BEVA member Susan Salter shares her experiences over the last week and her personal perspective on the impact of COVID-19 on her and her work as an equine vet.
I write this piece in the hopes that it will give you an informative overview of a very unusual week, one which reflects the weeks to come. This week has taught me that we as veterinarians can achieve our goals but that at the moment we must achieve them in a different way with more extreme measures of biosecurity in mind.
On Friday 13th of March (ironically) it became evident to me that our industry would have to take smart action in order to manage our part in a potential human pandemic while maintaining client satisfaction and confidence.
With the thoroughbred breeding season well underway and the threat of an inevitable outbreak looming, I sparked conversations with equine vet friends who work in northern Italy and the Italian part of Switzerland. On Friday 13th of March this pandemic had not yet become a reality in the British Isles but conversations with my friends in Italy and Switzerland allowed me to understand that a new reality was just around the corner.
In the light of COVID-19, I feel that we have a social , professional and moral responsibility for the health and welfare of our clients and their immediate community as well as their animals. We have a responsibility directly and indirectly for the health and welfare of our colleagues and our own immediate circle of loved ones. Veterinarian or not ; we are all responsible for each others loved ones, especially the older and vulnerable ones in the face of this pandemic. As veterinarians we are lucky to be very well trained in all aspects of biosecurity. We all remember those hand washing , gloving and gowning practicals!
To all humans; we are all potential silent carriers. So, on Saturday 14th of March I called all of my clients and explained that today I would be turning up to work and immediately practicing social distancing, hand sanitising before and after each visit and wearing gloves which would be changed before and after each visit. I also explained that I would now be doing my work with a surgical mask on which would be changed between visits. I asked for the areas that we work in to remain well ventilated with all doors in and out left open. I openly discussed known health vulnerabilities amongst clients and their staff and told those people that I wanted them to talk to me from the other side of the yard! I organised boiler suits which I now wash every day after work. One farm now washes a boiler suit for me to wear on their farm each day and in general everyone has been really helpful ! Some farms have organised foot baths for all visitors which I duly use to dip my boots in before commencing work and once I am finished. Some might think that this is overkill but I just think that it is responsible and it doesn't cost anything to introduce some extra simple habits.
I have got to say that all of my clients have been utterly brilliant and after Saturday and Sunday they were leading by example. We were all proud of our proactivity. Normally staff on farms like to help the veterinarian by standing close by and holding the tail of the mare while the veterinarian scans the ovaries. Everyone understood that this could not happen and some invented different ways in order to continue helping me. One client tied some twine around the mares' tails and stood at the head with a mask on!
I have had regular contact with Francesca Caporelli who is an equine veterinarian leading by example in the Italian part of Switzerland. Francesca is a managing partner of "Equine Veterinary Services" in Lugano. She managed one of the first Lawsonia outbreaks in the South of England on a stud farm and was one of the first veterinarians to use the "Enterisol" vaccine (licences for pigs) in horses. She is well versed in practicing excellent biosecurity techniques. Francesca is still working through this pandemic. She practices social distancing with her clients while still getting the work done ... but in a different way. I called Francesca on Tuesday to give her an update and I enjoyed taking snapshots of her "practicing social distancing" between calls ; she was kayaking on Lake Lugano.
Over the course of this week I have managed to fuel and establish a conscious change in people's behaviours in order to protect their health while getting mares covered and maintaining great pregnancy rates on the stud farms. Clients are now taking their mares to stud but often staying in their trucks while stud hands take their mare off the trucks to visit the stallions. So many things can be done to "flatten the curve" which cost no-one anything only some extra thought. Goals are still being achieved but in a different way. I am not accepting any offers of a cup of coffee in any client kitchens but I have had some moments which I will never forget eg one client singing "From a distance" (**BADLY**) while giving me personal space to perform my work! Another one laughed and said "It won't be a problem for ME to shout at YOU from across the yard!" Humour has often dampened the gloom while we work together to coronavoid each other !
My aim is to see that my stud farms have lots of baby foals next season; sales toppers, Book 1 participants and stakes winners. We need to think ahead to when this is all over. I really hope that we can all adapt our behaviour to allow our great work to continue. It doesn't actually cost anything only some extra thought to maintain the biosecurity needed to muster through this pandemic. We are a community doing this together ; coronavoid each other !
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, Susan