Instrument Milk: Dr. Luttinen’s personal reflection on his first day working at a veterinary hospital!

There are many times in my personal and professional life that I’ve experienced what many people refer to the “it”!   We all sort of know and/or have experienced what that “it” is but it eludes description.  It’s that “magical” moment when everything just seems perfect or another way to say that is an acute sense of joy & contentment.  I have spent the last few years really exploring this “sense” as I feel it helps me understand what is so inspiring about the connection with our furry patients and their parents.  Let me give you an example from the very first day I worked in a veterinary hospital while I was attending college and when I recognized my true calling to be a veterinarian.

The first time I handled veterinary surgery instruments as a veterinary assistant, I was blown away with awe and eagerness, despite the fact that I was cleaning them after a Dental instrumentspretty graphic intestinal surgery.  It was a feeling of excitement and euphoria to reflect on the preceding couple of hours leading up to and through the surgery itself.

It was 1994 and I was brand new to Peone Pines Veterinary Hospital in Spokane.  The owner of the practice was out of town.  Her black Labrador retriever had developed a very severe intestinal condition (intussusception), which requires immediate surgery.  Drs. Howard and Wilson, my mentors of about 4 hours, consulted with one another, opened a surgery book to review the procedure, and developed a plan.  Cell phones weren’t as common as they are today and they were unable to contact Dr. Sledge, their employer, for her consent.  However, without aggressive care and surgery, her dog would surely die.

By stalling my task to thoroughly empty the three small garbage buckets in the office, I was able to listen to the doctor’s discussing the surgical procedure and collaborating a plan of action.  I even distinctly remember the page and location of that surgery book within that office.  When they left the room, I looked at the pages open on the desk and studied those pages.  I grabbed a yellow post-it note and carefully copied, making sure not to mis-spell the condition, I-N-T-U-S-S-U-C-E-P-T-I-O-N and wrote under it “intestine”.  Thinking back to that, I can only think that even the term “intestine” seemed novel to me.

The surgery to save the dog is called an intestinal resection and anastomosis, which is when a segment of intestine is cut out and the edges are carefully stitched back Bally xray with labelstogether like the ends of a garden hose.  To be honest, I had no idea about the last part, as it all just seemed like “big medical terms”.

After the successful surgery, while the dog was comfortably recovering from his intestinal surgery, I was re-living the day and situation in my mind over-and-over, while I scrubbed metal scissors, clamps, retractors, and other stuff I didn’t know the names of but had a list and photos of the instruments to study and learn prior to my next shift.  I even remember the cloudy, milky liquid called ‘Instrument Milk’ that I had to soak the instruments in to keep them lubricated.  After cleaning and lubricating, the instruments were wrapped in surgical drapes before putting them into an autoclave.  The autoclave is like a special oven to heat sterilize the instruments prior to using in surgery.  After completing each necessary task of my job that day, I left that hospital that night so happy as I had found my life’s work!

I drove to my college’s campus at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA and immediately went to the library to look for vet books.  Whitworth College is a small private school and, of course, doesn’t have medical or veterinary textbooks.  I was so disappointed.  In 1994, they didn’t have information via the internet like we do know and so I couldn’t Google and learn more about intussusception.  Instead, I asked the vets if I could come into my next shift an hour or two early to read their books.  They were surprised, but allowed it.  I did just that.  I brought a spiral-bound notebook and wrote everything I read down.  I’m not sure why, it wasn’t like I would do that surgery the next day.  But, it didn’t matter…it was both fascinating and intriguing.  And even better than that…that day literally was the beginning of the rest of my life!

Follow-up Notes: I am so grateful that I spent the time to take those notes and learn every detail about that surgery.  My very first “solo” intestinal resection and Bally with labelsanastomosis  (R&A) was on a black Labrador retriever, named Sadie,  that ate a rock on 8/20/2001.  And my most recent R&A surgery was on 9/12/2013 on a yellow Labrador retriever whom ate a large rock and required 15” of dying intestine removed.  From 2001 to 2013, I have been blessed by helping 82 dogs and cats using this same intestinal resection and anastomosis surgery.  An intestinal R&A surgery can be used to treat intussusception; foreign body obstructions such as rocks, corn cobs, etc.; and to remove various intestinal cancers.

Thank you for letting me share the origin of my dream to help your dogs and cats!

Your friend,

Dave Luttinen, DVM, DABVP (canine/feline)

Wheaton Way Veterinary Hospital, Bremerton, WA (360) 377-0078

University Place Veterinary Hospital, Tacoma, WA (253) 565-4040

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