Dr David Allen's Baptism of Fire - 'Veterinarian style'

Written By Dr David Allen

Working at our large 13-vet practice in the centre of Launceston is a far cry from my first job as a veterinarian more than 25 years ago. 

Back in 1993 I was a fresh-faced city boy enjoying the challenges of working as a 'mixed vet' in Gippsland. 'Mixed' means we did everything, but mainly dairy and beef cattle, dogs, horses and cats. 

I was one of three vets in the practice, the other two were the bosses. 

The farmers knew me as 'Someone', because invariably when farmers rang the clinic for a vet to help a cow calving in a ditch during a thunderstorm, one of the bosses would tell them that “Someone will be out shortly”. 

But I loved it and for a young vet it was a great job, getting to put into practice all the things I had learnt at university.

One memorable weekend I was working alone and started at 6am driving from farm to farm pulling out calves from cows, or giving calcium to cows that couldn’t stand because they had 'milk fever'. 

After each job I rang the clinic and listened to the messages on the answering machine to find out where I would go next. 

In between farm visits I would drive back to the clinic to meet people who lived in the district and see their sick dogs and cats. 

This particular weekend we had a very sick kelpie staying in the clinic because he had parvovirus, a horrible, often fatal, disease producing bloody diarrhoea.

The veterinary clinic was run out of a converted Federation house, in which I lived rent free (it seemed like a good idea at the time). 

The isolation kennel for infectious diseases like parvo was a cage resting over the bathtub in my bathroom.

It was about 10pm by the time I had finished all the calls to the farms. Exhausted I drove back to the clinic (home), looking forward to having a hot shower to clean all the mud, blood and poo that had found its way onto me during the day. 

Opening the bathroom door I was greeted by the last thing I wanted to see, a sorry-looking dog in a cage covered with bloody diarrhoea and vomit. 

Not surprisingly with parvo, the diarrhoea was everywhere in my bathroom as well. 

Resignedly, I cleaned out the cage and the bathroom, putting fresh bedding in for the night. 

Finally, I could have that shower! Just as I was about to step into the shower, out of the corner of my eye I saw the kelpie raise his tail about to christen his new bedding. 

“Noooo!” I yelled. 

There was only one thing a desperate vet could do.

Naked, I lifted the dog and held him in the shower while his diarrhoea mixed with the mud and poo coming off me.

Now, every time we have a sick dog in our isolation ward I think back to that kelpie (who survived by the way) and am thankful that was the one and only time I showered with a dog.