Sometimes, in vet school, you just have to work with what you’ve got (probably a good mantra for the profession as a whole). Last semester, when we were learning how to correctly pull calves, for example, we used, not cows, but a leather uterus. Yep, a big ole sack of leather shaped sort of like half of a golf bag, with a narrowed opening at one end and buckles over to top that allowed us to “implant” our rubber calf replicas in the “uterine body” and slather the inside with lube (“uterine secretions”). On top of this, our uteruses hung suspended in midair from the side bars of several pairs of stocks (used for restraining horses) by some ropes through the loops on the sides of the fake organ. Can you picture it yet? Ten groups of about five each in this one room, ten stocks tied with mid-air-hanging, leather, manmade uteruses. Oh, and don’t forget the chains used to put around the calves’ legs to pull them!
It was a surprisingly efficient way to learn, despite not being able to have our hands on real animals. Probably my biggest question of the day, however, was just exactly who had designed these teaching tools? How had anyone thought one day “I’ll just make a uterus out of leather; that will help vet students learn!” It speaks to the ingenuity of veterinarians, I think. Not only was a fake uterus engineered in the first place, as our professor explained, the material it was made from was no accident either. Leather doesn’t stretch. The narrowed opening at one end of each leather uterus was to simulate pulling a calf through the pelvic canal—a place that also doesn’t stretch. We had to rotate calves to get their hips past the narrowing of the pelvic canal. We had to pull with a lot of heft, but only just enough to get our fake calves through the canal safely. It wasn’t real, but it was a representation of reality, at least. And with patients who can’t tell us what exactly is wrong with them, sometimes that’s all we’ve got to learn from!