The difference of four weeks or “Patient 58”…

This morning I am again sitting in a plane with a coffee in my hand crossing the North Sea heading for Russia via Stockholm.

Behind me (and at times the whole family) are four weeks of a very different life with at times fourteen hour working days, filled with plastering, plumbing, rewiring, painting, flooring and all sorts of other forms of physical labour at a house we bought in the center of Oxford – my “Patient 58″…..

Many years ago I did a somewhat similar thing when I interrupted my vet course at university after a couple of years and worked for three months in an iron factory. Not only did it pay for a trip to Australia, it also focused my mind and showed me how lucky I was, being able to sit in a lecturing theatre and looking forward to a life of treating animals, rather than to standing on the factory floor at 6 am drilling holes into turbines and greasing engines.

With my “Oxfordian (bricks and mortar) Patient” I took the opportunity to apply my veterinary skills to a completely different task and to transform a pretty run down Victorian townhouse into a pleasant place to live in while studying in this beautiful town. Also thrown into be deal was the probably unique opportunity of working on a project together with my sons and some of their friends and learning more about the things that matter in their lifes.

As you can see “Number 58” needed help and rather a lot of it……

Still being jetlagged from our return trip from the Americas, we set up camp on the old mattresses in the basement and set to work – all the time in the knowledge that the first tenants were due to move in on 1st of September.

In the four weeks that followed, I don’t think that we made too bad a job – judging by the before and after images:

Four weeks later, with me having lost 3 kg of weight and being in desperate need for a shave, the patient was “discharged” with the first student moving in a day earlier than planned and me looking forward to the next adventure the life as a vet has to offer….

The Oxford Cat Clinic

As the Oxfordian bricks and mortar patient is steadily improving (at least until I drilled holes in a couple of heating pipes underneath the floor boards….), I decided to remind myself of my “real” profession and to pay the local (exclusively) cat clinic a visit.

This was something I had planned for many years, but I was always too busy to get around to it – with hindsight I have to say, it was a big mistake that I didn’t do it sooner…..

Don’t get me wrong- I think that my team at Virginia Water is and always has been excellent with the handling of sometimes very challenging feline visitors, but the Oxford team put this again on a completely different level. Admittedly it helps having no dogs on the premises,but the calm and throughout the day relaxed, quiet and yet completely committed atmosphere of the whole team was inspiring and was transferred to the patients (and to their owners).

Every detail of the consulting rooms (which were held small with little opportunities for cats to hide) had been thought through and a lot of cats decided to stay in the base of their baskets where they felt safer and more comfortable

A lot of patients had been referred to the cat clinic with the history that they had been very anxious and were difficult to be examined. Taking a “softer” approach in a relaxed environment and if handling was likely to be difficult, electing at an early stage to use sedatives (before or during the consult) made the whole experience for everyone involved (especially the cats and their owners) so much less stressful, so that a lot of clients had traveled considerable distances just to have their cats seen here.

The information I gathered and all the little tips and tricks I picked up from the excellent nursing team will hopefully come handy in a month time in Yerevan in Armenia, where I am planning to give a presentation on this subject.

Needless to say that the day flew by in no time, but taking up Caroline Blundell on her kind offer, you bet that I will return for further visits in the very near future.

Getting students to international congresses

A nice, yet short break from my slowly improving patient in Oxford yesterday:

I took the soon unaffordable train from Farnborough to London (£43 for a return ticket!!…) and met with Independent Vet Care’s Director of HR Richard Parker to sign a sponsorship agreement between FECAVA and IVC to allow ten vet students from different European countries to attend the FECAVA Congress in 2020 and 2021.

This is a great opportunity for our young colleagues and something that was pretty much unthinkable when I was a vet student (even attending our national congress in Germany was unaffordable for us).

Animal welfare and veterinary medicine are issues that are truly international and the best way to understand this, is to communicate directly with fellow students and colleagues from other parts of the world.

It is something I have always enjoyed and I hope that more young colleagues will catch the travel bug……

My next patient…..

Back in the UK I have focused my attention now on a serious case of neglect in Oxford and this is certainly not an easy patient……

With being over 100 years old, a bit long in the teeth and in desperate need of a big dose of TLC.

The work is ranging from some wound drafting

over some issues with the circulatory system

to a serious case of colour blindness …….

I hope that over the next 4 weeks we will manage to stabilize this patient.

However, I already know that I will need all my skills of handling exotic species to dislodge the dorsal fin from the roof tiles…..

Oh yes, after all I had to do it……

For the last 2 weeks I had carried around a can of “Bear Spray” with me and had relied on it in case of a close encounter with one of the larger local predators, without really knowing if it would work if being used and how long the reach would be.

As I could not take it with me on the plane, it was time to try it out (without a bear….)…

Num-Ti-Jah Lodge and the Bow Glacier Falls Trail

On our way back South from Jasper to Canmore along the Icefield Parkway we had booked one night at the iconic Num-Ti-Jah (meaning “Pinemarten” in the language of the Stone tribe which used to live here) Lodge on the shores of the Bow Lake.

This self built and by now pretty dated wooden structure was the lifetime work of “Jimmy” Simpson, a UK immigrant, and his family. Jimmy must have been one of these larger than life characters working as an outfitter, a mountain guide to the rich and famous, as a public speaker and as an artist pretty much until his death at the age of 95.

(Images taken from the NTJ Lodge)

He reminded me a bit of a similar character of my childhood, a South Tyrolian mountaineer and globetrotter called Louis Trenker who in the 70th had a television show where he just set behind a desk and told the stories of his colourful life. He too lived far into his nineties and remained a lifelong inspiration.

On our journey along the Icefield Parkway I ceased the opportunity to sit on a fully grown grizzly bear

and I learned my lesson never ever to ask for two scoops of ice cream in America….

We still arrived early enough at the lodge for me to us the wood fired house owned sauna

before enjoying dinner in the atmospheric Elkhorn Dining Room.

Getting up early the next day was rewarded with a blue sky and fabulous views of the lake, the surrounding glaciers and an outstanding hike to the Bow Glacier Falls.

Jasper Veterinary Clinic

Janet Jones, owner of the Jasper Veterinary Clinic was another kind local colleague who allowed me to visit her clinic and to say hello to her and to her friendly team.

The Jasper vets are treating both small animals and horses and the clinic has a branch 120 km away (!) in Valmount on the other side of the mountains in British Columbia. As in Canmore Janet’s clinic is surrounded by mountains and her employees must enjoy some of the most scenic journeys to work every morning.

Although her clinic appears to be small from the outside, with a tiny waiting room and only two consulting rooms, the building extends considerably out at the back – very similar to my old place in Virginia Water.

But unlike me, Janet had added extensive grooming facilities which – I know- my clients would have loved as well.

Janet took herself a considerable amount of time with her patients and went with her very satisfied clients through all aspects of preventative healthcare.

As in Karen McMillan’s place most dogs pull their owners into the consulting room and sit on the scales in expectation of a treat, which doesn’t take long to materialize. Most dogs ask to be weight at least 2-3 times….

Fearful dogs like this German Shepherd are approached in a lowered and indirect way to reduce anxiety. Both my colleague Victoria Rudolph and I applied similar techniques with our patients.

All in patients and surgical patients are prepared by her efficient team of technicians and animal care assistants.

The clinic performs a range of routine and advanced surgical procedures (Janet was just about to start a femoral head excision in a small dog with a chronically luxating hip joint) which are helped by the availability of a surgical laser.

I would have loved to spend more time talking to Janet and her fantastic team, but they had to attend to a long list of patients and my next hike was waiting ……

Walking the Skyline Trial and more encounters with dangerous animals

Another epic hike in the Canadian Rockies is the Skyline Trail between Maligne Lake and Signal Mountain on the outskirts of Jasper.

The highest point on the trail is the “The Notch” with over 2500 m altitude and it is normally a three day hike with two nights spend on one of the official campgrounds.

As permits for the camp sites were difficult to obtain and as one half (not me…) of the team did not appreciate the idea of being woken in the middle of the night by a hungry bear, I had checked us in at the Shovel Pass Lodge which is the only solid structure on the whole trail.

The lodge was in the middle of the trail and the only issue was getting there which meant 22km of hiking each way crossing two mountain passes and having to carry your own wine and cognac (!)……

Backpacks filled with bear spray and only the bare essentials (see above….), we set off early in the morning and after three hours passed the tree line, leaving the mosquitos behind, which was a relief as we had forgotten our mosquito spray (and I didn’t want to try using the B-spray for this purpose….).

The first “Little” Shovel Pass was crossed and beneath us opened a pristine alpine meadow, with no roads and buildings and the home of thousands of ground squirrels and marmots.

These sizeable rodents looked super cute but perceptions can be deceiving…..

After another couple of hours we crossed the second pass and while descending towards the cabin we were amazed how relaxed and approachable the marmots were; especially an older one that just couldn’t be bothered to run away at all.

Finally – after 7 hours on our feet – we reached the cabin and enjoyed both coffee and home made banana bread.

At dinner we met the other- all Canadian- hikers and learned not only that the tame marmot had a name – Mervin – but that he also had a bit of a reputation:

“Take all your leather containing boots inside the huts or he will have them !” we were told….

Another bad habit was that he had taken a liking to – preferably used – toilet tissue……

“And that’s not all” said one lady from Calgary “he even tried to make off with my hiking pole!”….To proof her point she provided us with the evidence:

Mervin caught in the act…….

After running away with the pole for not less than 100 meters, Mervin then failed to drag it down into his borrow, so that it could be retrieved, but not without considerable damage:

…..and there we were just worrying about the bears……

The next morning we gave “The Notch” a miss and headed back the way we came across the lunar landscape of the “Big” Shovel Pass

and the plateau

still with full sets of hiking boots and poles.

Running with a bear (in your mind ?…..)

After spending most of the day behind the wheel driving along the magnificent Icefield Parkway

between Lake Luise and Jasper, we managed to check in at a hotel near Sunwapta Falls.

The water of this spectacular waterfall feeds into the Athabasca River which then flows thousands of miles North into the Arctic Sea.

To put in some exercise for the day, I dug out my running shoes and decided to head past the waterfall along a local hiking track.

As I was aware that bears might be around, I took professional advice from Becky from Winchester who was manning the reception as part of a working holiday and got reassurance that it would be unlikely that I would run into one.

To be on the safe side I still took along my trusted bear spray and headed off…..

I felt reassured, when I passed a huge number of tourists at the falls and pressed on, down the well signposted hiking track to cover the 7 km to the first camp site called “The big bend” .

The trail was great, just a bit muddy at places but after a while it became more over grown and I realised that I hadn’t seen anyone for the last 2-3 km…..

Hmmm…..I became a bit uneasy, but as I didn’t want to give up so soon, I started shouting at regular intervals into the forest ahead of me, to warn all (larger) wildlife that I was approaching. Eventually I was in the middle of nowhere with still a couple of kilometers to go, when I thought that this was getting really silly and in fact dangerous……

As I was just about to turn around, there was suddenly someone shouting back just a few hundred meters infront of me and a moment later I passed two girls with back packs who were aiming for the camp site as well to spend the night there. They were much amused about the shouting German tourist in the woods….

Somewhat reassured that I was not alone, I carried on running and was eventually rewarded with the stunning scenery of the “Big Bend”

On my way back, I was again grasping my bear spray and start with my regular shouting and noisemaking but bumped first into another couple of hikers, the a group of another four with a Golden Retriever , who needed reassurance that I was not out of my mind and finally I met a couple with a small child…..

It was a great run, but admittedly, when I arrived back at the hotel, I felt a bit silly and the bear spray disappeared quickly in the boot of the car…..

After an additional evening stroll in the woods near the hotel (this time without the bear spray….), we set off the next morning to drive the remaining few miles to Jasper, when – not more than 200m from the hotel – we past this seemingly hungry fellow…

The bear spray is now back in my running belt and I am again happily shouting my way through the forest while in bear country……