Friday, August 30, 2013

Azza Update

My delicate Saudi flower turns two around the beginning of December. It feels like I've had her for far longer than that!

Her ability to deal with a variety of situations away from home continues to improve. Of note is what happened last Saturday when I took the dogs for our regular weekend walk in a nearby hilly, wooded area. There is a paved path that runs along one side of the recreation area. We follow this path for about a mile to get to our regular trail. It's a multi-use area, and Oregonians are nothing is not users of their recreation areas. We see walkers of all ages, runners singly and in packs, and bikers of all sorts.

So what happened last week? Two people spoke to me, making comments about the dogs, and I replied to them. And Azza did ... nothing. Nothing at all. Why is nothing so momentous? Even two months ago I was not able to reply to people who spoke to me because Azza would be having a meltdown as soon as they opened their mouths and I'd be dealing with her. Now she doesn't bat an eye at all those passers-by, and I can actually have an adult conversation with someone. Miraculous! Well, no, not miraculous, of course. It's constant and regular exposure to all of these random situations and tons of food rewards for good behavior that are helping Azza to deal with them.

People walking dogs represent a whole 'nother universe of issues for both Azza and Mimi so we won't discuss the complete lack of progress in that area.

Azza is no angel. She is going through her terrible twos at the moment! I left a pair of socks by my backpack only to discover them later with Azza in her crate. Fortunately I missed them before she chewed them up (it would have been the second pair she destroyed).

And she's discovered digging. None of my terriers have been diggers, by which I mean dogs that enjoy destroying your plants and yard by digging random craters everywhere. If one of my terriers is digging, it's for the specific purpose of getting to a small animal. But Azza has decided to explore this digging thing a bit more. She has a couple of favorite spots which are now mounded high with dog shit to discourage her. (I have a plentiful supply.) She has an odd habit of covering poop with dirt and leaves, which she pushes over the poop with her nose. (I have to be pretty quick about cleaning poop up in the yard because it is really hard to see once she completes her camouflage actions.) She's now covered both shit mounds with dirt (dirt that she previously loosened during her excavations) but hasn't dug under them yet.

Azza and HellBeast remain captivated by their "strip the bed" game. They can remove every item from a bed--dog blankets, pillows, blankets, sheets--in less than a minute when they get particularly wound up. I suspect they'd pull the fitted sheet off too if they were given sufficient time. I have recalled or removed Azza from the bedroom hundreds of times yet she sneaks back there every chance she gets. Naturally, the cat eggs her on by running back and forth making that enticing "prrt" or "come play with me" noise that cats make--he knows he isn't going to be the one who is yelled at (what's the point?). I have to have a semi-permanent baby gate in place to keep those two from tearing my bed up every day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Keeping Warm

It got a bit chilly last night. Azza was able to demonstrate that she has at last learned how to get close to Harry without upsetting either him or me. In this photo, he was curled up and covered up first, then she curled up next to him and I tucked her blanket around her. I suppose it's also worth nothing that Azza has finally learned the value of being covered with a warm blanket at night. She used to kick it off right away. Now when I drape it over her, she sighs and tucks her nose even further into her belly.

Laughing at me because I cover my dogs up with their own blankets? Laugh away. It keeps them quiet and happy all night long. And if I get cold myself, I drag Mimi under the covers with me. She gets the best of all possible worlds then.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Summer of Organic Chemistry 4: In the Home Stretch

I earned a B+ for the first course, only three points shy of an A. It was a respectable grade but I felt I should have done better. The final for the second course was this past Friday. I at last found my studying and learning groove during the past couple of weeks, and to continue the sports metaphors, I knocked that final out of the park. It replaced my less than stellar midterm grade, and I ended up with 210 points out of 200 for the course as a whole (not a typo; the instructor set up a strange system) and a solid A for the second course.

Now I'm in the home stretch. Today was the first day of the three-week lab course. It's a very odd schedule: six hours of lecture on Mondays and Thursdays (TWELVE HOURS of lecture a week; it's not a course, it's an IronMan trial) and four-hour labs on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. There is the most amazing flurry of paper associated with this course, far more than the previous two lecture-only courses. We have pre-labs and two "lab reports" for each lab, a formal written report for one lab (basically a technical writing assignment), homework problems, and of course the labs themselves. And there will still be a midterm and a final!

Even though I've started meeting more people, I ended up getting three lab partners sort of by random--we were standing next to each other when the instructor told us to form groups of four. We perform three of the labs as a group and the rest are done individually, but the lab group forms a sort of study group for the various things we have to turn in. My lab partners are three geeky young men. Even after the first lab, I felt that we worked well as a group. Nobody was too precious to go get a clamp or clean some glassware, and we all took turns doing the more exciting bits of our lab today. It was a pleasure working with them, to be honest. No drama; they all had a reasonable grasp of the experiment, the equipment, the chemistry; they all communicated appropriately; and we worked efficiently enough to finish up well before the official end time of noon.

Despite the heavy workload for the next three weeks, I can see the end in sight and I know exactly what I have to do to excel in this course.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Dog's Cat

I've never really cared for HellBeast. He's got a few too many annoying habits and he's not particularly affectionate, even for a cat. Of the two cats I dragged over here with me from Saudi, Tsingy was by far the superior specimen, and I sent her to live with my mother and her crew.

But I can't bring myself to rehome HellBeast either. The sole reason is that Azza adores this cat. She plays with him daily. Their play is quite rough but they have between themselves sorted out the rules of engagement and I almost never have to get involved. They both display great joy during this play. They exude joy.

In short, I maintain HellBeast, cleaning his litter box every day and feeding him good quality cat food and even providing him with an assortment of cat-oriented toys (Azza generally chews them up before they see much cat action, but still, they are there), but he's really Azza's companion. My dog has a cat of her own.

I don't mind this too much, at least not enough to get rid of the little orange fucker.

Kickin' Back In the Late Oregon Summer

At last the weather is getting nice. Temps in the 70's, a good breeze ruffling the leaves, and some solid late day sunshine for basking.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


On Sunday morning, I cut the fleshy tip off my right thumb with a pair of very sharp and none-too-clean kitchen scissors while harvesting some arugula in the backyard.

This was certainly a traumatic enough event (for example, when I changed the bandage that evening, I discovered that the clot had formed in the gauze so I had to pull the clot off, causing me to puke up bile in one side of the kitchen sink while fresh blood dripped from the end of my thumb into the other), but this isn't what this post is about.

As a petroleum geologist whose main tools were my brain and some fancy computer programs, my hands were sort of incidental to my professional endeavors. Thumbs are useful for typing but not critical.

But for a veterinarian? Hands are not only tool holders, they can be the tools themselves.

Today the vet invited me to perform a blood draw from the jugular on her dog. You need your fingers, all of them, both hands, to do this properly because a jugular blood draw is done by feel.

While the tech is holding the dog upright with its head lifted up, you press your thumb across its neck and look for the jugular to fill with blood--you can see a slight pulsing as you press and release your thumb. The jugular is located lateral to the trachea but it can be anywhere from right next to it to a few centimeters away. I was surprised at how large it is.

WIth the index finger of your other hand, you tap across the neck. The vein will feel like a rubber band while the non-vein bits will feel harder. After you visually mark the location, with this same hand you insert the needle and manipulate the plunger, usually moving the needle around, mostly in a bit or out a bit, to get it in the vein. All of this is done one-handed because the thumb of your other hand is still pressing down on the neck to make the vein pop out.

In short, both thumbs are rather critical to this mundane veterinarian task. While techs usually draw blood, this is still a routine task for the vets too.

Fortunately the jugular is present on the left and right sides of the trachea, and thankfully I am left handed so I was pressing on the dog's neck with my fat, bandaged thumb while manipulating the needle and syringe with my uninjured left hand. But I couldn't feel anything with that thumb through the wad of gauze and tape.

This made me realize how important my hands are going to be in my new career. Now, let's not get carried away and equate this with pianist hands or hand-model hands, but surgeon hands might not be too far off the mark.

This was a good lesson learned the hard way. My right thumb will be flat on the end after it heals but I hope it will remind me to take much more care in the future.

Dog Turds On The Sidewalk

It makes me mad and sad at the same time to see dog turds strung out along the sidewalk, sometimes spaced feet apart. And it's just as often big turds as it is tiny ones.

This poop display is not the product of a dog that moves around when it poops (I have one of those; I recognize that poop pattern).

It's not the result of the foxes, raccoons, possums, moles, gophers, or other local mammals having a bit of fun.

No, the string of turds is entirely the fault of the human holding the leash.

Either the owner is oblivious that the dog is pooping, which is sad because it means he has no connection to his dog, or he can't be bothered to stop and let the dog finish, in which case he's being petty and irresponsible. Adding insult to injury, the lazy human never picks up the evidence.

Why bother taking the dog out at all? Should this human even have a dog?

Friday, August 09, 2013

Getting Experience 2

One of the unexpected lessons I'm learning as I continue to shadow in the vet clinic is that there are few black and white situations; providing health care to companion animals contains lots of grey areas.

Perhaps I am being a bit naive, since after all I did leave graduate school lo these 20 years ago (or more) with the anticipation that I was going to go into the world and "discover the truth." That idealism was beat out of me in a couple of years away from academia, and it is no more true for geology than it is for veterinary science.

Today at the clinic I was able to observe more than once how vets and their technicians maneuver in those gray areas. Here are some things I learned.

Listen without comment. Sometimes the owner provides information that is simply crazy talk, or that describes a behavior that is obviously creating a problem for their companion animal (such as admitting to continuing to feed puppy food to an obviously overweight 2-year-old animal).

But you have to prioritize. The animal may have terminal cancer but if the owner is wound up about a torn toenail, you have to focus on the toenail. Sure, you can bring up "additional concerns" but the owner may reject your expertise and your suggestions for treatment if you try to cure the cancer, and even succeed in doing so, but neglect the torn toenail.

You can't overwhelm with TMI. Keep the focus narrow for the short term (today it's the toenail) but have a long term plan ready (owner returns in a month because dog is dying of the cancer).

Most of the time the patient will improve, or die, despite your efforts. Accept that frequently your role is to ease pain and reduce symptoms. Above all, even though you are there to help strengthen the human-companion animal bond in any way that you can, this doesn't mean that you can impose your biases, will, or inflated sense of self on the owner or their pet.

Don't become a vet if you don't like dealing with people and their innumerable tics, ignorances, missteps, and thin wallets. They are in your clinic with their pet right now. How can you effectively and efficiently help that person and their pet in a way that maximizes the benefit to both?

It would certainly be possible to take any of these gray situations and turn them into moral or ethical crises. But the point is that they aren't crises--they are the everyday reality of providing health care to companion animals. There is no absolute solution to every problem that walks in the clinic door. A good vet is one who is comfortable navigating these grey areas.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Happy Birthday, Harry!

Harry turns 15 years old this week. Here's a pic of him after a game of ball in the yard this morning. Looks pretty good for an old man, doesn't he? His flyball days are long behind him but he sure does love to chase that tennis ball.

I started him on Adequan a couple of months ago--it's not producing the sort of miracle results that others have reported but he's certainly less stiff in the mornings and he falls over less often when playing. Adequan can be given subcutaneously so I do the injections at home. Even without drugs, for the past couple of years, I have been very careful when we play. No jumping (balls are rolled on the ground, not tossed in the air), no running on slippery floors, all tugging is very low and easy. I'm glad to report that he seems to have fully recovered from his idiopathic vestibular disease from back in April.

 Happy birthday, Harry!