SO, it is 4am and I still can’t sleep. I’m sitting bolt upright for the third time, worried that I’m going to oversleep for my first day at work. Surely these feelings are ridiculous – how bad can it be?
I reassure myself that it is just a glorified student placement with payment (major bonus!). Still, I’m struggling at this point to erase the nightmare animal scenarios from my over-imaginative mind.
After waking from a rather early alarm I am faced with my first challenge as a new vet – what to wear on day one? First impressions count you know! But I realise swiftly that my wardrobe is somewhat lacking in the veterinary clothing department.
To be honest I’m quite thankful as I am not the biggest fan of body warmers and cords. But somehow I don’t think skinny jeans are quite appropriate.
I manage to cobble together some presentable attire and spend a considerable amount of time staring at myself in the mirror mouthing out s**t and other such poor yet necessary words (while looking rather like a rabbit in the headlights).
I’m full of enthusiastic smiles and clammy handshakes. Thankfully, job number one (a smallies and equine practice) is a past EMS establishment, so awkward introductions have already been done.
In fact there wasn’t really an interview. It was more, “Ebony, will you come on a horse call and hold a pony for me and we can organise when you’re starting?” Still, the pressure is on and no amount of letters after my name is going to make me feel any more capable.
Monday morning was typically manic so any plans of an induction were out the window and it was time to hit the ground running, which is exactly what I did. There was no shadowing, no hand holding, just shoved into a consult room and asked kindly to proceed.
I stepped into what was known as the “Euth” room (is it a sign?!) with a copy of the BVA formulary under one arm and a stethoscope in the other. For the first time in my life I felt that praying might actually be appropriate!
Colleagues and phone a friend…
Thank the Lord for nurses! Rule number one, respect and listen to your nurses, because they will save you numerous times while you attempt to stab, jab, pin down, muzzle and wrestle with your furry friends.
I was tremendously lucky in my first job to have a superb team, always there to lend a hand. Demented rescue centre Rottweilers and ponies tangled in barbed wire are some of my most memorable scenarios where nurses suddenly turned into veterinary greenclad super women!
I’m also incredibly grateful for the tremendous support of friends with “The Knowledge”. Many of them received phone calls on my out-ofhours shifts with clueless Ebony at the other end in need of an action plan!
In particular, the residents and clinicians at Leahurst have successfully helped me with aborting Shetlands, acute renal failure poisoning in a household of cats, a 19-year-old comatose keto-acidotic poodle and equine ocular wounds, to name a few.
It’s not the art of science but the art of communication…
I soon realise that complimenting people’s pets, phoning clients for progress reports and observing your assistants closely can get you a long way. At first this was my survival technique but soon it evolved into good client rapport and much to my surprise I began to build my own little gaggle of trusted followers.
There is nothing more encouraging than the first time someone asks to see you, your first thank you card or bottle of bubbly. You know at this point you must be doing something right.
My first was a 30-year-old welsh pony called Candy. One fight with a barbed wire fence later and we were faced with a septic flexor tendon sheath with no option to refer. Three-weekly bandage changes, a week of daily intravenous antibiosis therapy, caring for the pony while the family holidayed and a round of intravenous regional antibiosis (this brings us to a grand total of seven weeks) and we eventually fixed her!
The feeling was immense and the cards, presents, letters and hugs that followed were just the icing on the cake.
However, not every working hour was as joyous and there were days when nothing seemed to go right, such as my dog locking me out of my car on a way to a vetting, almost drowning a cat on fluids, putting four animals to sleep in one day (I personally used up the entire practice supply of Kleenex tissues). But, we all make mistakes. I’d like to say I didn’t make the same mistake twice, but…
Finally, the pieces of the animal jigsaw start to order themselves. Once new and scary procedures become the norm, dose rates fall off the tongue, disease patterns become recognisable and the 10-minute consult gets perfected.
Another bonus is remembering where clients live, rather than aimlessly driving up and down Welsh country lanes cursing at your horrific mapreading skills, wishing you had been born a boy. OK, so I’m no James Herriot but six years of hard graft begin to feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel after all. However, despite loving my job, I had an overwhelming desire to get my mitts on more sick ponies. So, I returned to the Motherland – the Phillip Leverhulme Equine Hospital – for further punishment in the form of sleep deprivation and round the clock nasogastric tubing.
Relishing every waking hour
Some of my peers said I was mad, while I believe it to be the best decision I have made. I am relishing every waking hour, surrounded by inspirational (and eccentric) characters who aim to make a difference and break boundaries.
My brain is a sponge and I intend on soaking it!
There is some Jerry Springer in all of us…
So finally, to the bricking final years out there, my advice to you is first to breathe! If you don’t know the answer, someone else will, so ask.
Listen and observe your colleagues closely, remember how everyone at work takes their tea, if you think a radiograph might be of diagnostic quality it most definitely isn’t, so take it again.
Try something new every day. Look in as many normal eyes as possible, eat lunch! Thank your nurses and students, make the most of your university facilities and keep in contact with friends, because you just don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone!