Last semester as a second year student, we started our anesthesia and surgery labs. It was the first time many of us felt the fear, the thrill, the incredulity of veterinary medicine, of finally using our skills and knowledge thus far to do something real and concrete and, even, dangerous. How do we remember all the tiny details over the years? Well, there is, of course, continuing education for veterinarians, but there are other things that help make the information stick. For me, for anesthesia, it was goat lice.
We were taking anesthesia and parasitology in the same semester. It was a ton of information to soak in, especially because many of us had never used an anesthesia machine, and because there are hundreds of parasites that are relevant to us as veterinarians. So, we had to learn a lot of new information, rather than build on what we already knew. On top of those classes, we also had pathology, surgery lab, nutrition, pharmacology, and the list goes on. A tough year, but one that really made it obvious (to me) why I loved veterinary medicine so much.
Anesthesia was one of my favorite classes. I loved being able to learn how to keep something alive under gases, how to not panic if something was not exactly what we thought it would be (goats, for example, like to stop breathing on their own under anesthesia–sounds terrifying, but they recover well, and all we have to do is pay attention to the bag we are squeezing to give them a few breaths per minute). It was a really cool lab, but what solidified things for me was seeing at least three of our classes all coming together to make anesthesia possible–anesthesia, of course, taught us the machines we would use, pharmacology, the drugs, and yes, even, parasitology taught us a thing or two when we saw what was crawling on some of the goats (Bovicola caprae) and were able to identify it.
Even though this parasite isn’t a normal inhabitant of people, they do transiently crawl around on us sometimes as well. And, when you’re in such close proximity to an animal (i.e. performing anesthesia), it’s hard to not share the same crawlies as them temporarily. Let me tell you, it happens. I found one on my arm an hour later, my classmate found one in her hair….And while this all sounds disgusting, it was actually quite comforting to me to know that I could do all of these disciplines (anesthesia, pharmacology, parasitology) at the same time and succeed. I certainly won’t forget these skills either, because what will always spark my memory is what crawled on me that day, when I learned them for the first time.