vetsbeyondreason

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Mind Your Language

I am always happy to see my tax dollars at work printing expensive government brochures in exotic languages such as Tagalog, Vietnamese and Dinka, for people who can’t be bothered to learn the language of their adopted country. I would have thought that, as a matter of common sense or even self-defence, if I emigrated to a country the first thing I would do would be to learn the language, although I did meet an American who had been living in Costa Rica for five years and did not speak a word of Spanish. Personally I would prefer to see those tax dollars spent on English classes for migrants, such as my parents attended many years ago. I notice that none of these documents are presented in German but maybe that’s because the Germans feel they have caused enough trouble over recent years and actually make the effort to learn the language of their new country.

Who can blame the French for being upset that everyone expects them to speak English, even in their own country? Still, French linguistics does not easily lend itself to English pronunciation. Zoos seem to attract film crews and, on this particular occasion, we had a French one wandering about. At one stage of the shoot the director asked us to “put your turkey on the table”. Bemused, the keeper and I looked at each other and shook our heads. In the time honoured technique used by people the world over when the person you are talking to has no idea what you are saying, he repeated his request, only louder. “Put your turkey on the table!”

Exasperated, he finally pointed at the two way radios hanging from our belts, also known as walkie talkies. In French, the talkie obviously became a turkey.

Of course being completely ignorant of a language can have its advantages. Many years ago my wife and I spent over ten hours hiking through the jungle to a research facility situated in the Costa Rican rainforest. The day before we were due to hike out a small supply plane landed on the grass strip. Not being keen to repeat the arduous walk my wife asked about the possibility of being flown out instead. Being horrified by all forms of aerial transport I declined to join her, greatly preferring the walk, which turned out to be only six hours and gave us a wonderful encounter with a family of coatis foraging on the beach.

As the plane was in a rush to leave we hastily repacked, so that my wife took most of the heavy articles with her. Upon landing she boarded a bus bound for San Jose. The bus originated in Panama and had not yet passed its border check. Officials boarded the bus wanting to see everyone’s identification. My wife produced her passport only to be astonished to see a photo of me staring up at her. In our haste we had inadvertently swapped passports.

Speaking no Spanish whatsoever, my wife also feigned a complete lack of understanding regarding the gestures directed at her by the customs official, especially the one about coming back to his private office for further “discussion”. Fortunately the Costa Ricans are reasonably relaxed about such things (after all they have no army) and the customs official, realising today was not going to be his lucky day, eventually grew tired of the exercise and let my wife go. Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck, was obviously smiling on her that day.

To close, I am reminded of the recently retired American couple who decided to embark on a rail journey across North America. Some days into the trip the train pulled into a station. The wife asked her husband to enquire as to their whereabouts. He accosted the station master who replied, “Saskatoon, Saskatchewan”.

Upon returning to the cabin the wife asked expectantly, “Well, where are we?”

To which the husband replied, “I don’t know. They don’t speak English.”

Dr. F. Bunny

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Playing God

I find it intriguing that when certain groups of people don’t like something, like stem cell research or euthanasia, they deride it by saying the proponents are, “playing God”. This is presumably because the proposal is attempting to tamper with the “natural” order of things. What I don’t hear is very many people invoking the “playing God” concept when it is their own child with a broken bone that needs mending or a prescription of antibiotics for their own very sore throat. Surely every time a doctor does anything to alleviate suffering he is “playing God” by interfering with the natural course of events?

Personally, I don’t have a problem with this as I don’t see God joining in the game. It seems a bit churlish that, just because they are his toys and he refuses to play with them, we aren’t allowed to either.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Too Fit To Run

I ran my first (and probably last) marathon in October last year. About a month later I started getting heart palpitations. I have always thrown the odd palpitation and been assessed several times by cardiologists, as I have a family history of heart disease. No matter how many times they make me run up the vertical treadmill they have always failed to kill me.

However, the sporadic nature of these palpitations changed rather dramatically just before Christmas. Now I was getting them every day for most of the day. If you have never had a palpitation the feeling is quite hard to describe. It is a bit like a cross between having butterflies in your chest and going down a roller coaster or hitting a massive air pocket, only it is happening all the time. If I take my pulse I can feel the missed beats and irregularities that correlate with the butterflies. It is amazing that my heart can be bouncing around like that without producing any symptoms.

These particular palpitations went away with exercise, which seemed like a good excuse to run, run, run. Thanks to the shorter waiting times, because of my private health insurance, I only had to wait three months to see a cardiologist.

When I finally did darken his door he just waved the palpitations away as being inconsequential, because there were no accompanying symptoms. No exercise intolerance. No shortness of breath. No chest pain. Not completely inconsequential, however, because he warned me off any future marathons. 15 km was okay, 42.2 km was not. Apparently that amount of cardiac stress for that long tends to cause myocardial fibrosis, or scarring, which can then lead to potentially fatal arrhythmias (http://running.competitor.com/2012/06/news/how-much-running-is-bad-for-your-heart_54331, http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(12)00473-9/abstract). Happy news.

And he stuck a 24 hour monitor on me just to see what my heart was getting up to when no one was watching. Not much, it seems. While I am asleep, so is my heart. My sleeping heart rate dropped to as low as 27 beats per minute (60-80 is average) with up to six seconds between beats. Apparently this means I am either fit or have severe conduction issues that will need a pacemaker to sort out. Ironically the only way to decide is to make me unfit and see if anything changes.

So for the next six weeks I have been banned from running. He wanted to ban me from doing anything at all but I convinced him to let me keep going to the gym as long as I didn’t “do anything silly” as he put it. That’s two races I now have to miss, including chasing a historic steam train into the hills.

I must admit to having mixed feelings about the marathon ban. I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to put myself through all that training again anyway. However, the complete running ban is something different altogether. I can already feel my fast (and slow) twitch fibres getting twitchy.

And how confident can you be in the prognostications of a fat cardiologist? Isn’t obesity one of the key risk factors for heart disease? I half expected him to light up a Marlboro and start chewing on a lard sandwich.

Still, for the moment at least, the running ban is irrelevant as I smashed my back escaping from Eddie’s headlock at last Monday’s Krav Maga session. I have so much pain in my right thigh (referred presumably from my spine) and have taken so many different analgesics that even typing is a challenge at the moment.

The unbelievable irony of all this has not escaped me. Everything I read, see, and hear tells me to go out and exercise. Be active and I will live to 156. Having taken that advice I am now being told that I am too active, and possibly too fit and that I need to spend the next month sitting on the couch watching television. This could get very ugly before it is over.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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Fade To Black

“So Much For That”, the Lionel Shriver book I finished recently, featured a character who decided he had had enough and put a full stop to his life sentence, at least partly because of a botched penis lengthening procedure. It really was as silly as it sounds.

Being male he did it by putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger, splattering much of the contents of his head all over the family kitchen. This got me thinking that, no matter how miserable you are and no matter how bad you think your life is, spare a thought for those that will find your body and have to clean the mess up afterwards. If you choose to do it in your own home this will likely be one of your beloved family members. In this case it was his wife and daughter. Who wants the final image of their husband/father to be one of him lying on the kitchen floor with half his head missing, blood, brains and bone having sprayed everywhere? Do you know how hard it is to get blood out of curtains? Needless to say the wife refused to enter the kitchen ever again and wound up selling the house. But who wants to buy a house with a history like that? I can just imagine the new home owners finding a bit of skull under the fridge several months after moving in. So, if you must flush your life down the drain, at least have some consideration about how and where you do it.

Veterinarians have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession (1.54 times the average). I believe there are two reasons for this. I can’t say I am much of a Jeremy Clarkson fan but I believe he hit the nail on the head when he said that people become veterinarians because they have a love of and affinity for other species. They want to devote their lives to helping animals and mitigating suffering. Unfortunately a lot of that relief comes in the form of euthanasia. Don’t get me wrong. I would much rather euthanase a terminally ill, suffering animal than have it go through months of pain and anguish, the way we allow people to. But all that death takes its toll after a while. Years ago I spent six months working at the RSPCA. The number of cruelty cases I saw and the number of animals I had to euthanase, some quite healthy, simply because we had no room was almost enough to drive me to join them. While the RSPCA performs a vital function six months was more than enough for me.

The second reason is that if a veterinarian decides to end his life he will probably succeed. Veterinarians obviously have an excellent command of physiology and have all sorts of lethal drugs available, one of which is etorphine, an incredibly powerful anaesthetic used to immobilise animals like elephants and rhinos. It is rumoured that one scratch from a needle dipped in etorphine is enough to kill. The drug is rigidly controlled and only veterinarians working with these animals can gain access to it, but I did have a friend who used it to end his own life. He did it because of the aggressive bone cancer that was spreading up his leg, but his profession gave him access to the means.

Even regular veterinarians have shelves full of pentobarbitone, the drug of choice for euthanasing dogs and cats. I have heard more than one story of a veterinarian hooking himself up to an IV line, connecting the line to a bottle of pentobarbitone and then slowly going to sleep as the drug ran into his body. No doubt it is a very peaceful way to go.

The flipside of all this doom and gloom is that veterinary medicine also provides some pretty amazing highs. Seeing that falcon that came into the clinic with a broken wing fly off into the sunset is close to the top of my list, not mention the quoll with the really bad skin condition I saw recently that now appears to have made a miraculous recovery.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

Quoll without its skin condition

Quoll without its skin condition

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Turn Your Head And Cough

Socialized medicine seems like a pretty good idea to me and I cannot really understand why so many people are opposed to it. I recently finished a Lionel Shriver book entitled, “So Much For That”. One of the main characters is diagnosed with mesothelioma and, if the book is at all accurate about US health care, then it truly boggles the mind that one chemotherapy treatment could cost as much as $40,000! Who can afford that? And the idea that your place of employment should fund your health care also seems bizarre.

While the Australian system of Medicare is not perfect it certainly seems to work a lot better, based on the World Health Organisation’s Disability Adjusted Life Expectancy (a measure of the number of years of life expected to be lived in full health, or healthy life expectancy): http://search.who.int/search?q=disability+adjusted+life+expectancy+&ie=utf8&site=who&client=_en_r&proxystylesheet=_en_r&output=xml_no_dtd&oe=utf8&getfields=doctype&as_q=filetype:pdf . Using this index Australia comes in at number two (behind the Japanese), whereas the US pops up at number 24.

While I have no major complaints about Medicare the Australian government decided some years ago that it was tired of funding Australia’s health care and wanted the public to carry more of the burden i.e. take out more private health cover. Instead of using the carrot method by lauding the advantages of private health care they chose to use the stick method by fining tax payers an additional 1-1.5% of their incomes if they did not have private health insurance at the end of each tax year. And the longer you wait to take it out the more expensive the cover becomes.

I admit that private cover can be useful for things like dental and optical, as they are not covered by Medicare (why is beyond me. Don’t most of us have eyes and teeth?). Unfortunately being insured for those extras does not remove the surcharge. For that you need to take out full private cover, and what do you get for it? Virtually nothing.

Private health insurance is supposed to cut waiting lists. I still had to wait six weeks to see a cardiologist (lucky I wasn’t having a heart attack) and my son had to wait three months to see a wrist specialist. The private insurance covered none of these costs, leaving me $500 out of pocket after my son’s MRI and X-rays. Obviously the amount Medicare reimburses patients for a specialist consultation is based on what they were charging in the 1950s.

Apparently private health cover lets me choose my own doctor and hospital, but who has the background knowledge to decide between Sleep Apnoea Specialist A and Sleep Apnoea Specialist B? Don’t we just let our GP choose for us? And once I had my Sleep Apnoea Specialist he told me which hospital I would be visiting for my sleep test, a hospital that left me $800 out of pocket for one night’s stay.

Ironically, when I had my nose surgery that specialist did give me a choice of hospitals. I could wait three months and have the surgery in his nice inner city private hospital, which would still have left me hundreds of dollars out of pocket, or I could wait three months and go to the nice rural public hospital where the entire procedure would cost absolutely nothing, because it then fell under the Medicare umbrella. Needless to say I chose the room with the kangaroos grazing outside and the birds chirping merrily in the trees.  

I imagine they chirped so merrily because they weren’t being ripped off by private health insurance companies, backed by the government. Maybe it is really a three way conspiracy with the health funds in bed with the government and the accountants. Much as I would like to make it a four way conspiracy veterinarians, naively, appear to put their clients’ interests first. Instead of pushing for twice yearly check-ups veterinarians have discovered that their vaccinations work too well, only requiring boosters every three years, meaning that you don’t need to bring Rover or Puss in Boots back for a booster every year. How stupid is that?

Dr. F. Bunny

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Fred Grimm: Miami-Dade’s trap-neuter-release program utterly ignores science – Miami-Dade – MiamiHerald.com

Fred Grimm: Miami-Dade’s trap-neuter-release program utterly ignores science – Miami-Dade – MiamiHerald.com.

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Religious Slaughter II

John Blackwell, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, is to be congratulated for his call to make religious slaughter more humane (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britains-top-vet-sparks-controversy-with-call-for-ban-on-slashing-animals-throats-in-ritual-slaughters-for-halal-and-kosher-meat-products-9173258.html). 

There is no scientific reason why an animal should have its throat cut while fully conscious. As Dr. Blackwell rightly points out a sheep with its throat cut will remain conscious for seven seconds while cattle, which have an extra blood vessel in their spinal column, can remain conscious for up to two minutes. This practice was presumably instigated many moons ago to ensure meat was fresh. In this modern age such a justification is no longer applicable, and animal welfare concerns should take precedent over religious superstitions. The Danish recently managed to ban the slaughter of animals without prior stunning and it would be wonderful if the British followed suit.

Unfortunately, as soon as anything is suggested that a religious group does not like, such as banning religious slaughter or circumcision, they conveniently ignore the scientific reasons and start screaming about religious freedom. Why superstitious beliefs should take precedent over animal welfare is beyond me.

See also my post, “Religious Slaughter” written in 2011 in response to the Dutch banning the practice.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.” Lao tzu

Dr. F Bunny

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Giant, 30,000-Year-Old Virus Pithovirus sibericum Reborn From Siberian Permafrost

Pithovirus particles

French scientists say they have revived a giant but harmless virus that had been locked in the Siberian permafrost for more than 30,000 years.

Wakening the long-dormant virus serves as a warning that unknown pathogens entombed in frozen soil may be roused by global warming, they said.

The virus, Pithovirus sibericum, was found in a 30-metre-deep sample of permanently frozen soil taken from coastal tundra in Chukotka, near the East Siberia Sea, where the average annual temperature is -13.4 degrees Celsius.

The team thawed the virus and watched it replicate in a culture in a petri dish, where it infected a simple single-cell organism called an amoeba.

Radiocarbon dating of the soil sample found that vegetation grew there more than 30,000 years ago, a time when mammoths and Neanderthals walked the Earth, according to a paper published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

P. sibericum is, on the scale of viruses, a giant. It has 500 genes, whereas the influenza virus has only eight.

It is the first in a new category of viral whoppers, a family known as Megaviridae, alongside two other categories that already exist.

The virus gets its name from “pithos,” the ancient Greek word for a jar, as it comes in an amphora shape.

At 1.5 millionths of a metre, it is so big it can be seen through an optical microscope, rather than a more powerful electron microscope.

Unlike the flu virus, though, P. sibericum is harmless to humans and animals, and only infects a type of amoeba called Acanthamoeba, the researchers said (Virus as therapy? Some Acanthamoeba can cause pretty nasty neurological disease in snakes (and humans) FB).

The work shows that viruses can survive being locked up in the permafrost for extremely long periods, France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said in a press statement.

“It has important implications for public-health risks in connection with exploiting mineral or energy resources in Arctic Circle regions that are becoming more and more accessible through global warming,” it said.

“The revival of viruses that are considered to have been eradicated, such as the smallpox virus, whose replication process is similar to that of Pithovirus, is no longer limited to science fiction.

“The risk that this scenario could happen in real life has to be viewed realistically.”

AFP

 

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Accountable

“Counsellor: Mr Anchovy, you asked us to advise you which job in life you were best suited for.

Anchovy: That is correct, yes.

Counsellor: Well I now have the results here of the interviews and the aptitude tests that you took last week, and from them we’ve built up a pretty clear picture of the sort of person that you are. And I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the ideal job for you is chartered accountancy.

Anchovy: But I am a chartered accountant.

Counsellor: Jolly good. Well back to the office with you then.

Anchovy: No! No! No! You don’t understand. I’ve been a chartered accountant for the last twenty years. I want a new job. Something exciting that will let me live.

Counsellor: Well chartered accountancy is rather exciting isn’t it?

Anchovy: Exciting? No it’s not. It’s dull. Dull. Dull. My God it’s dull, it’s so desperately dull and tedious and stuffy and boring and des-per-ate-ly DULL.

Counsellor: Well, er, yes Mr Anchovy, but you see your report here says that you are an extremely dull person. You see, our experts describe you as an appallingly dull fellow, unimaginative, timid, lacking in initiative, spineless, easily dominated, no sense of humour, tedious company and irrepressibly drab and awful. And whereas in most professions these would be considerable drawbacks, in chartered accountancy they are a positive boon.”

Taken from Monty Python’s “The Vocational Guidance Counsellor” (http://www.montypython.net/scripts/vocation.php, or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azkFz1ZbXyU, if you want to watch the video). One of my favourites. The piece finishes with the concerned counsellor turning to the camera with a plea:

“Well this is just one of the all too many cases on our books of chartered accountancy. The only way that we can fight this terrible debilitating social disease, is by informing the general public of its consequences, by showing young people that it’s just not worth it. So, so please… give generously… to this address: The League for Fighting Chartered Accountancy, 55 Lincoln House, Basil Street, London, SW3.”

They certainly have my support.

I am convinced that Australian government policy is dictated by accountants. Life used to be simple. I went to work, had my hard earned pay arbitrarily deducted by the government and, once a year, filled in a form to make sure the government had not inadvertently taken too little money from me. That was it. I did not even need an accountant. Worst case scenario, if life became too complex, I would still only need an accountant once a year.

Well, the accountants didn’t like that because it left them with nothing to do for 11 months. I don’t imagine the indolence bothered them but it is hard to charge people for doing nothing (I will discuss private medical insurance next time). So, what brilliant convoluted plan did they come up with? If you are a salaried wage earner you are still relatively safe (but for how long?). However, if you have a business, watch out. Tax needs to be paid four times a year and it has to be paid in advance based on what the government thinks you might earn, as opposed to what you actually did earn.

If that wasn’t enough we now have the delightful Goods and Services Tax (GST), which has turned us all into tax collectors. GST is added to income. I have to save up all that GST and, every three months, forward the accumulated total to the government. Why the government can’t extract it directly but has to use me as a middle man is beyond me.

The good news is that all this complexity and confusion means the accountants are now busy year round, and don’t they charge for it. It baffles me that a person who spends his working life adding up numbers can charge twice what a person who mends broken bones, and diagnoses and treats life threatening diseases does. On top of their already exorbitant fee, my accountant (soon to be ex-accountant) also charges for the privilege of talking to me by email or phone. I did not, however, know this until I received my first bill. Even though they pride themselves on being a paperless office, all my bills still turn up in the mail, despite numerous pleas for electronic invoices. Never mind the “War and Peace” size, bound tax return they mail to me each year. After all the money I pay them they still put a disclaimer on their work telling me they have based their return on information I have provided and can’t be held accountable (pun intended) for any errors (which they certainly make enough of) or miscalculations and that I should be sure to check everything before I sign off on it. If I was in any position to check their work or understand their calculations I could do the bloody thing myself in the first place and not have to employ their vast army of incompetent bean counters for $200+ an hour.

$200 an hour! Jealous? You bet. That will teach me to fall asleep during maths.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Be A Sport

Two of the most over rated jobs in the world must be sports commentator and accountant. I’ll get to the accountants next time but, with the winter Olympics having recently ended, it seems prudent to take a look at the hallowed sports commentator who, presumably, is flown to the relevant sporting venue, put up in a hotel and paid a sum of money for us to hear their learned and informed opinions and, more importantly, predictions about the future. Unfortunately, despite the countless hours spent watching games (disguised as work), researching statistics and interviewing players, coaches and other hangers on they have no better idea about what’s happening than I do.

This was brought home to me in the bronze medal ice hockey game between USA and Finland. Almost no one gave Finland a chance to win this game. The USA would bounce back from their hard fought semi-final defeat against the Canadians and stroll away with the bronze. Easy. In fact, Finland won the game 5-0. I also thought the USA would win. Why aren’t I getting paid to fly to Russia to voice my opinion when it’s certainly no worse than those who are?

I can appreciate the valuable information about trades, injuries and other sporting news commentators impart but, when it comes to making predictions about future winners, be it ice hockey, AFL, soccer (I wonder how many picked Olympiacos to beat Manchester United in their latest Champion’s League game) or any other sport, they don’t seem to be any better at getting it right than anyone else. I suspect if I got my veterinary diagnoses wrong as often as their sporting predictions I would very quickly find myself out of a job.

Dr. F. Bunny

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