I can’t help wondering if it was always my destiny to become a veterinary surgeon.
Even at primary boarding school, I hung around the house-matron when I had heard there was a splinter to be removed.
She would make a start on the unfortunate, using a sterile needle and a pair of tweezers. She was a young adult, who filled a whole corridor with her presence, or so it seemed to us. Not the tallest of our teachers, with dark curly hair and glasses, we admired the way she could rest her ample chest on the table in front of her at mealtimes and still manage to find her food.
Sometimes her probings would be successful. I would be there to reassure the patient.
But occasionally she would admit defeat, and offer the tweezers to me. I loved working out the direction of penetration, which end was shallowest, occasionally making a gentle incision with the very tip of the needle to allow better access, and eventually the triumph of complete success!
This has evolved into my professional life as a tremendous satisfaction to lance a ‘good’ abscess. I laugh when I discover that many of my colleagues in the profession share this passion, although others adore cleaning out a mucky ear, whilst others still wax lyrical about a ‘good’ foreign body removal. I suppose we all have our favourites!
An abscess is a body’s way of ‘walling-off’ an infection. Germs may penetrate with a splinter, bite wound or perhaps a thorn. They fester and multiply, creating pus. The unfortunate patient mounts an immune response, including a fast-developing ‘wall’ around the infected area.
Sometimes the immune system settles the problem down, sometimes it fails and septicaemia and death may follow. And quite often, as this is going on, the abscess bursts, releasing the foul smelling infection onto the surface, and helping the pet to feel a lot better.
If I catch an abscess just as it is preparing to burst, I can release the pressure with a quick slash of my blade, and bathe away all the problem, resulting in a much happier patient. A very gratifying, if rather smelly procedure!