The Power of Friends …..(and well, of the Internet….

It is Saturday , the 9th of April and with a glass of red wine I am settling on the sofa in my living room in Surrey, pretty drained but also happy and satisfied with an exciting day.

With the help of many friends and of some incredible characters we managed within 5 weeks to register nearly 4000 colleagues for an online CPD event and we raised over £ 33000 while learning a lot and having a lot of fun at the same time…..

So how did this all come about?…..

As already mentioned in one of my previous blogs I had been (and I still am) pretty upset about the war in Ukraine and the return to a new Cold War reality.

When – after my return from the North – I made a short detour to Belgium, I had a drink with some of Europe’s finest speakers in veterinary dentistry and we started to circulate the idea of running an online “Life-Aid” style event to raise funds for the relief effort for both the people and the animals from Ukraine. My colleagues – Ana Nemec from Slovenia and Jerzy Gawor from Krakow in Poland – immediately offered their support, providing that I would set it up……..

With some hesitation I agreed to look into this, but it clearly was one of those moments where you ask yourself : “Oh my God, what have I done?!……”, because I realised that it wasn’t such an impossible task, but that I had just committed myself to several sleepless nights and a lot of work. The rest of the evening including one of the first parties since the start of the COVID pandemic, in the historic mining company head quarters in Genk was lost on me as I had to think…..

Thanks to my somewhat restless existence at the moment, I had all the necessary contacts, but now it had to call in a lot of favours.

For the biggest favour of all, I needed the help of one man and on his support hinged the decision to go ahead or to drop the whole idea at once:

Off I sent a message to Anthony Chadwick, better known as “The WebinarVet”.

In 2020, when the pandemic started, Anthony, just a “normal” vet like me, had – almost single handedly – introduced the whole veterinary profession in the UK to webinars and to online meetings and he kept many of us both sane and entertained during this difficult time.

Thankfully Anthony came back to me right away and we fixed an online meeting a few days later. That gave me the necessary time to put “meat to the bones” of my idea and while heading State-side, flying over the Southern tip of Greenland and seeing landscapes I will never be able to set foot on,

I worked on my pitch:

21 world class speakers, not more than two on a clinical subject area, from as many countries as possible, all just for 20 minutes plus 5 minutes for questions and answers, plus a team of moderators who were all great communicators and who were already known as veterinary influencers.

Fundraising through an established platform which channeled all funds directly to the chosen charities and which updated us in real time on the amounts raised. Once the idea had some traction, possibly also the involvement of the veterinary industry to raise more funds. Only Online advertisement but through all channels available to FECAVA, the Webinar Vet and the contact lists of everyone involved with the event.

At the end of the flight three pages of tightly written notes and names were lying in front of me and I had a plan that could work…..

Thankfully that view was shared by Anthony the next day and within a matter of hours I had the whole Webinar Vet organising team plus the help of my colleague Andreja and her marketing team in Ljubljana at my disposal and – with an 8 hour time difference – e-mails and text messages started flying through the internet.

My task now was to set up the scientific programme and to recruit all the speakers and the moderators for the event.

Kersti Seksel, a well known Estonian veterinary behaviorist agreed to join the event from her home in Australia. Heads of university clinics and of surgical departments in Hanover, Vienna and from my neighborhood in Surrey joined the effort. Ana managed to get in touch with some of her colleagues from UC Davis who also agreed to lend a hand, but with the caveat to insist on an early morning slot (in California) to be able to go surfing right after the presentation.

Once the news had got out, offers to help came flying in and at the same time we started with the fund raising.

As fellow moderators I was extremely lucky to get the support of my friend and colleague Julian Hoad and his partner in crime Mike Bramble, who are running a very successful You Tube channel and podcast series called “Veterinary Ramblings”.

Joining the effort as well were Cat Henstridge, better known as “Cat the Vet” from Yorkshire and from Ireland Pete Wedderburn, known as “Pete the Vet” in numerous TV and online appearances.

Whenever I opened my inbox over the following few weeks as we were progressing towards the event, there were new messages of support and encouragement and with the tireless help of the Webinar Vet team (ignoring graciously several set and passed deadlines, mostly due to my restless lifestyle….), the whole event started to take shape and several days before the conference, we already passed the ambitious fund raising target of £ 20000.

Then – finally – came the 9th April and following some final technical instructions from the team, I could start this crazy event that took its first step not even 5 weeks earlier over a glass of wine in Belgium….

Looking after pets in California’s Central Valley

When entering Ripon Veterinary Hospital in California’s Central Valley, one is immediately struck by the hustle and bustle of a well oiled, all female veterinary machine with Dr.Debra Daniel’s – the principle – with over 40 years of clinical experience, calm and confidently in the center of the storm…..

Today the focus is on neutering cats for one of the local animal shelters.

Several cat traps had been placed in local gardens over night and a decent number of stray cats had been caught. If there is evidence that they already had been neutered (eg a clipped off ear tip), they are only checked over and released again.

The others are with great efficiency been sedated by the team of technicians and after they have been treated against parasites, they are prepared for surgery. Here as well, the middle approach is favored over the flank technique. New to me – once castrated or spayed – a small incision is made just 1 cm or so next to the operation site and a small amount of green tattoo ink is applied to the wound, to identify the cat as being castrated in the future.

Unlike in the UK – and much to the envy of Dr.Debra – microchipping isn’t compulsory in this part of the world, neither for dogs nor for cats.

Comparing typical prices for veterinary procedures, I learn that a course of initial vaccination, neutering and parasite treatment can easily cost an American cat owner $500 – considerably more than in most clinics in the UK.

Despite these prices the number of insured pets remains fairly low though – something which unfortunately is making it not uncommon that treatment can not be given because of the cost involved.

A huge change for me – after working so long in Sweden – is to see once again a well stocked veterinary pharmacy, enabling the team to send patients home with all the medication they need at the end of the consultation or operation, rather than relying on the limited amount of veterinary drugs at the local pharmacy. It certainly is making life much easier…

However – this in turn means that antimicrobials remain far more readily available and are also used more frequently. So are there some raised eyebrows when I report that following my experiences in the North, I no longer use antibiotics for the treatments of cat bite abscesses. I wonder if Debbie and her team will follow my recommendation to give it a try as well……

A piece of equipment I am not familiar with is an automated testing device for the detection of parasite eggs in faecal samples. With the Mediterranean climate in the Central Valley, both endo and ectoparasites have a pretty comfortable life, but rather than relying on the environmentally probably questionable regular worming, pet owners are encouraged to have their pets’ droppings frequently checked. This still requires a standard flotation test, but the machine will then take care of the rest.

Here too the pandemic had impacted on the team with kerbside consultations and the emergence of the COVID puppy phenomenon, but slowly at least the consultations were getting back to normal.

In the waiting room I come across a number of Govinder Nazran prints.

I had some other works of this Yorkshire based artist in my own clinic in Virginia Water and considered myself in fact lucky that I got one signed when I met him in Birmingham not long before his accidental death in 2008.

Having traveled so far, I am not only struck how easy and straight forward it is to communicate with the whole team, but also how similar the daily work load is and memories come up to the happy times with my own team in Surrey….

Highway 1

7 o’clock in the morning, the sun hasn’t even risen and while a fresh breeze from the Pacific Ozean is sweeping the low lying fog from the fields around me, I am cruising down Highway 1 from San Simeon towards Big Sur with 2 cylinders of Milwaukee steel hammering away like a steady heartbeat underneath the seat of my Harley Davidson……is this for real?…….

It all started 3 weeks earlier while I was still working in Sweden……

When an unexpected change of shifts on a Monday morning meant that I had a whole day off, I made use of the spare time by exploring more of Sundsvall. While driving down the road pass the local aluminium smelter, I came across a Harley Davidson store and an idea started to take shape.

A couple of days earlier I had found out that the next stop on the Blue Vet’s travel itinerary would be Northern California and with that came the opportunity not only to drive along the epic Pacific Highway 1, but to do so in style on probably the most iconic brand of American motorbikes.

A small draw back though was, that I don’t own a bike, that I had never ridden a Harley Davidson and that the last time I sat on a motorbike was more than 10 years ago when in a similar act of mild madness I rented an enduro bike to drive for a day along the Panamericana in Peru (and lived to tell the tale…..just…..).

Following a brief stop in Munich and in Belgium, I was on a plane again and the only equipment I had for this undertaking were a pair of leather gloves (not the proper motorcycle ones….), my trusted hiking boots (they had to be good enough for this job as well….) and my mobile phone.

The latter was rather important because it turned out that renting a motorbike from a private owner is in fact not too difficult by using dedicated websites like “Riders Share” or “Twisted Road”. A few identity checks and proof of a valid motorbike license later, you can choose between a humble Vespa and a 1800 cc Honda Goldwing (or even larger bikes…..).

Utilizing the wonders of the internet, I not only succeeded in securing the set of wheels I was looking for in the South of San Jose, I also struck lucky at a local Goodwill store with an absolutely brilliant Bomber jacket and a solid pair of trousers for a grant total of $16 (not including the bike….) !

As Lewis – the owner of the bike – was kind enough to throw into the bargain his helmet for the ride, I was now all set for the next adventure!

The following day, having signed my will and taken out all sorts of insurance cover I was standing in front of a Harley Davidson Sportster Iron 883.

A few You Tube videos had informed me that this was a fairly basic and easy rideable member of the HD family, with more than 60 years of model history and with the unmistakable deep thudding engine sound. The downsides of this beast – as I soon found out – were the small tank, the poor suspension, the limited race-ability and the very spartan seat.

As one of the many gas station owners I later met told me : ” Riding a Harley is not so much about the ride but about the attitude!….”

Enhancing these shortcomings (and not mentioned in the You Tube clips….) was the terrible road surface of the American Freeways which made me seriously question my sanity on the journey down South pass Santa Cruz to Monterey. While feeling every bump in the road, I had to hang on to the handlebars for dear life while not exceeding much more than 50 miles an hour.

A well deserved coffee break in the sunshine of peaceful and laid back Carmel restored me to some extend and now the whole trip seemed to change at an instant: as Highway 1 turned from double to single lanes and the road became more twisted, the whole traffic slowed down and miraculously even the surface became much more even and well maintained.

This truly was what I had come for and while one dramatic piece of coastline followed the next, the movement and the sound of the bike came into their own and at last I started to enjoy the ride.

Leaving the well maintained properties of Carmel Highlands behind me, I soon crossed iconic Rocky Creek Bridge

and headed along an empty road towards the lush forest of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Here I was smart enough to refill the tank, as the coast became now even more deserted and dramatic with only a few houses at Lucia and at the Whale Watching Point at Gorda.

Finally – putting the acceleration and the breaks of the bike to good use – I scaled Ragged Point and finally cruised down the long straight road, stopping just briefly to see for the first time in my life an elephant seal,

before arriving in San Simeon for a warm shower and a hot meal after 190 at times draining, but all together thoroughly enjoyable miles.

The next day was then far more manageable with a very relaxed ride, with bright sunshine and a blue sky to “The Rock” and to the tranquil setting of Morro Bay.

By now the Sportster and I had started to understand each other and while having decided to leave Santa Barbara and the deeper South for another day, the journey back North along smaller country lanes pass the never-ending fields of Salinas, the Sea Otter Colony at Moss Landing and finally the crossing of Hecker Pass with it’s vineyards South of San Jose finished a great American road trip, which had started at a motorbike dealership on the shores of the Baltic Sea.

From Timber to Coal

As the snow was slowly receding even in Northern Sweden, I had to accept that even the best times in life will come to an end at some point and once again I found myself on the platform at the railway station in Sundsvall waiting for the train to Stockholm…..

A couple of days later I found myself at the former head quarters of a coal mining company in Genk, Belgium for my first veterinary conference in pretty exactly 2 years.

Swapping the operating theatre with the board room after such a long time, my colleagues and I soon realized though that our work hadn’t become easier – the social restrictions caused by the pandemic had been replaced completely by a conflict we all had thought no longer be possible in Europe in the 21st century.

These are sad days for an international organisation which has always worked towards the peaceful communication among veterinary professionals, but unfortunately with members from both waring parties.

It was somewhat a relief to be able to finally hand over the presidential gavel to my friend Denis Novak (something I had forgotten to do a couple years ago) and looking back, I considered myself very lucky having enjoyed leading our FECAVA “Family” in happier days, with memorable congresses both in Tallinn and in St.Petersburg.

But at least for now we once again enjoyed meeting again with our colleagues in person and later that day a conversation I had over a glass of wine is likely to open another chapter in the journal of the “Blue Vet” in the not so distant future…..

Before that though, I will need a change of scenery…..

12 kilometers to Blåhammar

It is the 24th of February and I am waking up to the news that Russian troops have started to invade Ukraine.

At the end of my second stay in Sundsvall I had taken a few days off to travel to Åre, the country’s most famous alpine skiing destination, to enjoy both downhill and cross country skiing and to write about my “two months skiing holidays” in this diary, but that seemed suddenly inappropriate and decadent.

Ignoring the ski pass I had purchased, I decided to take my backpack and a pair of skis that I had not used at all during my entire time in the North and to head for a remote mountain range on the border to Norway.

The skis I took were heavy, slow, fitted with steel edges yet still terrible on downhill sections, but designed to lay their own track where ever I wanted to go.

Before I departed from the hotel, I paid the monument a visit which I had noticed on a hill in the middle of the countryside. The Karoliner Monument told the story of the failed attempt of an army of 10 000 Swedish soldiers to conquer the then Danish owned neighboring Norway. During their retreat over the mountains back to Sweden over 3000 of them perished due to starvation, illness and exposure on New Year’s day in 1719.

Leaving a short while later the main road behind me and after traveling for a further 20 kilometers past high snow drifts, I arrived at the mountain station were the conditions were far from inviting.

A strong wind was coming over the hills exactly from the direction where I was heading. In addition to this the station team informed me that Blåhammar, the cabin I wanted to go to, was closed at the moment.

However there was a fair amount of blue sky and no new snow was forecasted until the next day. Relying on all the equipment I had with me, I decided still to go ahead with my plan and started on the well signposted track.

Right from the beginning the going was tough as the trail went constantly uphill and against the wind with very few areas of shelter. After 10 minutes I stopped and took a first break (which is a good routine to have when skiing in the mountains) as despite the weather I was starting to sweat. At -6C this is something to avoid and I drastically reduced the layers of clothes I was wearing to reach a comfortable temperature.

The journey then continued at a perceived snail pace and being on my own, lost in my thoughts, I slowly adjusted and became one with the world around me and just followed the red way signs ahead of me……

Although at the moment devoid of other human beings, these mountains had played a significant role in history, not only in the destruction of the Swedish army, but also as a thresh hold between life and death for many Norwegian resistance fighters during the second world war for whom the crossing to neutral Swedish soil meant salvation.

Heroes of this time like Max Manus or Claus Helberg lived and survived under these conditions, often having little or no food, sleeping in snow holes, without – unlike me – GPS navigation and under constant threat to be killed. Yet despite (or because of ?) this constant strain, they not only survived and they carried on becoming successful businessmen and social leaders.

I carried on walking and leaving the last small trees behind me, I entered a large plateau.

Once again I had to stop adjusting my clothes as the skin on the wind facing side started to freeze underneath the fabric. I was grateful for all the equipment I had with me – not only did this provide me with a range of different clothing alternatives, but it also gave me the certainty to survive – at least for a considerable time – in case of an accident.

In addition to this, walking uphill and against the wind had the advantage that once I decided to turn, the way back would be much easier.

It is 12 km from Storulvån where I started to Blåhammar. I had a good night’s sleep, was well fed and in reasonable physical condition and yet every meter was a challenge and my thoughts wandered to Scott and his comrades when they returned beaten from the South Pole. Some biographers point out that they eventually died “just” 18 kilometers from their next food and fuel supply (“One Ton Depot”) and I was wondering how long these “experts” would have lasted just at these conditions, with a much higher temperature and at just a third of the altitude the expedition was traveling at.

After 6 km I passed a small emergency shelter which made for some good photos and which gave me the re-assuring certainty to be able to make an additional stop if needed on my way back , but I decided to carry on to my main destination, especially as the trail started to rise again and I wanted to avoid returning to the mountain station in darkness.

I took out a pair of skins and fitted them underneath my skis and thankfully their was a fine layer of snow providing them with a fair amount of purchase so that there was very little backwards sliding, but still I felt every kilo additional weight from my back pack.

Finally the land around me plateaued again and in the far distance I could make out a large arial that was standing next to my destination. A last final push and I was standing in front of the entrance to the cabin, where I against my expectation found out that in a neighboring building an emergency shelter room was open. I was even more delighted when this even turned out to be heated.

This, together with some chocolate and some warm tea from my thermos flask was enough to feel fully restored after a short while, but it was very tempting to have a lay down in one of the fully prepared bunk beds.

I looked through the window and while looking at the snow drifting at speed between me and the next building, I realized how little was needed to be happy : a warm and dry place and being sheltered from the elements plus something to eat and to drink went already a long way…..

On my way back I was pleased to find that the wind hadn’t turned and progress was now much easier. With the sun slowly starting to set behind me, my thoughts traveled to a conversation I had with an Oslo police officer while crossing Hardangervidda, a mountain plateau in the South of Norway some years ago.

The previous night she had shown me images of her recent past when she had been working as a police instructor in Central Africa. Despite being a Norwegian kick boxing champion she was constantly aware of the potential threat she was under and often had to carry a fire arm for her personal safety.

While being pretty impressed by the images and by her life story, I became somewhat thoughtful about the complexity of the interpretations of threat and safety. By being familiar with the mountains and with the harsh climate, we both agreed that this at the moment was probably one of the safest places on Earth, where one was the least likely to be attacked or even killed and yet we completely ignored the fact that we were traveling through an environment that in case of an accident without immediate help would mean certain death. One of her African colleagues would have considered this as extremely threatening but in return would have felt far more at ease than us in an African urban setting where he would have been a far better judge of threatening or safe situations and places.

With other words, safety or the feeling to “feel safe” was nothing else than the ability of understanding and calculating the level of threat and to prepare for it – unless the threat was becoming too great…..

I soon arrived back at the small timber shelter that marked the half way point. Here I met two men with their snow scooters and we started talking.

It turned out that they were restocking the emergency boxes at all the local huts and shelters. I had read about this in the local newspaper and about the fact that most things had been taken by casual visitors to the shelters who had been in no distress at all. The older of the scooter drivers confirmed this, but then added, that following the newspaper article so many people had donated voluntarily to the scheme, that they in the end had so much money that they theoretically could have hired a helicopter to replace all the boxes.

While chatting a bit longer it also turned out that this man was already 76 years old and yet he drove at sub-zero temperatures with a snow scooter through the Scandinavian mountains doing a good deed for mankind and I felt that I had hardly met a more full filled and happy human being.

I carried on and I was pleased that I hadn’t given in to the temptation to turn around and to return earlier to the mountain station when the going was so tough and I realized that despite all the effort today, I felt tired but at ease and deeply grateful that I had had this experience and that it was entirely my own choice to decide how much I had to endure.

When I finally arrived at my car, I found that the wind had been far more forceful than I had thought and that because of this the access road had been closed to all traffic which meant that I was grounded.

Although I was now missing out on my already paid hotel room in Åre, I wasn’t too upset as there was still plenty of room in the mountain station and I had the great pleasure to finish the day with a lively conversation with some Swedish mountaineers over a glass of Chilean white and a beautiful dinner of locally caught mountain char followed by homemade cloudberry pastry.

While listening to the latest skiing adventures of my new companions, my eyes caught a large painting on the wall on the opposite end of the room and I realized that it was a depiction of some struggling soldiers of the Karoliner Army that was defeated not by war but by the forces of nature at this very spot some 300 years ago….

When I finally went to bed, I was deeply grateful not only for lying in a dry and warm place, but also for the food, the drink and for the company I had, but most of all for being safe, which hadn’t been the fate of the Swedish soldiers then nor was it the reality of the people in Ukraine today….

Guernica

Those of you who are following my FB or my Instagram posts might have noticed that I only very rarely or virtually never change my profile image.

However, the time has come to do it now after I have thought over the last few days about a painting that will soon be over a hundred years old.

I am talking about “Guernica” the probably most famous work of Pablo Picasso, which was commissioned 1937 following the air raid of German and Italian forces on a mountain village in the Basque country during the Spanish Civil war.

First and foremost, it occupied my mind because despite its age, it remains so contemporary and engaging in its depiction of the terror and the suffering of a peaceful civil community when being exposed to the horrors of modern warfare. The images we are receiving at the moment from Ukraine will in their essence not differ a lot from the images in Spain and neither will they from any such conflicts in the future.

Secondly this paintings is speaking specifically to me as a veterinary surgeon as it highlights that it is not only human beings who are suffering, but also the animals that are living with us, which include not only farming animals, but also dogs and cats and all other companion animals we are sharing our lives with.

Thirdly I find in some of the images of the painting a link with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” conveying the important point that the suffering is not only a physical but also very much a mental one and a sad fact is, that although a lot of physical injuries might heal with time, this might not be the same for the mental state of the victims especially if they have been children.

In addition to this there is another aspect that Picasso failed or omitted to include, which is the shame and the guilt these action will leave with the perpetrator.

And this will not only be limited to the person himself, but to his nation as a whole and in addition to this to his following generations. As a German I know what I am talking about: it had been my fellow countrymen who had bombed this Spanish village, it had been German soldiers that had laid waste over large parts of Europe and it had been Germans who had killed over 6 million jews.

My whole life – despite the fact that I had not even been born when these crimes were committed – I had to live with the stain this had left on my nationality and at all times I have to be aware of the deeds my country had committed in the not so distant past. This was not only the case when speaking to Holocaust survivors with their number tattooed into their skin who had been interned in a labour camp just a few kilometres from the house of my parents, but also when speaking to a farmer in the North of Norway, when he showed me the shed he had to live in for 2 winters as a child after German soldiers had burned down his parent’s house or when hiking in the Pyrenees on the same trails that were used by refugees and resistance fighters to save their lives or when speaking to WW2 veterans on a miserable pension in the UK who were coming to me to treat their dog or cat. It is something you can and you should never shake off.

The same applies at these moments to the Russian soldiers who have invaded a peaceful country that had not threatened their own.

Not only will they have to live with the guilt for their deeds, but so will the whole Russian nation not just now, but for generations to come. Having been the aggressor, having tried to mislead the world with their intentions and having brought suffering over the lives of so many innocent people carries a heavy burden…..     

What Picasso tried to tell us is simple : there will be now no winners, there will only be pain and suffering and we are all going to loose…..

Chasing the Northern Lights

When waking up in the morning, it has become a habit for me to check two APPs on my phone:

The first is the Weather APP, to find out how cold it will be today – as a general rule: the colder the better –

because it not only preserves the snow with all the benefits it brings (more about that another time…), but with colder temperatures there will be in most cases beautiful weather with a clear sky.

The other APP – I actually use two different ones – is somewhat new to me : its an Aurora Forecasting APP.

The manifestation of the planet’s magnet field interacting and in fact protecting us from solar winds, is one of nature’s spectacles most people hope to see at least once in their lifetime and it may feel like a just reward for the long hours of darkness during the winter months for the people who permanently live at these latitudes.

Sundsvall, located still a few hundred kilometers South of the polar circle is experiencing a visit of the Aurora Borealis only occasionally during the winter, but it is still often enough to make it worth the effort to look out for it at clear nights.

Unless you happen to live in the middle of the countryside with an open sky and no light pollution, the seasoned Aurora Borealis hunter is wrapping up warm and ideally armed with a reindeer skin to sit on and with a thermos flask with a warm drink before heading out of town, usually in the middle of the night.

The best sightings are with a new moon and with as little clouds on the sky as possible. Once in place, it remains a matter of some luck (unless you live even further North) that the Northern Lights will appear.

Having then the phone in the pocket (to protect it from the cold temperatures) will not only give you an opportunity to take some amazing images, but the display will in fact further enhance the colours of the display.

Only a few more days left in the North, so fingers crossed that I will be lucky with another sighting…..

Lunch at Hotel Knaust

It is June 1888 and the city of Sundsvall is laying in ashes…….again……

To be precise this is now the fourth time since the Russian Army caused the first fire in 1721. This time an accident was to blame – a spark from a passing steam boat had set a local brewery alight and the strong winds on that day together with the dry weather conditions took full advantage of the fact that most of the buildings were made of locally sourced timber.

The resulting damage and devastation was huge, but as it was the era of the timber barons, this time there was enough money available not only to rebuild, but to think “big”:

Solide stone buildings replaced the timber structures in the center of the town and now no expense was spared to show the world that Art Nouveau was not just reserved to Paris or to wealthy metropolitan areas in Central Europe.

A shining relict of this time is Hotel Knaust right in the center of Sundsvall.

When entering this iconic building, the visitor’s view is immediately drawn to the center piece of the hotel – the magnificent staircase made of Carrara marble, which for many years has been the place to be to welcome the New Year in this part of the world.

Having enjoyed this view and sensed its history ( once a Swedish cavalry officer is said to have ridden up his horse on these steps and at another time the hotel entertained the King of Thailand while he was visiting the region…),….

I am heading for the other great feature of this place : the Room of Mirrors.

With one nightshift at the moment chasing the next at the veterinary clinic, I had decided to have a lie-in today and instead of a normal breakfast I would treat myself to an extended lunch before going to work.

It was a decision I didn’t regret: while sitting on the far end of this beautiful ballroom taking in the whole scenery, I was enjoying an excellent Nordic Bouillabaisse accompanied by a fresh salat and still warm homemade bread.

This was followed by good coffee and fresh pastries while I took my time to improve my language skills with a couple of local newspapers.

My only regret was that I couldn’t enjoy a glass of wine with the fish….well, may be next time…..

Even the bill for these two hours of absolute delight was a pleasant surprise: with just over £10 I was wondering if I was really in one of the most expensive countries in the world?……

Needless to say that this was a great start to another 16 hours of emergency care and it shows that the best experiences in life often don’t cost a lot of money, you just need to open your eyes (and your mind) to spot the outstanding among the normal, especially while working and traveling.

Nightshift

It is 3:45 pm and the sun has been setting already an hour ago….what better thing to do now, than starting another nightshift in the North?….

A brief glimpse at the car park of the clinic while finishing an evening run had informed me already that it will be busy tonight….

Following a shower and a quick change into scrubbs, I am arming myself with the first coffee of the night and head straight for the inpatient area.

Here I not only find out who will be on my team tonight (each team has its own chemistry….), but I also discover what patients I will be responsible for over the next 16 hours.

There are first of all the freshly operated patients that are not stable enough to go home that night. In addition to this there is usually a fair number of patients with various internal medical conditions that are connected to a range of infusions pumps and syringe drivers to keep them comfortable and most importantly hydrated. Some might also be cathederised or have been fitted with feeding tubes. This is when you appreciate having an experienced nursing team by your side that is keeping an overview…..

Finally don’t forget the patients in the various insulation wards that might for one or the other reason be infectious.

Thus “warmed up” and with most of my coffee drained already, my next stop is the team that is still admitting acute patients, initially to give a helping hand and then to take over whatever is left in the waiting room or what is on its way to the clinic (which can take a while in this part of the world…..).

Not surprisingly time is flying, especially at the start of a shift….

Nightshifts are a bit like Marmite……you either love them or you hate them….

If you – like me – join a veterinary team just on a temporary basis, it makes more sense that you see more acute than established patients with long and complex clinical histories which will take a fair amount of time to read up on and with clients that would prefer more continuity of care.

Because of that, I am quite enjoying nightshifts : most of my patients are clinical “white sheets” with short or with no clinical histories, where I can make a fresh start.

In addition to this I have always enjoyed working at nights (even more so here in the North where at the moment the hours of darkness are making up more than 3/4s of the whole day….). In addition to this working with a smaller, but dedicated team is giving you a greater opportunity to learn more about your co-workers while spending time together at the operating table or over a cup of midnight coffee in the otherwise abandoned cafeteria.

One of my first patients tonight is a Jämthund, a member of the canine family that at first sight doesn’t look much different from a wolf, but usually with a far more amicable personality. Following the successful destruction of a whole carpet followed by a three hour journey through half of Sweden, this dog doesn’t look happy at all and a control X-Ray of its abdomen shows so many abnormalities, that we are progressing without delay to the operating theatre.

As it turns out not a moment too early as the carpet fibres have already started to string up the whole small intestine while cutting off part of its blood supply. The fast intervention – the removal of the foreign body material – allows the full recovery of the gut. A couple of hours of further delay would probably have required the removal of a large section of the intestine combined with a much higher risk for postoperative infection.

Once the Jämthund is recovering in his cage, I have to return to the theatre as an obese cat is already waiting there for me, unable to urinate due to a small bladder stone. This poor boy has to be cathederised and will then also enjoy our hospitality for the rest of the night.

The next patient is then straight forward – its a Golden Retriever puppy where the owner is reporting that a rubber ball went missing just an hour ago. While the puppy is actually looking pretty innocent, the immediate application of an emetic gives a rather impressive result

and both owner and dog are sent home again 1/2 hour later.

The next patient has also traveled more than 200 km to us – a cat with a “loose screw”…..to be precise one that has unmistakably lodged itself in the stomach and here an emetic is not having the desired effect.

At least it is a very rewarding surgical case and half an hour later there is the unmistakable plinging of a metal object being dropped into a kidney dish. Another half an hour later and the cat is sitting upright in its cage asking for food and the screw has been washed and returned to the owner in pristine condition for the next DIY project.

Time for a midnight snack of household cheese and polar bread and for once not a coffee…..

Now there is also time to check again on the inpatients and to give the canine patients their regular toilet break.

This is an undertaking you need to be prepared for with slip resistant footwear for all team members

and with the necessary arctic weather clothing as by now the outside temperature has dropped to -12 C.

Thankfully our feline patients – like this 9kg HUGE Maine Coon – do not require this service.

They are happy to stay in their warm cages, where regular meals, their medication usually administered via established catheders and the occasional cuddles (sorry – can’t resist it…..) is all they need.

Another patient arrives – a dog that sustained a jaw fracture after chasing a moose (not a mouse….). Here another anaesthesia and thick cerclage wire is needed to both stabilise the fracture and hopefully safe the canine tooth. Luckily the root was undamaged.

Although it is by now already early in the morning, the nurses still find the time to comfort the severely ill patients

or to wash and groom a patient that is ready to go home in a few hours.

It is still dark outside when we are handing our patients over to the morning team and I am arriving back home for a “good day’s sleep” – or may be for another coffee ?!…..

Before the snow arrived….

Never work in a location you don’t like !…….

Not often enough did I follow this maxim, but luckily I have always been wise enough to make a move before settling permanently for a poor compromise. There are just too many hours in the day when you are not working and you owe it to yourself to spend these in nice surroundings.

This had been the case in Surrey and since starting to work and to travel at the same time, I have always made it a precondition for all my recent as well as for my future placements.

It shouldn’t stop you from trying something new, but don’t commit yourself for too long if it doesn’t feel right.

I had no such doubts with Sundsvall and the town and I hit it off right from the start : a sizable place with a good selection of shops and restaurants, right on the shores of the Baltic Sea, where not only I was born, but where also a lot of my friends and colleagues are working in other Nordic and Continental European countries. In addition to this a landscape broken up with a few hills and a lot of forest and lakes – what more do you need ?

In the middle of November I took the opportunity to explore the countryside around my new (temporary) home:

Norra Berget – a hill at the Northern end of the town – gave me a good overview over the “Stone City” which the place has been called since its fore-fathers had decided to change its main building material after the town had burned down for a second time at the end of the nineteenth century.

Thankfully they didn’t make a bad job at all of it, with a lot of Art Nouveau features on many of the central buildings, with a picturesque church in the middle of town and with a couple of great view points for everyone to enjoy from the hills both in the North and in the South.

The somewhat sleepy harbour is sheltered by Alnön, a low lying and completely forested island in the East, which at one point counted more than ten saw mills.

Today there are mainly signs that are telling the tale of the great timber trade and its main feature are a lot of weekend and holiday cottages and beautiful beaches.

Heading further North I am crossing the spectacular Högakusten Bron

which is not only the gateway to the cities of Umeå and Luleå, but also to the border to Finland and to the areas of Sweden that are located North of the Polar Circle.

Not far from the bridge is the small Skuleskogen Nationalpark with a dense pine forest that has hardly changed since the last ice age.

With the sun now just reaching above the trees in the middle of the day, it is my last opportunity for hiking before the snow is coming…..