A Month on the Mountains Edge

When I first applied I’ll admit I didn’t actually give it much thought. I’m a strong believer in making the most of every opportunity presented to you so I was never going to say no to a month in Colorado, you’d have to be mad right?! Well, this particular opportunity was presented to me in December 2013 so has been on the boil for a while but I must admit that the reality of what I was doing didn’t actually dawn on me until a fortnight before take-off. I’m giving the impression that this was something epic, something akin with the adventures I have been lucky enough to embark on in earlier years, but in reality I was travelling just over 4000 to do exactly what I do in Edinburgh. Yep, I spent 9 hours on a plane travelling to a beautiful part of the world so that I could spend 13 hours a day in a windowless hospital! That’s the bit that didn’t dawn on me until the last minute. What had I been thinking! I am someone made for the outdoors, not designed to be on the edge of the mountains without the opportunity to enjoy them! The thing is, I am, and have always been, someone who will jump in feet first. There is something to be gained from every situation and I refuse to suffer the regret of not doing something!And that is how I found myself in the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins, a beautiful college town on the edge of the mountains, feeling a little lost and trying to get a handle on yet another vet hospital.

It doesn’t actually matter how many vets you have worked with in your career, everyone does things slightly differently from the last. Get used to this! Acknowledging this and accepting it will make all the difference during your work experience and EMS. The only thing they all have in common is an appreciation for someone who is willing to get stuck in and help out with absolutely anything that needs doing. And yes, that includes making coffee and sweeping and mopping at the end of the day. Anyway, I digress. While at CSU I’d chosen to spend two weeks in the Urgent and Emergency Critical Care unit and two weeks in the Zoological Medicine department. I’ve always had a soft spot for Zoological medicine so that was an obvious choice but Urgent and Emergency Critical Care was a new area for me. I was happily placed in urgent care for the fortnight which basically resembled the A&E department of your local hospital. They cater to any animal that walks through the door without an appointment whether that due to a true emergency or not. I saw everything and had the most fantastic time but it was only when I attended the emergency medicine stream of the BSAVA Congress over the weekend that I truly appreciated how much I had learnt! Edinburgh doesn’t really have an equivalent to CSU’s Urgent Care department so I’m so glad I got the choice to experience that and had the opportunity to see everything from the management of a crashing case to the treatment of a porcupine attack, admittedly something I am unlikely to come across in the UK.

Interestingly, a lot of what I learnt wasn’t necessarily seen during my own cases. When an animal is crashing it is taken straight through to the ward for stabilisation while the student on the case stays with the owner to get the necessary consents signed and to take a history so by offering to help hold the animal or fetch things the vets need, I actually got to see a side of the case I wouldn’t have got to see had I only worked on my own cases. It was then that I learnt the most! While at university it’s difficult to get experience treating things like a crashing or collapsed patient as, understandably, the clinicians take over so this was a unique opportunity to get right into the middle of the case and immerse myself in it. Needless to say, I would suggest an externship at CSU to anyone!!

The Zoological Medicine department posed a whole new challenge. Not only was I required to get to grips with a new department that, for the most part, works fairly independently from the rest of the hospital while still utilising the specialist on site, but I also had to very quickly become acquainted with species that are still rarely seen in the UK such as Sugar Gliders and Pygmy Hedgehogs. On top of this there are the different styles of medicine practiced by every clinician to wrestle with. One example: catheterising the ear vs catheterising the forelimb in a rabbit. Needless-to-say I had a fantastic time! Who doesn’t want to spend their days working with everything from rabbits to boas?! OK, probably quite a lot of people but I am not one of them. I loved it!!

As much as the academics were the purpose of the trip, we’re vets so I can’t claim it was all work, work, work. That’s just not how we function. Embracing the work hard, play hard mentality rife among vet students we proceeded to spend every spare moment making the most of everything that the Fort Collins area has the offer which, for the record, is a lot and includes a huge number of craft breweries and some fantastic food as well as the more obvious Rocky Mountain National Park, Poudre Canyon, Denver and Boulder (among others). As you may be able to tell, I had a great time! Honestly I know exactly why I feel the need to tell you about it other than a general encouragement to make the most of every opportunity but by the time you have got to this point in the post it’s too late and I have successfully wasted a few moments of your precious time because, let’s be honest, what else would you have been doing and how else am I meant to occupy my intensely jetlagged mind?!

Anyway, I would never normally have been attracted to the offer of 4 weeks in a windowless box, regardless of the location, but my inability to say no actually worked in my favour this time so I guess the moral of this incredibly longwinded story is never dismiss an opportunity straight off. You never know when you might find a hidden gem!

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