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A practitioner ponders

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AS I sat quietly reading in the practice staff room this morning, it gradually dawned on me that I'm really rather behind the times nowadays. Partly, the realisation came about because of comments received from the other vets and nurses that were present, comments aimed at my choice of book. I'm currently halfway through Oliver Twist and – as I told the staff, who were being rather derisory towards my literary preference – freely confess that I'm finding it a whole lot more enjoyable than when I had to read it as part of English lessons many, many years ago at school. The current crop of bestsellers, mainly bulky paperbacks with lurid covers that lay scattered around the staff room, hold no appeal for me; I finished Wuthering Heights last week and intend to move on to the Sherlock Homes Omnibus next. Everyone sniffed in disbelief at my preferences and started enthusiastically comparing notes about whatever it was they were reading instead.

However, it's not just my choice of literary material that marks me out as old-fashioned. In consultations, I still use a mercury thermometer (in Fahrenheit, not Celsius), rather than one of the new digital ones. I also prefer to send clients a letter or postcard, reminding them that their pet is due a booster, instead of relying on a text message or e-mail. I pay much more attention to what a good nurse tells me about an animal under anaesthetic than what the pulse oximeter is saying. And I still approach our ultrasound machine as if it's going to bite me – I can never remember which button to press next and end up getting hopelessly confused, much to the amusement of the younger vets.

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Actually, I think it's my attitude to new technology that is really marking me out as old-fashioned and unaware of progress. Almost everyone in the practice has been lobbying hard to get me to purchase a new digital x-ray processor to replace our current automatic developer (which still, in my opinion, works very well) and the inhabitants of the staff room were at it again today. I pointed out to Ben, our youngest vet at 24 – who has never, I am sure, experienced the joys of wet processing (dunking the film in one tank of odorous chemicals after another, a messy darkroom method which necessitated a luminous timer to ensure the films didn't overcook and a dangerously unsafe poker-type heater that warmed the developer before use) – that just because something is new doesn't mean it works better than what we already have. In turn, he assured me that digital systems are the way forward and that I will be amazed at what the computer software allows me to do to a radiograph. I will be able, he informed me, to enhance the images beyond all recognition. Not only can I magnify them, flip them, annotate them, or even e-mail them to experts, I will also be able to alter various parameters, especially the brightness and contrast, to produce a more diagnostic image. He had obviously been reading the brochures and bombarded me with technical detail; conventional film, apparently, has only 16 shades of grey, which is a narrow range for diagnostic imaging. Digital radiography, on the other hand, has at least 65,000 different shades – although, how the naked eye can distinguish between them is a mystery to me. I started moaning to the assembled staff and my head nurse put down her latest blockbuster to listen. ‘Fifty shades of grey is more than enough for anyone,’ I said, at which point the room dissolved into laughter. As ever, I felt quite bewildered as to what it was all about.

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