Although I am enjoying the Safari Vet School series, and it always cool to see vets getting airtime – especially prime time – I do feel compelled to pull ITV up on a couple of, what may seem trivial, points. The first is in response to the opening lines, “Amakhala Game Reserve is home to one of the most demanding vet schools in the world.” The course the students are on is NOT a “vet school,” and the show should really be careful with how it uses the term. The second point is in response to the statement, “the course forms part of the vital work-experience the students need to qualify as vets.” It is more accurate to say that the course CAN form part of students’ EMS, but that students don’t have to do it in order to qualify, which is the impression the show does give. The fact is that most vet students simply would not be able to participate in the course, which in spite of the fantastic conservation work that is done and the incredible role the course plays in promoting conservation, does cost a lot of money to take part in. Most vet students will and do complete all of their EMS prior to graduation in the UK. Pedantic points perhaps but worth just clarifying I think.
One other thing…
It has been interesting to see the contrast between the two sets of students, although I must say that it does feel like we’re simply seeing the same show repeated, as they are doing effectively the same things as the previous group we followed: giraffe capture; mass capture of a herd using the funnel system etc. As such, I do wonder whether the show could have actually been a few episodes shorter than it has been(?). Controversial view perhaps. I also wanted to offer a note to any students reading this who feel that they wouldn’t be able to get the same experience from their more ‘pedestrian’ UK based work experience: you can and will. The excitement of herding sheep, or a herd of cows in Wales can easily match that of herding wild safari herbivores, with the same level of danger and adrenaline being provided. If you have ever been faced with a cow that has spotted a gap and you’re the only one standing between them breaking free and staying put then you’ll understand. Although it is amazing to have the chance to get that level of excitement and animal contact in a more exotic location and setting, the fact is that you will be able to experience similar levels of adrenaline and satisfaction right here.
Stress: a vet’s permanent companion
The main theme seemed to be ‘the stress of being in charge,’ with the pressures of leading a team in a high pressure situation where time is of the essence and lives are at risk being explored. The students were involved in the tense activity of capturing Giraffe which, as we saw in a previous episode, carries a high level of risk to the animal, especially if the vet does not administer the sedative antidote in time. Any vet who has been in the situation where a genuine emergency (eg a dog that has been rushed in after being hit by a car) has occurred will know the surge of stress and excitement that accompanies such a situation. It is all too easy to lose your head in such scenarios as you are expected to think fast and act rapidly. The added pressure of being in charge of directing a team adds to the pressure cooker of emotions that can result. I have been in many situations where I could feel myself starting to freeze like a rabbit in headlamps and hear my thoughts go from a steady, ordered, organised set of signals to a random fuzz of static. The key, however, is to realise that you can, and should, take a moment – and that’s all you really need – to gather yourself as it is only once you are in control of your own thoughts that you can take control of the emergency and keep everyone else focused and effective. As a vet, even a newly qualified one, you possess all of the skills and knowledge to apply basic first-level emergency care to a patient. These basics don’t really change regardless of the emergency and are obvious when you think about it:
1. Is there any bleeding and if yes, is it both possible and safe to halt, or at the least reduce it, immediately? For example, if there is a large wound to the neck and significant bleeding from the area, rapid application of a pressure dressing would be appropriate. After all, a patient who has bled out is not really going to be bothered that you haven’t detected and dealt with it’s fractured leg straight away. Because it will be dead.
Rapid access to a vein, and starting on fluids to support the animal’s circulatory system is another thing that, if you think about it, makes immediate sense. The rate and other factors can easily be adjusted once the animal is more comfortable and stable, but at least you will have intravenous (i/v) access and thus be in more control.
2. Is the animal in pain? Probably yes. Would giving decent pain relief straight away be a good idea? Again, probably yes. The likelihood is that the animal that is wildly thrashing about in a frantic panic, thus making the entire scene ten times more dramatic than it could be, suddenly becomes calmer and thus easier to more fully assess. I, for one, would want my doctor to get some decent analgesia into me long before he starts messing around with my busted leg! In fact, if they didn’t then I would probably bite them, so we can’t really blame our patients for doing the same.
3. Is the animal having trouble breathing? Can you give it oxygen safely? Yes? Well do it! Either put the animal in an oxygen cage (these can even be ‘mocked up’ with the use of a kennel, or carrier, and roll of cling-film) or apply a mask to deliver oxygen enriched air to the patient. Is the animal unconscious? If so then getting control over it’s airway by placing an endotracheal tube would be the thing to do. Again, once you have control of the basics then you can pause, reassess and adjust the plan accordingly.
So, the key point really that I am trying to make is that it is all too easy to get caught up in the stress and excitement of an emergency situation and forget that you do actually know what to do, at the very least, to stabilise your patient. Oh, and one thing to remember at this point: in spite of all your best efforts and pulling out a textbook Super Vet act, some patients will die on you. Fact. Although every one is a shock and hurts, it is a fact of being a vet and something we have to accept and be able to move on from.