Katie and I just got back from Denver at Exotics Con. Leading exotic veterinarians from all over the world get together to advance veterinary medicine and surgery in exotic animal medicine.  In the early years of exotic medicine, the organizations met at separate smaller meetings.  The ARAV (Association of  Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians), the AAV (Association of Avian Veterinarians) and later the AEMV (Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians) each had their own conventions in different cities.  Then the AAV and the ARAV would meet together or the ARAV and the AEMV would meet together.  It wasn’t a good situation.  Most vets could only afford time and money to go to one of the meetings a year or every other year, but many saw birds, reptiles and exotic mammals in addition to their normal dog and cat patients.  It made sense to combine the conferences into a super conference.   

I started out with wet-labs (live animals) while Katie took a trip to the Denver Zoo.  Most of our exotic medicine is fixing the effects of poor husbandry, but in the first lab, I learned about ultrasound use in reptiles.  I’ve gotten fairly proficient at using ultrasound, but after several hours in the lab, I am confident in using it on reptile cases.  Of course, shells, scales and small sizes are still a problem, but it is another tool that I can use to help animals get better.   

My next lab was on making bird exams less stressful.  There were some new towel techniques that I had sorta figured out on my own and some training techniques for future visits, but it was not as practical as I had hoped.  Much of the information, I had already learned and put into place.  I had hoped for more pharmacology insights to help cut bird anxiety.  I will have to continue to do more research.  I did take photos of some good staff training techniques.     

Ten hours of labs and Sherry, a young veterinarian that I had met online, was in and ready for refreshment. We had decided to share costs on the hotel.   Katie hadn’t eaten and I was ready for dessert, so we ate at the hotel restaurant.  Of course, we talked about cases and patients.  The after hours exchange of information doesn’t count as continuing education credits, but it is helpful. There isn’t enough published so we always learn from what others have tried. The exchange ran late and when it was time to settle up, the server handed me the electronic tablet that was on the table.  I was able to check myself out.  (How handy would that be for GAMC for refills or meds to be picked up? I made a mental note to check it out.)     

Even with the favorable time zone deferential, morning came early. I made it to the opening lectures, but Katie and Sherry did not. The Plenary Session welcome was all about inclusion and actually brought tears to my eyes. It was not just inclusion about types, but about the weirdness that makes us become veterinarians that often keeps us on the edge. This veterinary gig is hard. Really hard sometimes!  Things die, clients don’t always cooperate, staff and staffing is challenging. It’s just hard.  The speaker seemed to really get it. (Plenary is a meeting or session attended by all participants at a conference or assembly.)     

The afternoon next three days were filled with concurrent sessions. I attended sessions on Rhodotorula, emydomyces and nannizziopsis fungus in reptiles, advanced DNA sequencing to diagnose yellow fungus disease of bearded dragons,  anesthetic death rates in guinea pigs, pneumoperitoneum and perianal sac disease in guinea pigs, gabapentin, meloxicam and vatinoxan use in rabbits and rabbit hemorrhagic virus and vaccine in rabbits. There were sessions on different lab tests, IV catheter placement in iguanas and shell fracture repair. In between there was advanced care for hedge hogs, pancake tortoises and brumation in UK captive tortoises.  All topics that clients don’t care that I know until they need them.     

As important as the lectures and labs that Katie, Sherry and I sat in were the time at the exhibits and the hallways.  I talked directly with the new lab service for DNA sequencing that I had set up. I learned about a new guinea pig food and got some samples.  (We still have guinea pigs for adoption and they make great pets.) I got a lead on repairs to our $2000 incubators that need some help beyond my ability.     

I got Dr Doug Mader’s new book signed and caught up with him after his retirement.  He is one of the first reptile veterinarians and his text books have been a mainstay for decades. Cathy Johnson-Delaney bumped me (on purpose) and thanked me for participating on the email forum.  She runs a rescue in the Seattle region and knows a phenomenal amount about exotics.  It was an honor to be noticed by her.  Dr (Mrs) Harrison and Dr (Mr) Harrison were both at the Harrison’s food booth.  She was promoting bees and pesticide free and loved my shirt that had bees on it.  I took time to get a photo op with both of them. They were very important to the development of avian medicine.     

The best encounter happened quite by accident.  I sat down in a lecture next to a lady.  I noticed by her computer notes that she had been in the guinea pig lecture that I had just left. I asked if she saw a lot of guinea pigs.  She asked “what?” because she didn’t quite hear me, but it caused me to look at her name tag.  Susan Brown.  Dr Susan Brown is THE expert in rabbits and guinea pigs.  I apologized and said that I didn’t realize who she was and of course she knew about guinea pigs.  She laughed and we talked through the next three lectures about rabbits and guinea pigs.  We stopped and listened when there was new information being presented, but I learned a lot of tips in those few hours. I left with her email written in my notebook at her insistence.     

So, Katie and I are back.  I met old friends and made new ones.  I learned new techniques and have knowledge to save more lives.  Veterinary medicine is not a static science and new things should be learned. I hung out with vets who have the same successes, failures and stress that I do.  It was good for my soul. I am back.