At the beginning of last summer, I did another 3 weeks of work experience at the same veterinary practice as before. My anxiety made things quite difficult but I did mostly enjoy it. In some ways, though, it did put me off becoming a vet nurse/ vet. My memory isn’t good enough to write a really detailed post about it, but I will write about what I remember. It’s probably best not to read this post if it’s very difficult for you to hear about animals dying/ suffering.
Like before, I spent most of my time there watching operations and cleaning, though unfortunately, a lot of the time, I was simply just standing around in the atrium of the building, as there was nothing to do. I would go and clean anything I could, just for something to do, but even though I’d take it upon myself to clean all the doors, skirting boards, cupboard doors, radiators, desk tops, and so on, with disinfectant, there were still some really quiet days when I’d just be standing there for hours, which was mind-numbingly boring. On the bright side though, one of the vets commented that I had a really good work ethic, as I’d often stay past 5pm on busy days to help with cleaning/ mopping/ vacuuming.
The same vet also said that I obviously had the stomach for working in a veterinary practice, as I coped just fine with all of the operations I watched, even though some of them were a bit gory. Probably the most major operation I watched this time round was the amputation of a rabbit’s leg. I’d already watched a dog have its leg amputated on my previous work experience, so I knew I could handle it, but it’s still far from pleasant to watch. I also discovered what a morbid sense of humour vets/ vet nurses have, during that operation. Everyone always seemed to get anxious when operating on a rabbit, as from what I gather, they tend not to do very well under anaesthetic, can easily be injured, and there’s a higher risk of fatality under anaesthetic than with a cat or dog. And the vet who was operating on the rabbit had never done a rabbit amputation before.So I suppose it’s understandable that they’d use morbid humour to cope with the stress of operating on a rabbit. What I found really odd was that, at the end of the operation, the vet took the rabbit’s leg through to the prep room – holding it almost as if it was a trophy – to show the other vets/ vet nurses that the operation had been a success. Obviously, they’re used to this sort of thing and didn’t seem at all bothered by the sight of a rabbit’s detached leg. They all congratulated him. But unfortunately the cleaner (who wasn’t used to seeing such things and seemed a bit squeamish) was also in the prep room at the time, and she looked absolutely horrified. Thankfully, there were no complications during surgery, and the rabbit went home a couple of days later.
One of the other things that stands out in my memory from work experience is that there was unfortunately a vet there (who I thankfully only saw once a week because she was from a different practice) who seemed very rude to anyone who wasn’t a vet/ vet student. I stood in on a couple of her operations and she never said a single word to me but would happily chat away to the vet student who was at the practice during my last week of work experience (I don’t mean about about veterinary stuff, I just mean general conversation). When I stood in on one of her dental operations, she laughed and said that it was really stupid of me to want to become a vet nurse, when I told her I was thinking about it. She also said, in a really condescending way: “Really? You want to clean up poo for a living?”, and kept going on about how I should do something else instead. One of the vet nurses was there helping her with the operation, and I felt that it was extremely rude and disrespectful of her to say a thing like that while he was in the room. He probably had to bite his tongue quite a bit. Does that vet honestly think that cleaning up excrement is all that vet nurses do? Unfortunately, I think that some vets have a bit of a superiority complex when it comes to the vet nurses (though thankfully, she was the only rude vet that I met during work experience). She also berated me and called me stupid because I still haven’t figured out what I want to do with my life (probably without realising that she’s one of the very few people who have always known what they wanted to do as a career). She might be intelligent enough to be a vet, but she came across as very ignorant/ an idiot.
The worst thing that happened during this round of work experience was probably when a 13-year-old border terrier died in the prep room after having collapsed in the waiting room of the practice. I was cleaning the examination tables in the prep room one morning, when all of a sudden, two vets and two vet nurses came bursting in, and asked me to move out of the way. They did everything they could to try and revive her, but unfortunately it was too late, and she died on the examination table. Apparently the dog’s owner had died only three days before her dog. The owner’s daughter was at the vet practice to see about getting the dog euthanised (due to a number of health problems) anyway, so perhaps it was best that the dog died then, instead of having to continue suffering for any longer, not just physically but psychologically (I think it’s probably a lot tougher for a dog when its owner dies than it is for an owner when their dog dies, as in most cases, the owner is all the dog has ever known).
Another case that sticks out in my memory is the case of a Chihuahua puppy whose blood sugar levels were extremely unstable. One minute, it would be like a typical puppy – full of life. The next, it would crash and appear very sleepy and unresponsive. The vet nurses allowed me to hold it for a little while, which was one of the highlights of my work experience. It was such a tiny little thing. Later on, one of the vets had the puppy on his lap while he was phoning the dog’s owner, and it started to urinate on him. He had to carry on talking to the owner as if nothing had happened, while trying to hold the dog away from himself. Everyone else in the prep room was laughing their heads off, especially as it happened right after the vet had commented on “What a lovely little dog” the Chihuahua puppy was. He joked afterwards that he had actually wet himself and just used the puppy as a cover story. He promptly went off to get changed. The last thing I heard about the puppy was that it was going to be taken to the vet school for 24-hour monitoring. Unfortunately, I don’t know whether it pulled through or not.
The last day of my work experience was unusually busy, and extremely chaotic. Everyone seemed very stressed out, and I tried to help in whatever way I could. Unfortunately, everyone was still so busy when I left that I didn’t really have a chance to say a proper goodbye to anyone, which I really regret.
I did enjoy the work experience overall though, but it helped me to realise that being a vet is definitely not for me. I still don’t know about vet nursing, though at this point, it unfortunately seems unlikely, given that it would mean that doing this degree would have been a complete waste of time. The pay is also very low, and though I don’t desire to make loads of money, I’d be struggling to pay the bills on that salary. My friend who is studying veterinary medicine tells me that many vet nurses still have to flat share well into their thirties, and I would obviously much prefer it if I could afford my own place, as flat sharing would probably make me very anxious. In addition to this, while I coped with everything during work experience, I think it would be very difficult to deal with seeing animals suffer on a daily basis, especially when an animal dies in a particularly awful way and you are the one who has to deal with the animal’s dead body, and clean up the mess. (I witnessed something particularly awful during this round of work experience. Thankfully, I didn’t see the dog’s body, but I saw the aftermath. I felt so sorry for the vet nurse who had to deal with it. I love animals and I honestly don’t think I could deal with that sort of thing on a regular basis). It would also be very difficult to have to put animals to sleep/ assist in putting them to sleep, and to deal with the owners’ grief. (I also witnessed a dog being prepared for euthanasia while I was there. I was struck by how professional and compassionate the head vet – the vet who was putting the dog to sleep – was while preparing the dog and putting the catheter in. He did everything he could to make sure that the dog was as calm as possible). Like I said before, I think I would find it really difficult to deal with seeing animals die, and dealing with the grief of their owners, on a daily basis. I suppose it’s back to the drawing board in terms of career ideas.