BEFORE I had my own, I was never a fan of small children. My main contact was in the consulting room, trying to stop them climbing onto the table or removing sticky hands from the medicine drawer.
However, little did I know that veterinary work is actually fantastic preparation for parenthood.
1. Giving birth
Parenting starts with parturition. This for most people is a fairly horrific experience (although obviously more for the mother) but what freaks out many very-nearly-parents is the amount of mess that is created.
The sheer volume and variety of bodily fluids is astonishing but at least for vets, who will have attended the birth of everything from cats to cows, that part doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. We are just thankful the medical staff only don hand gloves, rather than the full length versions we are more used to!
2. dealing with the medical profession
I’m lucky that the only significant contacts I’ve had with the medical profession have been during pregnancy and with the kids, and I have certainly found that having an understanding of medicine, being able to talk in technical terms with doctors and having the right drugs on the shelf at work (shush, don’t tell the VMD!) is very helpful! It is interesting the amount of cross-over there is, although discussing the relative merits of suture materials with the midwife while she sews you up is possibly going a bit far! (I blame the gas and air.)
Also, does anyone else call Calpol Metacam? Purple bottles, dosing syringes, it’s genuinely remarkable I haven’t mixed them up yet, especially in a sleep-deprived stupor!
3. Simple commands work best
My son learnt to “sit”, “stay” and “fetch” (very useful that one!) well before he could talk and walk. Just like dogs, small children respond well to simple, consistent commands. Until they can talk of course. One thing I am often wishing for in my patients (and occasionally regret in my clients!).
4. Dealing with disgusting things
There is very little that will freak out a vet, we have seen every type of discharge imaginable and probably have been covered with it as well. Delightful creatures though small children obviously are, they are also tiny stink bombs capable of producing the most astonishing, pungent, spreading expectorations.
So, a bit of up-the-back baby poo, projectile vomit in our hair or wee in our faces (those boys can aim) won’t phase us at all.
5. Cold cups of tea
Every parent knows this one, you just get the tea nicely brewed, splash in the milk and then … “Mummy!”, and by the time you finally get back to your cuppa it’s stone cold and has to go into the microwave. (Obviously I’m far too cheap to make another one!)
Equally, in the vet world, as soon as the steaming beverage is handed over, the world and its wife and their dog will tumble into the waiting room, both phone lines go, a theatre emergency develops and your poor tea is left alone and abandoned in the prep room.
6. Night duty
Ah, good old on-call. A rite of passage for all training vets and a part of the job for many of us. The ring of the phone and the cry of an infant dragging you from your slumber are similar; groaning into the pillow, hauling yourself upright and climbing out from under the cosy duvet.
At least the baby only needs you to stumble into the next room and doesn’t care about conversation.
Out-of-hours duty means not only do you have to be properly dressed and compos mentis, you also need to be professional and polite to the client who thought 3am was the ideal time to call about the pet who has been sick for a week.
7. Excellent handling skills
In a career where a reasonable proportion of your time is spent dealing with recalcitrant patients, a wriggling toddler presents no obstacle at all. Show me a small child refusing to sit still for its teeth being brushed or a vaccination and I will show you my incredible handling skills.
Head restrained, arms clamped and still I have a hand free to wield the hairbrush.
8. Picking at scabs
One of the best things about my job (seriously, one of the best) is the “detailed exploration” (i.e. picking) at scabs and spots I get to do. I love a good rummage around, combing out flea dirt and squeezing abscesses. So, as you can imagine, I am like a monkey investigating the kids. Sadly, we haven’t had a nit infestation yet but I seriously cannot wait!
9. A turbo-charged immune system
Although a proportion of our job is spent doing what people think we do, cuddling baby animals, a rather larger amount of time is spent crawling around on the floor trying to get a good look at our patients, spending far more time than is healthy, up close and personal with foul doggy-breath mouths and constantly forgetting to wash our hands before eating our sandwiches (disgusting yes, but when a lunch break is taken standing up, writing notes and fending off the practice dog, what can you do?).
Unglamorous though this is, it goes a long way to give veterinary professionals a turbo-charged immune system. Very helpful when the sprogs start attending organised childcare and immediately turn into little germ factories. I laugh in the face of the sniffles and snots that bring other parents down, even the full blown v’s and d’s will cause me only a minor tummy rumble.
10. Early socialisation is important
Every good vet (and breeder – which I suppose I am now) knows that good quality, varied socialisation from an early age is vital for puppies to grow into happy and well-balanced adults and this is the principle I am working to with my children.
Obviously, early exposure to coffee shops and clothing stores is absolutely vital and play groups are basically puppy parties: proud parents, chat, biscuits, small creatures running wild, the occasional scrap and about the same amount of biting.
I could go on. They’ll eat when they are hungry, do NOT reach for the treat jar! And why bother with expensive toys when a ball of scrunched-up newspaper works just as well? However, I have to go to work, for a rest!