February 2022

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, Dr. Hillary Israeli, VMD, BFD, PennVet 2000 shares “How to MacGyver Your Way Through Veterinary Life PART 2”! Seriously, if you missed her “how to make homemade 50% dextrose” story, you’ve gotta check that one out.

Sometimes you need to think creatively in desperate situations, and if there’s one thing I know about veterinary professionals, it’s that we all think creatively, think under pressure, and “MacGyver” the crap out of #vetmed. For you youth who don’t know what “MacGyver” is, it’s the amazing TV series with Richard Dean Anderson from the 80’s, yo. Watch it. SNL’s MacGruber sketches will make a lot more sense afterwards! Huge kudos to Dr. Israeli, whom I had the honor of knowing while at PennVet, for understanding the importance of monitoring equipment in the veterinary clinic – like saving your pulse oximeter via the MacGyver method.

MacGyver

By ABC, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=446654

How to jury-rig your veterinary equipment

By Dr. Hillary Israeli, VMD, BFD, PennVet 2000

I bet you thought veterinarians were just animal doctors, right? We learn so much anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biology, and so on that it just fills up our brains, leaving little to no room for anything else. That might perhaps be true in some isolated areas (*cough*academia*cough**cough*equine sports medicine*cough*) but out here on the mean streets of companion animal general practice – this is not the case. We do not have the luxury of simply being “the doctor,” and farming out non-doctor stuff to people who are licensed professionals or experts in their own fields! Our margins are thinner than type I alveolar cells, you know what I’m saying? We need to MacGyver our way through life just to make our loan payments! So, it’s important for veterinarians to maintain a broad knowledge base, and have the right combination of courage, fear, and stupidity, to not only succeed in business, but make it through the day alive. Which brings me to my next story.

I was at work one day in the not-too-distant past, during my “lunch break,” which almost never actually involves lunch of course, when I sent this text to my old friend Justine: “Speaking of MacGyver…. I legit just now cut the power cable of our discontinued SpO2 monitor because the power adapter went bad and there is no available replacement power adapter that has the correct connector to plug into the back of the monitor, and spliced the connector onto the power cable of a working power adapter I pulled off a retired Cisco router I had lying around, and the SpO2 monitor is back in business. LOL. I cannot believe this is my life.” One thing led to another and now here we are in this blog post, with the rest of the story!

We have a pulse oximetry (SpO2) monitor because you know, we are a fancy veterinary clinic. (VETgirl’s comments here: Every veterinary clinic should have a minimum of a pulse ox, ECG, quick assessment tests, and oxygen, but that’s for a future blog!) Unfortunately, because we are also living on the edge of solvency, we have a very old, discontinued-model SpO2 monitor, and the power adapter bit the dust recently. Our surgical tech came to me in a tizzy all worked up over this a few weeks ago and I was like “eh, no big deal, it’s a class 2 12V adapter, here take this one,” and she tried it, but – that’s when I found out that the barrel connector on the end of the power adapter’s cable was a non-standard size and was not easily available, and so we called our medical supply people to see about replacing it. We played a little phone tag and did a few short surgeries without an SpO2 monitor which didn’t make anyone happy – but eventually we found out that you cannot get the right kind of power cable any more for love or money. We were going to have to buy a new SpO2 monitor.

I talked to the boss. She said she would take care of it. At some point after that, I was again approached by my vet techs – as a team this time – who informed me that since I am medical director, I need to take care of this problem right away, because they did not feel comfortable without it (Legit! One needs it for patient monitoring).

Well, all righty, then! I took the thing into my office and sat it on my desk and thought for a minute. I looked around the room. Hmmmm…. what’s that over there under the dusty copy of Ratite Medicine and Surgery, wedged between that and the 1978 edition of Ettinger’s Textbook of Internal Medicine? It’s the dead Cisco router I pulled off the network six months ago (at least) during the Great Phone System Debacle (story for another day).

What kind of adapter does that have?

Oh look – 12 V output.

Perfect. I put it with the monitor and the dead adapter on the desk, and went to get the tools I would need. Armed with a 15 blade, a pair of reading glasses, the “bad” bandage scissors, and a roll of tape, I went to work. First, I cut the cable leading from the dead power adapter to the barrel adapter about 4 cm before the barrel. Then, I cut the end off the Cisco’s power cable just before the minijack connector. Using the 15 blade, I carefully removed the protective outer coating of each cable. This was interesting because the monitor’s cable was actually two wires – black and white, each one containing its own copper bundle, nestled together within one black PVC coating; but the Cisco’s cable was more like lamp wire – a flat double barreled black cable with copper bundles inside each half of it but no additional insulating layer separating the copper bundles from the outside world or color coding them to tell me which was hot and which was, you know – not.

I looked at it and pondered the situation and then realized that there was some white printing on only one side of that cable – so I decided that was PROBABLY supposed to tell me that that was the “white” half, and I should splice the white half of the connector to the white half of the cable. OK then. I continued peeling off PVC until I had a nice 2 cm from each copper bundle, only getting 3 or 4 annoying copper splinters along the way (ouch). No OSHA reporting here, please.

I took the white ends and twisted them together and then I reached for my tape – no, not electrical tape, do you think I am some kind of electrician? Or Boy Scout? or, I don’t know – grown up? No. I’m Dr. MacGyver, thank you very much. So, I took some of the PVC I’d peeled off and put it around the splices and taped each bundle individually and then together. I used a lot of tape. So now I had this Frankencable – would it work? I figured first I’d better make sure it wasn’t going to immediately start a fire or melt down or something so I plugged the power adapter into the wall, but not the barrel connector into the monitor. Nothing happened. I thought briefly about now plugging the barrel connector into the monitor – but I was a little afraid of having my hands too close to the splice while it was plugged into power! So, I unplugged the power, plugged in the barrel connector into the monitor, and THEN plugged the adapter back into the wall. “BEEP!” It powered right up! I gave it back to the techs and told them to put it safely out of the way where no one would bump it, not to get it wet, and to unplug it when they were finished.

Then I ordered some electrical tape from Amazon. I mean, better safe than sorry and obviously there’s always something happening here! And for added safety, I called up my friend Paul and asked if this was going to burn our clinic down. He’s a pediatric intensive care physician, but paid his bills as a student by working for his father, who was an electrician. Of course it probably would have been safer to call him FIRST, but – I didn’t. LOL. It’s almost as if I never received a call along the lines of “Hey doc, I just gave my cat a tablet of tylenol because she seemed to be in pain. That’s ok, right?” (another story for another day) but live and learn, my friends. Live and learn. Anyway…

My POINT is – sometimes you have to jury-rig things in the veterinary clinic until your boss will buy you a new one.

Send us your best pictures of jury-rigged veterinary equipment. We’ll keep it non-identifying for your boss’ sake.

And here are the two pictures I have from that day – sorry no image of the final product, I don’t know how that happened – probably got interrupted and had to do some type of patient care!

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