30 Days Talking to Animals

Picture taken by Glenn Daniels of the Wyndham Leader.

Name: Jessamy Alexander

Occupation: Vet

How we met: Jess is the ex-girlfriend of a friend of mine but long after they called it a day, we have remained friends. She’s done all sorts of interesting stuff like working on a Rabies control program in India for Vets Beyond Borders and is currently a Registrar of Small Animal General Practice at the University of Melbourne Veterinary Hospital, which means she works as a normal GP vet, but has students observing, assisting and working on cases with her.

Say G’day to Jess:

Sometime last year…

While at a national vet conference, the opportunity to be trained further in veterinary dentistry was presented to me. At first, I was a little uncertain. I have never seriously considered specialising – I like general practice. But the more I thought about it, the more I realise there is something rewarding about performing dentals. Ninety per cent of the time, the patients go home in less pain than they arrived in. Who doesn’t love instant rewards?

And I’d get to train in many areas – to repair facial fractures, oral tumours, orthodontics (yes, animals can wear braces) and endodontics (root canals are quite common).

It sounded like fun so I decide I was in. 

And so my regular Tuesday morning dentistry training sessions started.

Sometime last month…

People are often worried about what really happens when we take their animal “out the back” during a consult. Mostly it’s so we can get the job done faster and safer. Many pets are like young children – often badly behaved for their parents, but better behaved for the teacher.

My nurses are incredibly skilled, and we get the exams/treatments done quickly – sometimes before the animal has realised it! Mostly, though I take the animals out the back not because I am worried they are going to scream when I give them an injection – I am worried because their owners are!

Sometime last week…

On Wednesday a client presented with an old Jack Russell Terrier who had been off his food, vomiting and had diarrhoea on and off for four days. After another 24 hours and some convincing, she agreed to admit him for tests.

The convincing wasn’t because she didn’t care – she was terrified. Last year she lost one of her parents to cancer. Three weeks later her other parent was diagnosed with cancer, and died a few months later. Her daughter is currently ill. This little dog is the one she cuddles at night as she cries and tries to cope.

She’s right to be scared. It’s a type of malignant cancer, which has spread to multiple organs. After much discussion, we decide the best option is euthanasia.

Many people say this must be the worst part of my job. Mostly, it is. Sometimes, though, I’m grateful that we can farewell a beloved family member, without suffering, and with dignity.

By the time various family members had visited to say their goodbyes, I’d counselled the owners, and finally euthanased, it had been three hours. Once they left, I burst into tears. After a few minutes, I called the nurse in to look after the body. At the same time, 

I got a page from reception to contact a client about some routine bloods for their pet. I was too depleted to be chipper on the phone so decided to call them the next day. 

I went home and my fiancé cooked me dinner.

Sometime yesterday…

A big part of my job is teaching students. Their final year is “on the job” training. They have all the knowledge and just need to learn how to apply it practically. Some students start this year with excellent skills, while others still have much to learn.

As part of their training, the students start the consult, to practise their history taking and examination skills. They then present the case to the vet, who then reviews everything and initiates any treatments.

Two lovely students started one particular consultation and expressed concern about a cat’s heart. The beat is abnormal, but they have trouble describing the arrhythmia.

I go into the consult room, and auscultate the heart. 

The students have a long way to go before they graduate.

The cat is purring.



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