Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Vet Student Humor

Upon viewing a slide of a female cow lying on her back, cut open from anus to throat, with the two horribly swollen horns of her uterus pulled out and splayed across the rest of her viscera, the girl who sits next to me in class leaned over and whispered in a very concerned tone, "Do you think she'll be all right?"

The class uses a small whiteboard in our room (all 56 of us are in the same room every day, all day) to post weekly notices accompanied by amusing drawings. Last week it was a drawing of a uterus with a face saying "Hi! I'm Cuterus! Be an ova-achiever!" (Can you guess that we are doing reproduction units in all of our classes?)

One of our classes is gross anatomy. The adjective gross distinguishes the material from micro-anatomy and refers to features than can be seen with the naked eye (grossly visible). The puns on gross are too many to mention. On Monday afternoon, my gross anatomy partner and I were struggling to see some blood vessels and nerves in our cat that happened to coincide with a point where the diaphragm attaches to the inside of the thoracic wall. I made an executive decision to cut the diaphragm at that point. I said, there, that should give us some room to work. And my partner, master of deadpan delivery, said, yes, we cut the breathing room to make some breathing room.

A student group presentation in physiology class on reproductive cycles included a section on hormonal controls of sexual behavior. Before beginning, the student doing that part of the talk held up his phone so we could all hear the opening bars of Marvin Gaye's song "Let's Get It On." The student also happened to put on his first slide a picture he found on of a young girl sitting on a bench smiling. In the background, a male giraffe is mounting a female giraffe. The student said, oh, wait, it's not about the girl in the photo. Which of course immediately made it all about the girl in the photo.

What do you call a field full of rib cages? Thoracic Park.

We are now nearly finished with the first nine weeks of the first year of vet school. I didn't think I'd survive the five weeks of five major exams but I did. All classes are winding down to final exams, which begin December 7.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Diary of a First-Year Vet Student: Outside the Classroom

Student clubs. So many clubs. Most have dues--oh, look, I get to spend more money on my education! But participation in the clubs looks good on the resumé. Most of them bring in special speakers or organize tours of relevant businesses or have other events that are members-only. And most of them offer opportunities to participate in or at least observe different aspects of veterinary medicine. What kind of vet do you want to be? You can use the clubs to explore that.

I joined the Shelter Medicine Club. I'm not interested in doing shelter medicine when this is all over. There's no money in it. In fact, that precise aspect of shelter medicine informs my interest in that kind of veterinary care--I want to keep my skills sharp so that no matter what I do with the DVM during the week (making a reasonable salary with it, I hope), I can volunteer at local shelters on weekends. The club helps staff the Pro-Bone-O clinics in Eugene where I have volunteered in the past. I couldn't fit any of those dates into my schedule this term but I hope to start going regularly next year. This club also held a wellness clinic for pets of homeless people in Corvallis a couple of weekends ago and I did attend that--it was mainly administering dewormers, flea treatments, and basic vaccinations. But at one point I told a woman that "this collar will help reduce flicks and teas" on her dog. As soon as the words left my mouth, I hesitated, and the woman and I locked eyes...and we both burst into laughter. It was a perfect Spoonerism, but it was also a perfect bonding of two disparate components of our community. Perfect all around. This kind of work is extremely rewarding and I know it makes a big difference for those animals and their owners.

I joined the Ag Animal Club. If I'm heading towards working with food animals, I need more experience with all of them. I'm hoping to have the club invite a USDA vet who oversees all of the meat production at the meat center at OSU to speak to us about that career path. I'm also hoping to drum up interest for a tour of a local poultry facility. There is a big table egg producer nearby but there are also some big hatcheries that produce baby chicks for other facilities. I don't think there are any big broiler operations in this part of Oregon but there are a couple of niche organic farmers that might be interesting to visit. There is also a poultry specialist vet in Portland that we could try to get as a guest speaker. There's more to "ag animals" than beef and dairy cows and I hope to add my voice to this club.

I joined the Lab Animal and Animal Research Club. Maybe I'll be a facility vet but maybe I can land a good job doing research on food animals. I'm particularly interested in exploring how nutritional management can improve performance while also addressing animal welfare and food safety and quality: a healthy animal should produce a healthier product. If we are going to eat animals, then we need to face issues of animal welfare head on, not just pretend that the current way is the only way.

This particular club, full of budding pathologists (who don't work with live animals), held a very cool event last week: hands-on experience with rat and mouse necropsies. There were nine of us led by one of the faculty of the school. We each had a normal mouse and normal rat. The prof walked us through the correct procedure for a necropsy in great detail. The methodology she showed us would work for just about any mammal or avian (fish and reptiles, not so much). The club provided all the tools and equipment. The animals came from a facility that raises rats and mice for various uses such as food for snakes, raptors, and the like (zoos, hobby enthusiasts, wildlife rescue, etc.). The rats and mice had been euthanized then frozen for a while before being defrosted for the lab.

After we spent an hour on our normal rat and mouse--turns out there's a lot to collect from even those small animals and it takes time to collect it all correctly--we were turned loose on the "abnormal" rats and mice. These animals had been culled from the donating facility because of some readily observable health issue. As we proceeded with these necropsies, an incredible array of things started turning up: enormous tumors in mammary glands, reproductive organs, muscle, skin, other organs. Animals with intestines so swollen with gas that the intestinal walls were transparent. One animal had a brain tumor that distorted its skull. I had a mouse labeled as having an "abdominal mass" who turned out to be pregnant with seven fetuses. Another student had a mouse with mummified fetuses that were pretty close to being teratomas--fully articulating vertebral column, limbs, even epithelium with hair. Most of us collected samples of the interesting bits and plopped them into plastic collection jars filled with formalin. The pathology lab will prepare the samples and place and stain sections of them on slides so we can examine them under microscopes at a future lab. All nine of us spent the evening saying "oh, this is so disgusting, here, take a look!" 

In addition to all of these fun student club events, I continue to help Jean with her beef cow study. She's got the 45 calves back in a barn on campus. We've done jugular vein and tail vein blood draws and vaccinations on them. Jean generously continues to allow students to learn on her experimental animals. For each event, I've been recruiting helpers from my first-year peers who don't have large animal experience. It's really rewarding to see them gain tremendous confidence by just putting their hands on these animals. Come third year, they are all going to be shining stars, and I'm very happy that I was part of that. After you draw blood from the tail of your tenth calf, you have a pretty good idea of how to make it work. Maybe calf 11 isn't perfect but you have enough experience at that point to make it work, which is the entire point of the exercise. And just as I wrote many months ago, I don't understand why there aren't students lining up outside the barn to participate. If the only requisite for the experience is showing up, well, that's a pretty damned low bar.

I'm an over-achiever so I've got one more component to my out-of-classroom learning. With an eye on the research project that I'd like to conduct next summer, I've been collecting blood samples from some of my former advisor's laying hens. You usually get blood from chickens from their wing vein, although the saphenous vein in their legs is another possibility. There is a small difference in gross anatomy between the left and right wing veins--I have a much higher success rate on the right wing vein. But I am also left-handed so the angle of approach is better for me on that side. Their skin is paper thin (and transparent) and the veins are just below their skin so the angle of the needle is pretty important. If your angle is too great, you simply push through the tiny vein--bam! you've blown that vein and an enormous hematoma forms under their skin. If it is too shallow, the needle slips between the skin and vein (veins are kind of tough and rolly even in birds). And chickens are fragile so you have to be patient once you are sure the needle is in the vein. If you pull back too hard on the barrel of the syringe, you can see the vein collapse, suck down to nothing. You have to time your pulls on the barrel with their heartbeat--pulse, pull, pulse, pull. The whole process could not be more different than drawing blood from beef calves and dogs. I've been told it is most like getting blood from a very old cat in renal failure. Okay! I'm ready! Pulling out venous blood from a chicken is a race between pulling too hard and getting nothing and having the blood clot in the syringe before you get a large enough sample (about 2 ml is ideal).

All in all, there are many wonderful opportunities to learn about veterinary medicine outside the classroom, many of them involving getting your hands on real animals (maybe not live, but that's okay), and all you have to do is show up. I plan to keep on showing up.