Coping with information overload problem

01 February 2009, at 12:00am

Andrew Knight continues his series on achieving CPD the hard way!

Despite my best efforts, the nagging feeling persisted that recent expeditions to conferences in Canada, Scotland and Austria (Veterinary Practice October- December 2008) had somehow failed to increase my clinical acumen.

 Accordingly, when a colleague invited me to attend her book launch at the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt last October, I leapt at the chance. Surely, amongst thousands of books displayed by over 7,000 exhibitors from all corners of the globe, I could not fail to glean some pearls of clinical wisdom! Attended by more than 286,000 visitors, the book fair easily dwarfed any veterinary, scientific or popular conference I’d ever been to. I wandered spellbound (or, in several cases, caught the shuttle bus) between various conference halls, usually the size of small city blocks, filled to bursting with books of every shape, size and language.

 In the comic section (into which I strayed, purely by accident), hundreds of German youth had congregated, copiously adorned with black and purple make-up, torn fishnet stockings, and wielding a scary variety of weapons, among which grim reaperstyle scythes featured prominently. Either the misanthropy of German youth exceeded that of any veterinary or other subculture I had yet encountered, or I was seriously out-ofdate with comic superheroes.

 Rumours of free organic soy-lattes led me to the spirituality section, where I discovered an amazingly detailed acupuncture and energy flow chart. Unfortunately, canine and feline versions were lacking. To my great surprise, however, it was the business section into which the tidal flow of people inexorably delivered me, where I finally struck gold.

 For years I had been perplexed by the question of precisely how certain of my client practices managed to consistently run their businesses so badly.

 In my vet locuming adventures to date I have encountered premises lacking basic emergency drugs and equipment, years of accumulated grime beneath operating theatre tables, and clinical notes more similar to mysterious messages from lost civilisations, scrawled on fading paper cards with dust levels more akin to crumbling Egyptian tablets than to modern medical records.

 Particularly disturbing was a piece of paper towel, framed and labelled “endangered species - last of its kind”, on the noticeboard of a certain practice which had banned the use of such precious specimens to clean consult tables, in a desperate attempt to cut costs. Management presumably assumed the heavy breathing of stressed vets and nurses would be sufficient to adequately remove pus, blood and anal gland secretions, thereby preventing disease transmission between one animal and the next.

 As my experience has grown, I have increasingly wondered whether such consistently appalling standards could result solely from ignorance, accident or carelessness, or whether they might, in fact, be the result of a rather more sinister plan, aimed at systematically pushing their veterinary personnel toward the brink of insanity.

 The secret text...

 At last, the answer was revealed to me at the Frankfurt Book Festival. There on the table to which the surging crowd had so fortuitously delivered me was the secret text these practices had clearly been following: The Business Book of Horror

This sinister tome was replete with true and grisly stories about unnerving, confounding colleagues who are resistant or impervious to change, and shocking examples from major corporations.

 For final confirmation, I cross-checked the definition of confounding: (i) to perplex or amaze, bewilder, confuse; (ii) to throw into confusion or disorder; (iii) to contradict or refute; (iv) to bring to ruin or naught. The behavioural profiles of certain of my practice managers were a perfect match! 

Overwhelmed by the magnitude of my discovery, and the nearly endless sea of knowledge in which I was inexorably immersed, I began to diagnose within myself the first symptoms of Advanced Information Overload: a nearly overpowering urge to recline on a tropical island beach (to process and reflect).

 Urgent intervention is required when symptoms are advanced, and whilst not quite within the Frankfurt city limits, the Mediterranean island of Mallorca was nevertheless the closest I could find.

 A quick check on revealed that our flights would produce 0.3 tonnes of CO2 which, for only a few additional pounds, could be offset in a variety of interesting ways. Renewable energy projects in Turkey and China were prominently offered.

 The rapid economic growth and associated industrialisation of China, in combination with increasing affluence and the adoption of consumptive Western lifestyles, combined with a rising population of over 1.3 billion people, result in impacts on global warming and loss of biodiversity that are particularly grave.

 Accordingly, I was keen to encourage Chinese energy conservation, and chose to support a waste heat recovery project at a cement production facility. New equipment funded partly by my trip will utilise waste heat to generate electricity for use on-site, thereby replacing electricity generated by fossil fuel power stations which run mainly on coal.

 In due course we arrived on the Mallorcan beaches, with slightly cleaner consciences. However, the years of insanity-inducing veterinary experiences finally appeared to be taking their toll, because within a short time I had left the sunshine, white sands and palm trees, in favour of the jagged rocks and precipitous drops of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, along the north-west coast.

 I rashly embarked on a 20km horizontal, 2.4km vertical hike through mud, rain, fog, and a long, dark, partially flooded mountain tunnel.

 As I contemplated a more dangerous descent from a ridge, a sheep bleated disturbingly and persistently at me out of the swirling mist from the top of a cliff.

An omen of doom...

 I could not help feeling it was an omen of doom, and so I heeded the sheep’s advice, halting my questionable advance. A desperate run down a mountain track followed thereafter - again in pouring rain - delivering me to my hire car as the last pale dregs of daylight faded. I exited into a lightening storm. By some trick of Mallorcan weather, the beaches remained sunny and clear throughout.

 Despite such dubious pleasures, the highlight of this trip was our cautious penetration 500 metres into the freezing floodwaters exiting from the Torrent de Pareis – the second largest eroded canyon in Southern Europe. Descending the 4km Torrent in winter, when neoprene and ropes are mandatory, remains the last major thrill on the island for daring locals.

 As a former spelunker I am most excited by Sa Fosca - “The Darkness” - a flooded region into which no light at all penetrates! I’m seeking volunteers to join my descent of the Torrent next winter, equipped with wetsuits, torches, inflatables and ropes. Insanity is an important prerequisite; experienced veterinary personnel would therefore be ideal.

 Interested readers can reach me via