Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Monthly update from Norwich

Hello everyone,

Hope you guys are well and haven't been too badly affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder now that winter is beginning to assert itself. I for one am freezing. It properly snowed here on Sunday! But then it rained and the snow melted and now it's just very very cold and wet and I need more woollen jumpers (I am a creature of warm climes after all)!

Other than the weather, my PhD is giving me a very hard time. Seriously, you guys, unless you are super obsessed about something then don't do this to yourselves! It's terrifying! My supervisor has assured me though that they wouldn't let me go through with it if there was a chance that I'd fail - that would be a waste of everybody's time - so I can at least be confident that if I'm no good they'll kick me out before I get a chance to really screw up. Just have to get on with it I suppose.

Good luck to all of you who are job hunting. You who have landed jobs already, I hope all is going well and will get better. And to Kyunglee and anyone else who is travelling, have a great trip!

Best wishes to all,


1 comment:

Sophie Roelandt said...

A'salam aleikum everybody,

here we are then, the last few days of my stay in Dubai, making suitcases and flying off on Sunday back to London (must make sure to wear four layers of clothes).

But how crazy have the last weeks been ! almost too much to describe, but I will do it anyway.

First of all, the Sheik and his entourage have left for the highlight of the Falconry season: a 1 month hunting trip in Pakistan. A vet has to be there to look after the priceless birds, so Antonio has set off, and is hoping to successfully hunt with his newly trained bird, 'Sylvia' (and she's a tough nut to crack). Before he set off, however, he ran the Dubai Marathon 2009... and I was there handing out bottles of refreshing Isostar + coffee + secret ingredient = sugar ! I also feel thanks to watching and learning from Antonio I've understood more of the falconry psyche than I could get from a million books so it was a real pleasure to be there with that back-up bottle...

The marathon started at 6.30am to avoid the heat and medical disasters, so there went my lie-in on Friday morning... But it was absolutely worth the trouble, as I saw the world champion marathon Gebre Selassie from Ethiopia and afterwards we spent the day with his close friend Richard Nenrukar (who's written key books on marathon running) and his wonderful family. His wife Gail is a medic and is discovering interesting stuff in Ethiopia and the kids are adorable, just like Tom (my boss) and Theri's (his wife) duo. Antonio by the way was the fastest in his age category and broke his own record of 2h52min -

And then there was the day I did the most dirty surgery of my life, and I broke literally all the rules of sterile surgery (Florence nightingale and Joseph Lister, the mother and father of hygiene and aseptic surgery turned themselves in their graves and will surely haunt me until they drag me to vet-hell where I belong...)

... when a female sand gazelle came in as an emergency with the most horrible degloving injury of the right back leg - from the knee up, literally all the skin was dangling in flaps and I have never seen so much sand, hair and undefined CRAP in a wound ever - Since the anaesthetic time had to be kept to a minimum, dressings and aftercare are out of the question, you only get once chance, and all the jelly and flushing of the world could not remove all that... this thing had sepsis, gangrene, amputation, tetanus and generally death and disaster written all over it !!! The guys just said this was normal ...

I just had to push away the sickening feeling of guilt (how my standards have dropped !), place some penrose drains, stitch the 'tent' of skin back onto what can only be described as 'meat ready for the BBQ' and pump the animal full of painrelief and antibiotics (another sign of a very very baaaad surgeon).

But this animal was bouncing around like Bambi in spring within 24 hours (as if nothing had happened) and she was so stressed that we prematurely had to remove the drains and send her on her way with some blessings and more anti-bee's into the grounds... Unbelievable the immunity of these wild things ! Besides some mild lower legg oedema (watery swelling), the wounds seemed to be healing, not too infected etc. A miracle of mother nature ? Of course we still have up to 10d to go before stitch-removal and all can still go down, but still...

We've also been treating an Arabian Tahr (waw !) - and when you google it and before you say, 'oh, it's a goat' , bear in mind that this is one of the most endangered 'goats' in the world and that many vets around here haven't laid their hands on (treated) one yet. So every single one counts for preservation of the species and this one has a rather nasty foot problem, the Xrays only confirmed that - Amputation looming in the distance again, but we are trying some new, revolutionary techniques to save his foot so he can pass on his genes to posterity ! I'll write a paper on it, but for now treatment ongoing...

Also done a wing amputation on a houbara bird: it seems that after the last few weeks I'm getting ready to be sent off to animal-war or something... And a caesarean section on a chichuahua, who let's say wasn't dating another chihuahua, resulting in giant pups, C-section, pyometra and death in the end. Poor thing...

However, in all the gore that is a vet's l, there's also good news, the project on oryx is coming along nicely after spending a few days in the desert catching and blood sampling them. Another paper in the making. I will have plenty of work back in Europe from next week onwards. And 2 days ago, I presented my MSc project on bird flu and some other talks to a very interested scientific crowd here at the hospital. It seems there are plenty of chances for a hard working wildlife vet over here !

And as for my cultural immersion, there was also the strange but wonderful experience of driving into Sharjah, the neighbour emirate, on a Friday around noon time. This is a more traditional emirate, and by the time I arrived and was busy getting lost in the city, it was clearly time to go to the mosque for the Friday sermon. Just as you've got a vets on each street corner in Europe, so you have a mosque on every corner in Sharjah.

And hundreds, thousands of people gathering, triple parking around them (makes Athens / Thessaloniki parking situation look like organised...) and people jumping out of taxis with prayer mats even at the last minute, trying to find a spot to sit and listen. They were praying on the sidewalks, in dusty alleyways and even on the roundabouts, by the hundreds !!! Oh, and I was the only visible woman for miles around even in a car... Can you imagine anything like that with Europeans, every Sunday ? Needless to say, I was happy not to have had a car accident when everybody suddenly just started crossing the streets when it was all over. Amazing experience, makes you quiet for a while (and we all know how difficult that is for me...).

I also saw the film 'Body of Lies' which is played out in today's Middle East (and a bit in Dubai too) and which I can recommend as a must see, to get an idea ... - Very interesting watching this film while you're actually over here too !

So what can I say, as my stay in Dubai draws to an end ?

I'm a different vet now, much braver and practical, I've got some very decent large animal, wild/exotic and great falcon experience, thanks to all the wonderful people who have guided me here during my stay and who actually let me do stuff myself (unlike in Europe sometimes): big huge thanks to all the staff at the hospitals and zoo's and parks. And Tom Bailey, the most able multi-tasking male vet I've ever met, has organised it all for me. Fantastic ! I've put the Msc into practice and however small, I feel like I've already made a difference by learning all this stuff. So we will continue down this path, one way or another... the wild is calling ...

And perhaps I've also once again become a different, hopefully more enriched, evolved specimen of 'homo sapiens sapiens', thanks to some very positive cultural immersion and the warm, tolerant welcome I've received in Dubai, from people from all over the world (makes me feel ashamed to be European sometimes, the way some of us can still be racist and intolerant of other religions and countries). Well, it certainly won't be forgotten and my doors will be open...

Hope you are well and with a bit of luck (Insh'Allah) I will see or hear you all soon and we can have a chat about all this wonderful stuff over some Arabian blend coffee ...

Ma'a salama (goodbye)

Sophie Al Patrik Bin Roelandt

signing off for now

Happy new year everyone,

If I'm forgetting someone in my email list, feel free to forward my emails to enyone interested in deserts, animals and holidays. Please also forward to more biologists/WABs.

1 month in Dubai and it is still a roller coaster. I'm flying from cheetahs to swans to baboons back to falcons and oryx and mountain gazelles with compost poisoning (or is it foot and mouth ?) - I'm also doing autopsies for one of the large aquariums and digging holes in the ground to do soil analysis for the copper project. I'm trying to get as much experience as one can per 24 hours: I might never again see such 'juicy' diseases in such interesting animals or spray things with purple spray ! Carpe diem and It's Mecca for Vets ! I've also had a merry christmas with bonfires in the desert (yeah it really can use a good clean up so we volunteered) and Arabian turkey, chestnuts 'on an open bonfire' and Belgian chocolates galore.

I've only got 3 weeks left now and it's going too fast, it will be over too soon. Then there will be more writing up and job applications and all sorts of serious life choices to make. But also not to forget, setting up a life back in Belgium in the freezing cold and train the cat to behave like a falcon, while keeping good contacts in the Middle East (Possibly the best 'East' in the world - copyright Carslberg) !

It has been a balmy 25-30C most of the time here in Dubai, much to the delight of my family and Serafeim, who have visited me last week for a new year holiday/celebration/ moral support (yeah, any excuse is good enough to come to Dubai and its Arabian delights !).

Together we've thrown ourselves in the lunatic traffic and maze of motorways where only divine intervention can get you to your destination (Defensive driving my *ss, offensive is much more fun !), eaten in good restaurants of all continents in hotels, desert and by the creek, we've seen all sorts of animals in zoos and aquariums and behind steering wheels, we've shopped 'till we dropped and couldn't see or smell another mall, we've seen gold souqs and wobbly boats (abras), mosques and clinics, we've searched for genuine art-camels and pearl earrings and silver-sugar-pots-that-go-nicely-with-arabian-tablecloths, we swam and sunbathed (even in the clouds on the skyscraper hotel !), we've marvelled at Arabian clothing, sunrises/sets, palaces and falconry, we've touched the Oman border and merrily bounced around in a 4x4 while literally bashing the sand dunes of the desert, until our right kidneys were wondering what the left ones were doing on the right side and until our guts were shaken loose and ready for the bbq/ water pipe(shee-sha)/ belly dancers.

We've celebrated a quirky and noisy (we would now recommend never to put the poppers, crackers and trumpets out before 11.45pm) new year in the Aquarium restaurant at the Golf Creek though all fire works and many celebrations (including HH Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's 3 year leadership celebrations) had been cancelled out of respect for the Palestinians who are once again going through rough times. And HH Sheik Rashid Al Mo'ouwala of Um Al Qu'uwain emirate has sadly passed away in London (of all places), so we are going through 3 days of national mourning. I apologise for the many mistakes I have no doubt made in the Arabian names of Their Highnesses as I'm making it up as it's almost time to dive into my kitchen for a 3 hour cooking session.

I have also got my passport back, with a special stamp from the palace, good for 2 more months of fun. This means that one of these weekends I'll definitely have to go to Oman to have my senses knocked silly with nature and tradition.

Until then, your humble servant remains in the Dubai falcon hospital and tries to aim for the title of 'the Butcheress of Nad al Sheba' in the neighbouring vet clinic and once again I shall take my indecent behaviour to Sharjah Zoo to be 'polished' into something more decent I guess. I'm sure come hefty carnivore would like the honour of my chocolate-marinated flesh... (sweet intoxication).

As you can see, lots of impressions and craziness (I blame it all on sun stroke and sinful alcohol: 'den alcohol is den duvel').

Many greetings to all of you and see you soon Insh'Allah, in the desert, in the frost or simply in the pub or in a future house, wherever it may be !


Hi everyone / s'alaam aleikum,

I've been here (= Dubai, UAE) for two weeks tomorrow and I can already write a book and retire (just kidding). But a lot of things have happened already - importntly, the Arabian muslim holiday of Eid (happy Eid = Eid mubarak) is over, which means I can finally order good food from the palace, I can perhaps secure a rental contract and an emergency contact number for the car I've been driving for 10 days without any backup/support (!!!). And the work is speeding up: forget the 6 hour days, I'm back to normal 12 hour ones.

Cooking is interesting, it's the first time I'm butchering / gutting chickens and fish from scratch (I won't describe the veal, I have to draw the line somewhere). I've only flooded the bathroom once by not putting the drain pipe into the shower. And the gas oven hasn't said 'boom' yet. In short, I'm quite at home here.

The animal work is fabulous, so great I haven't taken one day off yet, including the weekends (Friday/Saturday). From dressing the paws of big cats (cheetah) to skin scrapes of big dogs (hyena !) in crush cages, I feel at ease 'cause it's like small animal practice (just bigger and slightly more risky: yippee !) - from camels with eye problems to military style / heavy equipment gemsbok translocations, I love it ! I'm trying to distinguish my sand gazelle from my impala from gerunuk etc. and my gemsbok from my oryx.

And on the bird side things are equally stimulating - I'm getting to know real falconers and their birds, I'm seeing and doing the stuff for real now in different practices. Also seeing parrots, turkeys, and Houbara's (look it up if you really want to know). There's nice reptiles too of course, I wrestled with 4 greek tortoises today.

Finally , I'm also getting started on writing the paper for the Oryx copper deficiency project so we're also back in 'thesis-land' during the hot siesta hours of the day. My kind of holiday: Fast Forward Travel with Sophie !

And shopping: malls, malls , malls ! you could spend your money (if you had any) and your life away here, that is if you find the entrance of the mall in between the constantly changing road-and-metro-and-building works and if you can find the one shop you need in miles of corridors and 3-D maze with escalators ! Haven't discovered a quiet beach yet but then there's plenty of sand inland + camels and peacocks to dodge.

The lifestyle of my hosts (Emirati) is let's say, 'slightly extravagant', however the expat (Westerner) villa's are to drool over too (getting plenty of ideas for our 'villa' in Belgium next year, haha). They get lots of camping and bbq in the desert and off road driving: the standard car is the 4-W-drive huge landrover-toyota-nissan etc. Also I've got to go to Oman to see dolphins apparently.

Ok, got to go now and watch another dvd on raptors (it's the only thing to watch) then relax before another 5.30 am rise with the first prayer -> to go and move one more gemsbok (he got away last time). Then maybe some swans or monkeys to play with, who knows ?

Many greetings


hi everybody,

first report: (I'm going to do this instead of writing a diary or clinical notes - just tell me if you get bored and I'll bump you off the mailing list).

It's SO nice to wake up with singing birds (7.30am) and singing muslims (5.30am) instead of the usual London ambulances (all times / day and night / 24h). It's not too hot, not too cold, good food, nice people. Phones are working and burnt the fuses in the flat only once so far. My favourite TV channel is MTA (international muslim television - ONLY channel with EnglishFrench). The quest of the first day was: find Nutella choco and real bread (and mission accomplished).

So, yesterday I had to find my way around. Here's what I found: you can't get far on foot even in winter and the modern city is made for cars, not humans. The taxidrivers have been in Dubai for about just as long as I have, nobody's ever heard of the Falcon Hospital. By now I know the way perfectly (it's right next to sheik Mohammed's Palace and the skyline is very handy to orientate yourself), but of course I'm a woman (what do we unmarried girls know anyway ?) and it doesn't matter what my maps say either... as long as I pay the taxi-meter-bill everyone is happy... I'm considering buying a camel... or maybe an ostrich...

This morning we had some rain (it's 'winter', 25*C and there's green stuff growing in the desert) and then I went to see Sheik Butti's wildlife/conservation reserve near Al Maha (30km from Dubai) with Sean the Irish vet. Saw my first Oryxes, wild flamingoes, osprey (raptor bird) and sand gazelles in the Sheik's oasis from the back of a golf cart as we were 'inspecting the grounds'. Yesterday it was the national holiday so nobody is working much these days (I did an autopsy on a small monkey though, I'm earning my living here) -

A regular working day is from 8am to 1.30-2pm anyway ( !!! ). Pheww ! they are going to work me to death here ! I guess I'm off to see the city and to buy a small radio as there are English/Expat channels. I'll maybe work another day (catching gazelles or raptors or something).

Greetings from Dubai