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How old habits need to change

I have an odd obsession.

If I clean something, like the laundry, it really upsets me if it gets mixed back up with dirty washing. I’m the same with clean crockery and dirty. 

I wonder if this is a consequence of being a surgeon. There is an important principle of surgery that once you are scrubbed up you cannot touch anything that has not been sterilised. And the rest of the team who are unscrubbed cannot touch anything that is sterile. In this way we keep the drapes and equipment free from germs, reducing the risk of surgical site infection.

But I wasn’t always so obsessive.

In our first year at the Vet School in Cambridge anatomy was an important subject to be studied. We started with the bones, muscles and nerves of the forelimb of the dog.

Now, this can theoretically be learnt from pictures and text books. But for surgeons-to-be the recognised best way to learn was by dissecting a preserved specimen.

I distinctly remember our first sight of the dissection laboratory. Well, it was more the first smell. We approached as a group, all wearing pristine white lab coats, down a long dull corridor. Those at front opened the double swing doors, letting loose a strong odour of formalin. There was a visible pause, as each student found the personal courage to enter such a foul smelling place in our first week at Uni.

Our sessions involved three or four students taking it in turns to attempt to identify and separate various muscles on our shared specimen. We were loosely supervised by a bow-tied, pipe smoking professor and some more senior students. The smell of formalin remained, and there was a lot of waiting around for a turn.

Eventually, we discovered that the office next to the anatomy lab was occupied by a secretary who was running a quiet line in confectionary. It became the norm to eat Mars bars or other chocolate whilst perched on a stool in the lab, waiting for a turn to embarrass ourselves. I cannot imagine now how we did it, but that’s how adapted we became to our unpleasant surroundings.

If you’ve been meaning to sign up for a pet first aid course, our next ones are coming up in March. Go to themewesvets.co.uk/events to find out how inexpensive and valuable they are

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