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Memorable Firsts

Dr Natalie Mollett graduated from Murdoch University School of Veterinary Studies in 1988. After many years in mixed practice in rural areas across Australia, she met the farmer of her dreams and settled down in the South Coast of Western Australia. She now works for a local Veterinary Practice and runs a small animal branch practice for them. When not working as a Vet, she is a mother to three children and office manager/farm labourer on their 11,000 acre cropping enterprise in Jerdacuttup.

It’s quite a few years and miles down the road now since I first graduated from vet school. What a great journey it has been. Several of my friends’ children are now studying at vet school and it takes me back to those wild days. Fifth year was terrific and exciting and full of anxiety over those final exams… all except one of us made it through. Then it was back to the beginning and a time of firsts.

A 450km journey north from home, and I bounced into a share flat with some family friends. Up at the crack of dawn and off to work at the local rural vet clinic. My boss was also a Murdoch graduate, and his mum had started up this rural practice way back when it was really unusual for a woman to be a graduate vet. She had some fabulous stories to tell of her early days – the first general anaesthetic on a local racehorse had the whole equine community out to observe with a drink and a smoke in each hand. They sabotaged her by feeding the horse a packet of cream crackers when her back was turned and it dropped like a stone when she gave it the chloroform. She was my guiding light in those early days, what she had managed to get through with few resources and very little support made my job seem a breeze.

My first morning at work showed that there was to be no gentle breaking in period for this new grad. The waiting room was full, Marjorie had one consult room and I had the other. What was my first consultation as a fully qualified vet going to be? What wonderful cure was I to perform today? A gentle well groomed young lady walked into my consult room with a large fluffy Persian cat snuggled into a cat carrier. She placed him on the table and looked at me quietly. Well, I said, what have we here? What has your beautiful cat been up to? Nothing, she said. Has he been unwell? No. Oh, is he here for his annual vaccination then? No. Um, well how can I help you today then? At this, she burst into tears. They didn’t tell us anything about this at vet school! Apparently, she had just been divorced and her husband had custody of the cat. She was desperately worried that he wasn’t looking after the cat, so she was here for a general check-up. I put my counselling hat on, gave a worm tablet to the incredibly healthy cat and out the door they went to my very friendly receptionist all ready to sympathise with this poor girl.

And the day proceeded to get even stranger. My consult room door opened to the corridor and Marjorie’s door opened directly opposite. As I took my next (easy) case in – dog for annual vaccination, Marjorie ushered a very large truckie with a pet rabbit through her door. I was halfway through auscultating the chest (my check-ups took quite a while as I worked my way through a mental checklist drummed into us by Dr Sue at MUVH when a huge crash reverberated through the consult room. I rushed to open my door to see the enormous truckie unconscious against the corridor wall. Seems Marjorie was explaining his rabbit would need surgery for a fractured femur and when she went to show him the limb, the big burly 15 stone man fainted clean out through her doorway into mine! Seems the tough ones really have the softest hearts after all.

Three hours later and morning consults were over. My incredibly talented and patient vet nurse Carmel took me through to surgery. (Note to all new grads – treasure your nurses, they will look after you and teach you everything you need to know). We went through the list on the board. Some speys, some cat bite abscesses and a fractured femur. Carmel thought we could get a couple of cat bite abscesses done before lunch, clean everything up and then we would be ready for an afternoon of sterile surgeries. This seemed a bit strange to me, thinking dirty surgeries last, but Carmel reckoned the good strong smell of pus got her juices flowing so she was good and hungry for lunch! Righto then… didn’t do much for my appetite.

Lunch over, into surgery. Speys went well, whew I breathed a sigh of relief. Time for the fractured femur. My boss Richard came in, we put the Piermatti Atlas in a cookery book holder on the surgery table next to mine, and we went through the procedure. Richard assured me he would be close by in case I needed assistance. Orthopaedic kit in the surgical boiler (no autoclaving yet) and IV anaesthetic taped in (no gaseous anaesthesia in my first days!), then surgical site prepped and draped. First incision made, a bit of blunt dissection and I think I will get my boss to check in on me. But apparently, he has ducked out to see a colic. Bloody typical as I was to find out later, if Richard could be anywhere near a horse he would be, smallies was not his first preference! But Carmel to the rescue – her words of wisdom – yep that looks just like how Richard does it. And the patient survived and healed really well. Later on, I noticed a sign taped to the wall: “A surgeon is someone who has no faith in nature’s ability to heal before intervention, but ultimate faith in nature’s ability to heal after surgery.” How true.

And with all our wonderful advances in anaesthetics, surgical techniques and pain relieving medication, not a lot has changed in my world of veterinary medicine these days. Still a lot of our healing is kind words to clients, good hands on medicine and excellent care from the vet nurses. So this article is dedicated to the tribe of wonderful vet nurses who have looked after me and all my patients over the years. Thanks.

DISCLAIMER: The above information is for guidance purposes only. Vetlink takes no responsibility for the accuracy of the information, which is not intended as advice.