The programme is called The Highland Vet and follows the animal adventures of farmers, pet owners and veterinary surgeons in Thurso, in the very north of Scotland. Thurso is a bleak but beautiful part of the world and I am reminded of the time I spent there whenever I see the trailers or the promotional posts on social media for this new series.
Veterinary students need to spend many weeks during the university holidays “seeing practice” with a vet, in order to learn crucial practical skills. As an energetic vet student, my plan was always to find the best, busiest and most enthusiastic practices in which to do this.
I’d learnt a lot at busy vets in York, Skipton and Wetherby and I had spent weeks in Gloucestershire following cattle vets around and watching them insert their gloved arm inside hundreds of cows. I’d even flown to Philadelphia Vet School to embark on an externship in the veterinary ER. Had I accepted the job offered to me at the end of my tenure there, my life would have been very different.
But I didn’t and, having made that decision, a career based in the UK beckoned. After my final student placement at McGregor and Partners, Thurso, I was offered a temporary job, to cover the tail end of the calving season and to help with holiday cover.
Of course, despite its huge distance from friends and family, I accepted without hesitation because this was an excellent place to cut my veterinary teeth and a wonderful part of the world to explore for a few months.
In a wild and beautiful place, my learning curve was as exponential as the use of this word recently. Hungrily, I gathered new skills and soaked up experience and knowledge like an absorbent sponge. I made mistakes and had some near misses, some of which still give me nightmares. Others I’ve managed to expunge. The first, memorable mistake I made could easily have been unmemorable, because it left me confused and concussed with a temporarily damaged brain.
The well-aimed kick from the left hind foot of a cow so wild that she could only be captured by lasso, left me reeling, dazed and upside down in a dirty pile of straw. I’d optimis-tically attempted to take a sample of peritoneal fluid from this apparently poorly cow.
The patient had only recently experienced human beings, as she had spent almost all her life roaming the rough fells of Caithness. In retrospect, introducing a long and wide-bore needle into her abdominal cavity, however carefully I tried to do so, was a crazy idea.
The throbbing head and blurred vision lasted for several days and even put me off imbibing whisky at the weekend ceilidh. Indeed, the very fact I was at a ceilidh at all was a sign that my cognitive process was severely traumatised – I usually avoid organised dancing like the plague!
Fortunately, I recovered uneventfully and threw myself back into the life and culture of Caithness, having learnt a healthy regard for the fast-moving feet of bad-tempered Caithness cattle.
My recollections and memories of that unique place are too many to be described here, although another time I might regale readers with the story of the case that I thought signalled the end my veterinary career when it had only just begun.
The Highland Vet continues on Channel 5 on Tuesday evenings at 7pm.