Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Spring semester springs

This semester I have (almost) no classes. My one class is Journal Club, which mostly involves listening to other people present journal articles. One week in March I will have to present an article myself, which will involve a frenzied burst of activity, and then again a return to just research.

Just research! I am looking forward to it, although to be honest, last semester’s classes (biostatistics and bioethics) were surprisingly rewarding. The didactic part of this Master’s degree feels much more relevant and interesting to me than the majority of the didactic classes in the DVM coursework. That revelation is part of my increasing interest in pursuing a PhD in the future.

The distraction of classwork last semester caused a lot of dog videos to stack up, waiting to be analyzed. I was pulling in 2-3 videos of 20 minutes each per week; in theory, I would also analyze them every week, breaking each into 5 second bins in which I use a small web application which I wrote to note the dog’s location (front, middle, or back of the run), position (lying lateral, lying sternal, sitting, walking, etc), whether the dog is panting or not, whether the dog has moved at all in the last five seconds, etc. It is a somewhat tedious process, but on the up side, the good DVD player is in my bedroom, so I get to do the analysis in bed with my animals. I’m trying to analyze one or two videos a day for a while until the stack gets thinner. They take 1-2 hours to do, depending on how often the dog changes what it’s doing. The ideal video is of a dog lying still and not moving for 20 minutes. Two dogs have done that so far. I am fond of both of them.

Yesterday I scored two videos in the morning. The mid part of the day I spent reading about cortisol, for use in a summary paper about markers of stress. The summary papers provide useful background immediately, and should become part of my thesis paper this summer.

Then I went in to try to enroll dogs. I continue to work out the best timing strategy for this. There is a sweet spot somewhere around 5:30 pm. Too early, and I miss some dogs which haven’t yet filtered in unannounced. (It’s nice when dogs have appointments two days in advance, but sometimes people call to make surgery appointments and get scheduled for the next day, in which case the only way I have of discovering that dog is finding it in B Ward in the evening.) Too late, and the surgeons have all gone home, so I can’t find them to ask permission to use their patients. (I embarrassingly once said “awesome!” when told “Dr. Depardeau is still here even though it’s eight o’clock at night because his patient is bleeding out and he’s stuck in surgery.”)

Last night, I went in around 4 pm, and scouted. One dog looked like a great candidate. He was in the hospital for, I kid you not, a migrating foreign body in his foot. A tech and I discussed this as we stared at the anesthesia schedule for the next day: a migrating foreign body in his foot? His hospital record didn’t completely explain why they came up with this theory. I looked at the dog in B Ward, and indeed he had an open lesion on his foot, but he was mobile and alert and looked like a good candidiate. However, he had had imaging (radiographs and ultrasound) earlier in the afternoon, and had been sedated for that. It takes six hours for sedation to wear off to the point where I feel comfortable saying that it no longer affects their behavior, so I wouldn’t have been able to enroll him until 9 pm. That’s outside my window; enroll dogs at extremely different times of day and you risk seeing cortisol levels that differ because of cortisol’s diurnal cycle, not because of stress level differences. Oh, well.

I went to the gym for an hour, and came back around 5:30 in hopes that some new dog had shown up. No. I think the hospital is not quite back in full gear after the holidays, and also Mondays are typically slow. At this point I started looking more closely at the two smaller dogs that I had discarded before. I don’t like to use small dogs; they are put in cages, not runs, so I have to ask someone to move them into a run for my use. I also have a feeling (unscientifically) that small dogs react to stressful situations differently than large dogs do. But at this point I just wanted someone to enroll. One of the two turned out to be on meds which disqualified her. The other probably would have worked out — but his doctor had just gone home, so I couldn’t get permission to use him. (Surprising! People on a medicine rotation, as this resident was, are generally around much later than 5:45.) The lesson: if you think you might possibly want to use a dog, get the permission proactively. Don’t wait to see if someone better shows up later.

Then I went home and read more. I can’t quite get over the fact that I get to spend a year reading and writing. It’s great.

So that seems to be my routine for the early part of this semester. So far, so good. Soon I have to start doing things like doing the actual cortisol assay for the dogs I’ve enrolled, and build the results into a stress scale, but for now things are in a pretty solid rhythm.

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