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University of Copenhagen
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Science

No horsing around

Photo essay — It’s 9:56 am, and the first patient of the day is ready to be operated on. He’s three months old, weighs 190 kilos and is fully anesthetized. The five-person operation team is ready, too. For three of them, the surgery is part of their education.

At the Large Animal Teaching Hospital in Taastrup, in Copenhagen’s outskirts, the day begins with doctors making their morning rounds. After the staff veterinarians and the veterinary students have checked in on all the patients in the hospital stable (primarily horses, but also a few cows, a sheep that’s looking poorly and a goat that’s eaten something that doesn’t agree with it) it’s time for the day’s first operation: a three-month old foal suffering from an inguinal hernia, and who is also due to be castrated.

The prep - Louise Andersen, who is studying to be an animal keeper, pushes the operating table into the operating theatre. By this point, the foal has been fully anesthetised. The hospital generally anesthetises animals using the ‘free-fall’ method, in which no humans are present, eliminating any risk of being caught under the animal when it drops to the ground. Because of its smaller size, the foal could be held by three people as it fell to the floor of the green padded stall next to the operating theatre.
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The vets - Professor Stine Jacobsen (centre) teaches large-animal surgery. During the operation, her most important task will be to make sure the two veterinary students – Ditte Adler, currently enrolled in the European Master Large Animal Veterinary Medicine programme, and Emilie Larsen (left), veterinary medicine – have the situation under control. The hospital is the only teaching hospital for veterinary students in Denmark.
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The specialist - Animal keeper Bent Hansen has worked at the Large Animal Teaching Hospital since 1995, primarily as a surgical assistant. Having an experienced hand in the operating theatre is reassuring, and that contributes to a positive learning experience, Jacobsen says.
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The final prep - The foal is covered with sheets that leave only the area around its groin exposed. The three-month-old has a wild streak, according to the vets. It’s being operated on to remove an inguinal hernia. The owner, who pays for the procedure, has also asked that the foal be castrated while it’s down.
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The tool - An old mouth gauge is used to keep the foal’s jaws spread and provide enough room for the respirator tube.
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The cut - One testicle down. One to go.
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The theatre - The hospital has two identical operating theatres, both specially designed for large animals. A crane that moves on rails mounted in the ceiling makes it easier to move large equipment (and the patients). The Large Animal Teaching Hospital moved to the countryside in Taastrup in 2008 after the facility at the Veterinary and Agricultural University in Frederiksberg became too small.
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The crane - The operation went well. The patient is lifted off the operating table with a crane and then lowered into a padded recovery stall.
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