Saturday, August 15, 2009


I now remember why I got on to post yesterday. My computer was being a pain and by the time I managed to sign in I had forgotten my purpose. It's really sad what vet school has done to my memory. BVS I could go to the store without a list and get 1000 items without forgetting anything; now, AVS, I go to the store for one item and forget why I'm in the parking lot...

Back to my story. We tried a novel but not new treatment option the other day on a problem case. We have this dog in the hospital who needed to have a carpal arthrodesis. He's had multiple complications and has a very swollen and infected foot at this point. His cephalic vein was ligated during the surgery so we decided to try using leeches to decrease the venous congestion in his foot. It was a circus in the minor procedures room. The leeches were shipped overnight in a thermos that looked very much like a container for coffee. The stubborn little boogers didn't want to come out and kept attaching to the sides of the container. We tried pouring water (distilled) in the container but were only getting 1-2 out at a time. Finally, some bright soul hit the container on the floor to dislodge the remaining critters. If leeches have ears, I'm quite certain those are now deaf!

By far, the most amusing aspect was watching people's faces. I have a tendency to stand back from the crowd and observe proceedings and this one was awesome. The leeches are snake-like yet snail-like and were swimming around faster than anyone expected. Additionally, they kept trying to exit the containers and had to be corralled. No one wanted to touch them and there was a definite squeamishness about the potential for them "biting" if picked up. Once the fear of getting them out was conquered, it became a game to place them with all of the senior clinicians present getting in on the act. I really cannot do justice to the circus-like atmosphere but I was doubled over in laughter much of the time. The good news is that the foot/leg seems to be improving. Are the leeches responsible or just time??? Don't really know but something is working.

I should post a copy of the description of medical leeches encouraging purchase. It sounds like an old-fashioned snake oil salesman's pitch. Cures male and female sterility and gout amongst other things. Interestingly, there is an actual scientific paper out there about the benefits of therapy. And yes, they do actually sell medical grade leeches which are guaranteed not to spread disease but should not be re-used. We decided to keep our leeches and name them after various faculty members. They apparently can go anywhere from 50 days to a whole year between feeding and are hardy little creatures living up to 10 years. We felt that they had done a good deed for the betterment of a fellow creature so they did not deserve to the fun of picking names begins (evil laugh).


Anonymous said...

re: one's memory after vet school. I completely understand! I even forget things at the grocery store that ARE ON my list. I was saying to myself the other day (another by-product of vet school, I think) that I should put some random items on the list that I don't need, so maybe I'll forget those instead of the things I really DO need :-)

tottergirl said...

Leeches can be very cool. About 10 years ago my nephew blew up his hand and the doc doing the reconstruction used leeches in much the same way you describe. They helped save his fingers.

He did feel a bit sorry for them, though. When they have done their work, they are distroyed.

Dr. May B. Insane said...

Unfortunately, medical grade leeches are supposed to be destroyed after use because of the possibility of spreading disease from one patient to another making it impossible to re-use them. We could re-use because it was on the same patient who is, by the way, doing very well! We do not plan to destroy the critters, though, even when finished since they have already provided hours of amusement and helped save a leg. Since they don't have to eat very often we will keep them in a fish tank and are considering getting them a treasure chest, sunken ship, mermaids, and such...they deserve to have some fun too.