It was a typical day of practice, or as typical as they get. I was finishing an appointment for an annual exam and vaccinations for a cat. The clients were a mother and her two preschool age children. I was issuing my finishing remarks for the appointment and asked, “So, are there any questions?” The little girl raised her hand and said, “Wow! You sure do have beat up hands!” I looked at my hands and replied “Well, veterinary medicine is a contact sport.” I high fived the kids and the family departed the exam room.
From the mouth of babes comes the truth more often than not. I guess my hands are a bit “beat up.” I have acquired my share of scars from encounters with small birds to lizards, cats and dogs, to monkeys. Some of the scars are more obvious while some are hidden or more mental than physical. They all tell a story, some more interesting than others.
There is the scar on the knuckle of my right index finger. I got that one from a really old cat that had only two teeth and a bad mouth infection. Somehow, she managed to sink both her two remaining canines into my hand. One into the knuckle from the palm and the other from the opposite side. The infection in her mouth was so severe, between my pulling back and her deciding to let go, her upper canine was left in my knuckle. One tooth extracted, one to go. I pulled the tooth out of my hand, changed my glove and removed the lower canine.
Cat bites are notorious for becoming infected, so I made a trip to the emergency room after the cat recovered from the procedure. Even though I was treated at the ER, the bite became infected. I developed sepsis, ended up having a central venous line installed, and taking self-administered IV antibiotics for two weeks. I was off work by doctor’s orders for over a month. I made the best of the situation by taking a vacation during my treatment, with my doctor’s permission of course. I figured it was better to convalesce in the warmth of Palm Springs than in the rain and cold of a Seattle winter. My employer’s reaction to my choice of recovery locality is another story.
Then there is the 4 inch scar on my left shoulder. It is the result of a shoulder reconstruction due to two male Cynomolgus Monkeys playing tug of war with my arm.
We were performing semiannual health checks for a colony of about 25 monkeys. We were in the process of herding the monkeys into a catch area so we could isolate, sedate, and examine each animal. I was walking across the enclosure toward the catch area, when I stepped in a deposit of post digested monkey chow, slipped and fell flat on my back. Two large males seized the opportunity while I was down. When most people think of monkeys, they think of small cute animals, but these Cynomolgus males each weighed at least 45 pounds and were as strong as a man. They raced out of the catch area, grabbed my left arm, and began dragging me across the enclosure while chewing on my hand. Luckily, I was wearing a heavy pair of leather gloves, so my hands were only severely bruised from the biting, but my rotator cuff was severely torn as a result of being dragged about 10 feet across the enclosure. The resulting injury, surgery, and physical therapy took over a year of recovery time. It was the single most painful experience I have ever had. At the risk of assault, I do compare it to child birth.
Of all my injuries, another involving a monkey was the scariest and in fact, life threatening.
I was stitching up some pretty severe lacerations on a male monkey, resulting from a fight with another monkey. The monkey I was working on had a known Herpes simian B virus infection. Humans who are infected with this virus can present with severe central nervous system disease which can result in severe neurological dysfunction or death. The entire time I was stitching his wounds, I was thinking, “Don’t stick yourself. Don’t stick yourself.” As I silently repeated this mantra, sure enough I plunged the suture needle into my left index finger, creating a potential exposure to the virus. As a result I spent a year being tested for the virus and taking Acyclovir, an anti-viral drug. Thankfully, I was not infected and was strikingly thinner due to the nausea and gastrointestinal distress from my chemotherapeutic treatment.
My career as a veterinarian is far from over, so I am sure there are more work related injuries and scars to come. Hopefully the worst of them are behind me. Just in case, I will make sure to keep my health insurance current. Thank you Mr. President!
Dr. Pierre Bland is the owner of Dr. Bland’s Vet House Calls. He can be reached at 954-673-8579 or at doctorblandvet.com.