Archive for March, 2014

Fade To Black

“So Much For That”, the Lionel Shriver book I finished recently, featured a character who decided he had had enough and put a full stop to his life sentence, at least partly because of a botched penis lengthening procedure. It really was as silly as it sounds.

Being male he did it by putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger, splattering much of the contents of his head all over the family kitchen. This got me thinking that, no matter how miserable you are and no matter how bad you think your life is, spare a thought for those that will find your body and have to clean the mess up afterwards. If you choose to do it in your own home this will likely be one of your beloved family members. In this case it was his wife and daughter. Who wants the final image of their husband/father to be one of him lying on the kitchen floor with half his head missing, blood, brains and bone having sprayed everywhere? Do you know how hard it is to get blood out of curtains? Needless to say the wife refused to enter the kitchen ever again and wound up selling the house. But who wants to buy a house with a history like that? I can just imagine the new home owners finding a bit of skull under the fridge several months after moving in. So, if you must flush your life down the drain, at least have some consideration about how and where you do it.

Veterinarians have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession (1.54 times the average). I believe there are two reasons for this. I can’t say I am much of a Jeremy Clarkson fan but I believe he hit the nail on the head when he said that people become veterinarians because they have a love of and affinity for other species. They want to devote their lives to helping animals and mitigating suffering. Unfortunately a lot of that relief comes in the form of euthanasia. Don’t get me wrong. I would much rather euthanase a terminally ill, suffering animal than have it go through months of pain and anguish, the way we allow people to. But all that death takes its toll after a while. Years ago I spent six months working at the RSPCA. The number of cruelty cases I saw and the number of animals I had to euthanase, some quite healthy, simply because we had no room was almost enough to drive me to join them. While the RSPCA performs a vital function six months was more than enough for me.

The second reason is that if a veterinarian decides to end his life he will probably succeed. Veterinarians obviously have an excellent command of physiology and have all sorts of lethal drugs available, one of which is etorphine, an incredibly powerful anaesthetic used to immobilise animals like elephants and rhinos. It is rumoured that one scratch from a needle dipped in etorphine is enough to kill. The drug is rigidly controlled and only veterinarians working with these animals can gain access to it, but I did have a friend who used it to end his own life. He did it because of the aggressive bone cancer that was spreading up his leg, but his profession gave him access to the means.

Even regular veterinarians have shelves full of pentobarbitone, the drug of choice for euthanasing dogs and cats. I have heard more than one story of a veterinarian hooking himself up to an IV line, connecting the line to a bottle of pentobarbitone and then slowly going to sleep as the drug ran into his body. No doubt it is a very peaceful way to go.

The flipside of all this doom and gloom is that veterinary medicine also provides some pretty amazing highs. Seeing that falcon that came into the clinic with a broken wing fly off into the sunset is close to the top of my list, not mention the quoll with the really bad skin condition I saw recently that now appears to have made a miraculous recovery.

Dr. F. Bunny


Quoll without its skin condition

Quoll without its skin condition

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Turn Your Head And Cough

Socialized medicine seems like a pretty good idea to me and I cannot really understand why so many people are opposed to it. I recently finished a Lionel Shriver book entitled, “So Much For That”. One of the main characters is diagnosed with mesothelioma and, if the book is at all accurate about US health care, then it truly boggles the mind that one chemotherapy treatment could cost as much as $40,000! Who can afford that? And the idea that your place of employment should fund your health care also seems bizarre.

While the Australian system of Medicare is not perfect it certainly seems to work a lot better, based on the World Health Organisation’s Disability Adjusted Life Expectancy (a measure of the number of years of life expected to be lived in full health, or healthy life expectancy): . Using this index Australia comes in at number two (behind the Japanese), whereas the US pops up at number 24.

While I have no major complaints about Medicare the Australian government decided some years ago that it was tired of funding Australia’s health care and wanted the public to carry more of the burden i.e. take out more private health cover. Instead of using the carrot method by lauding the advantages of private health care they chose to use the stick method by fining tax payers an additional 1-1.5% of their incomes if they did not have private health insurance at the end of each tax year. And the longer you wait to take it out the more expensive the cover becomes.

I admit that private cover can be useful for things like dental and optical, as they are not covered by Medicare (why is beyond me. Don’t most of us have eyes and teeth?). Unfortunately being insured for those extras does not remove the surcharge. For that you need to take out full private cover, and what do you get for it? Virtually nothing.

Private health insurance is supposed to cut waiting lists. I still had to wait six weeks to see a cardiologist (lucky I wasn’t having a heart attack) and my son had to wait three months to see a wrist specialist. The private insurance covered none of these costs, leaving me $500 out of pocket after my son’s MRI and X-rays. Obviously the amount Medicare reimburses patients for a specialist consultation is based on what they were charging in the 1950s.

Apparently private health cover lets me choose my own doctor and hospital, but who has the background knowledge to decide between Sleep Apnoea Specialist A and Sleep Apnoea Specialist B? Don’t we just let our GP choose for us? And once I had my Sleep Apnoea Specialist he told me which hospital I would be visiting for my sleep test, a hospital that left me $800 out of pocket for one night’s stay.

Ironically, when I had my nose surgery that specialist did give me a choice of hospitals. I could wait three months and have the surgery in his nice inner city private hospital, which would still have left me hundreds of dollars out of pocket, or I could wait three months and go to the nice rural public hospital where the entire procedure would cost absolutely nothing, because it then fell under the Medicare umbrella. Needless to say I chose the room with the kangaroos grazing outside and the birds chirping merrily in the trees.  

I imagine they chirped so merrily because they weren’t being ripped off by private health insurance companies, backed by the government. Maybe it is really a three way conspiracy with the health funds in bed with the government and the accountants. Much as I would like to make it a four way conspiracy veterinarians, naively, appear to put their clients’ interests first. Instead of pushing for twice yearly check-ups veterinarians have discovered that their vaccinations work too well, only requiring boosters every three years, meaning that you don’t need to bring Rover or Puss in Boots back for a booster every year. How stupid is that?

Dr. F. Bunny

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Fred Grimm: Miami-Dade’s trap-neuter-release program utterly ignores science – Miami-Dade –

Fred Grimm: Miami-Dade’s trap-neuter-release program utterly ignores science – Miami-Dade –

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Religious Slaughter II

John Blackwell, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, is to be congratulated for his call to make religious slaughter more humane ( 

There is no scientific reason why an animal should have its throat cut while fully conscious. As Dr. Blackwell rightly points out a sheep with its throat cut will remain conscious for seven seconds while cattle, which have an extra blood vessel in their spinal column, can remain conscious for up to two minutes. This practice was presumably instigated many moons ago to ensure meat was fresh. In this modern age such a justification is no longer applicable, and animal welfare concerns should take precedent over religious superstitions. The Danish recently managed to ban the slaughter of animals without prior stunning and it would be wonderful if the British followed suit.

Unfortunately, as soon as anything is suggested that a religious group does not like, such as banning religious slaughter or circumcision, they conveniently ignore the scientific reasons and start screaming about religious freedom. Why superstitious beliefs should take precedent over animal welfare is beyond me.

See also my post, “Religious Slaughter” written in 2011 in response to the Dutch banning the practice.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.” Lao tzu

Dr. F Bunny

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Giant, 30,000-Year-Old Virus Pithovirus sibericum Reborn From Siberian Permafrost

Pithovirus particles

French scientists say they have revived a giant but harmless virus that had been locked in the Siberian permafrost for more than 30,000 years.

Wakening the long-dormant virus serves as a warning that unknown pathogens entombed in frozen soil may be roused by global warming, they said.

The virus, Pithovirus sibericum, was found in a 30-metre-deep sample of permanently frozen soil taken from coastal tundra in Chukotka, near the East Siberia Sea, where the average annual temperature is -13.4 degrees Celsius.

The team thawed the virus and watched it replicate in a culture in a petri dish, where it infected a simple single-cell organism called an amoeba.

Radiocarbon dating of the soil sample found that vegetation grew there more than 30,000 years ago, a time when mammoths and Neanderthals walked the Earth, according to a paper published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

P. sibericum is, on the scale of viruses, a giant. It has 500 genes, whereas the influenza virus has only eight.

It is the first in a new category of viral whoppers, a family known as Megaviridae, alongside two other categories that already exist.

The virus gets its name from “pithos,” the ancient Greek word for a jar, as it comes in an amphora shape.

At 1.5 millionths of a metre, it is so big it can be seen through an optical microscope, rather than a more powerful electron microscope.

Unlike the flu virus, though, P. sibericum is harmless to humans and animals, and only infects a type of amoeba called Acanthamoeba, the researchers said (Virus as therapy? Some Acanthamoeba can cause pretty nasty neurological disease in snakes (and humans) FB).

The work shows that viruses can survive being locked up in the permafrost for extremely long periods, France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said in a press statement.

“It has important implications for public-health risks in connection with exploiting mineral or energy resources in Arctic Circle regions that are becoming more and more accessible through global warming,” it said.

“The revival of viruses that are considered to have been eradicated, such as the smallpox virus, whose replication process is similar to that of Pithovirus, is no longer limited to science fiction.

“The risk that this scenario could happen in real life has to be viewed realistically.”



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“Counsellor: Mr Anchovy, you asked us to advise you which job in life you were best suited for.

Anchovy: That is correct, yes.

Counsellor: Well I now have the results here of the interviews and the aptitude tests that you took last week, and from them we’ve built up a pretty clear picture of the sort of person that you are. And I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the ideal job for you is chartered accountancy.

Anchovy: But I am a chartered accountant.

Counsellor: Jolly good. Well back to the office with you then.

Anchovy: No! No! No! You don’t understand. I’ve been a chartered accountant for the last twenty years. I want a new job. Something exciting that will let me live.

Counsellor: Well chartered accountancy is rather exciting isn’t it?

Anchovy: Exciting? No it’s not. It’s dull. Dull. Dull. My God it’s dull, it’s so desperately dull and tedious and stuffy and boring and des-per-ate-ly DULL.

Counsellor: Well, er, yes Mr Anchovy, but you see your report here says that you are an extremely dull person. You see, our experts describe you as an appallingly dull fellow, unimaginative, timid, lacking in initiative, spineless, easily dominated, no sense of humour, tedious company and irrepressibly drab and awful. And whereas in most professions these would be considerable drawbacks, in chartered accountancy they are a positive boon.”

Taken from Monty Python’s “The Vocational Guidance Counsellor” (, or, if you want to watch the video). One of my favourites. The piece finishes with the concerned counsellor turning to the camera with a plea:

“Well this is just one of the all too many cases on our books of chartered accountancy. The only way that we can fight this terrible debilitating social disease, is by informing the general public of its consequences, by showing young people that it’s just not worth it. So, so please… give generously… to this address: The League for Fighting Chartered Accountancy, 55 Lincoln House, Basil Street, London, SW3.”

They certainly have my support.

I am convinced that Australian government policy is dictated by accountants. Life used to be simple. I went to work, had my hard earned pay arbitrarily deducted by the government and, once a year, filled in a form to make sure the government had not inadvertently taken too little money from me. That was it. I did not even need an accountant. Worst case scenario, if life became too complex, I would still only need an accountant once a year.

Well, the accountants didn’t like that because it left them with nothing to do for 11 months. I don’t imagine the indolence bothered them but it is hard to charge people for doing nothing (I will discuss private medical insurance next time). So, what brilliant convoluted plan did they come up with? If you are a salaried wage earner you are still relatively safe (but for how long?). However, if you have a business, watch out. Tax needs to be paid four times a year and it has to be paid in advance based on what the government thinks you might earn, as opposed to what you actually did earn.

If that wasn’t enough we now have the delightful Goods and Services Tax (GST), which has turned us all into tax collectors. GST is added to income. I have to save up all that GST and, every three months, forward the accumulated total to the government. Why the government can’t extract it directly but has to use me as a middle man is beyond me.

The good news is that all this complexity and confusion means the accountants are now busy year round, and don’t they charge for it. It baffles me that a person who spends his working life adding up numbers can charge twice what a person who mends broken bones, and diagnoses and treats life threatening diseases does. On top of their already exorbitant fee, my accountant (soon to be ex-accountant) also charges for the privilege of talking to me by email or phone. I did not, however, know this until I received my first bill. Even though they pride themselves on being a paperless office, all my bills still turn up in the mail, despite numerous pleas for electronic invoices. Never mind the “War and Peace” size, bound tax return they mail to me each year. After all the money I pay them they still put a disclaimer on their work telling me they have based their return on information I have provided and can’t be held accountable (pun intended) for any errors (which they certainly make enough of) or miscalculations and that I should be sure to check everything before I sign off on it. If I was in any position to check their work or understand their calculations I could do the bloody thing myself in the first place and not have to employ their vast army of incompetent bean counters for $200+ an hour.

$200 an hour! Jealous? You bet. That will teach me to fall asleep during maths.

Dr. F. Bunny

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