I achieved my first job working for a Veterinary practice when I was 18 years old. I was so thrilled to have my chance to work with animals, I didn’t mind that the practice was ten miles away. I had to walk half a mile to catch a bus because I couldn’t drive in those days, so was away from home from 7.45am until 7.15pm. I had a half day on Fridays but worked Saturdays and every other Sunday.
I knew that the practice also had boarding kennels and cattery, but it was a shock on my first day to be taken across to the kennel block and be told what to do, then left to it! I had to muck out the kennels, cook meat for the dogs, usually around 30 when we were full up, exercise, groom and then feed them, all by myself. The noise of the barking was horrific and the phone often rang with a message from the office to ‘Come over and collect, or return a dog’. But I got used to it and coped and survived it for a few months although it was very hard work.
Then a new girl started and I was promoted from kennel maid to cattery maid. Oh what bliss!
I loved the cattery part of my training, around 40 cats to clean out and feed and groom and love. I was in Paradise.
All too soon as the practice grew and another new girl started, I was promoted to surgery nurse, the kennel maid taking over the cattery duties and the latest girl was kennel maid.
One of my first duties was to look out the medical cards. In the days before computers we had a filing cabinet containing a card for every client and I had to place them in order ready for each vet and then assist in the consulting rooms. That was where the real learning started, as between the consulting times after I’d cleaned the rooms, I was taught by the girl above me – who had the title ‘head nurse’ – all about the nursing of animals and about drugs and how to make up medicines and how to care for animals post op. How to order drugs, develop X-rays and how to do simple tasks like bandaging, removing stitches, clipping claws, etc..
Then one day the head vet called me into his room and told me the head nurse was unexpectedly leaving and he thought I should take her place. I was shocked, I felt I didn’t know enough, but he promised me a rise in wages and that he and the other 3 vets would support and help me grow confident in my responsible post.
So I entered the realms of the operating theatre, I’d never been in one before, the autoclave and the instruments looked very daunting! I didn’t enjoy assisting at ops but I did learn a lot more and after the day’s ops were over I could help the other girls if they needed it.
The long days and journey by bus were getting more tedious, with more responsibility in the job I often had to work late and was almost meeting myself coming back some days. I had hardly any social life, I was young and wanted to be out enjoying life sometimes, but didn’t have much time at all.
Then a job came up at a vet’s practice only 3 miles from home, I still hadn’t learned to drive because I didn’t earn enough for lessons and couldn’t have afforded to run a car anyway. So, I applied and because I had so much experience at the first vets, I landed the job.
There were only 3 of us, the vet who owned the practice, the vet who worked for him…… and me. I was the jack of all trades, receptionist/secretary/surgery assistant/theatre assistant/mortuary attendant, but joy of joys we did have a cleaner who came every morning early to make the place spotless for the day. So I only had to clean the one consulting room between clients and the theatre after ops, of course
It was a mixed practice, my old job was just small animals but I soon learned about farm animals too, although of course the vets mostly visited the farms, but some farmers did occasionally bring in lambs or pigs, rather than pay a call out fee. It was quite hard work at busy times with a busy office and answering the phone and assisting the vets and sending out the monthly farm accounts, I never had a tea break and often no lunch break either but I loved the job so didn’t mind.
The wise old vet taught me so much and I loved working for him and did so for many years. I became friendly with his wife and she was very kind to me, she always remembered my birthday and he gave me Christmas gifts and a yearly bonus in my pay packet.
Then one day he died suddenly. I was very sad, he had been like a father figure to me.
I didn’t much like the other vet but he bought the practice and persuaded me to stay. He gradually built it up, adding more consulting rooms, then eventually more staff and it was never the same, it became a business to make money. He recruited newly qualified vets and expected me to ‘keep them right’ which was quite difficult with the ones who resented that the vet thought I knew more than them. But knowledge can only come with experience and I’d had lots of that! Paper qualifications don’t mean much without practical experience.
I stayed on a few more years but I was glad to retire early to care for our late mother when she became ill and disabled and needed me.
Over the years I lost touch with most of the people I had worked with but a few years back I was astonished to hear from a solicitor that the dear old vet’s widow had just recently died and left me £200 in her will. She had never forgotten me and I will never forget her and her husband who taught me so much!