Homeward Bound

I’m going home!

I’ve loved every second of my first semester at the Dick Vet, but it’s been a very long haul, and the thought of going home to my beautiful house, and the family I have inside, is absolutely wonderful. There’s really is nothing more that I’d want for Christmas.

My train leaves at 16:30 today, and it’s a stunning two and a half hour journey down the East coast back to the best county of them all: Yorkshire!

To say that this semester has been a steep learning curve would be a major understatement. The sheer amount of information delivered has been phenomenal, but I’ve done things that I only dreamed about when sitting my A Levels. In this short time, I’ve taken on so much knowledge in so many spheres of veterinary medicine that, even though it’s only week thirteen, I don’t feel like a newbie any more. I feel completely a part of the student body and profession, and the school doesn’t treat us like idiots (most of the time).

It’s all well and fine being in love with the city and engaged with the course, but ultimately what makes or breaks an experience is the people you share it with. And I could not have been luckier.

Over the course of just thirteen weeks, I’ve made friends unlike any I’ve had before. There’s been ups an downs in this semester, but they’ve been both supportive and hilarious throughout, and I’m confident that we’ll stick out the tough times that might be ahead. If, before I arrived, you had asked me to describe the people I wanted to be with at university, these people would have fit it to a T. They’re incredible, and I hope they can put up with my waffling and question-asking for the next five years! So here’s to that.

There are too many examples of their awesomeness to fit into one post, but I think the other night just sums it up. After finishing dinner in the usual fashion, the girls took me (despite my initial suspicion about their intentions) into Ella’s room, where there was a pile of presents for my upcoming Birthday. I’m so flattered that they even remembered, what with Christmas happening all over the place. And each gift was perfectly suited to me, particularly the Cava and Toblerone! So a big thank you to Ella, Rowena and Claire, you’re the best!

This week was a great finish to the semester. It mostly constituted lectures on skin, lymphatics, dog husbandry and cat husbandry, the latter delivered by a truly crazy woman. But what else can one expect of a cat vet?

Thursday saw the arrival of the infamous Cell Biology MCQ. After half an hour of deliberating over which answers looked least wrong to me, we were given immediate feedback. And my final score of 19/20 was significantly higher than I ever thought I could achieve. So thank goodness that’s all over!

The therapets session that followed was a blissful wind-down with Rowena and Claire, where we popped over to a nearby halls and spent some time with a funny labradoodle and an elderly greyhound-saluki cross. The greyhound’s owner said that she’d seen a lot of vet students at the recent sessions, and I’m not surprised – there’s over a hundred animal mad students almost completely deprived of dog contact!

With Friday morning’s cancer lecture cancelled, all that was left to do was dissect the abdomen. Arriving at table 13, we were met with an enormous, brindle, wolf-type… thing. Ordinarily, the condition and appearance of the cadavers doesn’t bother me, but this one was an exception. It looked almost like the Grim from Harry Potter, there was something really off about this animal. Aside from it’s torn up head, neck and chest and complete lack of forelimbs, it had a shaggy brindle coat, a bushy wolf-y tail, growths on its skin and yellow, hairless hind feet. Ugh.

But after staring at its slightly ghoulish appearance, we set to work on it as if it were any other dog, which it was of course.

We made a nice long incision from the xiphoid process of the sternum down between his legs, to open him up like a book. It might be worth noting that the penis of the male gets quite in the way at this point, and just tucking it out of the way is not an option, for a reason that might come as a bit of a surprise.

*Anatomy Alert* The skeleton comprises three major categories of bones: axial, appendicular and splanchnic. Axial is skull, mandible, spine, ribs, sternum. Appendicular is everything in the limbs. And, although it’s not a very comfortable word to say, the splanchnic skeleton is all the bones that develop in soft tissues and don’t attach directly to the rest of the skeleton.

Bit weird, but the splanchnic skeleton includes the os cardis, which is a bone in the hearts of cows, and os penis which is a bone found in dogs, and most other mammals… in the penis. So, the penis is held against the body in its sheath (known, if you’re interested, as a prepuce), and the whole thing is made rigid by the bone running down its length.

So, it didn’t want to get out of the way, at first. But, as with everything else we’ve come across in these dissections, we made it move out of the way. Sorry, lads.

With the abdomen open, we hesitated to cut a thin, lacy structure that we hadn’t anticipated in the position that we found it in. The whole abdomen looked wrong, but personally, I assumed it was just fatty or poorly preserved. On asking a tutor, she said, “Well, for a start, you have a completely abnormal abdomen.”

Oops, what have we done?

“Not because of anything you’ve done, it’s just really abnormal.”

Phew.

I gestured to the ventral surface of the exposed viscera and said, “I was kinda expecting to see small intestine here. But, that’s not small intestine.”

“And so you should have!” she replied, “It’s not. It’s.. you don’t mind me rummaging around, do you?”

Too late, she’d already begun digging with both hands.

Pushing her hands deep into the guts, she lifted, and a giant mass rose up from the cavity. The size and shape of a football, the great big thing left an enormous gap where it had forced all the other viscera out of the way. I’m no doctor, but I think we all knew for a fact that this was grossly, grossly wrong.

“It’s prostate.” she said, “It’s a prostatic cyst, I’ve never seen one this big.”

We all repeated, “Cyst? That’s a cyst? But it’s enormous!” over and over in complete disbelief. Yeah, it was a giant prostatic cyst. And after conferring with another tutor, she agreed to dissect it out for us. She removed its attachments to the surrounding structures, poised to puncture it with her scalpel and said, “Stand back.”

I didn’t need telling twice. As she cut through its wide base at the right inguinal ring, brown, chunky stuff poured out into the abdomen.

“What’s in it?” someone asked.

“Necrotic tissue, pus, that sort of thing.”

And I knew that this necrotic casserole had been stewing for however many months (or years) the thing had been growing, plus the 4 months since the animal had died.

With the mass removed, the rest of the organs could be seen packed up against the body walls, many of them in the wrong place. The large bowel had been pressed up against the spine, the small intestines squished over to the right, and the bladder flattened against the left wall, with the tiny shriveled stomach pressed into the lobes of the liver. I couldn’t imagine how the poor dog had coped with such an enormous mass expanding inside his abdomen. Maybe he hadn’t.

At least we knew his bowels had still been working when he popped his clogs, because months-old poop was released from the end of them when we cut the rectum to remove the GI tract from the animal completely.

What can I say? It was possibly the most glamorous dissection we’ve done to date. But, as always, we managed the whole thing with a smile. And now the older students have a nice big cyst to play with over in pathology. ‘All I want for Christmas is a nice big cyst…’

No, me neither.

So, to cap off what was a great week, I spent last night watching The Blind Side, one of my ace birthday gifts, with Rowena and a few ciders. By the early morning, we’d finished the film and were tipsily putting the world to rights. A night very well spent, if you ask me!

All in all, I can say that I’m happy at the Dick Vet, studying what I love and generally having a whale of a time. And to me, that’s pretty much all that matters. But for now, I’m desperate to get home to my family, and I’m in the mood for Christmas.

So have a good one, and I’ll see you in the New Year – I’ve scanned my timetable for semester two, and the fun isn’t scheduled to stop!

Merry Christmas!

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It’s a bit unnerving, isn’t it?

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