1) Learn where things are
Imagine the situation: a horse that has had a tie back procedure is starting to struggle with breathing. You know what is happening, because you’re a great final year vet student, and grab the vet to tell them the horse is beginning to suffocate due to an inflammatory response or obstruction. The vet runs down to the stall, praises you on your vigilance and then, just as you thought you’d proven yourself, they ask you to quickly get the tracheostomy kit. You are faced with one of three scenarios: a) the vet senses your panic as your eyes widen and you begin to internally recite the possible locations you have seen the same generic surgical packs; b) you set off from the stable as if you have some idea and purpose, but then 5 minutes later you are still wandering around the hospital in an attempt to find someone who has any clue where things are kept or c) you have listened to this advice and already know whether the emergency kits are kept and (if you’re very well prepared) the location of the vet nurses.
2) Watch out!
Remember you’re dealing with LARGE animals: they are big and bulky, weigh a lot and have a tendency to kick. A lack of sleep can slow the ninja-like reflexes needed to avoid teeth and feet, so either stand far back or really close to minimise any impact. Don’t act like a hero and try to inject a Belgium Blue bull IM in a large pen single-handed – you may think you can do it and look fantastic, but nobody looks good if they end up in A&E!
3) Help clean up
This will make you incredibly popular, especially with the vet nurses and yard staff. This usually makes them more inclined to let you do or see more in the hospitals. However, as a word of caution, watch the hosepipes and that you are holding them the right way round. As past experiences have taught me, spraying yourself in the face ruins any illusion of competence and makes you the butt of jokes for a good few days.
4) Take the essentials
Farm animals smell. Whilst in your ICU bubble and staying onsite, it may stop bothering you or you may even become immune to it. But trust me, they smell. And that means you will smell too. This is fine when surrounded by other vet students or staff, but take some strong shower gel and shampoo so that when you return to the real world people don’t avoid you on the bus home. Don’t forget things like sleeping bags and pillows if you are staying on-site too.
5) Take snacks
Large animal ICU always seems to be cold, so naturally you need to build up your fat reserves for the week with a healthy supply of the 3 Cs: chocolate, cookies and crisps. But seriously, you’ll always seem to be hungry and you may not have much time to nip to the shops to get more supplies, so stock up before you go.
Large animal ICU is tough and tiring but is definitely rewarding and worthwhile. Just keep your wits about you and nap when you can