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Dangers of being a veterinary surgeon

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I HAVE just returned from a vet school reunion. Our small group graduated too many years ago to mention, but enough for the majority to be now safely retired. I say ‘safely’ because a survey published recently by the British Veterinary Association indicated that over 60 per cent of people in the veterinary profession have been injured in the past year alone!

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These figures made me recall a doctor, a few years ago, asking me with undisguised suspicion why I had so many fine scars covering my hand and arm. Immediately catching his drift, I headed him off with the explanation that it was a form of self harming called ‘being a veterinary surgeon’. He hadn't noticed the Rottweiler fang marks on my other arm!

Having started my career in a large animal practice, I consider myself fortunate to have escaped permanent damage. There was a time when I came home one evening with a hoof print on my forehead and absolutely no memory of how I'd collected it; the only clue being that it was clearly made by a two-toed ungulate. Then there was the occasion of the Lincoln bull that was too big to race or fit in a crush. My cunning plan to squash him in with some largely disinterested heifers, over whose backs I crawled to reach his tail, worked nicely. I managed to retrieve the blood sample in no time, but his sudden loss of a sense of humour and a heave for freedom took the lot of us through a flimsy barn wall and down a short, grassy bank. I was dumped, unscathed, behind a low brick wall still clutching my unbroken vacutainer.

The incident of two male lions brushing past my legs en route to rejoin their ‘girls’ at a safari park when someone left a door unfastened is best forgotten. That was not a situation of my own making, although being inquisitively nudged by a chummy adult rhino while administering an anaesthetic antidote to a sleeping eland probably was.

The point is, we were more frightened of not getting the job done in those days, or of being perceived to be a wimp and we tended to do whatever it took. Nowadays, we are more circumspect. There are all sorts of hazards peculiar to veterinary practice and, while we bemoan the constraints of health and safety regulations, there is no denying that they have saved a number of lives and prevented many more injuries.

There are times when I think the public could contribute a bit more to the safety of us vulnerable veterinary professionals. Too often I see a nervously aggressive dog being rewarded with food for snarling at me, instead of getting its reward when it is calm and amenable. Known felons are still presented with an air of pride that ‘the last vet couldn't get near ‘im, Ha! Ha!’, and also beware of the cat owner who flips the basket lid open and retreats sharply covering their face. There should be some form of compulsory training for new owners to learn proper management of their pets, which includes a reminder that, despite depiction in popular TV veterinary programmes, none of us is immortal.

If you would like to contribute to ‘A practitioner ponders’, please e-mail inpractice{at}bva-edit.co.uk for further information. We pay a small honorarium for contributions that are published.

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