I miss having stories. When I was a vet nurse I had interesting stories to tell and experiences to share. I had tales of midnight emergencies and specialist surgeries, strange cases and funny ones too (removing a pair of men’s underpants from the intestines of a dog was always tricky – sometimes the offending article did not belong to the man of the house and that was always an awkward moment). Even my injuries were interesting, ranging from an almost fractured kneecap when I dropped an Xray box on to it, to dog bites and scalpel cuts and various other surgical mishaps. I once almost gave myself a flip-top thumb whilst removing a scalpel blade carelessly from its holder. Ouch. I’ve been stabbed with needles meant for the patient (cue yet another tetanus injection for me), had a nasty case of ringworm , been left bruised and battered by over-exuberant staffies (I love them, but God almighty they’re nuts) and left scarred for life by feral cats.
I was lucky in the dog-bite category. I only had a couple in my decade-long nursing career and even one of those was an accident : my arm just happened to get in the way of an in-pain German Shepherd who was just snapping at the sedation injection I was giving her. My arm blew up into one massive haematoma and I was disappointed the swelling only lasted a couple of days before I could really show it off to anyone.
With people I am a coward. I have no courage where human beings are concerned – they scare me and I don’t understand them. Animals? Piece of cake. They make sense to me and I understand them and their basic behaviours and needs. I prided myself on being able to make friends with nasty dogs and cats alike. And if not succeeding in becoming a bosom buddy, I could at least gain enough trust that they wouldn’t try to eat my face off. Which is always a bonus, let’s be honest. We did have one dog I was mortally afraid of – a Scottish Terrier named Monty. He was nasty. He would strike fear into all our hearts as we prayed that we would not be the one to prepare him for surgery. I could not, whatever I tried, make him like me. He would go for the throat if he could, but, being only a foot or so high, would generally go for the legs and ankles. You could not take your eye off him for a second – he would have you. Now, you may think Oh, little scotty dogs are so cute! They couldn’t hurt anyone!, but let me tell you, my friend, how very wrong you are. Scottish Terriers may be small but they have the tenacity and (unfortunately) jaw size of a much larger dog. Their jaws are as powerful as a German Shepherd and their teeth just as large. Not fun when you combine that with the strength and killer attitude of Attila the Hun. Of course, not all scotties are like that, but Monty, bless him, was vicious. We always treated him well and didn’t care for him any less than we should, but we were always glad to see the back of him – hopefully with no necessary follow-up appointments.
Some of the bigger dogs were also a handful. Bear, a particularly unpleasant Rottweiler was a bit of a nightmare. Though not a large Rotty (thank goodness), he was still big enough to do damage and serious damage at that. He was kept permanently muzzled – there was no other way to stay safe around him. I was usually the one called upon to help with sedating him fro surgery, a role that meant basically sitting on him, legs straddled around his head so he couldn’t turn to bite the injector at the side of him. Fun times. But still, he was no competition for Monty.
Cats could also pose a problem because they were more difficult to handle if aggressive and had extra weapons (ie teeth AND claws). You can’t successfully muzzle a cat and they are strong and feisty when upset. And claws and teeth HURT. AND get infected and scar. Speed is the name of the game when dealing with cats as they get cranky pretty quickly and the longer you handle them, the more agitated they get, which is fair enough.
One charming kitty we had to deal with (not regularly, thank goodness!) was called, not very imaginatively, “Puss”. He was, to be frank, a psycho. So much so that his owners had to bring him in to the clinic in a hessian sack. There was no handling of Puss. Touch him and you would lose a finger. I’m afraid we had to almost shut his head in a cupboard once in order to inject him with sedative…this was an accidental method – not really the ethically recommended way of doing things. Puss lived to a comfortable old age and (thankfully for us) did not get sick very often. He lived with an ex-clinic cat of ours, a beautiful Russian Blue called Clouseau who was as delightful as Puss was dreadful.
In amongst the day-to-day, ordinary, bread-and-butter type cases, we also had lots of interesting patients, injuries and clients:
- The little dog who needed intricate surgery to rebuild his ribcage after it was shattered during a savage dog attack. That was interesting enough on its own but, to add to the story, when we clipped him up to prepare for surgery, we realised he was missing an eye, and obviously had been for several years. The owners were completely unaware and had no idea what happened to the eye.
- The gorgeous Border Collie Max who, also injured badly in an attack, was near death and almost lost a leg (it was almost ripped clean off). The damage to his body was so severe and extensive, that his skin began dying off and he had to undergo surgery and skin grafts almost every day to repair the wounds and regrow the skin. He had to wear a full body stocking and be carried everywhere to toilet and eat. He remained with us for over a month and as he got steadily happier and healthier, he became a bit of a handful. But I think we were all glad of that – he was returning to his former self and was obviously responding well to all the care and attention.
- The unfortunate pooch who decided jumping on a lawn mower whilst it was being used was a good idea. He was lucky to only lose three toes.
- The gorgeous ginger tom who was admitted with a serious case of pyothorax (a bacterial infection in the chest cavity) who had to submit to daily treatment – the insertion of a surgical “tap” so we could drain off the pus and fluid filling his chest. The most beautiful, well-natured feline in history – he never complained, never scratched or bit anyone despite being in pain and having to undergo such unpleasant treatment every day, without anaesthetic (because it would be too risky in his condition).
- The Koala with cataracts.
- The canine bowel obstructions caused by swallowed bones (full-sized), tennis balls (whole), squash balls, metres of elastic, bras, socks, corn cobs and other paraphernalia.
- The amputees and the pregnant mummies, the over-sized tumours and the late-night emergency calls to treat Fido who’d consumed entire boxes of snail pellets or birth control pills or condoms.
- The abandoned kittens and the neglected puppies.
- The wounded kangaroos and the injured and lost baby birds.
- The vomiting vets (allergic to anaesthetic fumes) and the fainting nurses, the hysterical clients and the annoying ones, the men who would sob at the loss of their beloved “mate” and the children who would watch stoically as their lifelong companion fought for his or her life.
There were so many wonderful animals and the people who loved them. I won’t go into the people who didn’t fall into this category – the neglectful ones, the down-right abusive ones and the ones who had no business owning an animal or being anywhere near one. Cruelty to animals is something I do not understand and cannot bear.
So I miss having tales to tell and being around animals as much as I was. I loved my extended four-legged family and came to know some of them as well as my own pets. I celebrated their successes and return to health and mourned their passing when the time came. I never begrudged the blood or the muck, the endless sweeping and mopping of hairy floors or the constant changing of newspaper in the kennels. I stood in the rain with dogs on leads, waiting patiently for a cocked leg or a dainty squat. I welcomed newborns into the world and said goodbye to the elderly friends whose life had become a struggle and the only thing left to do was grant them peace and to do so with love and dignity. Although euthanasia was always sad, I also looked at it as a blessing – the final loving gesture that could rid a life of pain.
The job was stressful and, at times, difficult to deal with, but I will always remember the characters I met and the wonderful people who cared for them. It made me hug my own animals a little bit tighter and pray for their continued good health (vet nurses are the worst – we know what can go wrong and every sign and symptom foretells death and doom).
I miss having any pets (I have never liked saying “pets” – it seems disrespectful, but “animals” seems too distant and clinical) and I hope to one day have a menagerie again. In the meantime I pay special attention to our office dog and make friends with neighbourhood cats, watch the local waterbirds and listen intently to friends’ tales of their furry family member’s antics. If you are lucky enough to be blessed with a four-legged, furred, feathered, scaled or hoofed friend, may you get to enjoy their company for many years and share lots of happy times together. Give them a cuddle from me.