Most people in any profession develop a preference for certain tools they frequently use. A software developer may have a certain type of wireless mouse that is a must-have, and many an administrative person has his or her favorite stapler, pen, and coffee mug. Vets are no different in this regard.


When I do a small amount of small animal work, I don’t think the things I carry are too different from an “everyday” small animal vet. I have my stethoscope around my neck, thermometer and pen in my pocket, and sometimes a spare leash and some milk bones (or at least milk bone crumbs). These items are a little different when I switch into the large animal realm.


For starters, when the coveralls go on and the white coat comes off, the stethoscope usually stays behind in the truck unless I’m performing an exam on a sick animal, of course. In most other situations, I don’t need a dangly thing hanging from my neck to either get damaged or damage me.


A pen and small notepad are vital in my zipped coverall pocket. I discovered this in vet school when I was coming home from the hospital with notes written all over my hand. On any given day in practice, I’ll have pages filled with animal IDs, to-do items, and dosage calculations. Which brings me to another vital pocket item: small calculator.


Converting pounds to kilograms and then from mg/kg to mg/mL is everyday math for all vets. Even simple calculations I will double-check on my calculator for fear of administering an incorrect dose.


The last vital item that I carry for large animal vet med is a small pocketknife. I learned this is a very important tool to have on hand in any barn way before I was a vet.


In high school, I worked one summer at a riding stable. Spending long days grooming and saddling horses for lessons and mucking stalls was good experience for me and one day I learned a valuable lesson.


At the stable where I worked, horses were tied up outside their stalls while their stalls were cleaned. Their lead ropes were tied with a quick-release knot; not to the metal rings in the walls, but to bailing twine tied in a loop around the metal ring. The reasoning was that if the horse got in trouble, the twine would break and release the horse.


One Saturday morning I was cleaning a stall and heard a commotion in the aisle. A pony that was tied up spooked at something and became tangled in his lead rope. The twine did not break and the poor pony was half on his back with his neck all twisted, flailing around. It was a pretty scary situation and could’ve been resolved quickly if someone had had something on them to cut the twine. Instead, people were yelling and running everywhere in search of scissors while this pony was in a total panic.


Eventually, someone was able to cut the twine and get the pony free. Thankfully he hadn’t injured himself, or someone else, but he easily could have.


That event really left a mark on me. I remember being mad at the barn managers for not having a knife on them and mad at myself, too. Even my own father always carries a small pocketknife with him (always comes in handy when opening a package from the mail!).


Ever since then, in the barn — any barn — I have my pocketknife. I’ve rarely used it and have yet to repeat any drama like what I witnessed years ago. You usually know when you’ll need your thermometer or stethoscope, but you never know when you might need your knife.


Dr. Anna O'Brien


Image: Thinkstock