Sunday, December 27, 2015

Shameless Promotion: Freshpet

Even without a TV, I know about this commercial:

Go ahead, give it a watch. I'll wait.

Pretty amusing. And it turns out, effective marketing.

When I was at the grocery store a while back, thinking that I might get something special for the dogs as a treat during the winter break, I was browsing the shelves when I noticed a small refrigerator case. Inside: Freshpet logs. After reading labels, I chose the chicken log.

The dogs just love it. Cut into appropriately small pieces, the cat hoovers it up too.

I think it is more economical than canned food since there is more content, less water per unit volume. The chicken log looks and smells like balogna with orange carrot and green bean bits embedded in it. It doesn't seem to disrupt their usually excellent digestion or make them gassy. I sometimes give it as a treat, sometimes add it to their food bowl. They never get anything close to what is defined as a "serving" on the label. I am using it only as a treat, a garnish.

Highly recommended by CircusK9.

If you liked the commercial, check out their "making of" video:

Winter Break

It's a soggy, cold winter break. But at least I am not in that dreary, windowless classroom. After mulling it over, I decided to work in the emergency vet clinic part-time for the three weeks of the break. I'm working day shifts as a general nurse assistant, helping out whomever needs help. It's a very different pace than night shifts.

The four-day holiday weekend has been particularly difficult, however. As someone remarked on xmas eve (I worked that day), dogs all over the valley are ripping open boxes of chocolate even as we speak. And so it came to pass.

We learned that nearly all the clinics from Eugene to Salem were closed on Saturday, even clinics that might usually be open. I worked 10 hours without a break on Saturday and I'm still a bit shell-shocked. Nearly thirty emergencies walked in the door between 8am and 6pm, and we had only one vet (the emergencies kept coming until 10pm, I was told this morning). He had four nurses and two receptionists, and we made a tight team with good communication, and we co-opted the boarding staff to help even though they were completely full back there too, but some people had to wait a couple of hours before we could get to them. Add to that the regular hourly treatments we had to administer to our ICU patients, which of course grew in number as some of those emergencies had to be admitted, and we were all so busy we could hardly catch our breath.

We treated and released when we could, of course, like the dapple dachshund who, upon being injected with apomorphine, promptly threw up a few pieces of kibble, lots of chocolately goo, and the nearly intact wrappers of the York peppermint patties that she had wolfed down, and the yorkie who decided to nibble a corner off a block of rat bait (the owners brought both the rat bait block and the package label in with the dog)--she refused to throw up for us (stomach of iron, that dog) so she got dosed up with vitamin K and sent home with a three-week supply of vitamin K tablets. Rat bait poisoning is so common that the vitamin K tablets are flavored chewables. (Vitamin K is an essential factor in the clotting cascade; the chemicals in rat bait prevent its synthesis so animals usually die of internal bleeding. A dog that consumes rat bait is given vitamin K for several weeks until we are sure its body is making it on its own again.) And what would a weekend at the emergency clinic be without a lab who swallowed an article of clothing? He neatly and quickly vomited up a pair of socks for us.

Sadly, two animals died under my care. One was a small grey and white hamster. The family, mother, father, two kids, found him unresponsive in his cage and brought him in. He went into heart failure while the doctor was examining him in the treatment area so the doctor jabbed epinephrine into his heart while I was pumping his chest in an approximation of CPR. His little ribs were so fragile but you still have to push hard enough to force blood in and out of his heart. The hamster's heart started again but the beat was weak and thready. Doc told me to pack some warmies around him and wait. In the meantime, I had to go into the room with the family to complete the history on the computer system. When we have severe emergencies like that, we often begin treatment with only a verbal agreement from the owner and finish the necessary info gathering later. The kids were sobbing and the mother was crying as she was telling me what had happened. I'm thinking, the animal is probably already dead, but I couldn't tell them that. I finished up and checked on the hamster. Neither I nor the doctor could hear a heartbeat. I closed the hamster back up in the blanket and warmies. The doctor finished up a phone call then headed back to the room to talk to the family. I checked on the hamster again--and he was alive. I said, shit, he's alive! Get the doctor! A nurse launched herself down the hall, grabbed the doc. He came rushing back and we set the hamster up on oxygen with his entire head in the smallest mask we have. The hamster's heartbeat never stabilized however. The doctor talked to the family, returned, and told me to draw up the phenobarbitol solution that we use for euthanasias. When I brought the hamster in to them, the girl was very upset, and the little boy was sad but also fascinated to see his former pet in this changed state. I escorted them out the side door--our lobby was packed with people waiting to see us and I thought it best for everybody if the family had a more discreet exit.

The second patient was a King Charles spaniel, an older rescue. He was in an incubator with oxygen and had a tube stapled to his head feeding oxygen directly into his nose. He had heart disease, some combination of congestive heart failure and a mechanical problem--he had a distinct murmur. He had an IV catheter but wasn't on a huge pile of drugs. We had pushed small wires through his skin in three places to attach ECG leads. They can be placed directly on skin but the clips slip off pretty easily and we wanted continuous monitoring. Around 5pm, I untangled the ECG cords so I could weigh him. As I lifted him from the incubator, I noticed he was limp. I saw his tongue had turned blue and just then he started to code--wildly irregular heartbeat, gasping for breath. I called the doc for what seemed the thousandth time that day while drawing up epinephrine for the dog. We gave the dog two epinephrine injections and another of atropine. His heart stabilized but the beat remained thready and weak. The doctor called the owner, thinking the dog might hold on until they could get to the clinic. But while he was on the phone to them, the dog's heart stopped. Despite additional resuscitation efforts, we never got it started again.

It was a trying day but doing that kind of veterinary nursing gives me exposure to an incredible array of clinical problems and solutions. We are covering cardiology in physiology next term. There's the lecture then there's the application in the clinic. I'm not working during the break for the money, although it is helpful, but for the experience.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Comfort Food

During the week before finals, I spent most of my spare time cooking large volumes of some of my favorite comfort foods. As a result, during finals week, I only had to dip into one or another of the plastic containers in my fridge or freezer for sustenance.

One of my regular fallbacks is the oatflake-zucchini loaf that I make following a recipe in my old and beloved copy of Laurel's Kitchen (the 1976 edition). The recipe uses an egg and cheese to bind the thing together and is decidedly old-school vegetarian. If you were dedicated to the effort of being vegan, you could use soy cheese and whole wheat flour or flax seed instead of the egg. I am not so dedicated. I often make the recipe in double volume. It keeps for many days and freezes well. I frequently add a squirt of ketchup before eating a slice.

I never said my comfort foods were haute cuisine. They are simple, cheap, easily reproducible, and reliably stored.

Another comfort meal that I quite like is a rather disgusting but extremely mouth-pleasing mound of mac-and-cheese boiled with a couple of pork sausages. Hey, I already admitted it was disgusting. Cut the raw sausages into five or six pieces and toss into the pot with the noodles and cook away. After draining, you can add the cheese and liquid (milk, butter, water, whatever floats your boat) into the same pot and mix well. There! Ready for apportioning into plastic containers for freezing. Not even close to vegetarian and not even remotely apologetic for it.

I also make a tasty bolognese sauce for spaghetti using ground beef, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and spices. I don't otherwise eat beef in any form but this stuff can be made in very large quantities and frozen for future use. One night of cooking and I can eat for a week. It's not like the mac-and-cheese-and-sausage potage that is reserved only for my own furtive late-night meals. I've proudly served the bolognese spaghetti to guests.

A comfort meal that I regularly make is rigidly vegan. Take half an onion, slice thinly, sauté in olive oil until nearly clear. Add salt and black pepper while the onion is cooking. Finely cube 1/2 of a package of extra firm tofu (ignore the less firm varieties, they are gross). Put the other unused half of the tofu cube in a large container filled with enough water to cover it; it will keep for several days. Add the cubes of tofu to the onions. Brown slowly but thoroughly. Add red chili pepper flakes. Be liberal! Live a little! Give that chili pepper container another shake or two! Once the tofu cubes are nicely browned, add lots and lots of spinach. At least a half pound, washed, dried, de-stemmed, or just handfuls of the stuff from the pre-washed packages. Stir well, turn off the heat then cover, allowing the spinach to wilt. Serve with brown rice. A vegan's dream meal. Full of fiber and vitamins and none of those nasty animal products. Sadly, this meal doesn't store well (the rice can be made in advance in bulk quantities, however). But it is so cheap and easy to make that I keep it in regular rotation.

Despite making this meal almost once a week, I will never give up butter, yogurt, honey, eggs, and cheese. We humans are omnivores after all. But there's certainly no need to eat meat with every meal. All foods in moderation, all foods enjoyed.

Finally, the comfort food that I make on a regular basis, not just during the last week of classes, is a big pot of either black or pinto beans. I don't bother with soaking them; that is a waste of time and flavor (see this guy for one opinion on the matter). I cook them with no spices or fat of any kind, not even salt. This way I can use them in a variety of preparations and flavor them to taste as the dish requires: beans and scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and cheese; or beans sautéed with small pieces of chicken then topped with fresh mango. Yum.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Diary of a First-Year Vet Student: Take A Deep Breath

This morning, my alarm didn't go off.

It wasn't a failure of technology nor was it human error. It didn't go off because I didn't set an alarm for this morning.

For the past several weeks, my alarm has been going off at 4am every single day, including weekends. During the week, in between feeding dogs, playing with dogs, eating breakfast, and showering, I can get in a solid two to three hours of study before I have to be in class. I would come home from class every day, play with dogs, feed dogs, play with dogs again, and put in three to four hours more study before feeding myself and falling into bed. Only for the alarm to go off at 4am the next morning. Weekends I could stuff in around 8 hours of study a day.

Vet school. Kicking the asses of first-year students everywhere.

However, my final grades are in and I am pleased. Early on, I saw the incredible flood of information that I was being asked to organize and stuff into my brain (beating one's head over and over with a handful of notes doesn't work, I'm here to report), saw that it was not going to abate at all, and I made a big decision. I decided that my goal was going to be to score "above average" on everything. This is not some twisted "Prairie Home Companion" nonsense (I hate that sad attempt at entertainment anyway). It was clear that the amount of time I would have to put into studying in order to earn top scores in every class was far beyond what I was willing to commit.

See, I like having a life. What I described above may not sound like much of a life, but I think that having time for my dogs is important. And when I say "feed myself," I mean cook meals with real food using utensils and spices, and that also implies getting fresh food at the store on a regular basis. I like having a glass of wine with my dinner. I like taking naps on the weekends. I like having time to attend cool labs and learning events in the evenings (I did a lecture and web lab on cow hoof trimming; we worked with cow cadaver legs bolted with large U-bolts and wing nuts to a wooden platform set on sawhorses, an arrangement that was just as fascinating to ponder as learning how to clean and trim their hooves). I like having time to help Jean with bleeding her calves on the weekends. I also decided that I would take one night a week off. It was a different night every week because of the exam schedule, but I did manage this for about half of the term. I also tried to consume some international news every other day or so, even if it was reading one article in depth or just scanning headlines. I like to live in a clean house (relative, since I live with animals, but I do not like squalor). I made sure that I maintained a regular sleep-wake schedule, even if it was not quite enough sleep most of the time.

Getting into vet school requires that you out-compete a lot of people. But once you get here, the notion of competition seems sort of silly. It's not a zero-sum game--she gets an A so I can't. And I'm grouped in with 55 very smart people. I simply refuse to do nothing at all except study.

We each have a locker in our classroom (we are in the same room for every class except anatomy lab, which is in an adjoining room). When some of my peers open their locker, a cartoonish waterfall of ramen noodle cups, candy bars, and bags of snacks cascades out--they eat nearly every meal every day in that windowless room. Some of my peers also seem to have eschewed showering for weeks at a time, deciding that the half hour or so it would take to shower and wash their hair on a semi-regular basis simply couldn't be carved out of their study schedule. These young people have not learned how to balance life and work. They stepped straight from undergraduate life into an environment for which most were not very prepared. We had tears and meltdowns of various sorts throughout the term, particularly before and after exams. Since we had bit exams every week for the last five weeks of the term, not including final exams, there were plenty of tears.

However, as I suspected and confirmed a couple of days ago, their study schedule is not as rigorous as it might seem. They spend more than half of their "study time" looking at youtube videos of cats and sharing links to podcasts of readings of Harry Potter fan-fic porn (don't ask; rule 34).

Anyway, I digress. My goal, to score above average, is simple. One point above the class average still counts--it's above the average. And it is in fact a functional goal that can help me gauge my progress. I was stunned as I walked out of the second gross anatomy midterm exam a few weeks back, convinced that I had failed it. I did in fact fail the lab part but managed to keep myself in the game with a good score on the written part (the written questions are based on clinical applications of knowledge of anatomy: if your dog presents with this kind of injury, I can tell you which muscles, nerves, and arteries would be affected, but ask me to identify those on a cadaver and I fail more than half of the time). My disappointing score spurred me to radically change my study program for the final exam, and I pulled out a much better score on the lab part of the final and an even better score on the written part of the final, an exam that included about 25% of the older material. Instead of lowering expectations for my performance on any quiz or exam, my goal was actually freeing. I was able to organize my study time while still making time for life outside vet school, and succeed on my own terms.

I won't be the vet that makes all Cs in vet school and still gets the diploma in the end. I will be better than that. And so far, it seems to be working. My GPA in vet school will be less than a perfect 4.0, but I have a life outside being a student that keeps me steady and sane. I suspect that I will be more successful in the long run than if my goal was to make the highest scores.