope, thermometer, scissors, watch, pen, notepad. She checked and double checked. Her mum, who had sacrificed so much for her education, would be proud.

The three students in her group had the 7 pm to 1 am shift and the ICU was full when they clocked in that evening. A bull terrier was coming around from anaesthesia following the surgical removal of a dishcloth that he had eaten and that had got stuck in his small intestine. A ridgeback recovering from surgery to repair a twisted gut, a Peke that had had an eye removed and a cat with a blocked bladder were other interesting cases. Then there were the normal, run-of-the mill surgical issues, mostly involving the consequences of dogs having physical altercations with other dogs. And, tucked away in a cage at the end of the ward, was a very fat goldfish in its bowl. It looked healthy enough, she thought, but the chart said it had “dropsy”. Her mind did somersaults trying to recall what she had learnt about the condition. The files in her grey matter were opened and closed until — there it was — page 124 of the text book on exotic animals. “Dropsy of goldfish — a potentially life-threatening condition, usually caused by a gram negative bacterium infecting the abdominal organs, resulting in fluid retention”. She looked at the fish. Gee, if she had not known better, she would have thought that it was just fat. She felt proud to be a prospective member of a profession who could tell the difference between a fat and a sick fish.

The ward sister divided the cases among the three students. She got a couple of dogs, a cat and the goldfish.

The treatment of the dogs and the cat seemed straight forward enough. Drips to be checked and meds to be given at various times.

The fish was a different story. The sister informed her that this was an extra-super-special fish called “Humphrey” and he belonged to the much-loved daughter of a very influential celebrity. She could forget about graduating if anything bad happened to him on her watch. No degree, never, ever! No pressure!

Humphrey was also extremely intelligent and sensitive. All treatments had to be accompanied by continuous discourse. He, apparently, liked people talking to him and particularly enjoyed hearing his own name, especially if it was sung to him. According to the hospital chart, the treatment during the night was complicated and convoluted. Every 20 minutes, she needed to aerate the water by gently infusing one 100 ml of air into the bowl. Out of a two-millilitre syringe. The small syringe was necessary because it caused less water turbulence. Fifty times every 20 minutes! She also had to run a drip bag of unspecified meds into the bowl at hourly intervals. And monitor the flotation of the fish by recording its position in the tank. The middle third was good, top was okay but bottom was life threatening. If the fish was not in the middle she needed to chase it until it was.

She also had to ensure that the water temperature was a constant 22 degrees Celsius. When the temperature dropped, she needed to warm it up by inserting a glove filled with warm water until the surrounding water was the correct temp. Slowly and gently. And all the while talking and singing to the fish.

When she was complete, “Humphrey” had become a substitute word in a number of choruses by a variety of artists, including Whitney Houston, Coldplay and the Black Eyed Peas. He even became Humphrey Dumpty for a while.

She was absolutely knackered when she handed her cases over to the next rotation. Tired but elated that her charges had come through the evening unscathed.

Too tired, by far, to notice the ward sister and the intern in huddled discussion, conversing in giggled whispers that included, at regular intervals, the words “hook, line and sinker”.

• You can follow the exploits of the Village Vet on his blog,

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