No guts no glory; the joys of being a Caribbean Veterinarian
In the Caribbean, many private clinics see a mixed practice – with doggies, cats, and intermittent goat, sheep, exotic bird or snake turning up on your examination table. All in all, it's pretty exciting. During the July-August (summer vacation for the temperate folks) holiday we play host to high school and tertiary level students coming into our clinics with dreams of following in our illustrious footsteps. Some students come in starry-eyed with the intention of either hugging kittens or kissing cute puppies. By the end of the holiday, we can usually guarantee a couple of students will faint, gag and occasionally puke. As one student stated quite frankly - "Doc, this is a hard wuk yes. I eh too sure I want to be a Vet again nah." (Roughly translated – Doctor, this is an extremely difficult job. I am now reconsidering pursuing Veterinary Medicine as my career path.) Though we try not to shock our young potential future colleagues, the general perception of a small animal clinician's routine may not necessarily match the reality of the situation (though we do love hugging the doggies).
Those of us who are part of this noble profession generally agree, it’s a pretty dirty job, many times under-appreciated and the financial benefits are not very substantial compared to our colleagues in the developed world. Clinical Vets literally live the no guts no glory rule. A Veterinary Clinic/Hospital is not the best place to come and play with the animals, unless they are boarding. Often, animals that are staying are hospitalised because they are sick. Some are vomiting. You deal with diarrhoea, strange skin diseases that can make you scratch and all sorts of other ailments that aren't necessarily the most pleasant-smelling.
Aside from performing routine surgery, which entails the average guts and gore, the typical practicing Vet usually has his/her hands full of revolting, disgusting, infectious, bio-hazards on a daily basis. Vet rule number 1 is to always have a change of clothing, as an animal always ends up peeing, pooping or vomiting on you.
This list is just a glimpse into the Caribbean Vet’s world. Those of you that are squeamish should put down your lunch before reading:
2. The joys of faecal sampling: Believe it or not, your pet’s behind holds a lot of answers to his/her health. We don’t actually enjoy actively seeking out faecal matter, but someone has to do it. We routinely sample faecal content to look under the microscope for the presence of parasites, such as the eggs of gastrointestinal worms and other infectious material that can affect your pet’s health. It’s an especially good idea because in some cases these parasites can spread to humans. (Yikes!)
3. The joys of dentistry: We often laugh about the bad breath of our canine friends, however, signs of bad breath, just like in humans, are usually an indicator of poor health. Dentistry-related diseases such as gingivitis (a problem with the gums) and periodontitis (a problem around a tooth) can occur because our pets’ teeth are generally neglected. Vets usually deal with canine kisses that can be quite foul smelling. When Vets perform dental cleanings they usually involve monumental plaque and calculi removal that is quite gross. Dental cleanings should be done at least once a year for our lovable four-legged friends. Like humans, both plaque and tartar damage the teeth and gums, and can eventually lead to tooth and bone loss. Bacteria and plaque build up can affect the entire body, as bacteria from inflamed oral areas can enter the bloodstream and affect major body organs such as the liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs.
4. The joys of abscess draining: Ever squeezed an infected pimple and yellow, gooey pus oozes out? Did you find it bizarrely enjoyable? If so, perhaps being a Veterinarian is a career path you may want to consider. Abscesses are encountered quite frequently in clinics. What exactly is an abscess? It is a pocket or sac of pus that results when trauma to the skin (such as a dog bite or other puncture wound) introduces bacteria under the skin. A battle ensues between the soldier cells of the body's immune system (the white blood cells) and the bacteria. The immune system tries to trap the intruders by ‘walling off’ the bacteria to reduce their spread into other areas of the body and then attempts to eliminate them. The pus is an accumulation of dead bacteria and dead soldier cells (a salute to the fallen soldiers please). Abscesses are usually quite painful to pets and require attention. Vets use a variety of treatments to deal with abscesses but one involves lancing the pus-filled pocket and draining the casualties of the bacteria-blood cell war, as the body may not be able to adequately deal with the bacterial intruders.
5. The joys of bovine pregnancy diagnosis: We can't talk about icky without a nod to our colleagues working with large farm animals. Most would agree that performing a bovine/cow pregnancy check is not a task for the faint-hearted. Vets wear gloves called sleeves that cover the entire arm. To perform this task, Vets go in via the rectum of the cow. We first manually evacuate/remove the faeces within the rectum and then stick our arms into the rectum of the cow to examine its reproductive system. Dealing with a cow that has diarrhoea becomes a bit of a challenge at times and involves a lot of ducking and precision to escape the free flow that occurs.
Kissing puppies? Check. Picking maggots? Check. You can't have one without the other. What would make the average person bring up his lunch; we view as interesting and exciting. This passion for the gory and disgusting allows us to keep your animals healthy and happy.
In the end, that's why we LOVE what we do.
Dr. Dennis Diptee, Dr. Michael Diptee, Dr. John Fernandes, Dr. Adana Mahase-Gibson, Dr. Kevern Sawh
Healthy, Happy Animals - Healthy, Happy Communities