In 2014 Nelson Youth Council conducted a series of interviews for Heritage Week 2015. They spoke with people involved in areas of health and medicine and this is one of a number of stories which was displayed in Elma Turner Library.
Jeff Grimmett - Veterinarian (BVSc Massey 1974, DiplACT)
Jeff Grimmett decided to become a veterinarian after meeting one when he was ten years old. It appeared to him to be the perfect career. He recalls this man had everything “…fast cars, big salary, lovely wife…and had a good time driving around in his car fixing up animals.”
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Grimmett graduated at the end of 1973 from Massey University where he studied Veterinary Science. His chosen area was large animals, such as horses and cows, which led to spending lots of time in rural areas. His professional practice has spanned forty years. He is now attempting retirement, in Nelson, but he is still doing jobs and projects for places like the Nelson ARK, and is on the Veterinary Council board for New Zealand, which is the regulating body for all the vets in New Zealand.
Changes in medical technology have been huge. “When I first started, it was all intravenous anaesthesia, which at the time was quite advanced. There were barbiturates which were safer than Ether and Chloroform, which they used before for anaesthesia. The drugs we use now are very safe.” Grimmett highlighted that even small changes like moving from glass to plastic syringes, although not environmentally friendly, make it much safer for everyone involved.
“And of course most vets love gadgets, so lots of clinics have machines that do stuff, blood machines and autoclaves to sterilise the instruments, heaps of different things,” he said ”but with advancements happening in leaps and bounds, it makes keeping up with it quite challenging.”
Grimmett recalls: “Back when I started you could literally be the vet for anything, any species, but it’s too hard now. There’s too much knowledge – it has exploded. Back when I started there were about five books. If you learnt the books you knew it all. Last count there was something like 5000 books on Google. So there’s no way you can learn it all now.”
Grimmett said changes in technology have meant the almost complete eradication of some types of diseases, which can also affect humans. Tuberculosis was a big one carried through cow’s milk, and lots of people used to die from that.” The eradication programme, with TB testing, hasn’t entirely eliminated the disease, but it almost has. In places like Kahurangi National Park, where you’ve got possums carrying the disease which come into contact with cows, the disease can still be a problem. If you go to places like the Waikato you’ll find their herds are pretty much TB free, and that’s why you hardly ever hear of anyone getting TB anymore.”
“Brucellosis and Leptospirosis, are other diseases you used to get in cattle. Milking cows used to be a pretty high risk sport, considering you’d milk them twice a day. Leptospirosis has almost been vaccinated out of existence. With Brucellosis they went through a vaccination process and eventually they went into a culling process where they blood tested all the cows. Anything that had a positive result got sent to the meat works, which raised huge public health concerns.”
“Same with Hydatids in dogs, when I was a kid there was a Hydatids dosing programme. It’s a parasite that comes through the sheep, so the sheep gets eaten by the dog, if they’re infected then so then is the dog. Then he passes the eggs onto the pastures and the sheep eat them again. Virtually every sheep was infected, but we’ve pretty much nailed that. You don’t hear about it very often now. We had the worst rate of any country in the world. Those diseases have pretty much gone now. Not completely but nearly.” Grimmett explained.
While our technologies to combat illnesses are developing, so too are the bugs. “Disease patterns have changed, but they haven’t really gone away. Antibiotics have been a wonderful thing but they're running out of their firepower because the bugs are becoming resistant to the drugs now. So it’s highly likely that the diseases will bounce back. We’ve just been going through a period of a couple of generations, or 50-100 years where antibiotics were king. I’d say in another fifty years time, there will be serious infectious diseases in people and animals that we can’t cope with, with the current antibiotics we’ve got now. They may develop new ones but it’s getting harder.”
Cancer is one of our biggest killers, in both animals and humans. It sometimes seems that more and more pets are being diagnosed with cancer in recent years, but Grimmett felt that it was more an increase in diagnosis. “Basically in the old days if the dog was sick they’d take him outside and shoot him, and often they never really knew what was wrong with them, they just knew he was sick and that was the end of it. One thing that has changed is that people spend a lot more money on their pets. So we do diagnose diseases a lot more, and we treat it and fix some of them, so whether it’s more, not sure, I think it just seems more because most of the old diseases have been combated, they’re not getting killed by these other diseases and living longer and developing cancer.”
Grimmett has enjoyed his profession over the years, experiencing many positive and disappointing moments, “it wasn’t unknown for me to hop in my car and drive away crying into my steering wheel because it didn’t work out, but when I pulled one off, you feel very close to God. You think, that animal survived because I helped it, and I could live a month on that, it wouldn’t matter what else happened, I was so happy.” He explained that his job didn’t feel like work at all, it was just fun. “It totally absorbed me, I was just like a pig in a trough, and it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Jeff Grimmett was interviewed by Carla Lindley, 2014; interview edited by Debbie Daniell-Smith (updated July 2020)
Sources used in this story
- Interview with Jeff Grimmett, December 2014
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