By NIKHITA PARANDEKAR
I just finished my ambulatory and production medicine rotation, which is when we ride around in the trucks (or minivans) with the veterinarians who are making farm calls around the area (roughly a 45 minute radius all around Ithaca). Upstate New York is a relatively big dairy cow region so we spent a lot of our time with (or inside) cows, but also saw everything ranging from horses to alpacas to pigs. You know that I’m not allowed to share specific stories with you, but I can tell you that my experiences on the rotation made me start thinking about the importance of innovation in veterinary medicine.
One day during rounds, one of the residents mentioned that it’s important when you’re part of a field service to figure out how to use the tools you have in creative new ways. If you’re doing surgery in the field, you don’t have a fancy surgery suite with facilities to aseptically scrub yourself (or your patient) before the surgery, and you have to figure out how to make your bottle of antiseptic and the water from the hose into a similar environment. Similarly, if you go to see an emergency and weren’t able to specifically prepare for it beforehand, you might have to figure out how to provide the highest standard of care with atypical equipment. Or it could be something as simple as a client asking you for a medication that you don’t carry or have run out of — can you think of something equivalent, or find a cheap, efficient way to get your client what they need? All of this seems pretty straightforward — obviously, when you’re a travelling medical professional you should learn to expect the unexpected. There’s a certain romance about it all really; a (wo)man, armed only with the contents of the truck and a brain, against anything nature can throw at you.
Romance aside, I began to realize that the entire field of veterinary medicine requires the same degree of ability to think outside the box. Even with all of the comforts of a hospital, every moment of every day is completely different. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve seen surgeons in a hospital perform a non-textbook procedure because it was the most efficient way to use the materials at hand.
In general, you constantly have to figure out how to read and react to every different combination of client, patient and disease process that exists. Here’s an aside to make it a little easier to understand. When I was learning how to horseback ride, I used to fall pretty frequently (thankfully for my body the falls are much fewer these days). During a fall, there’s always an epinephrine-full moment where you don’t know what’s happening and then once you’ve landed, you do a reflexive check of all your body parts from head to toe to figure out what hurts. In a strange way, I came to enjoy this process — not the actual falling or the lingering pain the next day, but that reflexive once-over is kind of what veterinary medicine entails all the time. It’s about constantly re-evaluating your surroundings and reading subtle cues to identify the dangers and problems that you can work to fix. Is that cat trying to bite you because she’s actually aggressive or is she just in pain, and what do you have nearby that you can use to pacify her? Did those owners really come to talk to you about their dog’s occasional sneezing or are they more worried about something else?
The degree of thought and the ability to think on your feet that are required in these situations is not much different from the scenarios I described above for the ambulatory veterinarians. In the end, the constant variety and mental stimulation combined with the relative freedom to do what you think is best is part of what makes the entire profession such an exciting one.
Nikhita Parandekar graduated from Cornell in 2011 and is a fourth-year veterinary student in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.