Diagnosis: Asparagus

The ultrasound image was… vague. As our tutor moved the transducer back and forth, it shifted into odd shapes, varying shades of grey hinting at what might lie underneath.

I tried to build a three-dimensional image from the series of cross-sections that moved past. I could see something loosely star shaped growing and then shrinking again as the transducer passed over it, with a great anechoic black hole in the centre. But it had more points than a star, and they were rounded… lobulated. You know, it looked a bit like…

Something clicked, and a single image filled my mind, “Is it a baby sweetcorn?”

I got a few sideways glances from my colleagues that made me doubt whether I was of sound enough mind to be entering this profession.

“No, it’s not. But you’re not completely wrong.” the tutor replied, with an expectant expression. She waited a little longer, hoping I’d set their minds off down the right track.

“No more ideas? Let me scan it the other way.”

She switched orientation, so that the transducer passed through a different plane of the object. Had it been a baby sweetcorn, I knew I would have seen a pencil-like object, as the sound waves cut through it longways.

Instead, the exact same image emerged as before. So the object wasn’t cylindrical, it was… spherical?

We stood silently round the machine, frowning at the fuzziness. No idea.

“Nope? Okay.” she pulled the transducer out of the Tupperware of gel she’d been scanning, “It’s a blackberry!”

Oh, right! Yeah, totally… obvs.

I mean, it did make sense. What I’d seen before were not young sweetcorn seeds, they were those juicy pockets on a berry (they’re called drupelets by the way – I knew that would come in handy one day). And of course, it looked the same from every direction.

Someone spoke up, “But blackberries don’t have a hole in the centre. That’s raspberries.”

Everyone just stared. The tutor just stammered, “Well… you know, it’s been… cored.”

Just for the record, I do know that one cannot ‘core’ a blackberry, but now was not the time to reveal my inner botanist. Next item.

Well I’ll be damned. Almost the exact same image appeared on the screen. Minus the anechoic chamber in the middle, a star shape grew and faded as she scanned up and down. And when she scanned across – there was the pencil!

I was stuck, it was like noticing male genitalia in an innocent image – you cannot unsee it. All I could see was a baby sweetcorn.

I grappled with the image of the sweetcorn, elbowing it out of my mind to start with a clean slate. Okay, take a moment. What can you see?

How the heck is that not a baby sweetcorn!” I blurted out, rather more loudly than I’d expected. I shuffled as the tutor glanced at me from under her eyebrows. Sorry.

She scanned the object for a while longer, switching between the two planes. I just sat silently with the image of a baby sweetcorn seared into my retinas. Screw it, she’ll tell us soon enough.

‘Soon enough’ didn’t come fast enough, and I opened my mouth again, “It has to be!”

“I never said it wasn’t.” the tutor smiled smugly.

“So that’s what it is? It is a baby sweetcorn?”

“Yes.”

For goodness’ sake.

 

The last one had us all stumped. I was still trying not to see a baby sweetcorn – turns out it was an asparagus which, when you think about it, doesn’t have a vastly different cross-sectional appearance.

So as you might have guessed, this was our introduction to ultrasonography. I’d seen ultrasounds in veterinary practice, of kidneys, bowels, hearts and bladders. Or at least, that’s what they told me.

I am absolutely not alone when I say that being a veterinary work experience student, at some point or another, involves pretending to see something on an ultrasound. The routine is fairly standard: you lurk behind the vet whilst they probe around in a dark room, you listen to the part-monologue-part-explanation they mumble through as they search, you prick your ears attentively when they say “Look at this. There’s the [insert organ]. Can you see it? Just there?”. At this point, in order to achieve a genuine effect, it’s often wise to insert a few seconds’ worth of silence whilst you pretend to search the screen for the organ in question. Squinting at the image during this time is effective.

After three or four seconds has elapsed, you then exclaim, “Oh yeah! Yep, I see it. Right there. Yes.”

I have employed this method on countless occasions.

After scanning vegetables, I headed back to the dissection room where we’d started the session. Today’s specimen was uniquely prepared. There was just one dog, with his nose in one corner of the room and his bumhole in the other. The rest of him was sliced like a chorizo and spread across multiple tables for our inspection.

Many of the slices were dotted with drawing pins, which indicated that we had to try and identify the structure underneath. This is actually quite difficult.

Walking through the room was like doing a real-life MRI, as the slices moved backwards through his head and neck, then his thorax, abdomen and pelvis.

Between us, Claire and I managed to identify the large majority of the structures, and had time spare at the end to wander at will. At one point I thought I’d look into his eyes. Nope. Creepy. Let’s not do that again, shall we.

We were back in that dissection room the following day, to endure a three-hour long session of applied clinical anatomy. The premise of these classes is brilliant, I love working a case, solving the puzzle, putting the pieces together.

But the sessions are way longer than it takes to solve the problem. One perk to that particular class was that they’d dissected out a cat and some rabbits. It was the first time I’d seen a cat dissected out. Honestly, the gross anatomy looked pretty much the same as the dog at a glance. Which is a little misleading, because I’ve heard that cats can be a whole different ball game when it comes to treatment. Guess I’ll find out later!

In the end, we’d sussed out Gemma’s hip dysplasia, Dylan’s bowel obstruction and Abby’s mediastinal lymphoma. Good mornings’s work, I reckon!

An even better afternoon’s work began with an incredibly windy trudge up to the Easter Bush sheep unit. I’d layered up for that afternoon, in the hope of avoiding the freezing I’d received at the dog and cat home.

We had the usual briefing from the shepherd, who reminded us that it was our own faults if we got flattened. But I had confidence for today, because I’d got pretty good at turning the lambs over in the last practical. We were trimming hooves this time, I could handle this.

But what he let out of the pen weren’t 40 kilo lambs – they were 80 kilo ewes. Wild-eyed, thick-skulled, scrambling-on-the-concrete adults. Holy hell.

The sheep were divided into pens, and so were the vet students. Armed with hoof shears and a can of blue spray, I entered the fray with my partner.

Cornering the buggers was hard enough – catching one was another thing entirely. Time after time I had one by the chin, only to be dragged across the pen and thrown against the fence. They were so much more powerful than I’d anticipated. And, in the interest of welfare, we’re not allowed to hold onto their wool. So you really do just have to rodeo by the chin!

Due to her small size, my partner simply couldn’t hold onto them. So in the end, I took down a total of four sheep. After the merry dance around the pen, and the back-breaking effort to roll them over, having them slumped between my knees was such a damned relief.

My approach aims to keep everyone as relaxed as possible, which at times meant letting them fling their legs about for a bit before trying to trim their hooves. Mostly, this was the easy part, there’s nothing really technical about it. But now and again, you’d get one with foot rot, and pus would begin pouring out when you trimmed off the top layer of horn. The smell was absolutely putrid.

When all four feet had been manicured, we were meant to spray a blue dot onto the ewe’s forehead, so that we didn’t try to rugby tackle her again.

On three occasions, we remembered to do this. On the fourth, I was beginning to collapse under the weight of a particularly huge woolly girl, and was relieved when my partner finally finished her last foot, so that I could let her go. I rolled her sideways to let her find her feet, and just as she began to find purchase, my partner shouted, “Spray, spray! We’ve got to spray her!”

Bollocks.

She was just about to lunge back into the flock, where I knew I’d lose her amongst all the other identical sheep, when I lunged after her and caught her by the chin.

“Come back here!”

She’d already gained some momentum, and so I hung on for dear life as we charged around the pen.

We’d literally just allowed someone else to borrow our spray, and I could hear my partner calling back to say she didn’t know where it was.

The sheep was towing me round the pen, and I’d decided to let her to avoid a fight which I’d probably lose. So as I made a pass by next door’s pen, I politely gasped, “You don’t happen to know where the spray is, do you?”

I got my answer on the next fly-by, when the student shrugged.

As I staggered and stumbled round the pen, I could hear people asking each other politely if anybody knew where the spray was. No urgency at all. No, I’m fine, quite enjoying myself actually. Don’t hurry on my account.

“Where is it!?” I shouted.

Finally, it appeared in my face, and I delivered a sharp blast of it onto her head before releasing my grip.

She just stood there, quivering and panting like I’d tortured her for the last three weeks. After all that, I was at least hoping for the satisfaction of seeing her bolt into the flock, knowing that it was worthwhile to avoid losing her. But no, she just stood.

Ugh, sheep. And all those layers I’d so sensibly worn? I sweated through every last one of them. My waterproofs weren’t keeping the water out so much as in.

To round off an exciting week, we were given another MCQ. This one tested our knowledge of the pelvis and hindlimb. It tested virtually none of the things I’d prepared for it, and followed that awful trend where you begin by flying through the easy questions, and then they get progressively more soul-sucking.

From here on in, it’s head down and study for the big exams coming up next week. Literally nothing will happen this week, I’m afraid. So I’ll write again in two weeks’ time, I hope you’ll return to read!

See you on the other side.

 

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