Volunteering at the Veterinary Clinic

At one point I had the idea in my head that I would like to become a veterinarian. I really didn't have the grades for that, but I pursued it anyway by volunteering at a veterinary clinic.

Scalpel (PSF)
Illustration by Scott Foresman via Wikimedia Commons

When animals needed to be sedated they were given a mixture of two drugs.  Xylazine calms the animal down and makes them feel good.  Ketamine paralyzes them to keep them from interfering with procedures that are being done on them.  The animals where never really knocked out the way people would be in similar circumstances.  I guess this avoids a lot of the risks related to the strong sedatives that humans get during surgeries and such.

A ferret came in that had swallowed a heart shaped erasure.  A veterinarian told me that ferrets have the misfortune of having an esophagus that is wider than their small intestine.  That means that a ferret is capable of swallowing things that it can't actually pass beyond its stomach.  We looked at the x-ray and could clearly see the outline of half of a heart and where it was stuck.  The clinic where I volunteered had one of the best veterinary surgeons in town on staff but he had never operated on a ferret before.

The biggest problem they had was that they had no information on how to sedate a ferret. Smaller animals tend to have higher metabolisms.  So a cat, for example, needs more sedative per unit body weight than does a dog.  They decided that a ferret, being high strung, would need as much sedative as a cat despite the difference in size. A similar problem was the lack of restraints.  They had special equipment for strapping a dog or cat to the operating table. In true Alaskan style, we strapped this little ferrets limbs to the surface of the operating table with duct tape.  The final piece of the restraint puzzle was me.  I held the scruff of the ferrets neck in case he woke up during the operation.

Once the ferret's abdomen was shaved and disinfected, the surgeon made a small incision bellow the rib cage and began pulling out small intestine until about five inches of the little creature's digestive system where outside his body.  He pointed out the bulge where the erasure was stuck, made a cut there and easily removed it.  Next he used tissue glue, which looked a lot like super glue, to close the incision he had made in the wall of the small intestine.  It was about at this point that the ferret woke up and tried to sit up.  It made a wide eyed grimace as it strained against the grip I had on its neck.  I don't think the ferret really had much awareness in its intoxicated state and I think that the direction it was looking was due to it trying to do a sit-up, but as I held it there waiting for one of the veterinarians to bring more sedative it looked for all the world like it was staring at its exposed small intestine in horror. They knocked the ferret out again and patched it back up.  The ferret made a full recovery.

I got to see a whole lot of really disgusting things while volunteering at the veterinary clinic.  One of the most impressive was the guinea pig that came in with a cyst on its rump that was the size of its head.  I keep calling it a cyst, but abscess is the technical term for a big cavity full of puss that forms where a wound is.  The cure for this abscess was to lance it.  The veterinarian stabbed the center of the abscess.  I don't remember if she used a scalpel or some kind of big needle.  Next she massaged the abscess, squeezing gently, to force the puss, the color and consistency of ricotta, out of the hole she had made.  This process took a while.

A dog with cancer spent some of its last days in the kennel at the clinic. Something pretty horrible must have been going on with its digestive system.  It repeatedly puked up a foamy mucous mixture that looked like a magnified spit bug nest.

Not just disgusting but also tragic is the story of a 13 year old poodle that came in with severe frostbite.  The dog adored the children in the house and must have tried to follow them to the school bus stop one day when the temperature was near 40 below.  They found it that evening, frozen to a snow bank.  I remember the dog whimpering pathetically while the veterinarian worked on it.  There was a horrible smell of rotting flesh.  There was no way it would recover, but the owners couldn't bring themselves to put it down for quite a while.

A common trend was for owners to resist bringing a pet in until the last minute. A bloodhound with diabetes came in that had wasted away to a bag of bones.  It was nearly dead from dehydration, so the veterinarian put it on an IV right away.  After a while of that the animals bladder filled up, but it was too sick and weak to pee. The veterinarian inserted a large needle into its abdomen and drew the urine out with a syringe.  The owner had the clinic put the dog down the next day.

One of the veterinarians gave me the opportunity to learn a little anatomy after a cat died of thyroid cancer.  The cat's abdomen and chest where already cut open and the veterinarian thought I might like to dissect it a little more.  The fascinating thing she pointed out was that the cancer in the thyroid, a spongy ping organ, had metastasized.  There were little spongy bits of thyroid tissue growing on the sides of organs all over the inside of the cat's body.  There wasn't any place in the clinic where you can shut a door and work on a project like that in private, so the veterinarian warned me to cover the dissection tray with a towel in case any customers came into the room  A couple came back to find their dog in its kennel, led by one of the veterinary technicians. I easily hid the cat and stood there awkwardly next to a towel covering a suspicious bulge.

Speaking of spongy ping things.  A lot of dogs came in for checkups or whatever with warts on their lips.  I did a google images search but couldn't come up with anything that matched the feathery spongy wings of tissue that I saw on several dogs at the clinic.  The veterinarian would just slice them off with a razor.

Many of the clients of the veterinary clinic where dog mushers.  A famous dog musher who has won both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod came in after his lead dog, a small female, had been kicked by a moose.  He told us that the dog had been injured 10 miles from the road and he had no other dog with him that could lead the team. The moose had kicked the dog in the belly in such a way that a six inch square flap of skin was ripped wide and hung loosely.  The valiant dog led the team the 10 miles back to the truck in that condition.
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