As you may have guessed by the digital silence on the blog for the past week it has been somewhat of a busy one. The good news, however, is that there should be lots of fun and interesting things to tell you about.
The working week for me now starts on a Sunday, which I must admit I still haven’t gotten used to, meaning that my mind and body are still very much in ‘downtime’ mode when the alarm goes off at what feels ridiculously early. The fact that I haven’t been sleeping brilliantly probably doesn’t help matters – I am still adjusting to the heat and seem to have a choice to make most nights: either sweat it out or freeze with the air-conditioning running, something that I have opted for on several occasions, although this does come with a price, which is that you make up with a mouth and throat drier than the desert in which I know reside. Still, come the summer months, when the temperature apparently hovers almost continuously at a sizzling 40 degrees celcius, or higher, I am going to be more than happy to trade a dry throat for some comfort. Anyway, I digress. So, the alarm now goes at 6am each morning, with plans for this to gradually be pushed back as I start to get out in the cool(er) mornings before work to train, and after the usual pre-work preparations – I’m really not going to bore you with details of how I get ready for work – it’s in the car and a forty or so minute drive from The Springs to the clinic, in an area of Dubai called Umm Suqeim, which is but a few blocks back from the beach itself and the famous hotel in the shape of a huge sail, the Burj al Arab. In fact, I often pop across to the small mall across the street at lunchtime and am able to sit there gazing at the surreal sight that is the Burj. I still haven’t become used to it, even after two weeks.
The clinic is a pretty busy one and the appointments start fairly punctually at 8am, with the expectation being that we’re in a little earlier, especially if we have any in patients to attend to first. I have been consulting pretty much since starting, although have done a couple of neuters as second, relief surgeon, on one morning after a couple of hours seeing clients. This is really to help me get familiar with the computer system – not that tricky actually, although it’s the various pricing codes that are always the sticking point when you move to a new place – and to allow me to familiarise myself with the specifics of vaccinations, and other Dubai-specific matters. There are, it transpires, certain conditions that we see more of here in Dubai than I would have seen back in the UK and a few that we really see hardly at all, such as ehrlichiosis.
Vaccinations are something that I have now done dozens of since joining and the key points to remember are a) everything gets vaccinated against everything each year, so no two year this or staggered vaccination patterns. Basically the authorities have decreed that dogs and cats are to be fully boosted each year, including against rabies, which does make choosing which vaccines to give much simpler. In order to get their annual Municipality tag, which is effectively a registration and must be worn on a collar at all times, they have to have a readable microchip, so every animal is scanned, and then a valid rabies vaccination. We can then issue new tags in house. We actually have a few clients who visit us from outside of Dubai, such as Abu Dhabi or Al Ain, and so they don’t require a tag. It’s only animals local to Dubai that are required to have one.
With cats, the same principles apply as do in the UK, in as much as pure house cats are not routinely given FeLV vaccine, but any cats that do venture out are strongly advised to have the vaccination, as we see a lot of FeLV/ FIV positives here. The cats just seem to be a whole lot more feisty and have serious attitude, so the fact that FIV is rife comes as no surprise to be honest. In fact, the new challenge, it seems, is to remain cat scratch or bite free each day. I had one vaccination consultation where the cat was fine, albeit with very gentle and calm handling, right up until the third and final injection, when it literally switched and went feral on me, scratching me but thankfully not landing a teeth shot. Although getting bitten by a cat must suck anywhere, it’s more of a pain here as any of the antibiotics or, God forbid, hospital treatment that would invariably be required ends up coming out of your own, private pocket, as there is no NHS here and we are not covered by any work-provided health insurance. Personally I think it would be fair for any ‘work related’ injuries that require treatment to be covered by the clinic, but that’s not the deal so its extra important to take care. Even the kittens here are little savages, and I had one spirited little stray to jab the other day, which made for a real challenge – good luck rehoming that one!
In terms of the species split, its fairly even on the dog versus cat front, with the odd small furry and rabbit thrown in for good measure, much as back home. I’ve seen a couple of rabbits in my first two weeks, the first unfortunately requiring euthanasia as a result of being really badly affected by psoroptic mange, to the point that it’s paws were all thickened and crusty, and it had small facial abscesses where it had been scratching itself. It was also ridiculously thin and clearly wasn’t going to handle the pretty intensive treatment that was needed in order to try and resolve the issue. In the UK, all we would do in such cases is some ivermectin spot-on, with it clearing quite easily. Not so in Dubai, where mange seems to have some oomph and rabbits need systemic ivermectin, anaesthetic to bathe and remove the crusts and scabs, antibiotics to manage the skin infection, and ongoing regular treatment, often with a poor outcome anyway. Diet, as ever, is another issue for rabbits here, with the same poor understanding about optimal rabbit nutrition being prevalent as it is anywhere. There’s no reason why we can’t change that though.
So, you’ve had some insight into the professional side of things here in Dubai. Now comes a story that may make you laugh, or possibly scowl disapprovingly. Either way I would like to point out that it was in no way intentional and will not, repeat not, be happening again.
Ok, so last Monday I was invited out by one of our clients, Simon, who had kindly offered to give me the low down on Dubai given as I am a newbie in town. He had an extra ticket to an exclusive wine tasting being held at Hotel H, one of the many fancy and swanky hotels here in Dubes and so, after a (typically) manic day at work, whereby I didn’t actually think I was going to get away on time for the event, I dived in a cab as it screeched up to the clinic and the two of us darted for the venue. A quick splash of water to the face at the hotel was the best I could do to try and mask the fact that I probably still smelt faintly of ‘animals’, and off to the hotel restaurant it was to meet our host and other guests for the tasting. This will give you some notion of how small a town Dubai actually is: the host for the event and the very first person we met was none other than my friend Majid’s friend, Laurent, who I had literally met for the first time the previous evening! I recalled him telling me that he was in events and marketing and so, here I was, able to see first-hand exactly what he was talking about. The company he works with, Lime & Tonic, are a specialist events company who host really cool, unique events – I recommend checking out their site, especially as they have a presence all over the world. The format for the evening was that we were going to sample about six different wines, from a number of locations and all selected by Hotel H’s gifted new sommelier, Valentino Minotti. In fact, we were handed rather large glasses of incredible sparkling wine as we arrived, and these were kept topped up in expert fashion. Before I knew what was happening, we were being presented with an incredible Merlot, and all before we had even officially started the event. I think you can guess where this story is heading….
Fast forward a brilliant evening with some incredible wines, equally delicious food and some riotously fun people, including a guy and girl from MyDubaiMyCity, a couple of Aussies and a Brit, who has been over here for a number of years and writes a great blog of her own, Debbie. I do have recollections of Simon leaving and in hindsight that should have been my cue to do the same. All I can say is that my brain must have just been in full-blown holiday mode, given that I am still adjusting to the reality of the fact that I actually now LIVE here, and so going home didn’t seem like it needed to be done. Anyway, eventually we left, hopped in a taxi that went via TECOM to drop Debbie off and then to my place in the Springs. I do remember being sick, checking that my alarm was set for 6am and then, well, then it went blank. That was until I woke to the sound of my phone ringing and the sight on the screen of a) the time (0905!!!!) and b) the caller (my boss!!!!). I was awake at that point! I could not believe that I had allowed such a thing to happen, and less than a week into a new job too. Needless to say, I couldn’t apologise enough, leaped into a shower and then found a taxi to whisk me to work over an hour late and feeling like my brain was trying to peel itself away from my skull. If you have never suffered a hangover in the heat then you haven’t really experienced the full force of a hangover, full stop. The only other time I felt like that, albeit that time it was a tad worse, was in Ibiza during my final year holiday with my original year of vets. I remember waking up feeling the desperate need for water but at the same time feeling too decrepid and ‘in pain’ to haul my carcass up in order to go downstairs to the shop to buy some, as you had to do due to the tap water being pretty much unpotable. So now, here I was, being taxied in to do a full day’s work at a busy clinic, in a country where alcohol is tolerated behind closed doors but where it is illegal to be ‘drunk in public,’ and where it is not unheard of for taxi drivers to take offence at people who are clearly drunk and promptly drive them to the nearest police station. Not my proudest moment!
All I could do was just keep my head down, do my job and accept the huge avalanche of ridicule and ribbing that inevitably poured my way. Thankfully, I actually felt pretty normal by the early afternoon, and even managed a 32km cycle at the purpose built Nad al Sheba track that evening. I was granted a pass for this, my first offence, and it was very gracious of Malcolm and Monique to see the funny side in it all, although I assured them numerous times that it was totally out of character and not something that would be happening again. In fact, I think the lessons to take home are that a) I definately can’t handle my drink (already knew that) and b) it is a bad, bad idea to do anything that involves alcohol on a ‘school night.’ In all seriousness, the law on drink driving here is very clear: zero tolerance, and even though I knew not to drive the next morning, there is always the danger that there may still be traces in the blood the following evening, with even a trace marking you as instantly guilty. As such, I think I can envisage my contact with alcohol to be limited to the odd one or two beers and only ever on a weekend. If at all.
On the subject of driving, that is one thing that demands some serious attention here in Dubai. The roads are very similar to the system employed in the States, and my journey to work and, well, anywhere really, involves traveling on the six lane monster of a highway that is the E11, or the Sheikh Zayed Highway, which runs the length of the UAE west coast, linking Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Although there are clearly marked speed limits on all roads, very few people seem to ever stick to them and it is a bit of a free for all on the roads, with lots of tail-gating, flashing of lights, beeping of horns and swerving in and out of spaces, with undertaking a given. In fact the journey to and from work each evening is an adventure all in itself. One thing that it takes a lot of self-discipline to avoid doing is gesturing at bad, or rude, drivers, such as those who speed up behind you and flash their lights for you to get out of the way. I will be the first to admit that in the UK, if I had someone do that to me when I was in the fast lane doing a decent speed, then I usually just sat there and, if they persisted in flashing or beeping, they would then get a flipping of the proverbial bird, which if anything always manages to make me feel better about the whole unfortunate interaction. Not so here as gesturing in any way to another driver that could be perceived by that person to be offensive is illegal and can land you in hot water, regardless of the circumstances. As such, it is just best to ignore the idiot behind you, signal to pull over out of their way and let them speed off on their merry little way. The problem is that I am now not even sure if it’s ok to wave in order to thank someone on the road, for the fear that any gesture could be construed as insulting. As such, I have become more of an active head nodder, which I don’t think you can get into trouble for(?).
The working days here are very long, with 8am starts and finishes of 7pm, or often later. Granted, if we get the morning’s ops and consults done by 1pm we can theoretically have a little under 2 hours off for lunch, but its rare that happens, as anyone in practice will be able to attest to. As such, by the end of the working week I am finding myself feeling pretty cream crackered. This may be one reason why I ended up feeling a little under the weather this week, as I suspect the mild fatigue just added to the challenges my immune system is having adjusting to the new food, water and environment in general. There’s a whole world of new bugs out there to start getting used to, and that fact seems to have conspired against me a little over the past few days. Either that or I am having one of my classic reactions to Subway sandwiches?! (we had really nice sandwiches provided at our CPD evening the other day, which was run by Dr Rachel Ballantyne, with the talk being on Eukanuba urinary diets and urinary crystals). I have no idea what it is (all psychosomatic i’m sure) but every time I eat at Subway I always end up feeling ill. I just can’t explain it. Weird.
Thankfully, the fatigue and general feeling of malaise hasn’t impinged on my weekend too much and I got out for a kitesurfing lesson yesterday afternoon, which was awesome. The beach on which the lesson took place happened to be hosting a kitesurfing competition which, despite making it a bit crowded, especially when added to by the legions of sunbathers who chose to put themselves at risk by soaking up the rays on a kitesurfing beach, looked amazing. The sight of scores of colourful power kites and their boarders speeding off, set against the backdrop of azure blue seas and the view of the Burj al Arab made for quite a fantastic view. The lesson itself ended up being more of a refresher of the course I took in Wales back in August, and we went over safe kite handling on land before progressing on to body dragging in the water. Before I knew it, two hours was over and it was time to pack up the kite, with thoughts heading forward to the next lesson in a week (wind permitting), in which the plan is to get out on the board. That is one of the major advantages of living and working out here: the great weather, which means that fun, outdoor recreational activities like kitesurfing and skydiving are serious options. This fact means that working a busy, hectic week is way more tolerable, as you know you’re going to get some serious fun in at the weekend. My instructor was a guy called Craig, who is originally a joiner from the Isle of Man, who came over to Dubai with his wife and did his instructors’ qualifications, meaning that his office is now the beach. Not a bad way to earn a living, something he’ll be the first to admit.
The other great thing I managed to do yesterday was get hold of some tickets to go and see Metallica, who are due to play in Abu Dhabi in April, and who I have been eager to see for a long while now. Thankfully, it seems the only gigs that really sell out quickly here are pop, such as Justin Bieber, which means that unless you leave it right to the last minute there is none of the usual desperate panic to get concert tickets that you get back home. And no touts as far as I can tell. Which is awesome as touts really are a scurge on the music and entertainment industry. The tickets had sold out online but it seems that if you have the get-up and go enough to head to any of the Virgin Megastores, such as the one in the colossally huge Dubai Mall, then they normally have plenty of tickets, as was the case this time. Roll on April!
Talking of Abu Dhabi, today was a bit of a bind to be honest. I had planned to head down nice and early to watch a load of friends, and some people from work, compete in the big triathlon, as well as do some big star spotting. In fact, I was up at 5am and in the car super early only to be met the other end of an hour’s drive by road closures, no signs or directions and, most annoyingly of all, blank looks from the very same people closing the roads. At one point they ushered me through a set of cones and I had the uneasy feeling that they had directed me onto the course and so had visions of being met by a hoard of disgruntled cyclists. Instead, I just had to admit defeat and turn the car around, heading straight back to Dubai. The upside is that I now know where the concert venue is. Oh, and Ikea 🙂 So, no triathlon but it has given me a day at home to catch up on the writing, so not a major drag then.
Anyway, that’s pretty much it for this week. Until the next exciting installment….