Friday, July 11, 2008

Moments of My Life - Part 7

The second year was actually our real DVM year. Here we were first exposed to veterinary subjects like anatomy, physiology, pathology, animal nutrition, and genetics.

I was very excited with the courses offered for I now knew that there would be any more mathematics and physics to deal with.

I especially like veterinary pathology and anatomy. They gave me the feeling that at last I was on my way to become a veterinarian.

At first Veterinary anatomy was frightening to me. Just imagine having to remember all those fancy sounding Latin names of muscles, arteries, and parts of the brain.

However, Dr. Menon was a good and effective as a lecturer. He was so practical in the way he lectured. He stressed the importance of anatomy in relation to other subjects that we were going to take later in our course, subjects like surgery, medicine, and pathology.

Not long after its introduction, I began to like anatomy. For the practical class, we were divided into groups. Each group was given a formalinized calf cadaver to work on for the entire semester.

It was just interesting to know that the most tender and juiciest piece of muscle was the Longissimus dorsi and the muscles used for chasing away those irritating and blood-sucking flies were the Cutaneous truncii.

I could not helped it but burst into laughter whenever I remember an anatomy question in one monthly test. The question was: A car was speeding with a speed of 70 km per hour. A cow was crossing the road. The car's brake did not work and so the car crashed into the cow's face. With that kind of speed, how many upper incisors were knocked off?

Every body was flabbergasted. What kind of question was it? Nobody answered that 'tough' question.

After the test, everyone rushed to see Dr. Menon expecting for an answer. He was just smiling. There were no incisors knocked off! Cattle did not have upper incisors!

In pathology, I remember well my first necropsy case. It was a Friesian cow found dead in the University's dairy farm.

I was doing the necropsy all by myself for the first time. At one stage, while opening the cow's heart, Dr. Sheikh Omar reminded me that it was only a necropsy, not a surgery and for that I did not have to be too careful in incising the right ventricle of the heart.

Opening the cow's brain was another job that I found very difficult. I only managed to remove the brain, almost intact, from the cranium after a very close supervision by him.

It was a happy moment just to see the brain slid away perfectly out of the cranium straight onto my hand. Half of the brain was immersed in a plastic jar containing 10% phosphate buffered formalin for histopathological evaluation, and the other half in the tray for bacteriology.

The cow was finally diagnosed suffering from necrohemorrhagic endometritis that finally brought about its death due to overwhelming septicemia and disseminated intravascular coagulation.

With the first necropsy, I began to love pathology throughout my days as a veterinary student.

One day I was, for several times, surprised by hungry bedbugs going after my blood through the skin of my belly. Catching a few of them when they were busy feasting on my blood, I was puzzled of their origin. Where did they come from?

Then I decided to do some detective works. I took off my T-shirt and lay down on the bed and waited. Not very long after that I saw a few young bedbugs crawling out of the buckle head my leather belt.

"Aha! I caught you," I cried aloud as I crushed them against the floor. I then removed the belt from my blue jean and started dismantling the buckle head.

Within the crevices of the leather belt I saw hundreds of them, eggs, babies, and adults living in the cozy joint!

Being a great hater of blood-sucking insects, I instinctively caught and crushed them against the rough concrete floor of the room. The sounds produced as they were crushed were like music to my ears.

The noises of me going into battle with the irritating bedbugs brought a few curious friends into the room.

Until now, I did not have any idea of the origin of the bedbugs. The belt was something special to me as it was specially designed with a purse-like space all through its length. I could easily place a thousand ringgits in it without anyone noticing.

What I did not like too much about my course was the semester break practical. While others were enjoying their holidays, we veterinary students had to rough it out in an isolated farm somewhere, doing, most of the times, manual works that I personally thought of little use in our professional lives. Be it in poultry, dairy, beef cattle, and pig farms, our works were mainly cleaning sheds, collecting eggs, milking, feeding and very rarely performing real hardcore veterinary works, especially during our first three years.

It was still clear in my mind how useless it was when we had to, day after day, clean the dairy barns for the entire six weeks.

Once I was assigned to help in poultry processing in Kuala Pilah. It was quite exciting to be involved in poultry processing. A middle age lady poultry processor taught me a lot in the correct techniques of cleaning chickens.

She also showed me how to cure hypertension. She swallowed a full gall bladder of a chicken raw in one gulp.

According to her bile was good for her hypertension. I did not believe her. Throughout that practical session, we were housed in an empty quarters at the District Veterinary office.

We all had to sleep on the hard and cold concrete floor, with old newspapers as our mattress. Norwati, a beautiful sympathetic girl next door gracefully offered us a few pieces of mengkuang mats and pillows to sleep on.

However, I was lucky to have missed my practical duty in a pig farm in Bukit Pelanduk. As I was busy cleaning my clothes, all ready for the trip to Bukit Pelanduk, suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my gastric area.

As sudden as the pain came, I also, out of a sudden, began to vomit. Then I slowly lied down on my bed thinking back what had I eaten during the last hour or so.

I was thinking that most probably I was having food poisoning. I then called one of my floor-mates and asked him to call an ambulance as the pain was getting worst with the passing time.

I was rushed to Kajang district hospital. The medical assistant diagnosed me as a victim of acute gastritis.

I was prescribed the milk of magnesia, the cure for gastritis. I did not really believe that he was right.

After dinner, the pain was becoming more and more unbearable and it also seemed to have moved to my lower right abdomen.

"Ah! It must be appendicitis!"

Once again, this time it was with the help of Captain Ibrahim, a warden who happened to know me when I was his student in swimming lesson, I was rushed to Kajang District hospital.

Just by looking at my already toxemic state, the attending doctor then ordered me straight to Kuala Lumpur General Hospital.

I was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and I was to be operated on that very night.

Realizing that I was all alone in the hospital, I walked to the nearest police corner in the hospital and asked the officer there to send a message to my father telling him about my surgery that night.

At first he was a bit reluctant. After telling him that I was the son of a police sergeant, he immediately agreed to send a message to my father.

I was ready for the surgery. I had donned the surgery gown, just waiting for a barber to shave off all the body hairs that were not supposed to be there when they started to open up my abdomen.

I was told that once the job was one of the duties of the nurses. I could not imagine how it would be if it was still so.

However, the barber did not show up. So, my emergency surgery was postponed to an unconfirmed date. I was rather mad at the predicament I was in.

Being a third year DVM student, I was no more a quiet little boy I used to be when I was hospitalized in the same hospital for breaking my knees long ago, I protested the matter to one of the doctors there.

"What if my infected appendix were to rupture tonight?"

I was operated on very early next morning. I was right after all. The appendix had indeed ruptured, releasing its toxic content into my peritoneal cavity.

They had to put up a draining tube into my peritoneal cavity and flush it regularly for a few days.

My father arrived besides my bed just when I was just getting out of the effect of the general anesthesia.

He later told me that he was surprised to see that so many student nurses surrounding my bed. Jokingly he then added that perhaps I did not really need him for I was already in very good hands.

A funny thing happened when the nurses were pulling away the last few inches of the draining tube from my body, just before I was discharged. As the last part of the tube was pulled free, my mesenteric fat was also pulled out through the small incision.

"Hey! Be careful. That was a part of me you are pulling!"

Everybody there laughed at my joke. Saying thanks for their wonderful services, I bid farewell to the doctors and nurses as I made my way to the taxi stand going back to the campus.

In campus, I quickly packed my things and headed for home. I was lucky I guessed. I did not have to go to Bukit Pelanduk for my pig practical.

My relationship to the nurses did not end just like that, but it continued on for several months through letters.

There was one student nurse that I was particularly close. She was Siti Aminah Man from Sungai Petani Kedah. She and I continued our relationship through letters.

Our correspondence came to an abrupt halt when she told me that her family had arranged for her marriage to a man from her village. After that, not wanting to disturb her engagement, I stopped writing to her.

However her letters still came to me in the campus for quite a while. She finally stopped writing when I did not answer any of her letters.

It was not that easy to ignore her beautifully worded letters, but I just had to let our friendship fade into a corner of my memory.

Though it had been many years now, the memories of how well she and her friends looked after me when I was in the hospital still lingered on in a very special little corner of my memories.

The fourth and fifth years of my study were the most interesting and challenging for me. In these two years, we were exposed to more clinical, medicine, and surgery courses.

Compared to foreign veterinary students, we were lucky in the sense that we could perform surgery even in the fourth year, whereas for them, they would only be able to do so after they graduated!

We were exposed to a wide variety of surgical procedures from a simple as wound repair to as delicate a surgery as the hemi-laminectomy. We even did a bone pinning in a dog with a fractured femur.

Dr. Rashid was very helpful in teaching us all the right techniques in small animal surgery. I particularly remember an incident in the surgery with Dr. Brandenburg.

We were performing a cryptorchidectomy on a huge boar. Suddenly the pig turned blue. Dr. Brandenburg immediately asked us to perform the mouth to nostrils resuscitation.

Of course no one of us obeyed him. It was just too disgusting and dirty for us to put our mouth on the pig's nostrils.

Losing his temper, he had to do it himself. He was on his knees trying to revive the cyanotic pig. But it was too late. The pig died on us.

My first surgery was an ovariohysterectomy on Lucy, an Alsatian. It was the favourite dog of the final year students. The surgery went smoothly just as planned, without any glitches. The dog was all right after it recovered from the anaesthesia.

But came the third day post-surgery I noticed that there was something wrong with her. She had a temperature and became anorexic all of a sudden.

After examining it, a lecturer noticed that the incision line did not heal well. Then he realized that I had wrongly sutured the subcutaneous fat together with the skin.

They thought that my mistake was probably the cause. I felt really bad. Her condition deteriorated fast. On the sixth day she died.

Later they found out that she did not die because of my suturing faults. She died of babesiosis. I was greatly relieved of the great news. I was not at fault after all.

Then there was this very sick elephant brought in from somewhere for our care. He had lost almost 100 kg in weight! That was more than my weight.

After carrying out a thorough clinical examination, we found the cause – a bad tooth! Besides the bad tooth, the elephant was also suffering from a bad abscess next to the scapula.

The elephant was probably suffering from so much pain from the bad tooth that it had lost the ability to chew on its foods. Then Dr. Jainudeen decided to fill up the hole in the tooth.

First we had to anaesthetize the animal. Feeling the effects of the anaesthetic, the elephant fell down. But it was on the wrong side, the bad tooth was. Repositioning the elephant to our desired position required the strength of many of us.

We then cleaned the badly decaying tooth and later filled the hole with a kind of dental filling. I was not sure what it was, but I guessed it was more of a cement-like mixture.

A few weeks later it regained its health and began putting on weight. The abscess was lanced, the pus cleared and the cavity was flushed with iodine.

For the clinics, we were assigned duties in both the small and large animal hospitals. Besides treating the animal patients, we veterinarians were also responsible for looking after the patient owners too.

I remember an incident that I thought I would never forget for a long time. It was a case involving an old dog with textbook signs of terminal renal failure – terrible oral ulcers, smell of ammonia, and high blood urea nitrogen. In layman\'s term, both of its kidneys were badly damaged; they were beyond repair.

As soon as I told her that the dogs were beyond help and we had to put it to sleep just to prevent it from prolonged suffering, she immediately went down on her knees and began to cry openly. We were startled.

It was our first experience meeting a Malay dog owner crying like that. I slowly approached her granddaughter to know the reason why she was crying like that.

Then she told me the story from beginning. First her husband and she were just a small a class G contractor.

One day a stray dog came to their house. He looked hungry and so they fed him. From then on, the dog just stayed on around his house and behaved as if he was their dog.

Shortly after that their fortune changed. They were successful in getting projects after projects and not long after that, they became successful class A contractor.

A few weeks before the dog fell seriously sick, they left for a long holiday in Europe. The dog was left in the care of their close friend.

When they came home, the dog was already very sick. They now believed that they were wrong to leave the dog like what they had done.

They felt so guilty that they said that it was their fault that the dog was in that condition. They thought that they had been ungrateful human beings. Then only I began to understand why an old Muslim lady like her behaved that way.

It was more than just because of an old dog had been put to sleep, but I thought that it was more of a feeling of guilt for abandoning her very dear old friend.

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