An Ode to a Snappy Pair

DWS, climbing in OmanAlas, I am in mourning. Not one to usually subscribe to fashion trends or fork out for ‘designer labels’ I must confess that I joined the crowd last year when I purchased a beautiful pair of ‘designer’ sunglasses whilst skydiving in the US. Adorning my head at any opportunity when the sun is present, which means most of the time now that I live out in the UAE, we sadly parted company yesterday but in a pretty awesome way 🙂

A group of fellow adrenaline junkies and I here in Dubai all headed over to Oman yesterday for a day of Deep Water Soloing, or climbing up sea cliffs with only water to break our falls. I must confess that I have tombstoned before – an experience that I engaged in as a foolish youth (well, as a newly qualified vet anyway) and which resulted in my friend and I jumping from a cliff that was, in hindsight, stupidly high – but had never climbed in this fashion before. The experience was amazing and I am convinced that there is no better way to spend a hot, sunny day than with a group of like-minded friends bobbing round a stunning coastline looking for daredevil acts to engage in, whether it be climbing or diving.

So, what happened to cause the loss of your beloved then? Well, good question. I am glad you asked. The second cliff we climbed up led to the jump being significantly higher than our first stop and in hindsight choosing to wear my Gatorz sunglasses, a cap and hang on to my GoPro Hero3 was folly. Anyway, I jumped, landed and very quickly realised that the only items I still had on me were my board shorts and climbing shoes – who’d have thunk it but landing in water from a height actually involves a fair amount of force so it should have been no surprise that my oh-so-cool headwear and I were separated.

Gatorz, magnumCaps float so that was ok, the least expensive and most easily replaced item being easily retrieved from the ocean. Metal sunglasses – expensive ones at that – and considerably more expensive GoPro cameras, however, do not float. Which sucked! Thankfully, with the swift deployment of my snorkel and mask, which I was so glad I took along even just for the fact that there was some amazing sealife to observe during the day, I spied the GoPro (phew!) and was able to dive down to retrieve it. If it were another metre down, however, then I think I may have had issues as it was just about on my free-diving limit. Still, camera and footage saved it was then time to hunt for the illusive Gatorz. In hindsight, gunmetal blue may not have been the best colour to take along as everything looks sort of blue at depth and it soon became apparent that I was not going to find my sunnies. Boo! So, a gift to the ocean they were to remain and who knows, maybe some diver will come across them and be the new owner of what are an awesome pair of quality sunglasses. As for me, I had best get ordering a new pair – maybe red would be a good idea for next time, although the lesson I took away from the experience was NOT to wear sunglasses when climbing and then jumping down – they rarely stay with you!

Let Me Be Entertained by You

Sundance May 2013The sun is just starting to set over a golden beach on which several thousand merry party goers are smiling, dancing and generally having an amazing time, whilst in the distance the mesmerising sights of the Atlantis hotel and Dubai Marina twinkle like unreal gems. An internationally acclaimed band are mid-set and we are looking forward to a big, very famous headliner safe in the knowledge that we are going to be able to get right to the front, almost within touching distance of said star, which is amazing considering that normally the amount paid for the ticket would see you stuck at the back of a huge stadium. And yet here we are dressed in board shorts, flip-flops and with a cool drink in hand, pushing sunglasses back on to our heads whilst we contemplate the rest of the evening’s entertainment.

Sundance May 2013_2A dream sequence? No. Rather a pretty accurate description of what it’s like to attend Sundance, the regular music event here in Dubai that sees some pretty huge acts strut their musical stuff for our pleasure on Nasimi beach out on the Palm, just in the shadows of the mighty Atlantis hotel (you know – the one that Kylie Minogue opened). I have, at the time of writing, now been to two of these events and loved both experiences, having seen Richard Ashcroft and Noel Gallagher perform at the first and, more recently, Keane and then Florence and the Machine, which was a truly epic gig. Imagine then my excitement at the announcement of October’s lineup…….. Of Monsters and Men and then, headlining….. The Killers!!!!! Yep, as in the huge, international superstars. Do I have tickets. Damn right I do! And I shall be at the front of that gig moshing like a little moshy monster.

Florence & The Machine
Florence & The Machine

There is something almost indescribably awesome about attending a great gig and even an act that you wouldn’t normally have claimed as being a fan of, as was the case with myself and Florence, can have you announcing yourself as a HUGE fan afterwards, such is the power of a great live performance. Keane surprised everyone I think and really opened the event perfectly, with some of their perhaps less well known tracks going down as well as the classics. The difference in the band compared to when they first hit the scene was clear as well, with a significantly slimmed down lead in the form of Tom Chaplin belting out great track after great track. Then came Florence and her formidable machine, for which a friend and I ventured to the very front for. In spite of some interesting encounters in the process (see below) Florence’s performance was as powerful, emotional and anthemic as I had been led to believe and I came away a new fan, promptly snapping up her back catalogue on iTunes.

crowds at SundanceAs mentioned, there are always some interesting encounters at any gig and Sundance never disappoints, with a fair number of characters in attendance. Needless to say, when the beer doth flow, drama ensues and several of the happenings were indeed alcohol fueled – one of the many reasons I choose not to drink at the event and actually have more fun sober than I would tipsy. So, in no particular order, I shall regail you of some of the Sundance characters…

1. The Feral Kitten – things always a get a little tight shall we say at the very front of a mosh pit, with fans naturally wanting to get as close to the stage as they can. Tempers can start to flare, however, when people feel that it is reasonable to push their way in front of those who have been patient and waited, laying claim to their little piece of beach and understandably not wishing to step back and retreat from their hard-fought-for terra firma. Quite how some people think it’s acceptable to just push and shove their way past others in a bid to get in a position where someone else is actually physically already occupying the space amazes me – fair enough if space for a body exists but if you are going to actually have to displace another then do the decent thing and desist, or arrive earlier. We were stood near a group who had patiently waited at the front and had quite rightly taken exception to two girls showing their way past them. When politely challenged one of the said girls became really quite abusive and resembled one of the feral kittens we routinely see in the clinic. Full credit to the guy who laid down the challenge as he stood smiling at the torrent of foul-mouthed abuse sent cascading at him from Miss Kitty. Manners it seems is not something everyone possesses. I think she did end up with some guy’s sweaty armpit in her face for most of the gig so I guess Karma does exist.

2. Mr Tickle – I am all for having a great time at a gig, I really am. But it is not really socially acceptable to be THAT guy who sways, swings his arms and generally gets right up into everybody elses’ personal space, even when said personal space is significantly curtailed owing to where you are. Although harmless enough, Mr Tickle found his way into our small section of the crowd and proceeded to spend most of the gig flailing his arms around as though he were drowning and signalling desperately for the rescue helicopter. As for what the back of his head tasted like, I can think of at least three people who could now tell you. Thankfully he did eventually get the hint that his fellow revellers in his immediate locale did not enjoy his unique brand of active-celebration, and he promptly moved on, thus clearing the airspace and meaning that not only did my friend not have to endure his armpit but that our photos didn’t all feature Mr Tickle’s arms.

3. Super(Camp)Man – there was a guy directly behind us who was brilliant entertainment, not only as a result of his hilarious, slightly bitchy commentary before Florence’s performance but also for his incredibly cool yet cutting response to another rude crowd cutter who forced her way past and into our section of the crowd. She pushed past an older couple who had clearly been waiting for a while and were not wishing to give up their place in the crowd. When she then tried to drag her friends though she was stopped from doing so and when protests were voiced Mr Super(Camp)Man stepped in and in the kind of tone that a parent would use when chastising a naughty six year old, told Miss Pushy that she had two choices: to either stay put where she was on her own, or to go back to where she had come from and spend the remainder of the gig with her friends. In spite of some initial protest, the message was delivered in such a manner of authority and finality that she retreated tail between her legs and did, I think, actually apologise. Brilliant. Truly brilliant!

4. Captain Vodka – As an advert for how booze can make you look like a tit, Captain Vodka was champion. It is inevitable that where you have sunshine, a beach and liquor, people will feel compelled to indulge. Captain Vodka, it seemed, had drunk rather a lot of Russia’s favourite export and proceeded to do the other thing that drunk blokes do in the sun by removing his top. There seemed to be some drunken exchange between him and a girl in the crowd as before long she was having to be held back from literally lamping the guy, whilst his girlfriend tried her best to guide him out of the crowd and, hopefully, to his room to sleep off his excesses. In true booze hound style he did, of course, have to fall over first and ended up, in the process of trying to put his t-shirt back on, hitting the deck like a fallen tree. A reason to leave booze well alone if ever I saw one.

As already mentioned, the next Sundance is not until October but what a lineup to look forward to! Hopefully a few friends will be able to make it out for that one as well, as it is set to be an epic. Here’s to entertainment Dubai style.

Time to Catch Up

Okay, I admit it…. part of the reason that I have been “off the grid”, in a blog writing capacity at least, is that I have been having fun. Lots of fun. In fact so much fun that you’ll probably want to hate me for it. But I’m cool with that. Seriously though, I just realised that it’s been over a month since my last post and I honestly had no idea such is the pace with which my time here in the UAE is hurtling past.

Much has happened since my last installment, from some interesting clinical cases and happenings at work through to some awesome social, sporting and, well, just fun endeavours.

In terms of the clinical, the main changes since my last post appear to be (in no particular order):

Down a Vet

The loss of one of our vets meaning that there have been some changes to the weekends that I now get to enjoy. Unfortunately one of our more recent vets just wasn’t getting on well and was, as far as I could tell, also quite unhappy. It was pretty darn clear even from the moment I started that there was a major mismatch between her style of consulting and flexibility to new ideas and ability to cope with the challenges of this particularly busy clinic with exceptionally high standards. It was telling that she seemed to spend rather a lot of time being corrected or otherwise having meetings with the bosses in the office, on a number of occasions preventing me from getting my stuff and getting home! In the end it was no surprise to discover that she was asked to part way with the clinic, a decision which was clearly inevitable. As I mentioned, it did mean that instead of my usual Friday to Saturday weekends, I was switched to working Saturdays and so generally get my weekends on Thursday and Friday, or occasionally Wednesday and Friday.

As mentioned above, I am now working regularly on Saturdays with the change in staffing, meaning that my working week technically starts on a weekend. This was initially at the main hospital all day, which tends to be crazily busy all day, although since we opened our branch in Mirdif, a part of town out near the airport, on Saturday mornings, I start there and then head back over to the hospital in the afternoon. Most Saturdays I arrive to find the clinic as busy as it often is on weekends, with people waiting to be seen and my colleagues all dealing with additional in-patients. There seems to be this annoying feature of veterinary life that dictates that there is never just a happy medium to anyones’ day. It’s either full on, crazy mental, oh-my-God-I-haven’t-even-got-time-to-think-let-alone-eat-or-go-to-the-toilet, with consults booked solid, walk-ins galore and extras just pitching up expecting to be seen (and doing so because we’re just nice like that), or nothing at all with plenty of time to thumb-twiddle, although there is obviously always plenty that can be done to fill the time. Busy is good: I would rather have stuff to do, especially as the day does progress much more smoothly and at pace than if you’re simply thumb twiddling. What I don’t like, however, is the frantic nature of those insane days, when everyone is just rushing around not quite sure if it’s all going to go to shit at any moment. What I have found some weeks is that by the end of the working week there is the danger that people start to get a little snippy with one another, meaning that there is sometimes some definite tension in the air, something that I find very uncomfortable. I like the people I work with – they’re great and I think we have a great team. I don’t like to see them stressed to the point where peoples’ tempers or nerves are getting stretched, which is what I have felt happening some weeks. The notion that it’s “just part of the job” is also something I don’t subscribe to, in much the same way as I view the concepts of “lunch is a luxury in veterinary” and “animal bites are part of being a vet or nurse” as the big crocks of shite that these viewpoints clearly are. It should always be possible to organise things in such a manner that people are busy and able, if necessary to work at 100% capacity when called upon to do so, but not to expect that level of intensity all of the time. The irony, of course, is that we will then get days where there are virtually no appointments – one of the twisted facts of life in veterinary!

Passed With Flying Colours

After a month of waiting, and a few days of hasty revision using my geekily created “Dubai Exam PDF”, I was once again back at the municipality to sit my exam for real this time. It was just little old me this time and I was led up to an office where I sat as if working for the ministry and completed my exam, with “colleagues” around me at their desks discussing various matters in Arabic. The exam itself was a fairly straightforward affair, following the formula that seemed to be firmly established by past papers: three questions on matters related to ministry rules and regulations, such as the duties and responsibilities of a vet and what is supposed to happen in the event a sole vet is absent from the clinic for more than 60 days; then some short clinical questions, including being asked for TPR ranges (temperature, pulse and respiration) for cows and camels – yes, there was a camel question! Most of the clinical questions are geared towards notifiable diseases and public health, so there were ones on everything from leptospirosis to rabies. The last part of the exam was three longer “essay” style questions on, if my memory serves me well, tuberculosis, distemper, and strangles (I think). I didn’t come out of that exam feeling like I’d nailed it and was actually rather apprehensive about what the pass mark might have been. However, this apprehension was misplaced as I discovered a couple of weeks later that I had in fact passed and so am now fully registered.

So, what does being “registered” actually mean? Well, it simply means that I am legally permitted to work in a solo capacity as a vet, such as I now do at our Mirdif branch, and not a great deal more. I have been led to believe that there are many vets operating in Dubai that are not fully registered and it seems they are still able to go about their business. Monique and Malcolm, however, choose to do things properly, which as grating as I am sure it must be to know others are blatantly flouting the rules, is the correct approach to take and one for which I applaud them.

Clinical cases…

Its been busy so that must mean some interesting cases, right? Exactly. There have been some great cases to deal with, as well as some just comical or downright bizarre experiences within the clinic, such as the situation I found myself in last week when a rather attractive client came in with her dog, very professionally and elegantly dressed, and then promptly farted in front of me. Not once, however, but twice! My initial reaction was to think it was the dog but it was quite clearly not and so I did the gentlemanly thing by simply ignoring what had just happened, even when it occurred twice! The bizarre thing was that she didn’t even seem fazed by it and I suspect just considered it a perfectly normal and reasonable thing to do in front of the vet. Bizarre indeed.

We see a lot of skin cases in Dubai, with ringworm top of the list when it comes to dermatological issues. Having never seen a case of ringworm in practice in the UK, with my only experience of it being getting it myself as a young vet student working on a dairy farm (I thought it was just a really nasty rash from rolling out the straw each day – it wasn’t), I now provisionally diagnose and start treatment for it on an almost daily basis. In fact I use the UV Wood’s Lamp so frequently that it occasionally feels like I’m running a tanning salon 🙂

Ear mites are another dermatological scourge oft seen and it seems the ones here tend to be bruisers compared to their whimpy European cousins, as you can easily see the little rascals scampering around down the lugholes of lots of the pets we get in.

When it comes to parasites, ticks are the big problem here whereas we see very few, if any, fleas. In fact I think I may have seen a single flea here since arriving, which is in complete contrast to my experience of working as a vet in the UK for the past five years. As I say, ticks are the big issue here, and unfortunately it’s a fact that they carry some pretty nasty diseases, especially ehrlichia, which I have diagnosed several times. I had a dog presented to me at the end of last week which had been missing from home for several days. When it returned it was found to be absolutely infested with ticks. Our nurses alone removed over 30 from the poor dog! Although the dog wasn’t displaying any overt clinical signs of ehrlichia, we routinely test where appropriate and so a blood test was run, rather unsurprisingly proving positive. Ideally in such cases a full blood count (CBC) would be run to assess the nature and extent of any haematological abnormalities but the owners were not keen to spend the money and so after checking a PCV (normal, thankfully), the dog was started on a 30 day course of doxycycline at 10mg/kg once daily and started on Frontline, to kill any remaining ticks and provide protection against potential further bites. Instructions were given to the owners to a) bring their other dog in for a check and testing – he also proved positive and so treatment was started – and to thoroughly spray the house against ticks, as ehrlichia is a known zoonosis, and a potentially very nasty one at that. Definitely not something that any person wants to end up contracting.

On the theme of ticks, we see a large number of “yellow” cats here, with Bartonella felis, from ticks bites, being the usual culprit. There was one case in particular that came in one day with a history of just being very quiet, flat and “just not right.” Upon examination it was clear that the cat would probably have glowed in the dark, such was the vividness and intensity of the yellow discolouration that it was showing. As with ehrlichia cases, a full blood count is performed, in addition to biochemistry, and the cat was found to have a severe anaemia, as a result of immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia, and so aggressive treatment was started, with doxycycline and steroids at immunosuppressive doses so as to halt the ongoing destruction red cells that the cat’s own immune system was undertaking. After several days in hospital the cat did make a good recovery and the last time I saw it for a check-up, it was a much more normal colour and a tad more feisty – always an encouraging sign!

Fun and Socials…

I always thought I had a lot going on in my life when in the UK but since moving over here it seems that the options for ways in which to spend any spare time you get are numerous, and at times it is difficult to know which options to choose and which to pass by. Since my last post I have been up to the following shenanigans:

Kitesurfing. After taking a few lessons, more as a refresher following the course I undertook in Wales last August, I took the plunge and invested in my own kite, and other gear, so that I am able to get out and put my new skills to use whenever it is windy and I am free. The past few weeks have been somewhat devoid of wind – good for a skydiver – and so I have only really been able to make it out onto the water properly twice. The first outing was fun but rather expectedly frustrating at times, as I spent the time getting used to the kite and board, never really getting up properly or in control, and crashing the kite on more than one occasion, at one point rather alarmingly near a group of sun bathers – quite why they choose to sit on a beach where there are loads of very large kites flying around is beyond me, but there you go, they exist and so it is generally regarded as polite to avoid thwacking them on the head with a large kite if at all possible. Friday, however, was completely different and in spite of the beach being packed, I had a blast, getting straight up on the board and actually kitesurfing for real for the very first time! The feeling of being in the water and then with a simple movement of the kite and a powerful pull from the wind, finding yourself skipping across the waves is indescribably awesome and it is instantly easy to see why people get hooked on the sport. You feel as though you’re actually flying across the surface of the water, which is an amazing feeling indeed. Although I had to ‘bail’ from the board a few times, I found it very simple to control my kite and steer back to my board, and didn’t crash the kite once during my session, which constitutes a major achievement in my opinion. I actually cannot wait until the next windy day when I am off and already find myself doing the kitesurfer thing of constantly assessing whether the wind is strong enough, even whilst walking across the street to get lunch and back. I am addicted it seems but as far as vices go, playing with kites seems a harmless one.

Skydiving. My other passion which, rather ironically, also relies heavily upon the wind, or preferably on very little wind being present, is jumping from perfectly good aeroplanes in the name of sport. Since arriving here in Dubai I have taken advantage of the fact that one of the best dropzones in the world is on my doorstep by jumping at Skydive Dubai several times. Unfortunately I have not yet reached 500 jumps and so am unable to jump at the jewel in the skydiving crown, The Palm, which is really the ultimate aim owing to it’s absolutely stunning location and views. I have, instead, been doing my jumps out at SD2, the desert dropzone, located on the main road between Dubai and Al Ain, and past both the Sevens rugby stadium and the main camel racing track. Getting out there is so easy given how good the roads are here, meaning I can, in theory, leave my villa in the Springs and be in a plane within the hour. As it’s generally hot and sunny all of the time, it is very rare that we get weather delays, although it does get really hot by about mid-morning, meaning that being packed into a small plane for the climb up to jump altitude can be a bit uncomfortable. Its so worth it though as that door opens and you get to leap out into the vast UAE sky.

I am currently working towards my USPA B-license, having logged over 50 jumps. Part of the requirements is to complete a canopy course, which basically teaches you how to fly (and land) your parachute better (in other words, more safely). The first day was sadly too windy and was cancelled but day two was on and so I spent the day learning the theory of more effective canopy flight, including such principles as stalling (not for the faint-hearted, as it basically involves pushing your parachute to the point where it collapses) and finding the flare “sweet spot,” before going up and out to put into practice what we were learning. As it is just the part of the skydive under canopy that we were concerned with there was no need to go to full altitude, meaning that those of us on the course were the first out of the plane at 5000 feet and literally pulled our chutes a few seconds after exiting the plane – Hop & Pop. Although jumping at 12,000 feet is exhilarating enough, the fact is that 5,000 feels so much closer to terra firma (because it is) meaning that the thought of impacting it seems to be much more prominent in the mind. My first exit wasn’t the most stable and it would be easy to just get into a panic and deploy before being in a stable freefall position, all of which increases the chances of there being a deployment issue and ultimately having to cut away. As such, it is vitally important to remain calm, remember the training, breathe and relax – the key to skydiving. After correcting my body position on exit, the next four jumps went very well and I finished the day with a series of pretty good landings, meaning that I have been able to ‘graduate’, as it were, onto a slightly smaller canopy. In practice, what that means is that I fly under canopy much faster, all increasing the importance of having good control so as to lead to a safe and stable landing, which is the number one priority with this sport.

My parents came over to visit. I have had my first set of visitors as my parents headed over for a week in April, arriving on the day of the World Cup horse races, which we attended. Although I had to leave them to entertain themselves for most of the week, owing to the need to work, the three days we did manage to spend together were action packed and a great deal of fun. There is something about having guests that ensures you remember to do all the touristy stuff that as a resident you’d probably not actually ever get round to doing normally. For example, we headed up the Burj Khalifa – a Dubai must – and had breakfast at the Burj al Arab – again, another must see and do in my opinion. One of the highlights of their trip was a desert ride, although it was not without it’s helping of initial drama, more of which I shall delve into.

So, all in all its been a busy few weeks since I last posted and although I have only actually been here for about nine weeks I do feel as if its been significantly longer, which can never be a bad sign. The next significant challenge, however, is going to be the summer, which I have been led to believe by many, many people is brutal. I guess I shall be catching up on a lot more DVDs then 🙂