While I was seeing patients in Bradford in May, 700 miles away in the North of Germany a young farmer decided to overtake a bus in a bend without knowing what was ahead of him – unfortunately there was another car traveling in the opposite direction…….
In the ensuing head on collision, he not only lost his life, but also the driver of the other car sustained severe injuries and only his two dogs got away with hardly a scratch. The driver of the other car was my friend and colleague Luz Burdinski and the outcome of the accident changed both of our lives – mine admittedly just for the next few weeks.
Luz and I went back a long time and he was one of the first people I met when I arrive at vet school in Hanover. We not only lived on the same floor in student halls, we then also shared a flat, consoled each other over various relationship breakups, were in the same exam group, travelled together around the world to Hawaii and to Australia (where we among many epic encounters worked – obviously illegally – on a dairy farm in Alice Springs…), attended each others weddings and managed to stay in touch despite us working in different countries.
With other words, Luz is one of the few people you have in life who you would call a “good friend” and now he needed my help……
Unlike me, Luz grew up in a veterinary household and a few years after qualifying, he took over his parent’s practice in Lauenburg, a rural region East of Hamburg, near the board to the former GDR.
Over the years the farm practice slowly declined, but the companion animal side had flourished and the business included now a small but very neat small animal practice.
Following the accident – in which Luz had sustained a vertebral fracture – the large animal work was immediately covered by his neighboring colleagues, but it proved impossible to find a small animal vet who could jump into the breach. Time to phone a friend……
A couple of weeks (and a few COVID tests) later, I drove along the rolling countryside past fields of rape and wheat and through stretches of dense forest to the small village of Nusse, where I found a beautiful family home with an adjacent practice building, just next to a church which dated back to medieval times.
Already waiting for me was my friend’s mother “Nanny”, who I fondly remembered as an occasional visitor from our university days, and her aging Howawart.
The warm welcome as well as the brilliant weather was setting the tone for my whole stay in Lauenburg. Once I had settled in, we had coffee and home made cake in her beautiful garden and when my friend arrived, we started to plan the work ahead.
Luz had been lucky – with the help of a lot of metal work, his fracture had been stabilized and he had suffered no functional loss, but both pain and stiffness were severely limiting his ability to work.
With no qualified veterinary nurses (except a very kindhearted, but unfortunately untrained lady from the village cleaning and lending a hand in the morning) around, we agreed that Luz would be my secretary and I would perform the consults with the help of the animal owners. This would give me an insight into small animal work in Germany (which I hadn’t done for many years) and at the same time I could show my friend a few tricks and techniques to improve the services he could provide to his clients.It worked like a treat !
The following two weeks were both a journey back to veterinary medicine with the routine of the time when we had studied and it was at the same time an inspiration to all involved:
The day started at 8 o’clock in the morning with a communal breakfast, with the whole family including the teenage kids and the Polish gardener, who was a seasoned endurance athlete and a lovely man, but who for some mysterious reasons ended up once a week in A+E with the most bizarre symptoms. Thankfully he had usually recovered the next morning (in time for breakfast at Nanny’s…) and his exploits made for a lively conversation.
This was followed by morning consults and operations. The practice was very well organized and very clean, but lacked an anesthetic machine, X-Ray equipment and an endoscope, which made some procedures quite challenging.
Operations were performed with injectable anesthetics only and without a supervision nurse. Thankfully we both had been trained for this, but most younger colleagues I think would have struggled with this and admittedly gaseous anesthetics are much safer. However, in Lauenburg all our patients recovered eventually well and this included both bitch spays and caesarian sections without a loss of a single puppy.
The morning’s work was followed by a three course warm lunch, lovingly prepared by Nanny, once again on the terrace in the garden, while we were watching the farmer cutting the grass on the field nearby and the dogs enjoying themselves in the glorious sunshine.
Fortified with a cup of artisan coffee, I worked my way then through the afternoon consults, noticing how similar in the end the case load was, compared to Yorkshire or to my patients in the Southeast.
An area where I struggled though was the not uncommon request for homeopathic treatment alternatives, which certainly play a bigger role in both veterinary and human medicine in the German speaking world. As someone who believes in evidence based medicine and in the achievements of the enlightenment, I elected to remain diplomatically noncommittal on this front and decided that this might be a good route to take also in the future. This differs though from my otherwise very positive attitude towards complementary treatment options in general. A lot of my patients in Virginia Water benefited for many years from anthroposophical medicine, herbal and natural medicine, from laser treatment and from acupuncture (administered by some of my colleagues).
The evenings were spent with great runs though the rural countryside and with long open water swimming sessions (something that is enjoying great popularity at the moment in the UK) in the nearby lake, often followed by a glass of wine and a light supper in the garden, in the entertaining company of my host’s mother. More than once I had to asked myself in these days, were to find the difference between work and a wellness holiday at this stop of my journey…..