One of the great advantages of being a veterinary surgeon is that compared with many other forms of employment, people usually have an idea of what our job might be and in most cultures the work we are doing is looked upon favourably, especially when it turns out that we are treating companion animals and possibly the odd exotic patient as well….
This is useful when travelling, because dogs and cats have – with the help of their human companions – now conquered every corner of the globe. As dogs and cats are getting ill as well, having a vet in the house is never a bad idea.
Moreover – that our line of work continues to enjoy a lot of public interest remains undisputed – one only needs to look at the multitude of veterinary television programs and their viewing figures regardless of the country you are in.
A lesser known advantage of this job is, that because there are just a few of us (in the US – as a typical example – vets are outnumbered by human doctors by 8:1) we are a much closer knit community, very much like members of a large family, especially if we are working in a more defined field like companion animal or zoo medicine.
Although we might not know each other personally, we might have heard from one another through colleagues, might have enjoyed the same lectures at conferences or might have worked online together on similar projects. We often face the same daily challenges and share the same moments of happiness and dispair. If all humans are not more than six handshakes away from one another, then with companion animal vets this figure can be safely reduced to two (ok – possibly to three if you include North Korea….).
Unlike our “human” colleagues I found that vets more readily like to communicate when meeting another member of the profession and we certainly like to “talk shop”, not seldom to the annoyance of our “no-vet” partners.
This unique feeling of community has been one of the most enjoyable aspect of my journey through Northern Europe this summer.
On a road trip covering over 11 000 km that took me through 13 different countries I met, shared breakfast, coffee or dinner and sometimes even the same roof with not less than twenty of these wonderful colleagues and often their whole families.
I was treated to excellent hand crafted cappuccinos in Lübeck in the North of Germany and enjoyed personally hunted wild boar in the South of Sweden. I finally managed to catch up with one of Poland’s best veterinary cardiologists West of Stockholm, got attacked by a lawnmower in the garden of an Austrian colleague at the Gulf of Bothnia, got invited to a Italian restaurant by a Croatian colleague in Sundsvall and had coffee following a couple of consults in a large kitchen near the border between Sweden and Norway being surrounded by a dozen very chilled huskies.
I was invited to their log cabins and went hiking with my Norwegian colleagues not far from the Northkapp, ate Mexican food in Finnish Lapland and was introduced over a Pizza to Finland’s National drink in Helsinki.
In Estonia I endured the wiping with birch branches in a sauna near Tartu, was invited to a family weekend on a knightly estate near Tallinn and challenged my vertigo on the top of a lighthouse on the Baltic coast.
I received a warm welcome and enjoyed the kind hospitality of colleagues on the tip of the Curonian Spit in Lithuania and even more so in the heart of Warsaw before being finally reunited with a whole group of colleagues on the German Baltic coast.
As this unforgetable journey drew to a close, I once more was grateful to be a member of this unique profession and part of this large family.
However, just before driving out of Kautokeino in the North of Norway, I had a premonition that a further part of this story – in a very different setting – will follow soon……
(At this point a HUGE thank you to Hartmut Wagner-Rietschel, Karin Frisk, Dorota Morawska, Gunnar Schöbel, Jurana Jelacic Vitaljic, Frauke Sappert, Maria Karlsson, Björn Sturnegk, Annette Kriller, Vigdis Børset Raedergård and the whole team at Tromsø Dyresykehuset, Kjell and Vigdis Korbi, Markus Killi, Sanna Hellström, Ingrid Hang (and Eva and Säde of course), Tiina Toomet (and the whole large Toomet family), Julija Abram, Linas Varanauskas, Magdalena Krainska (and the prefect host Robert), Sandra Lekschas and Luz (and of course Nanny) Burdinski for feeding and watering me, for giving me a roof over my head (or a space under an apple tree in their garden) or just for their company and for welcoming me. I hope that I haven’t been too much of a nuisance……)