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When the Classroom and the Real World Collide

One of the greatest aspects of my Texas A&M DVM curriculum is the incorporation of real world cases and live animals starting right out of the gate first year.  I will grant that there are long segments when I don't see anything but books, but that is just the way it has to be.  If you don't understand the fundamentals behind what you see in the clinic, there is no way to make sense of a case and to determine the most appropriate course of action.  In the end, we all wish we had more hands-on experience sooner, but I do know that we have way more opportunities here at A&M than many of our colleagues at other institutions. 

With all of that being said, no hands-on example or book case can prepare you for a truly "real world" case.  I came face to face with what I consider my first case when Lauren and I noticed my dog, Shorty, had a sudden onset case of neuropathy.  I will explain what that means in a minute, but first a little bit about Mr. Shorty.  Lauren and I had a pet rabbit, Spike, for many years.  He was one cool rabbit.  Unfortunately last fall, he became acutely paralyzed due to some sort of vertebral disease either caused by a parasite, cancer, or a fungal infection.  We made the decision that the most humane thing to do was to euthanize Spike.  Enter Shorty. 

Lauren and I have known Shorty for quite sometime.  Actually, he was born at my parents' house five years ago. On his way from Amarillo to College Station to live with a new family, Shorty became quite car-sick, and I ended up stopping at my good friend, Lauren's, house on the way.  (Little did I know that was the future Mrs. Joe Pluhar, but I digress.)  Lauren's dad, a DVM, looked over Shorty and made sure he was fit to continue travelling.  The family in College Station decided they couldn't handle a puppy so Shorty and his brother made the trip back to Rockwall to live at Lauren's parents' house.  That is where he lived for the next four years.   

After Spike passed, Lauren and I offered to take Shorty for a while.  See, he and Cowboy have a terrible habit of barking at all of Dr. Stevenson's clients, most of whom are cats.  Needless to say, Lauren's dad wanted to see if there was a way to make his clinic a little quieter.  Well, we brought Shorty down last fall and he has been here ever since.  Shorty is a miniature brown Australian Shepherd.  He is the absolutely perfect apartment dog.  He cuddles whenever we sit on the couch, he perfectly matches my chair, and he rarely makes a peep.  He has truly brought joy to Lauren's and my life.  We would do anything for him. 

Well, since me last blog, that sentiment was put to the test.  We were sitting on the couch with Shorty in between.  When out of nowhere, Shorty let out a blood-curdling scream and froze.  My mind raced to action when Shorty let out another scream.  I quickly moved Shorty, carefully, to the floor where I began a quick physical exam.  Nothing seemed to be wrong except he wouldn't straighten out his back, but it didn't seem to hurt to the touch.  After he let out his fourth scream, we were off to the A&M Small Animal Hospital.  At this point it was nearing midnight.  All along the way, my mind raced through every derivation of what could possibly be wrong.  I only did a very small cursory exam, but my guess was some sort of spinal cord injury somewhere near the base of his neck, but I didn't know and wasn't going to trust my two years of vet school knowledge. 

When we arrived at A&M, the intern quickly worked Shorty up and performed a neuro-exam.  This is a special type of physical exam aimed at diagnosing suspected nervous system problems.  The goal of a neuro-exam is to narrow down the problem to a specific set of nerves, part of the spinal cord, or portion of the brain.  After performing the exam with some of the fourth-year students, the intern determined that Shorty had some sort of issue in the C6 - T2 area of the spinal cord.  That is from the 6th Cervical, or neck, vertebrae to the 2nd Thoracic, or chest, vertebrae.  In other words, at the base of Shorty's neck.  I had gotten the location right! 

Now the most amazing thing was that during the exam, Shorty's condition improved.  He walked a little cautiously, but other than that he was normal.  The A&M vet put Shorty on an anti-flammatory in case there was swelling in the spinal cord and a mild pain reducer.  After less than a week, Shorty was completely 100%.  He has had zero other incidents of neuropathy.  (All neuropathy means is a disease of the nervous system.)  We still don't know what happened, but everything seems to be fine now.   

I had always wondered whether I would be able to sort through a real problem, on a real time table, with real consequences on the line.  My school training worked.  Now, I wouldn't be qualified to determine exactly what drugs or surgeries Shorty might need, but I still have two years of school left.  I know I will be fine when I graduate, and my classmates will be too.  Thank you to all of my professors