“Nanny” Burdinski

It is 12 noon and following a few consultations and a bitch spay, it is time for a communal lunch. The table is laid out with silver cutlery and as it is a Friday, fish (of course….) is on the menu. The usual knives have been replaced with fish knives, which are accompanied with a little bench to avoid that the blade is soiling the table cloth if – for whatever reason – it is not resting on the plate after use. In tune with today’s main course – pike dumplings with potatoes, seasonal vegetables and a white sauce – the plates have a sea life motif and both water and white wine are served. It is probably superfluous to mention that the napkins are colour coordinated with the table cloth. The spoons at the head end of the plates had indicated that we could expect three courses (we had starting off with a seasonal asparagus soup) and this would possibly be followed by a strong coffee and a slice of home baked cake, before we would start with our afternoon consultations.

All members of the house hold, including the casual gardener, are gathered around the table and responsible for this daily treat is Nanny Burdinski, a youthful octogenarian and the mother of my friend Luz.

What might appear alien to most of my readers today, was a very common occurrence in many veterinary practices all over Germany in the twentieth century and in some places this way of life has survived until today, but it would not have been possible without the kindness and care of – in most cases- the wives of veterinarians, or – less commonly – of a dedicated house keeper.

As already mentioned in my last entry, Nanny and I met many years ago when I was an undergraduate at vet school. Nanny, one of the few fully trained veterinary technicians at that time and her veterinary husband Kurt ran a busy large animal practice on the countryside near Hamburg. This often required the full commitment of the whole family. As it was still a time without mobil communication, this particularly involved the guarding of the practice phone and I vividly remember my first visit to the Burdinski household, when Nanny proudly showed off their new cordless (!) phone which had a proven reach of 200m – just long enough to allow her to take it with her to the edge of the nearby lake to be able to go for a short swim…….

As much as I admired Nanny’s commitment and the “ground breaking” technology, it also made it quite clear to me, that regardless how my professional future would look like, I would never accept it, that my own partner might end up in a similar position. For many decades until then, the wives of veterinarians (there were not a lot of female practice owners around at that time…) had been taken for granted as – often unpaid – telephone operators, veterinary nurses, catering staff and practice managers. Even until very recently veterinary positions had been advertised with a preference given to male and married applicants – with the above mentioned “employment” scenario in mind.

Nanny had gone through all of this, although in her and Kurt’s case I always saw them as equal partners and what made a huge difference was that they both embraced every opportunity to enjoy life away from their practice. They arranged their out-of-hour work with the neighboring colleagues to have regular nights out, they enjoyed cultural events and traveling and they made sure to participate in all aspects of the social programmes at veterinary conferences.

This was also the key for Nanny to find life enjoyable in retirement and even when Kurt passed away a few years ago.

Despite the decades of hard work (or possibly because of them ?….) it struck me that Nanny got the balance exactly right at this point in her life by pursuing her personal interests, while still staying connected with the business and with all generations of her family, even if this was now limited to gathering everyone for regular meal times – not always, but on most days, but always on her own terms (no mobil phones allowed and both good table manners as well as an educated conversation during meal times encouraged….).

For me the benefit was not only a culinary one, but in addition to this also the opportunity to spend a few evenings over a glass of wine with “off screen” conversations with someone with a lot of life experience – something which had been a rare occurrence since the start of the pandemic.

I also wondered if there wasn’t something that the traditional ways of running a practice had to offer to us today ?

With professional burn-outs and mental health issues being a huge issue and with many businesses struggling to maintain their staff, decelerating the pace of work, offering a more communal or even a family based environment and paying more attention to decent periods of rest and – very important – to good food, might go a long way in making both our working environment and our life in general more enjoyable.

So women like Nanny can probably still teach us a trick or two …….

Lauenburg

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…..

A Stroll along the Thames

(This post took me much longer to write than usual, partially because so much had happened in the meantime and partially due to an inexplicable inertia caused by several periods of forced self isolation. For some strange reason your productivity sinks rapidly if you have actually nothing to do…..)

It is the end of May and once again I have returned to the happy team of the Abivale Veterinary Group in Oxfordshire and to the little flat above their branch in Wallingford, which is now my home for a few weeks.

On one of my free days I am stepping out of the front door and while being greeted by the resident red kite, which is calling the old Oak tree behind the surgery its own, I start walking……..

Thus is the beauty of working as a locum in different places – if you do it right, every day can be an adventure.

I carry with me just a light pack with a thermos flask, my rain gear, a couple of banknotes, my credit cards and my mobile phone and my aim is Oxford, which is circa 40 km away, if walking along the tow path of the nearby Thames.

The weather is fair, but bright sunshine is followed by occasional downpours which originate from some dramatic cloud formations on the sky above me. At this time of the year and with this light, it is picture postcard England at its finest.

Leaving Wallingford and its historic town center behind me, I am starting with a short cut, heading straight for the towering Wittenham Clumps, which used to be the site for a bronze age hill fort. These hills I had visited many times before for training sessions after work (mean uphill runs….) and so the real journey starts with the countryside North from here.

Hardly anyone is out walking today and while strolling along the fields, observing the livestock and the numerous waterfowl, my mind travels to some of the cases we saw over the last few days ……..

There was an anorexic 40 year old tortoise that had to be stomach tubed following her hibernation,

a bullterrier with a toxin induced life threatening hyperthermia, following the ill advised raiding of a litter bin

and a bitch spay that required an additional root extraction, which I would have overlooked without the brilliant nurse that was on duty that day ……

So absorbed in my typical veterinarian thoughts it didn’t take long until I had reached Abingdon, where over lunch I learned about a new alpine republic

and my sympathy was with the hapless marketing executive who had authorized this full page advert in a national broadsheet newspaper….

With an overpriced latte to go of my favorite coffee chain in my flask, I carried on walking and was soon not only greeted by Iron Man,

but I even came across a Norwegian lifeboat licensed for 70 passengers, which was now the humble abott of a Diogenesian character, sufficiently dressed for an Arctic winter, who convinced me to make a donation to the Air Ambulance Service in return for an image of him and his boat.

While the remaining clouds cleared away, I passed the serene setting at the locks near the Kings Arms

and soon the river became dominated by rowing boats and permanently moored colourful canal boats, indicating that Oxford was not far away.

The restaurants had just opened again for outdoor services and what better way to finish my excursion, than with an outstanding meal and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, while the sun was setting

next to the famous “Head of the River”.

An unexpected job…..

It just didn’t feel right when I walked through the thick mud towards the abandoned building in front of me….

It all had started a day before with a brief text message of a friend asking me for help.

When I stepped into the building, I noticed the bullet holes in the wall, the empty gun cartridges all over the floor and a large pool of blood on the ground and all over the windows and the walls.

The next think I felt was a blow over the head……..

“Wolfgang, are you ok ?!”……Malcolm was bending down to me as I was rubbing my painful skalp……

What had happened ?!……a piece of timber had come loose from the roof construction and it had struck me! But this was no great surprise as the whole building was in the process of been taken apart…..

To be precise, the “building” was a form of barracks for the Luftwaffe, hastily erected as a movie prop for a World War II production on a small airfield in Berkshire. With a little bit of luck it had come into the hands of my friends Catherine and Malcolm. Catherine is not only the owner of two huge Maine Coon cats, but also – not only in my opinion – the best Cordon Bleu chef on this side of the Channel.

Behind their cottage the two have a huge vegetable garden with two flocks of happy chickens and enough space to potentially run a pop-up restaurant, providing that they have an atmospheric venue…..

….and exactly this is the subject of this blog post!

By the look of it, the German air crew must have been in for a nasty surprise by the hands of the RAF (I haven’t seen the movie yet and I don’t even know the title of the film….), but there was no time for any further speculations as the hut had to be dismantled on this weekend, otherwise it would have been flattened.

Catherine had asked if I could lend a hand and when I saw what this was about, it was clear to me that this was a “no- brainer”….

The day had started after I had parked my car next to a disused Tornado fighter jet

in front of the office of Simon, who is the guy you call when you need a couple of original Messerschmitts, a Spitfire and a burning Lancaster for thirty seconds of a spectacular Hollywood movie, that will cost you a quarter of your production budget…..

When entering the building, Simon was fixing “steak and eggs” for everyone and although not being a great fan of cooked breakfasts, this was an offer I just couldn’t refuse.

But it was then difficult to leave the warmth of the office, filled with a plethora of war memorabilia and stage props which included a super comfortable fire place and it didn’t even stop at the toilets…..

However, eventually we headed out into the high wind and the spitting rain to lay hands on history.

For a job like this, they clearly needed a German in the team, but rather than taking with me a Luger or a Walther, I relied on a couple of old Japanese friends: my trusted cordless Makita power drill and impact driver, which are always a delight to work with – if you have remembered to charge the akkus….

With six men being commited to a common project, we managed to dismantle the walls in two hours flat

and recharged by a Mediterranean lunch curtesy of our French “Inspirator”, next the roof and finally the wall frames came down without any spectacular mishaps (if you exclude my head).

It was so refreshing working in a mixed German and British team taking down a relict (even if it was a fake…) of a conflict, that saw our fathers and grandfathers at each other’s throats and knowing that it – in due course – will hopefully be transformed into a meeting place for people, regardless of their nationality, who prefer it to talk with each other over a glass of wine and good food.

The Great Outdoors of the North and calling on an old acquaintance I never met…

One of the reasons for my excursion to the North was my complete ignorance of the natural beauty this part of the world has to offer and this despite of its population density and its industrial heritage. Whenever I had a few days time to go hiking, I usually drove to Wales in the West, to the South Coast or I caught a flight to a mountain area on the Continent.

Leaving the farm early in the morning, my first stop for an al fresco breakfast was the limestone cliff of Malham Cove within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Sitting on this left over of the last ice age with a mug of (admittedly not Yorkshire) tea and some fresh croissants was a perfect start of the day. After covering a few miles in glorious sun shine, I decided though to return to my Bavarian carriage as both the carpark and the countryside was starting to fill with day trippers.

My next point of call was Ingleborough, a bit further North and one of the Three Yorkshire Peaks , but with a still somewhat manageable elevation of 723m or – as my English hiking friends would say – more than 2000 feet….

Here the land was more exposed and reaching higher ground there was no further agricultural use other than the occasional grazing sheep and a fair number of lambs enjoying themselves. Thankfully the weather continued to be fine, but one could imagine that this would be not a very hospitable place in rain and high winds.

Leaving the hills behind me, it was time to finally pay my respect to a man who to some extend was responsible for my own and for a lot of my peers’ choice of profession: on the other side of the Yorkshire Dales was the town of Thirsk with the practice of Alf Wight, better known under his pseudonym “James Herriot”.

I remember growing up with the television program of his semi-fictional characters and I even re-read his books just last year, being surprised at times how similar and then again how different the day to day work of a veterinarian was in the 21st century. Veterinary surgeons appeared to work 24/7 throughout the year with hardly a day off when Alf started working, but both he as well as a lot of his colleagues suffered from depression and both alcoholism and suicide were – and still are – common problems associated with our profession.

I missed the opportunity of meeting the great man in person before he passed away in 1995, but standing in front of his practice, with his plate still next to the entrance door,

looking at the traditional cottages on the other side of the road and at St.Mary’s Church with its gothic architecture right at the end of the street,

I thought that this for many years must have been the view that was greeting him when he left his surgery – as I did – at the end of evening consultations. After venturing over the town square and strolling through some of the side streets, with a lot of small shops, restaurants and cafes, I thought however that there must have been worse places on Earth to be a local vet than in Thirsk……

It even crossed my mind to consider to apply for one of my next locums here……well, watch this space……..

It wouldn’t be right though to finish this episode without a mention of another stunning National Park in the North – the Peak District.

Wedged between Manchester in the West and Sheffield in the East, this peaceful place was another white spot on my personal map and I decided to make a stop their on my way home. Following the advice of my host to include the church of Saint Mary and All Saints in Chesterfield with its certainly bizarre looking spire on my itinerary,

I then aimed for the town of Grindleford , partially because of the likeness of its name to the village of Grindelwald in the Bernese Alps, which was made famous as the setting for the final encounter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty in “The Final Problem”.

No Reichenbach Falls here though, but a spectacular ridge walk with great views over the valley below, if heading South towards Baslow. The rock formations made for some atmospheric photos and the moors on the plateau reminded me of the Swedish Fjäll which I had visited last summer.

With no accommodation allowed to open at the moment, I had to pitch my lightweight mountain tent close to a small stream as the sun was setting. But soon I became painfully aware that it had been a while since my last outdoor over night stay……

Within just a few minutes the gas cartridge of my cooker let me down and with the spare left in the car, this resulted in a half cooked dinner and no hot tea to follow it up with. I then realized that choosing the two-season sleeping bag over the readily available four season one had also been a bit overambitious and three layers of clothing in addition to a recently purchased biwak bag made the night only marginally more comfortable……

Only when the first rays of the sun started to work on the layer of ice that was covering the canvas of the tent and the landscape around me in the morning, I finally found some decent sleep.

This comfortable state of existence lasted nearly until 9 o’clock when Jon, the friendly local ranger, was carefully inquiring if “someone was at home”….In the most kind and nearly apologetic terms he explained to me that strictly seen wild camping wasn’t allowed in the National Park, but that the rangers wouldn’t mind as long as tents were taken down by 9 AM….

This – I have to admit – I knew and I was wondering if anywhere else in the world the law would be enforced in such a polite and friendly way as here in the North of England.

Bradford and Bingley

I am sitting in the kitchen of Chris Foster in Thornton near Bradford, just a few hundred meters away from the birthplace of the Bronte sisters.

Chris is a sheep farmer and he has worked this land for over 50 years. There is hardly a tree on these hills and wind turbines and power lines are dominating the landscape.

I have been fortunate to get a simple room on the first floor of his small B&B and every morning Chris is preparing black tea and a couple of slices of toast. In the kitchen, which was state of the art in 1965, we are joint by Jordan – probably thirty years my junior – who, without a formal qualification, is the man for everything at the clinics I am working at and who is at the moment spending his holidays helping Chris with the lambing. I sense that we are an interesting group of people, all separated by decades in age, but feeding of each others life experiences or youth.

Chris used to be a keen cyclist, touring with his bike central Europe and as it turns out he even speaks German. Until last year he was building with his own hands an extension to his farm before arthritis started to slow him down and left him in a state of constant pain.

Jordan is at a different sort of crossways: with his physical health not an issue, he has to decide what to do with his life. Although he is satisfied with his current job, he is realizing that it is not enough as a long term solution. His stay at Chris’ farm gives him the necessary peace and time to think and it is providing Chris with a valuable pair of hands to do all the delicate manual tasks that the raising of sheep demands.

And in comes me – located somewhere between the two, a traveler, a fly on the wall, someone who has not the answers for their questions, but in the sum of our little party I am at least a potential source for good entertainment during the demanding lambing schedule…..

I couldn’t have asked for better company or for a better location!

My new place of work for the following two weeks is the Gatehouse Veterinary Group with branches in Bingley and on the Allerton Road in Bradford. My locum placement starts at the newly refurbished and extended clinic in Bingley where I meet Terry Groud, a towering, but very kind and gentle man, who, as one realizes very fast, is adored and worshipped by many pet owners in the region and beyond. He is without doubt one of the dying breeds of what can be called a “Veterinary Personality” and once again I find myself re-assured about my resolve of stepping away from my own clinic 2 years ago to hit the road: without this decision I would never have had the opportunity of working together in a team with this great man.

Although the new facilities are admittedly impressive, with new stainless steal cages and the smell of fresh paint still in the air, the real revelation for me is the nursing team. When I entered the surgical department on Monday morning, the white board was packed with cases and I realized with some unease that I was also expected to do a full block of consultations in the afternoon……

However, I shouldn’t have worried: Nicola the head nurse and her team had it all covered…..patients were admitted, checked , pre-medicated and prepared for surgery in a smooth running operation and the same applied to their aftercare and in most cases for the pricing up and for the writing of notes. There was an excellent flow of communication and because of this, the throughput of cases was impressive, but at no point at the cost of the level of care for the patients.

This was followed in the afternoon with fully booked consultations and in-patient care at the busy branch at Allerton Road. Here I met with Hanna Langley another great colleague, a true leader for the 21st century, someone I would wish on every new graduate:

Highly competent in her field, but yet always calm and approachable and happy to discuss or to explain. Not judgmental and a great team player, consistently looking out for everyone, making sure that everyone was taking their brakes and putting herself always last. With – as it turned out -two vets down, bursting appointment books and at times very demanding clients (and this under ongoing COVID restrictions), Hanna was the anchor you need when facing a storm…..

Summing it up, I think one realises that this time I really had to “earn my keep” but to be honest….I loved it !….

A lot of the work was of a reproductive nature (neutering, caesarian sections, misalliance treatment, post partal complications etc) and I was somewhat shocked by the high number of brachycephalic patients we were seeing. This was in a stark contrast to my clientele in Virginia Water, but it reflected very much the increased demand for these breeds and the commercial value of the puppies, especially in an economically more challenged environment like Bradford.

For me as a veterinary surgeon it also raises some fundamental ethical questions which to explore would go beyond the remits of this (travel) blog, but I have always felt myself very comfortable with the following principle:

If faced with an animal that is in pain or is suffering (eg. because of obstructed airways or because of an inability to deliver puppies because of physiological restrictions (puppies too large, pelvis too small etc)) as a veterinary surgeon I have to do my utmost to ease the discomfort or resolve the problem. This would include the performance of caesarian sections (with the offer to spay the dog at the same time) or air way surgery. I would not however support the breeding of – in my opinion – unsuitable dogs (or cats or rabbits) with advice or technical assistance (like artificial insemination). To keep myself in very low demand for these requests right from the onset, I have admittedly invested very little time over the years in continuing education on this subject and I am considering myself as a very bad choice of a veterinarian for breeders of these animals….. Unsurprisingly my team and I have lived very well with this point of view.

This didn’t apply though to the performing of some pretty good (I think….) caesarian sections during my stay in the North, with us not loosing a single puppy and – of course – not a single mum……

Another highlight of my work in the North was a fair amount of work with exotics for which Terry appeared to be a bit of a magnet.

Parrot beaks had to be trimmed, anorexic tortoise had to be fitted with feeding tubes, Bearded Dragons were assessed for rib fractures due to calciums deficiencies

and a large number of patients were just the victims of poor husbandry with ill-informed owners.

The remaining caseload was varied, but mirrored very much the one in the South, which included the occasional absolutely adorable kitten that is greeting you as the first patient on a Monday morning, reminding you that you still have the best job in the world……

Cornwall

With my first COVID vaccine having (hopefully) done its magic on my immune system, it was time to return to clinical work and to activities that are more in tune with the initial purpose of this blog: veterinary medicine and traveling.

As a result of Brexit, there is now a general shortage of veterinary surgeons in the UK and combining business with pleasure (which is always a good idea if it can be arranged), I embarked on a set of “workassions”.

For my first assignment I caught up with my Argentinian friend and colleague Facundo, with whom I had shared a lot of happy moments while working in Falun in Sweden and who works and lives now together with his amazing wife Carolina in Cornwall.

Sure enough his clinic was in need of some support and a few days later I found myself in a little house in Bodmin,

from where I went to work in a couple of clinics in Lostwithiel and in St.Austell.

For a whole week I was greeted with a blue sky and by the sound of seagulls, while the painwork of my car was suffering from the left overs of their digestive tracts in typical Cornish style…..

After over four months (!) I found myself again in a – now COVID conform – consulting room,

vaccinating “COVID”puppies and catching up in the operating theatre on overdue castrations and spays. Once again I was spoiled with a well organised and super-friendly nursing team and as it turned out later in the week, some of my veterinary peers had already heard of me through some of my former clients in Virginia Water – which shows once again in what a small world we are living……

Following Facundo’s expert advice, I also discovered the perfect spot for my lunch breaks with Charlestown Habour,

where in the vicinity of a beautiful Baltic clipper,

the obligatory fish and chips tasted even better.

The evenings where spent with memorable runs along the coastal path, where – being based in Bodmin – I had the difficult choice between the more sedate South coast

or the more rugged Atlantic coast…..

This was then followed up in style with a drink at the harbour in Port Isaac

or completely replaced by dinner with my Argentinian friends (outside with three layers of clothes …..).

To finish this memorable week off, Facundo volunteered as my tour guide for a hiking trip through the Bodmin Moors, very much in the footsteps of Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn”.

When finally leaving the South West full of great memories, being unable to resist my craving for decent coffee at this brilliant little mobile coffee shop,

I had the inkling that we are now finally on our way back to some sort of a normal life (at least in the UK)……

The end in sight ?…..

Its a year now since pretty much the whole world went into ‘lock down’ and little did I know how much it would also affect my traveling and working plans. So many visits were scheduled to colleagues and to congresses all over Europe and it (pretty much) all came to nothing….or at least it turned out very differently….

Well, upon my return to the UK after over 3 months in Bavaria, I found an invitation for my SARS CoV 2 vaccination in the letterbox.

Welcome home !…….

Right after finishing my 10 days of self isolation (bearable with a lot of online consultations and with a fair amount of decorating work in the house) I was heading as so often before to Heathrow Airport, but this time not to catch a flight, but to stay on the ground to get my first jab.

Less than 200m away from the pretty empty runway, the super efficient NHS vaccination machine was in full swing.

OK, no British event without a little bit of queuing……

But within 20 minutes flat, I as well had my first dose of a British-Swedish quality product (well, time will tell……) in my arm

and I was on my way home again.

Fingers crossed that this will truly mark the end of the pandemic, because I think that there are more stories to be told and more places to be seen in 2021 and beyond…….

Doing it digitally

With COVID 19 keeping Europe still in its grip at the beginning of 2021, the question has to be asked, in how far it is possible to pursue the idea of working internationally as a veterinary surgeon ?

Just travelling from one country to another has turned from being difficult to be nearly impossible. In addition to this, most clinics are once again providing just very limited services and/or are trying to keep their teams as small and as stable as possible, avoiding to introduce any additional members of staff.

So what is the solution ?…….

Try something new !

With so many parts of our life having gone digital, this has been no difference with the veterinary profession. Starting last spring when the occasional telephone or video consultation was an emergency solution to continue to communicate with clients, a lot of pet owners found this service actually very helpful. Admittedly these consultations can not and will never replace a physical examination of a patient or the treatment at a veterinary clinic, but there is a place for this service to assess cases, to give advice and to check on the progress of a patient once treatment has started or after a surgical procedure.

Already last summer I had got in touch with a company that was already providing online consultation in Scandinavia and which had just started to branch out to the UK. When I spoke to them, it even turned out that Germany was next on their list. This was very good to know and while I was preparing myself to treat dogs and cats in Sweden, we agreed to stay in touch…..

Sure enough – once back in the UK, I had an e-mail in my inbox and a few weeks later I became part of the newly formed German team.

What does this now mean ?….

Well, since the beginning of December I am visiting – online – pet owners (actually nearly exclusively dog owners) all over Germany in their kitchens and living rooms to take a closer look at their four legged family members. Although this doesn’t replace the clinical work, it is an interesting exercise for me, having to deal with people from completely different regions of Germany and Austria, with them speaking in various different accents and looking at patients I have never seen before. With every new consultation you see a different face and you have to deal with a range of different problems and expectations.

An advantage is, that – as part of a team – I can decide when and how many hours I want to work. In addition to this, is this probably the most COVID safe activity I could have asked for, especially as a vet….

Sure enough, this will not be the end of my clinical work, but at the time of writing this, it is giving me the possibility to use my clinical experience in a new field of veterinary medicine and at the same time I can pursue a lot of other (mostly online) projects, when I am not outside enjoying cross country skiing or hiking in the nearby German Alps (unfortunately excluding Austria….).

May be you might like to join me on one of these trips in one of the next episodes of the Blue Vet Diaries?……….

Blue Monday or how to be a better colleague

It was a year ago that I was sitting in my little cottage in Falun, with three farm cats as my only company. With cold temperatures, but virtually no snow outside, I had ran out of excuses to make start on a project that I had pledged to pursue half a year earlier in Toronto…..

Throughout my professional life as a veterinarian, I had at multiple occasions benefited from the help and from the support I had received from colleagues and I had the great fortune of always working with helpful and supportive teams. If I felt that this had not been the case, I had made sure not to waste too much time to find something better or I hadn’t even taken a job in the first place.

Working in a collegial team, where everyone is helping each other, where every member of the team is respected and where there is courtesy and good communication, results in greater job satisfaction and in better clinical results. This meant for me and for my team usually better treatment of my patients and far more satisfied clients. Courtesy and good collegiality is important not only in a team, but it has to extend to neighboring colleagues and most importantly to all junior members of the profession and even to the aspiring work experience student who wants to find out how it is to work as a veterinary surgeon.

Unfortunately during my time at the FECAVA (the Federation of European Small Animal Veterinary Associations) and during my travels, I often learned of and at times even witnessed examples of sometimes appalling conduct, abuse of authority in a team and I met a large number of overworked, depressed and disillusioned younger colleagues. When investigating the background for this, it became clear that in many cases with a different management approach and with a different emphasis on collegiality this could have been avoided. Needless to say that disillusioned and frustrated new comers to any profession are unlikely to turn out to become great mentors themselves.

At the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Congress in Toronto I had pledged to put together a global set of rules for veterinary professionals to define how all team members should strive to conduct themselves towards their peers, both at their own clinics as well as towards their colleagues around them.

While sitting at my kitchen table in Falun, with my favorite feline companion occupying most of the space next to my laptop

I made a start with a document that was summarizing the already existing guidelines on the subjects of communication and collegiality, that had been defined in the Professional Code of Conduct of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) in the UK, in the European Veterinary Code of Conduct of the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe (FVE) and in the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). I called this the “Falun Document” in recognition of the beautiful and peaceful surroundings I was finding myself in and in appreciation of the always friendly and supportive team I had the pleasure of working with at that time and in fact at all occasions I had worked in Scandinavia.

Once this task had been done, I started on a first draft of the document I had in mind, adding to the already existing guidelines what I thought was missing. While focusing strictly on communication and collegiality (the above mentioned documents cover a much larger range of aspects of veterinary life), I aimed to keep the final paper concise and as easy to read and to understand as possible.

I then found extremely helpful and supportive collaborators for the project in the Past Presidents of the WSAVA Walt Ingwersen (Canada) and later also in Shane Ryan (Singapore).

Although this was not a very large document, in order to keeping it to the point and to make it universally acceptable, it had to undergo multiple reviews and changes.

The global SARS CoV 2 pandemic then didn’t help matters, with all of us having to focus on other – more acute – matters affecting the lives of our families and the veterinary teams we were working with.

A further delay was caused by the postponement of the joint congress of our organisations, which had originally been scheduled for September 2020 in Warsaw and which we had in mind as the ideal background to launch the final document.

Further global lock downs and possibly also the Christmas holidays with very little else to do had at least the positive effect of pushing the project over the line, right in time for “Blue Monday” – widely recognized as the – on balance – most miserable day of the year – in recognition of the stress and mental strain poor collegiality can cause, not only among veterinary peers.

It is now planned to get the final “Global Principles of Veterinary Collegiality” translated (I am already working on a German version…..) and in time for the postponed congress in March (now – as most events- completely online) we are hoping to produce a poster which might find its way into some staff rooms around the globe.

Does it only take a small kitchen table and a purring cat ( and – ok – a laptop, a good working WLAN system and the world wide web…..) to improve the world (at least a little bit….)?