The Goose Is Getting Fat!

So, semester one is almost at a close – one week left to go! It’s been something like 12 weeks since I was last home, but I think everyone here feels as if it’s been a century. I’ll save the speech, though, just in case this next week finishes me off!

The highlight of Monday, if Mondays can have highlights, was receiving the cell bio presentation results back way earlier than expected. I was extremely relieved to find out that I’d passed, and that my examiner had awarded me full marks. Who’d’a thunk it, eh?

But there was little time to wonder whether I’d got the wrong paper, because Monday was packed with stuff to do. Anatomy was full-steam-ahead and delivered two hours of lectures on the abdomen. I think it’s fair to say that there’s way too much junk in there to cover in two hours. But they tried, and failed, with a nice little caveat at the end that said something like, “You can go to your anatomy textbook and read about the rest of it yourself, it’s always good to do a bit of independent learning.”

Suppose that’s one way of looking at it.

I do appreciate anatomy lectures, because it’s really relevant, medical-y stuff. You get to use words like ‘greater omentum’, that sound really cool, when in fact they refer to a big flap of membrane that hangs around in the abdomen.

These lectures were followed by a blood practical, which involved learning to identify types of white blood cells using microscopy, and spinning glass capillaries of blood really fast to find the proportion of it that is made up by red blood cells. This value is known as packed cell volume, and these are skills I really enjoyed learning, because they’re a key everyday diagnostic tool that can give you a load of information about an animal (or a person!) very quickly.

A second blood practical followed this on Wednesday, which had us making our own blood smears. I initially thought this meant making smears of our own blood, but I was relieved to find out that it actually meant making smears from animals at the hospitals. Another skill we’re expected to graduate with, this was reinforced by a tutoring session about the lineages and types of white blood cells, and what kinds of defence they’re involved with. It almost feels like it deserves its own song, like the element song:

Theeeeeere’s monocytes and neutrophils, lymphocytes, eosinophils

And macrophages, killer cells, and myeloblasts and basophils…

Nah, you’re right, it’s not going to make number one.

But it is really important stuff. You can make a blood smear, do a white blood cell count (yeah, you literally count the cells) and look at the numbers. From there, you can make huge leaps in narrowing down what’s going on. Raised basophils? Must be allergic or parasitic. Raised lymphocytes? Viral. Neutrophils? Bacterial. How satisfying is that?

After Monday’s blood shenanigans, it was the first of two thorax dissections. We recieved a reasonably sized dog, which meant that the fiddly-ness of the whole procedure should be reduced. But it was still one heck of a dissection. There was no need to keep the body wall muscles intact, so the first five minutes was made up of (very stress-relieving) stripping away of muscle layers until… tada – ribs!

So, what’s next then? “Bone cutters.”

Bone cutters?

Well, I suppose there’s only one way in! So off we went, crunching and cracking through ribs 2-8 on each side – not the easiest task in the world. But after removing two racks that looked way too much like they were destined for the barbeque, we could see right inside. After orientating ourselves with the lungs, we cut them out (are you seeing the pattern here?). This wasn’t as clean as I expected it to be, because something began pouring black-brown fluid into the thorax, which we desperately tried to mop up.

What remained was the heart, trachea, oesophagus, a yellow membrane and a tangle of arteries, veins and nerves. What followed was a process of removing the fat and fascia from around the bits we wanted to see. We found all the nerves, including that bizarre recurrent laryngeal, and took lots of pictures. Job well done.

Round 2 with the thorax arrived on Thursday. Despite having taken the time we needed, we were quite a long way ahead of the class as a whole, and so were assigned the privilege of being guinea pigs for the next stage: removal of the heart. That wouldn’t have been such a daunting idea, but all the vessels of the thorax had to come out with it. So on we went, excavating the veins and arteries, and coaxing the heart out of its pericardium. But it would not let go of the lung stem. Eventually, after more pulling than cutting (I could try and call it a ‘blunt dissection’, but I was really just tugging on the heart), it came out.

And I stood there, like all of my favourite movie villains rolled into one, holding up the disembodied heart. Mwahahaha.. ahem.

It was a very rubbery texture, and filled with latex, so wasn’t all that good for dissecting. But cardiovascular is covered next year, so, meh.

By now, the thorax was virtually empty, save for the oesophagus running from the neck into the diaphragm. And what an ace view of the diaphragm we had. It’s so much different to what I had always envisaged, with a silvery translucent centre through which the oseophagus, azygous vein and aorta all pass.

Having briefly made off with our heart to show the rest of the class, the tutor returned to say that we’d get a really good view if we removed the front half of the dog, “Go and fetch a saw.”

So, like, cut the dog in half? Alrighty then.

I didn’t find any saws in the toolbox at the back, and briefly thought that we wouldn’t be able to do it. But then a did a bit of mental anatomy and realised that I don’t have to go through bone. So I set about cutting through the intercostal muscles, spinal muscles and the ligaments that hold the vertebra together… until I got to the fibrous intervertebral disc.

No way I could get through it with my scalpel. So our dog did a bit of yoga, first bending all the way over to the left… *crack*. And all the way over to the right… *crunch*. And the front half came off. Success.

And, as promised, the view was excellent, including a great way to look at a cross-section of the spine that we’d opened up.

But I think the crown jewel in everyone’s week was Clinical Skills 2. Mine came first thing on Thursday morning. What can I say? I spent over an hour watching and examining the most gorgeous 2 year old black lab.

Who am I kidding? I spent about 15 minutes examining, and the rest cuddling. I think I speak for absolutely every student when I say that this was the hit that I’d been craving. Up until now, it had been a painful doggy withdrawal, and this beautiful girl lit up my life.

Academically, we learnt to examine the dog from nose to thorax, since that’s what we’d dissected by that point. She had a lovely wet nose, bright eyes, healthy teeth, a normal larynx, pink mucous membranes, great capillary refill times, no lameness, an excellent body condition and a strong heart.

But what was I really looking at? I was looking at a playful, wiggly person so full of love and slobbery kisses that it looked like she might explode with excitement. She had the most beautiful big brown eyes that moved from human to human looking for her next cuddle-victim, and a tail that wagged so hard that it was impossible to get a respiratory rate until she wore herself out and fell asleep, with her big warm feet in my lap.


The clinical skills session ran over, and so the small group of us shuffled quietly into the shockingly high back row of seats in the lecture theatre.

I thought I’d walked into the wrong subject, because the unfamiliar man at the front was midway through lecturing the students on the teachings of Christ in the Bible.


Turns out this was my two-hour veterinary ethics lecture, and the guy at the front was a theologian. Figures.

The whole thing was slow and draining to listen to, even if now and again it raised an interesting general point. But overall, I found most of it quite irrelevant, particularly the bits that suggested I needed a religion to make moral decisions. And the frequent bits where he couldn’t pronounce ‘veterinary’. But when you bring a theologian into an institution of science, there’s not going to be much cohesion.

Unfortunately, one of Friday’s lectures was less engaging than I’d hoped. For a while, I’d looked forward to the lecture on companion animal welfare. But it mostly turned out to be a case of watching disturbing footage of dying animals, and thinking to myself ‘Thanks, Captain Obvious’.

Nobody in that lecture theatre needed a lecturer to tell us the stuff we were told.

And so with one week remaining, what can I look forward to?

Well, tomorrow is an astonishing run of 5 lectures in one day. This is the result of constant lecture cancellations, followed by the realisation that they must be delivered before the end of semester 1, and the well-thought-out solution of bunging them all into one day. So by tomorrow, I’ll be more learned in the subjects of: Lymphatics, revision, skin, more skin, and the welfare of captive wild animals.

But next week also contains days with dog and cat husbandry lectures, a cancer lecture, an abdomen dissection and my Cell Bio MCQ exam.

It’s okay, though, because the therapets are waiting for me on Thursday afternoon, to deliver a top-up of canine cuddles.

Until then… always look on the bright side!



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