Friday, July 24, 2015

Is That A Banana In Your Pocket?

One of my goals this summer is to learn how to set a catheter in an animal. Since I am at the mercy of the emergencies that come in, I may not achieve this goal. By that I mean that the physical condition and size of the animals that arrive at the clinic at night entirely dictate whether my experienced co-workers need to set the catheter while I hold the animal. I don't have the luxury of poking any animal in my attempts to learn. And that ideal animal or two might not walk in the door between now and the end of September.

Getting the catheter in the vein is only a small part of the process. I could write an entire post about all the things that can go wrong, and right, with this. But the catheter then has to be taped in place in such a way that it is secured to the animal's leg but the tape is not so tight that it constricts return blood flow from the limb (which leads to "mega-paw" when the paw swells up because the venous blood can't return and collects in it). 

So I decided to start my learning process with the taping part. And I decided to practice on a banana. Laugh all you want, but it turned out to be a pretty good learning tool.

Here's a picture of my third taping effort:

Not great, but not horrible! We re-used the same catheter and T-port many times since there was not a concern about keeping things sterile--we were sticking it in a banana after all--and I just cut off the tape from previous attempts and started over. And over.

There are four pieces of tape on that banana. The first is the minimum point of attachment of the catheter to the limb. The second securely attaches it. The third is what my co-worker calls the "bra": it secures the T-port (the green thing sticking out is one of the ends of the T-port; it is inserted directly into the catheter). And the fourth creates a stress loop for the short T-port line that you can see looping over the top of the tape, so that if the animal pulls on its line, the stress loop should prevent it from pulling the T-port out entirely (the IV line will attach to the clear end of the T-port that you can see on the right). But as you learned from the previous post, this can happen even if the tape job is perfect but the animal is thrashing around with unusual vigor.

Not all clinics put a T-port in the catheter. You can hook the IV line directly into it. But this clinic puts T-ports in all catheters so that determines how I am learning to tape.

Taping a catheter has some basic rules and requirements but there are quite a few acceptable, and safe, individual variations. And as my co-worker pointed out, a giant wad of tape over the thing would probably work but it is not pretty or the best solution. Learning how to tape the catheter efficiently and with consistency means that even if you are no longer at work, the current animal care team knows what to expect.

I taped the catheter into the banana four times tonight. It was a mess. Tape sticking to me, to itself, to wrong parts of the banana. Fingers fumbling--do I use my left hand or my right hand for this? Oh, that piece is too short to wrap around like I intended. It was frustrating but I kept reminding myself, there will be a living creature on the other end of this. You need to learn how to do this right.

Sure, a banana is not close to the real thing, an animal that feels pain, that bleeds, that has hair (more things for the tape to stick to), that doesn't want to hold still. But if I can get even a little bit more comfortable with the taping part, then I will be ready when and if that perfect animal comes in the door.

In case you were wondering, I tossed the banana in the trash when I clocked out. Ew.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Hard Day's Night

My apologies to the Fab Four.

WARNING: There are some upsetting photos at the end of this post. I am going to put them below a fold. But if you click through, you will be exposed to them.
My job as a night vet tech in the big ER vet clinic is proving to be challenging and rewarding in almost equal measures. Blood, feces, urine, vomit, survival, recovery, death, birth--it's a hell of a tapestry. I used to suffer from insomnia. Not this summer! I am asleep as soon as I become horizontal, sometimes even before then: the other afternoon I nodded off while playing a last game of baby with the dogs before we went to bed--they were not amused.

But don't let my whining mislead you--I am learning so many valuable things! Every night I am confronted with situations that require me to step up to the plate, that require me to act with compassion and confidence. Every night I get a little more confident that I can do that. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Return of My Blood-Draw Mojo

After trying three times during the past several weeks to get blood from a rear leg vein on three different dogs, and worrying that I had lost my blood-drawing mojo, I did a jugular blood draw today on a small white dog. One poke, pulled 2 mls, no hematoma, no bleeding afterwards. Little white dog was sent back into his owners with only the faint whiff of alcohol as evidence that anything happened. 

 Why would I mention the color of the dog? There is a commonly held "truth" in vet care that white dogs will inevitably be bleeders. Poke them and blood goes everywhere. I suspect it is nothing more than memory bias--even a tiny bit of blood can cover an amazingly large area in the right circumstances. It looks gory, really isn't. Plus the additional time spent in cleaning the dog up cements the memory. A smear of blood on a dark haired dog wouldn't even be noticed, thus not remembered.

It is absolutely true that successful blood draws depend heavily on the skills of the person holding the dog. The nurse I worked with tonight is experienced and patient. She didn't rush me as I held off the vein then released the pressure a couple of times to make absolutely sure I was going to poke the right thing. Ninety-pound calves have jugulars the diameters of pencils. Little white dogs have little jugular veins that are maybe 2-3 mm in diameter. The vet hovering over my shoulder said, remember, all the nerves are in the skin and muscles. Don't hesitate when you are ready! Commit! And so I did. I think he was impressed.

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

One of the job hazards of working with animals is injury. We had a monthly nurse meeting this morning and I was looking around the room at all of the bruises and scratches and scrapes on everyone. I am not at all implying that my co-workers and I are careless. Quite the opposite. We learn to use a large number of techniques to restrain animals so that they aren't harmed but their teeth and claws are safely out of the way. Experience helps but it is no guarantee. Shit still happens even when everyone is prepared and doing all the right things.

On Monday night, I was helping a very experienced nurse get a temperature on a fractious little dog. She had a good hold on him, so I gently lifted his tail, said "poking!"(it's a courtesy to your colleague to let them know you are inserting a needle or thermometer or some other intrusive thing into the animal they are restraining; you never assume they can see what you are doing) and slipped the thermometer into his bum. He exploded, raking his rear claws down her arm. Blood was dripping off her elbow but she still didn't let go of him (very impressive). We put some gauze and vet wrap on her (works for dogs, works for us too), then she said to me, time for pup to get a nail trim. He was a little black dog and all his nails were black. Fortunately, trimming nails holds no mysteries for me. I clipped them all, including dewclaws, without a single bleeder.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

True Hearts

I work in a place where it is not uncommon for the police to drop by without warning--bringing to the clinic dogs that were hit by cars and abandoned, still alive, by the road. Maybe the cop witnessed the incident, or saw the dog afterwards. It doesn't matter, really. We have stretchers hanging by the main exit doors for this purpose.

It certainly gives one pause to see a fully kitted-out policeman ringing the front door buzzer at 2am. There is almost never a happy ending to that story. 

Tonight, we had two dogs hit by cars that were brought to us by the police. One will survive and will find a new home. The other, well, his back was broken and he had to be euthanized.

He had been knocked into a ditch and was wet, covered in moss and algae slime. He was cold and in shock. And despite the fact that we were preparing to euthanize him, my colleague got a large fleece blanket to cover him up for those 15 minutes it took to get everything ready. 

If you were deeply cynical, you might say, why bother getting another blanket dirty for this dog. But if you work long enough with the folks who take care of our animal companions, you will see that this small act was not small at all. There were many layers of meaning to it: respect for the diminished and fading spark of life the dog still had, sadness at the way this dog had to end his run on this earth, a ritual acknowledgement of our role in the euthanasia, an action that might help reduce his pain and fright.

The other dog? Her owner was eventually found, and when he found out that she had already undergone treatment (she'd been hit by a car), he accused us of "ruining" his dog (Warning! Black humor ahead: 24-hour emergency clinic business plan: buy car, hit dog, have dog undergo many unnecessary procedures, make money! Yeah, I don't think so.). The Humane Society took legal ownership of her, covered all costs of her treatment, and she will be re-homed with someone who will love her.

Moral of both stories: my faith in humanity remains generally dim but I am honored to work with so many true-hearted people.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Life at the Bottom of the Pile

As I fumble about learning new skills at the vet clinic, I make mistakes. Thankfully, none of them so far have been irreversible. 

I hold bottles of drugs up next to doctor instructions, double checking the name (I have to learn the drug name, the commercial name, and the shorthand name because different doctors and nurses use different names). I double check the amount I need to pull, pull it into a syringe, then double check that ("measure twice, cut once" applies here). Many of the injectable drugs that we regularly use for pain relief or sedation can kill an animal just as well as they relieve pain or sedate if given in the wrong dose. When I have to calculate the milliliters of drug that I need, I write the calculation on the back of the care flow sheet so that if questions come up later, I can "show my work." Mistakes in these tasks would not be irreversible.

The night nurses have to round with the day nurses at the shift change (7am). Almost every morning, the day nurse calls me out on something I did during the night but didn't record properly on the flow sheet, or points out that I failed to complete something that needed to be done, like get a couple of blood pressure readings or weigh the animal.

Part of learning is making mistakes. I learn quickly, I learn best by doing, not watching. And I own my mistakes. I apologize if that is necessary, correct the problem if I can, but always, always, I admit that I made an error. I also say, it won't happen again, and I make sure that it doesn't.

In fact, I turned my learning curve into a bit of a running joke: if something goes afoul, I'm almost certainly responsible for it. That sort of backfired because then I started getting blamed for all kinds of canine flatulence and dead batteries and paper cuts and other random things. It was all in jest, and I'm glad my co-workers think it's okay to tease me, but the jokes increased my worry that I was hindering more than helping.

To my complete surprise, the nurse that I've worked with the longest told me tonight that she really enjoys working with me, and that while I say that I know nothing, she thinks that I actually do know a lot. I found myself almost getting teary. I thanked her for telling me, told her that it meant a lot to me that she said that, and continued loading more piss-soaked and bloody towels into the washing machine (I wear gloves when handling the laundry).