So, at the beginning of last year I decided to supplement my pathetic student income by getting an out of hours job at a local practice. This seemed like the ideal situation for earning a bit of cash on the side and I’d been assured I could do it alongside my veterinary degree. In fact, I figured it may actually be useful getting to grips with some of the emergency care I’d be doing myself in two short years. I really do enjoy my out of hours job, but like the rest of vet-school, I haven’t managed to undertake it without a few mishaps and interesting tales, so here is what I’ve learned while working out of hours …….

I have answered the phone mid-wee…..

One major dilemma I have found whilst working as an out of hours nurse is that the phone always rings at the most inconvenient time; I have been brushing my teeth, eating my dinner, taking a dog outside amongst many other inopportune moments. By far the most alarming of these was when I was sat on the toilet in the process of having a wee and I found myself having to make the snap decision whether to answer the phone and hope the client could not hear the background water works, or hope that I could wrap up my bodily functions quick enough to answer it anyway.

I have spent many toilet trips tangled in drip lines…..

I have discovered that dogs are the most awkward creatures to take out for a wee, they won’t go outside but then relieve themselves immediately as they come back in on my freshly mopped floor, they try to do a runner the minute they get out the door – paying no mind to the fact you are attached to them on the end of two leads and sometimes with a drip bag in tow. A number of times I’ve had to take the entire drip bag wrapped intricately around myself and the dog so it doesn’t get tripped over or weed on because I can’t for the life of me get the attachment to come off.

I have likely been caught on CCTV singing……

A few weeks into my out of hours job, to my horror I realised there were security cameras in the practice. These have now most likely caught me dancing and singing with the mop and hoover and often chuntering to myself about life and cursing untidy vets – I really hope they don’t choose to review the footage of my first few shifts…..that would be embarrassing.

I am now a semi-professional cat wrestler…

The job has made me become less of a wuss with cats – let’s face it you wouldn’t be sane if you enjoyed sticking your hand in with a hissing spitting furball of teeth and claws that is issuing its battle cry at you. There is nothing that can strike the fear of God into most people than an angry cat, and when they are ill and shoved in a cage at the vets, this is often their default setting. However, I have become a lot braver dealing with them now, so clearly being thrown in at the deep end with angry cats was definitely the way to go for me!

I definitely make life harder for myself…..

I without fail manage to make life harder for myself in the small hours when I’m meant to have the 5 minute job of giving an animal it’s meds – the most depressing of which was when I opened the cupboard and the whole tub of cotton buds jumped out and scattered all over the practice floor at 4 AM– my sleep deprived little self could have cried and I did throw out a number of colourful phrases whilst crawling around on the floor cleaning up after myself.

I have also woken up with pen on my face, hand, arm and smeared down one thigh thanks to unwittingly falling asleep with a biro in my pocket which promptly leaked everywhere. After several rounds of furious scrubbing, I still looked like a smurf when doing my hand-over the day vet.

It is by no means a glamorous job….

One incident which really sticks in my head involved a large, playful ridgeback with a cast which doubled as a battering ram. He refused to poo outside despite multiple attempts and coaxing and during the night he decided to go in his kennel. He then preceded to smear it up the walls, all over his bedding and on himself for good measure. At 6 AM when I tried to tackle his dirty protest he excitedly decided shitty paws and all to bounce all over me….. Not the start anyone wants to their morning!

I have mistaken my boss for a burglar…..

It can be quite creepy being alone in the practice by yourself – this is made even more creepy when your boss takes it upon himself to start doing home improvements at gone 11 o’clock – I always make myself feel better by assuring myself that no burglar in their right mind would make as much noise as he does installing cupboards!

I have questioned my maternal nature….

One of my most recent shifts has put me off having children for quite some time. I had to play adoptive mum to 4-week-old puppies. Now I can tell you’re all thinking this sounds like the best job ever, looking after little fluffy bundles of cuteness, I thought so too…..it’s not. I came back after a night of no sleep covered in poo, wee, milk replacer and slobber. The puppies were constantly discontented no matter what was happening to them and objected bitterly to being picked up and fed (which they usually expressed by pooing or weeing on my leg).  Feeding was also a challenge as they rejected the foreign rubber object stubbornly and I ended up getting more milk on me than into the puppies. It’s safe to say I can most definitely wait to have children!

I have had a few unfortunate events…..

If you do a job long enough, things are bound to go wrong eventually, my major mishaps so far have been (I can’t believe I’m admitting this) with animal escapes….. The first incident was a beagle which I unwittingly released in my sleep deprived state at 4 AM when I managed to get the blanket trapped in the kennel door which then bounced open at some point when I’d merrily taken myself back to bed. I found him at 6 AM after a panicked run-around, in the laboratory mid-poo. I was thankful I found him unscathed, but more thankful I found the poo as that would have definitely been a difficult one to explain to the day staff!

And a few more…..

I also had the misfortune to be witness to another (rather successful) escape attempt, this time by a cat, who to make the situation even better, was so angry I was told not to interact with him during my shift. Now I feel I was held responsible for the escape of the cat, though since the escaped dog incident a few weeks before I had been incredibly vigilant with kennel doors (and in this cat’s case, due to his particularly ferocious nature, had done as instructed and not even opened up the kennel!). However, I felt it was not the best time to admit the ‘lab-poo incident’ as I would have had a whole lot more explaining to do! Now in case any of you experience this, a cat escape is way worse than a dog escape, dogs are pretty much stuck on the ground while cats can find any open window or hole in the back of a cupboard to hide in and completely vanish. It took 3 of us two and a half hours to locate our angry little friend who had flattened himself behind the u-bend in the customer toilet, just as we were about to call the boss to bring his tool kit to begin dismantling all the cupboard units. This is not an experience I would like to repeat in a hurry!

So… I haven’t been fired (yet) and have completed almost a year of shifts relatively unscathed and remain not too put off by my experience working out of hours. To all you vet students who are considering earning a bit of extra cash while studying, there are certainly more glamorous job options, however, for the experience of how to keep your head in an emergency, I couldn’t recommend it enough!

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