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A practitioner ponders

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We had a joiner in the surgery the other day. He was replacing a faulty lock on a door and bemoaning the fact that one of his chisels was blunt. Not from overuse, it seemed. Rather, because someone had used it to open a tin of paint – a task it had achieved, but one that had left the sharpened end somewhat the worse for wear.

‘Never let anyone use a tool for something it hasn't been designed for,’ he said. ‘I bet you don't have problems with people using your surgical instruments for things other than surgery.’

I agreed, pointing out that most veterinary equipment was carefully designed, very delicate and cost a fortune. There was not a chance that we would let someone use a specialised bit of kit for anything other than veterinary work.

As I drove home that evening, I recalled a time when, as a vet student, I had allowed a bad-tempered cat to escape from its cage and resorted to using the lead x-ray gauntlets to grab it from behind the back of the kennels. It was snarling and spitting at anyone who came near it and they did the job admirably. I had to feign innocence when the vets were radiographing a dog a few days later and queried the numerous small punctures that had appeared in the gloves.

I got home to find my wife preparing dinner. She was cutting the meat with a pair of very sharp scissors – rather nice and extremely expensive surgical scissors, in fact. She explained that she had found them in my car a few days earlier, and said they did the job much better than the usual kitchen scissors.

Before I could remonstrate, she asked if I could look at the bathroom sink. She had dropped an earring down the plug hole and, although it was visible, she thought I would have to strip down the waste outlet to get at it. Fortunately, I found an elegant pair of long, slim crocodile forceps in my coat pocket and soon had the problem solved.

The next day, I was busy doing some remedial work on a dog's mouth and called for the dental drill. Our head nurse pulled a face. ‘Simon took it home last week,’ she said. ‘He wanted it for his model railway. Apparently the circular saw attachment is ideal for cutting the track to the correct length.’

I taxed my partner with this during our coffee break, but Simon seemed unrepentant. ‘I'll bring it back next week,’ he promised. ‘And anyway, what about you borrowing the diathermy unit because your daughter needed it for her craft session at school? You said it was just the thing for creating small holes in the beads she was using to make a necklace. In fact, you said you promised the teacher they could borrow it any time she wanted. And you used the rigid endoscope when you couldn't find your passport and thought it might have dropped down behind the wardrobe at home.’

Several nurses were nodding vigorously in agreement, so I changed the subject. There were other things to be done anyway – that wobbly coat hook in the staff room, for a start. It only needed a screw replaced.

Could I find a toolkit? Not a problem. The orthopaedic screwdriver was the ideal size. It's just a matter of having the right tool for the job.

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