Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Least Amongst Us

I volunteered at Pro-Bone-O in Eugene last Sunday. As always, it was exhausting and eye-opening. And as always, I was humbled to see how people with so few resources do the best they can to take care of their beloved animal companions. 

A guy walked in with a small carrier containing a grey cat. He was probably an Iraq War veteran, was about the right age, had that military stance and carriage even though life had beaten on him pretty hard for quite a few years. He also had a military-style haircut--a lot of veterans keep that hair style for their entire lives. He lives in a tent in one of the homeless encampments in Eugene. This winter has been an endless misery of rain, and I wondered how he was able to cope with that. 

He feeds the feral and stray cats that hang around the encampment, and had noticed that one of the cats was no longer eating regularly. He told me and the veterinarian that he thought she might be sick. 

We took the lid off the crate, and on a filthy towel was an ancient female cat, nothing but five pounds of skin and bones. She was covered with fleas. She had an upper respiratory infection and was having problems breathing. Mucous was coming out of her nose, and her eyes were crusty. A bit of fresh blood was coming out of her anus. She had only a handful of teeth and they were in an advanced state of disease and infection. The tip of one of her ears was cleanly cut off, a sign that at some point in the distant past, she had been trapped, spayed, and released. Her belly was slightly swollen, mostly likely with peritoneal fluid, and she was terribly dehydrated.

I really admire the way the veterinarian took the time to examine her thoroughly. He looked the guy in the eye, and said, "She's very old and very sick. Very old, sick cats often have kidney disease or heart disease. We would need to run blood tests to figure out why she is sick, but we can't do those tests here [at Pro-Bone-O; it is basic triage and treatment, no diagnostics except what you can see with your own eyes]. If you can't afford the blood tests at the community vet clinic, I think the best option is to euthanize her today."

He didn't sugarcoat it or talk down to the guy. He calmly and quietly explained the situation. The guy sighed, and said, yeah, my buddy and I thought that might be the case. 

The veterinarian said, is that what you want us to do? And the guy said, yes. 

Pro-Bone-O operates on a shoestring with donated supplies and meds. They have no controlled substances except for one: the phenobarbital solution used for animal euthanasias. The veterinarian injected propofol under the cat's skin--she was so dehydrated that there was no way we were going to be able to use a vein. I waited with the guy and the old cat, both of us petting her together. After she was heavily sedated, the veterinarian injected phenobarbital into one of her kidneys. Her heart stopped less than a minute later.

The point of all this is not to tell you a gory story about euthanizing an old, sick cat. 

This is a rant about a man, very likely a man who fought in a war for this country, a man who now lives in a tent, who has nothing himself but manages to look after stray cats. A man who one day noticed that one of the cats was sick, and knowing that he could not help her or fix her problems, managed to get her to us. 

Where is the human decency in eliminating social programs that provide assistance to people like this veteran? This homeless man, whom many of our current elected leaders would consider a burden, has the charity and kindness in his heart to look out for the least amongst us. What a world it would be if we all tried to do the same.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Border Collie In A Fox Terrier Suit

The endless rain we've had in the Pacific NW this winter has made it impossible to do anything outside. To compensate, I try to play with my dogs as vigorously and as often as I can. But in the past three weeks or so when I was buckling down to study, I wasn't playing as often as Archie would have liked. 

So he took action. Standing just out of my reach, he would take a ball and drop it on the floor, letting it bounce a couple of times: BUMP-bu-bu-bu. He would grab it and drop it again: BUMP-bu-bu-bu. Over and over: BUMP-bu-bu-bu, BUMP-bu-bu-bu, BUMP-bu-bu-bu, BUMP-bu-bu-bu. I tried ignoring him, thinking that he would get bored, but it was like a form of water drip torture. BUMP-bu-bu-bu. BUMP-bu-bu-bu. I would finally crack and grab the ball and put it on my study table. 

He'd run off to gnaw on the cat, then after a few minutes, he'd be back with another ball. I clean my house often and I pick up the balls when I vacuum, so I am convinced that he was materializing them out of thin air. BUMP-bu-bu-bu, BUMP-bu-bu-bu, BUMP-bu-bu-bu. He was relentless. The only way to get him to stop was to close my computer, put down my pencil, and focus on him for 15 minutes. That would buy me at least an hour of peace.

Then he devised a truly inspired variation of this game. He would lay down, again just out of my reach, and form a sort of Hot Wheels track with his front paws. He'd then gently set the ball on his paws and nudge it with his nose so that it would roll down the track and bump to a stop at my feet. He's not quite grasped the concept of aim but he has the general idea. You'd think this would be easier to ignore. Certainly this game was quieter. But then he would stare at the ball, his laser eyes boring a hole in it. It was palpable, and maddening. He might as well have been poking me with a stick.

At one point, I grabbed the ball and said to him, "Are you really a border collie in a fox terrier suit?" 

It's common enough for terriers to engage in repetitive, OCD-like behaviors; border collies are of course well known for this. Harry was so successful in flyball because he was like a machine in the repeatability and consistency of his performance. Archie has a lot of the same intensity. I am still struggling to learn how to handle him in agility. I want to find a way to mold the craziness that would cause him to pick up and drop a ball 50 times in a row. I'll be watching the fast border collies and their handlers more closely at the next trial. No, I don't want a border collie. Their temperament is not my cup of tea. My nutty little fox terrier will do just fine. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Diary of A Second-Year Vet Student: Thirty-Eight Percent of the Way There!

By the end of the second year, most vet students begin to say that we are "50% of a vet" because the end of this academic year will mark our halfway point. But we are not quite at that magical halfway point yet, thus I am, as of this post, only 38% of a vet. 

I'm intrigued by the fact that, in the past two weeks, I've overheard about 1/4 of my classmates say, well, I've thought about quitting but I'm too far in now so I might as well continue on. Vet school is very difficult. There is so much material to learn, with so many species differences and so many fiddly bits that turn out to be really important bits. Then we are told that when we graduate, we will be barely functional as clinicians, and I agree, it's enough to make you want to throw up your hands and say, I give up! But we all push on. 

The winter term that just finished was punishing but in a different way from the brutalizing first year. For example, for our pharmacology final on Monday of this week, we had to know all kinds of things about 231 different drugs: drugs for the heart, gut, kidneys, and liver; drugs for chemotherapy; NSAIDs; antibiotics for large and small animals, and parasiticides for large and small animals. We have to learn the official drug name, not the commercial name, so we learn about maropitant, not Cerenia. And I am here to tell you that a large majority of these drugs have formal names that sound like they should belong to some type of superhero, a situation that prompted this entertaining quiz: drug name or Tolkien elf name (pro-tip: Tolkien never used the letter X in his elf names). Just in case you missed it, one of my classmates counted: 231 different drugs. We had to learn the name, what it is used for, the specific situations in which it is used, its mechanism of action, its pharmacodynamics and -kinetics (how it acts and is acted on in the body, how long it acts, which of course varies with species), what toxicities and adverse results might occur, and various miscellaneous notes such as "expensive" or "never use in goats."

That pharm exam was just one comprehensive final of the four that we had to take this week. I can't bear to clutter my head with unnecessary words when I study, and that is doubly true when I am studying for big exams. I've been hunkered down for weeks without any words but those required for my exams. No news via internet or radio, no internet entertainment, not even songs with words (that pretty much limits me to music that is non-opera classical and non-vocalist jazz). And of course no blog posting.

But spring break is stretching in front of me. I should have time and energy to barf up some words on the blog in the next week. I've been storing up some blog-worthy stories for weeks so I hope you stay tuned.

Let me close with a funny story about words. Words can restrict us (learn only drug name, not commercial name), and they can expand our imaginations. We use specialized words to describe pathology and anatomy too. At a review session for our diagnostic imaging final, the resident asked Andrew what was the "order of the pooping, peeing, and baby holes" in the standard female mammal. In a lateral view radiograph, this applies to what organs we should see in what positions in the normal female animal. Andrew is the nicest guy on the planet, very smart with an extremely dry sense of humor. And he completely misunderstood her question. She wanted to know the order of the tubular organs from dorsal to ventral (that order would be pooping, baby, and peeing, or colon, uterus, urinary bladder). He stammered, hesitated, stammered some more, then basically failed to answer. The rest of us were falling out of our seats with laughter. Words matter. Maropitant might be the formal name of that drug, but  "pooping, peeping, and baby holes" is hilarious. 

This is the vet student equivalent of fart jokes. Never gets old. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Circus K9 and Archie Update

I'm cheating a bit by dumping these disparate things into one post. Bit busy these last few weeks of the term.

Here are two cute CircusK9 photos.

Archie: Master of Mayhem and Chaos

The dogs arrayed on the couch for a nap. Archie has his head on me.

And here's a video of one of Archie's runs at the agility trial last weekend. He did not Q, as you can tell from the judge's signals. He didn't complete the weaves on the second try, then ran on then off the teeter before I could pull him back for a third try, and we violated the four-paw rule when I continued on with the teeter. Not completing the weaves was sufficient for the elimination which is why I decided to make him do the teeter anyway. All of the errors were due to sloppy handling. But because he was still with me and fully engaged, I chose to complete the course. I pulled some "great dane" arm signals, as one of my instructors calls them, and I also totally mishandled the jump after the Aframe. Despite all of its flaws, I am uploading this because I don't have any other videos of Archie.

His contacts deteriorated over the weekend to the point that he launched himself from the top of the dogwalk on his last run on Sunday. I stopped the run and scooped him up, thanking the judge as I ran past her. When the leash runner handed me his leash, she said, "he's just adorable!" I could barely restrain my eye roll even though it was a nice compliment for such a naughty puppy.

The trial was a mixed bag of results. No Qs at all, but he didn't try to leave the ring by diving through the fence, and he never left me to check out the corners of the ring, although he did visit ring crew during a couple of runs. Of all the training issues one could have, I'll take this one. I'd rather have a social puppy than one who is scared of the people in and around the ring. He was much more focused on the game and on staying with me, and I consider that a big step forward, even if we didn't bring any ribbons home.