Mr. Big Bollocks & The Palatini Bros.

Thought I’d open with a bang, hence the catchy title. So, what’s been occurring?

Well, I’m stressfully approaching two assessments in cell biology, the first of which will take place this wednesday, and the other two weeks after that. The one that looms over my coming week is a presentation which, mercifully, will last only 6-8 minutes and have an audience of 5 people. Only thing is, the fifth will be some PhD (literal) world expert in what I’m talking about. Which means, unlike secondary school, I can’t just blag it with long words shoehorned into even more elaborate sentences. But what am I talking about? ‘The Squid’s Contribution to our Understanding of Excitable Cells’.

Yeah, I know, contain your excitement please, ladies and gents. What that really means is: physics.

My talk, if I, by some miracle, manage to say it like I’ve written it out, should last six and a half minutes… spot on. So, it won’t be long before I find out how that goes. One thing’s in my favour though: I’m very experienced at talking.

The second assessment is a multiple choice exam. Multiple choice, can’t be so bad, eh? The answers are all there in front of you. Well, yeah. But it’s a ‘best answer’ system, so they’re all right, but one is a bit more right than the others. So there’s that gem to look forward to.

But all is not bleak in the weeks to come, because my dear Muskevets and I have booked a soul-cleansing experience for the afternoon of exam day. They call them the Therapets, and it’s nothing more than an unadulterated session of hugging and playing with therapy dogs. Bliss.

So this week has been fairly heavily about revising cell biology, and stressing because every time I go back to a topic, I seem to know less about it than the last time I went over it. For context, there is a current total of over 30 hours of lecture material to learn, and more to come between now and the exam. It’s not insignificant, but from talking with older students and my friends, it seems to be a case of being selective about what you learn, because to remember it all would be extraordinary.

What I do realise, from talking to my folks over Skype, is that as much as I struggle to find the motivation to revise cell biology, it is in fact infinitely preferable to what much of the university is doing. I walk past the law school, the business school, the accountancy department, and I just don’t know how they get up in the morning. Given a choice between their boring stuff and my boring stuff, mine suddenly becomes massively more interesting. You can keep your law, your business and your accountancy. I’m a student of veterinary medicine, and I’m proud to take on everything that this encompasses. Including *sigh* cell biology.

But there’s been fun, too, this week. Monday night, I took an afternoon trip out with Claire to see the switching on of the university Christmas lights. Arriving a tad early, or rather 45 minutes early because Claire is… Claire, we found a predictably empty quad. But, we entertained ourselves while the organisers set up the food tables and the musicians began to arrive.

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Old College Quad

Soon, the audience for the evening had arrived, the sun had set and we were contented with warm mince pies and hot mulled wine, set to the deeply moving sound of the Salvation Army band. It was beautiful.

It was cold, though, and even the mulled wine in combination with my cow hat, scarf and coat couldn’t keep the icy wind out. But we chatted, people-watched and enjoyed the music.

Interrupting the band with a squeal of his microphone  (which had been repeatedly, loudly, and irritatingly tested beforehand), a man garbled some incoherent stuff that echoed round the quad, and then people began counting down from ten.

Waiting in anticipation with my camera, to record the spectacle for Rowena who was still at the school, I built my excitement up.

FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE… ping. A single Christmas tree popped into light.

I looked around the quad in disbelief, and then at Claire, who had a similar face on. We had stood freezing in the wind for over an hour… for that? Is that it? It was very beautiful to look at, but when I’d seen Christmas lights lit on the telly, it was rather a more spectacular affair. Never mind, more wine!

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When we literally couldn’t stand the cold any longer, we set off home, merrily trying to figure out the molecular origins of cancer from our last lecture on it. In fact, it inspired its own t-shirt slogan: Mulled Wine Brings Out The Oncologist In Me. Catchy, I know.

Wednesday saw three back to back hours of cell signalling lectures, where the lecturer evidently didn’t want to be there any more than we did. The research says you can pay attention to stuff for about 20 minutes. Safe to say by the end of 180, I wasn’t paying attention. But the afternoon had me at Langhill again for weighing and condition scoring, which was a very vetty activity.

I’m sure by now you get my point that Scotland is getting chilly. But I’ll reiterate, because those hours spent standing static in a cattle race were the coldest I’ve known in a long time. Trying to use the pencil on my clipboard was pointless by the end.

But the activity itself was great. The guy teaching that afternoon kicked everything off to a great start by saying, “I have this new game where I lob shit at people who yawn.” Point taken. The process came as a stark reminder of the condition that milking cows lose when they give high yields. As with the sheep, we used a visual assessment along with feeling different areas to estimate a condition score, and then (in my case) pluck a random number out of the air to guess the weight.

My condition score estimates were generally accurate, but my weight-guessing took a while to improve. The problem is, the weight will depend on her height, her age, her stage of lactation and so forth. Two cows with the same condition score can be anything up to 200kg apart in actual weight. But I did get closer. By the end I was *only* around 100kg out.

We get the numbers thrown at us in lectures and stuff, but the reality of a 900kg cow still astonished me. Nine hundred kilograms. Big girl!

What am I? 55-ish? Which makes her 16 times my weight.

After locomotion scoring, i.e. do they walk right or not, it was into the warm Portakabin to watch this information film on the dangers of working with cattle. It was a couple of decades old, and the acting actually made us cringe. But the take-home message was the same: ‘don’t mess about or you’ll die’ sort of thing.

All these practicals are examinable both in written and practical exams. Except, the cattle practical exams are in 2017… and we don’t get to practice in between. So it’s a case of learn it now and learn it well, because unless you happen to be the offspring of a livestock farmer, you won’t get to do it again before you’re examined! Yikes.

But my week was topped and rounded off, as ever, by a dissection. And in comes the star of the show, the namesake of today’s blog post, the one, the only… Mr. Big Bollocks himself.

Friday’s dissection was ‘Pharynx’, a kind of non-object that you can Google Image if you really must. In essence, it’s that empty space that is behind your nasal cavity and mouth, but in front of your oesophagus and trachea. It’s not really a thing in itself, it’s just a thing that sits between more tangible things.

I suppose it is curious in the fact that, in an animal that stands on all fours, food comes in at the bottom and must cross upwards to reach the oesophagus. But air comes in at the top and must cross down to get to the trachea. Weird. There’s no current consensus about why, but our lecturer had a theory that she explained, after which we all nodded politely but thought, ‘no actually, Miss, that makes no sense whatsoever’.

Anyhoo, we entered to find a smell that was, as it is every week, slightly different and slightly worse than the week before. Approaching the cadaver, I was struck by the odd proportions that greeted me. Our dog was a Staffie type, lying on his back with his legs spread out, and in typically Staffie style, he had an enormous head… and great big bollocks.

“Ah, hello Mr. Big Bollocks.” I introduced myself to him.

The whole dissection was a hysterical activity, which seems a bit inappropriate given the circumstances, but what can I say!?

There were two muscles in particular that were difficult to get to, but we did find them in the end. They sit right at the base of the skull, tensing and lifting the roof of the soft palate. Their names are tensor veli palatini and levator veli palatini. And we kept referring to them as the ‘palatini pair’. I recently watched Water for Elephants with Rowena, which featured the Benzini Brothers circus, hence ‘Mr. Big Bollocks & The Palatini Bros.’

Next week my presentation looms, but I also have lectures on more cell biology, the thorax, a body wall dissection (yay!), my first clinical skills practical, more veterinary public health (ugh) and a pig husbandry lecture.

On reflection, and as I pointed out in one of my conversations over Skype, I don’t personally believe that anyone is ‘called’ to do anything with their lives. But when I look at where I am, what I’m doing, who I’ve met and where I’m going, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that this is, in fact, my calling.

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