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Posts Tagged ‘Veterinary school’

I was educated about food-borne diseases and public health in veterinary school. We learned how to identify potential problems and how to prevent them because veterinarians play an important role in protecting our food supply. Food poisoning was something that happened to other people, not me and not my family.

Wrong! I have no recollection of hearing anything about Campylobacter sp. back when I was in veterinary school, it must have had a different name back in those long ago days. Now, however, I know a lot about Campylobacter jujuni and coli, the two most common causes of diarrheal illness in the U.S., estimated to affect more than a million people each year, mostly during the summer months.

Two to five days after exposure vulnerable people experience severe diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, with or without fever, nausea, vomiting, nice eh? The symptoms usually last about a week and most commonly resolve themselves without treatment, except when they don’t. Exposure is most commonly from infected poultry or produce but can occur from unpasteurized dairy products, contaminated water or foodstuffs and even from contact with feces from an infected pet.  Back in 2011 an agency of the U.S. government purchased raw chicken from a wide variety of grocery stores across the country. They tested those samples and found 47% were positive for the bacteria. That is a scary statistic.

Because I thought I just had a case of intestinal flu I treated myself with several commonly used antidiarrheal agents. After five days I had lost twenty-five pounds and there was no improvement in the severe diarrhea. On the sixth day I was feeling too weak to drive myself.  My son responded to my call for help and drove me to the ER.

I was severely dehydrated.  After the blood work was completed the ER physician estimated I was down to ten percent or less kidney function and in acute renal failure. Three days of hospitalization, intravenous fluids and treatment for the bacterial culprit brought me around, but it was a close call. Another day or two and I would have been a candidate for kidney dialysis, maybe permanently.

The lesson learned is that at my reasonably advanced age any illness can turn serious. I am old enough to be vulnerable, to a lot of things.  The problem is I don’t feel any different than I did when I was fifty or even forty and still think I can respond to illnesses as I did then by ignoring them.

During my hospital ordeal Charlize spent three days with my son’s family. Since she rejoined me she has been unusually aware and sensitive to me. She frequently comes over to check on me, sticks close by and is insistent about being petted. Dogs can smell things like uremia and my blood urea nitrogen, one of the kidney function parameters, is still slightly above the normal range. Charlize senses that all is not normal with me.

I have no idea what I ate or got into that resulted in this problem. I hadn’t handled or cooked any poultry product for several weeks prior and Charlize wasn’t showing any signs of a digestive disturbance so it wasn’t exposure to her feces. The only thing I can think of was that I ate a lot of cherries shortly before feeling the first effects of the food poisoning. I washed them, as I always do with fruit, but maybe not well enough. There is some evidence that ordinary rinsing with cold water may not be enough to wash off Campylobacter.

Anyhow for people of an age you are vulnerable, be aware! Pets are also susceptible to this type of food poisoning, usually from infected raw poultry, enough said about that. More than two days of non-responsive diarrhea and you, or your pet, need to be seen and your stool tested for this, or some other equally dangerous culprit. Dehydration and kidney failure are serious issues.

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My friends Don and Susie were in Phoenix to attend the High School graduation of one of their grandsons, a life cycle event not to be missed. While they were gone Charlize and I made the six hour drive to Denver to revisit old friends and spend some time in the Mile High city.

This spring was late in coming to the eastern slope and western plains, late snows and cold. It’s past mid-May and the trees are just starting to leaf out and the grass was just starting to green up and grow on Pass Ranch. In Denver the tulips were spreading their splashes of color and the peony buds were ripening. Bright red-orange poppies were common in the front gardens of the neighborhood of the friend with whom I am staying. The brick house, a craftsman built in the early 1900’s, the original owner, legend says, was a gangster, is only a block away from Cheeseman Park. The park has lots of grass, lots of trees around the border, lots of open space and lots of dogs walking their servants. (I presume those folks walking behind with bags of poop previously deposited by the dogs are servants, what else could they be?) Sadly there is no off leash area for the dogs. Charlize was OK with the place but it wasn’t Pass Ranch.

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I decided to cook. I had been mooching off friends for long enough. I prepared the dinner that Rosalie and I saved for special occasions; my “famous” veal chops Marsala with a breadcrumb topping, braised with shallots and mushrooms then baked. It will be accompanied by spinach pasta with ricotta, Parmesan reggiano cheese and butter mixture and roasted fresh asparagus. My friend Charley, written about previously, brought the wine. Rosalie always baked something special for these events and she was awesome with pies, especially if we had fresh rhubarb in the garden. I don’t bake so I wimped out and purchased a nice looking peach tart at Tony’s. It will be OK but not the same.

Everyone who came knew Rosalie. The friend I stayed with is a talker and brilliant at controlling conversations. The conversation was quickly redirected when tears came to my eyes.

I still miss her, especially at night. Sleeping alone in a king sized bed after over fifty-two years with a partner is still difficult. I doubt I will ever get used to it, but the days are getting easier. Charlize continues to stay close to me, wherever I go, day and night and she still gets me up each morning with her cold nose. If I don’t get up immediately she puts a paw on the mattress close to my face. That elicits an irritated response from me, no dogs allowed on the furniture and especially not on the bed, but it has the effect she desires, I’m up.

While out and about, walking with some of my Denver friends, I glanced in a storefront window as we trouped past. All of us were dressed like the old people we are. All the men were in flannel shirts, jeans and walking shoes, in my case, hiking boots to support my arthritic ankle. The women were dressed in loose fitting pants in a variety of dark colors and coordinated pull over tops. All of us were overweight, to a greater or lesser degree and all of us were limping, but from different causes; knees, hips, ankles and/or backs. One person was pushing a walker, got the picture yet? Last week another of our veterinary school classmates passed away. What a mess life is! The good news is that we can still get around. We still can drink a little wine, enjoy good food and enjoy old friends and laugh. God we do laugh, about shared memories and the sorry state of a world in which we are no longer the movers and shakers, if we ever were. Laughing about our aches and pains seems to lessen them. I have a feeling that when we can no longer laugh the whole thing is over with.

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IMG_0092 Taken on the road to Denver.

While driving in San Diego, Phoenix, and now in Denver I can hear my own voice speaking aloud, but it is as though I am out of body, away but close enough to hear clearly. I’m just another old geezer, complaining that everything has changed and not for the better. All this growth is not progress, or is it?

I have a good friend in Denver, actually in Littleton. His name is also Charley but without the weird spelling. I’ve known him since 1954. We were on the swimming team at what was then Colorado A & M and became Colorado State University while we were still in attendance. On road trips we were roommates. We also both got into veterinary school the same year so we are classmates as well. As I said, good friends, but how did we ever get this old?

Charlize and I arrived in Denver and spent three days and nights with Charley and his wonderful wife Jean. It was therapeutic. Charley is a natural politician. He remembers names. Names of those he meets, names of their spouses, names of their kids and he actually cares when he asks how they are all doing. During my stay we never went anyplace where he didn’t run into several people he knew and he always took the time to greet them. In every restaurant we went into the cute young servers and host or hostesses knew him by sight and came over to give him a hug and greet him and he immediately connected with each of them. I know he works hard at it, but the true gift is that he cares enough to do it. Charley’s grandfather was the king maker in Colorado politics in the 1930’s and 40’s, maybe longer. I guess that’s where my friend comes by this talent.

I woke up very early on the day we left Denver, well ahead of the predicted snowstorm. We were on the road by 4:30 am. It was very comfortable driving after the three-day hiatus so we pressed on all day and into the evening, avoiding the storm by driving north and west. We arrived at the home of another classmate in Nampa, Idaho about eight in the evening. A long satisfying day and Charlize and I were warmly welcomed. We spent the evening and more than half the next day visiting and catching up. All of these friends had just seen Rosalie the previous October and were surprised and saddened by her passing. She put up such a brave front when we were last all together.

Both Charley and my Nampa classmate, Lionel, built hugely successful equine veterinary practices that have now been taken over by veterinarians that they originally hired as associates then taken in as partners. Both of the practices provide specialized veterinary care for their own clients and for many referred to them by other veterinarians.

I am very proud of all of my classmates. They have made significant contributions to society and to the profession. At least six of us ended up in academia, teaching the next generations of veterinarians, Charley was president of the AAEP, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and another classmate was president of the AVMA, many served at presidents of their local AVMA chapters and went on to more responsible positions at the regional level. All those who went into practice were successful and provided professional and state-of-the-art veterinary care for their patients and their clients. How on earth did we all get so damn old?

When I questioned them about this, none of us think we feel or think differently than we did just out of school. We all have the aches and pains and most of us are gimping around. The revelation is looking in the mirror.

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We stopped in Salinas and spent the afternoon and evening with a veterinary school classmate and his significant other. I’ve known him since 1956 and we’ve probably spent time together less than half a dozen times since we graduated in 1960 but conversation flowed easily enough. He lost his wife to cancer a few years ago so there was empathy for our shared experience, but we didn’t dwell on it.

Several of our veterinary school classmates were Korean War veterans, most of them married, some with children, living in a Veterans Village of Quonset huts and going to school on the GI bill. Sometimes the people, as represented by our government, do something right for everyone.

In those days not only the students were close, the wives formed an auxiliary group and made close friends amongst the other wives. Shared experiences in difficult financial times but with a better future in the offing.

Many of those wives remained close, kept in touch over the years. My experience is that the female of our species is much more efficient, determined and relentless in that pursuit. When we had our fiftieth year class reunion the widow of one of our classmates attended to be with old friends. Two lonely, still grieving people met again and made a connection. They found common interests and now spend some of the year at her home in Nebraska and some of it at his in Salinas California, interspersed with travel for pleasure and enlightenment. I would call them a cute couple but that’s too cloy. They are comfortable together, not afraid to talk and reminisce about their prior lives with their well-loved spouses. Their children and grandchildren are all happy that the couple found each other. They look good, they now look younger than me, and I wish them long and happy times together.

Wolfe and Steinbeck had it correct though, you can’t go back and resume a past life, a past home, a past friendship. As our lives progress we create new lives, new homes, new friendships and the people of our past cannot relate, nor can we relate to their changes.

The three of us talked of our families and listened politely, but with wandering interest, to the achievements of our offspring. After an uninterrupted six hours of sleep in Frog we continued our conversation over breakfast, but I was on a schedule for this part of my journey. My son and his family had set aside time for me in their hectic life and I had to get down the road. Goodbyes come easier for me now, not so important as they once were. Perhaps we will spend time together again before our time is up, perhaps not. If we do find our lives come together again we will pick up comfortably but will be careful to make our time together short enough so the desire to meet, and talk, and catch-up remains.

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