Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ounaai suffers my improving veterinarian skills

The only time Ounaai tolerates the camera is when she is sleeping.

Vaccination attempt: round one

I am nervous. I withdraw the liquid portion of the vaccine into the syringe, insert the needle into the vial of the powdered portion, squirt the liquid in with the powdered portion, mix the solution well, and then withdraw the now ready-to-use mixture back into the syringe. I am now ready to vaccinate. Ounaai senses something is up, but I sit with her, restrain her with my legs, speak soothingly to her, grab the scruff of her neck, and insert the needle. Jab is more like it--the needle seems as big around as a tree trunk. She yelps, struggles and I hurry. She struggles more, I worry of her escaping my grasp, and hurriedly plunge the syringe quickly. She struggles even harder, she is crying with pain, I am still plunging the syringe, but she struggles and I pull it out. Whatever was coming out of the plunging syringe, along with anything else pulsing through Ounaai insides, sprays into my eyes. She’s now thoroughly pissed at and frightened of me and I’m running to the sink to flush my eyes out with tap water.

As I’m flushing my yes, I’m thinking what it must feel like to be a healthcare worker, having just been sprayed in the eyes with a syringe full of something coming out of the human body. In the age of HIV and TB it doesn’t take a great leap to think of how frightening such a scenario could be, and for the first time in my life, I am empathizing with health care workers completely. After all, who knows what has just entered my bloodstream through my eyes. (A friend would later tease that at least I wouldn’t contract distemper.)

Perhaps she'll tolerate the camera if she is eating?

I call the vet, explain what has happened, and oddly, am more worried about whether or not I got enough of the vaccine into the dog than the condition of my eyes. I would hate having gone through such awfulness for nothing. I told him I had gotten “most of it”-- the vaccine-- into the dog and he told me she would be fine. As for me and my eyes, yes, he assured, I should be fine too, and to just rinse my eyes well. This I have done and do some more. Did I hear a chuckle in his voice? Did he think this funny? I have slight stinging in my eyes for the rest of the evening, but otherwise, all is well.

Nope, not tolerating the camera!
 Vaccination attempt: round two

Poor Ounaai. If only she had a competent health-care provider.

I did round two of vaccinations this weekend past and thankfully, she won’t need any more. (Well, she’s supposed to get a yearly booster…) I went to the vet to pick up her second round of vaccinations and ask for some “coaching” as to how to better administer it. The vet, who is wonderful by the way—everyone at this clinic is wonderfully helpful—asked me back into the “no man’s land” of behind the scenes vet care. (He’s let me come back before and knows I’m curious and not squeamish.) I tell him how my disastrously bad my first attempt was, and much to my chagrin, he is delighted and reacts with hilarity at my account of poor Ounaai enduring such a blundering, painful shot. In the back room, where dogs are recovering, he pulls out a dog from a cage to demonstrate the proper administration of an injection. (The dog needed a shot anyway; he wasn’t just using an animal for my benefit.) The vet showed me how to grab the scruff at the neck, (I was correct here), but he further showed me to make a “tent” in the scruff of her neck to form a depression in her scruff within which to insert the needle and to protect her muscles.

Oh, so THAT’s how you do it!!

However, the best advice was that he told me that if she struggled, to release my grasp on the syringe. If she struggled, I was to release the syringe, with it still inserted in her neck, (but not release the dog), and let her calm. The worst of it was over, she felt the stick and the needle was in, so she would no longer feel it. He told me to wait for her to calm and then slowly and gently depress the plunger of the syringe. He showed all of this too me on the huge dog that was recovering, and while he demonstrated everything beautifully, I kept thinking to myself, “Yeah, but THIS dog is sedated. Mine will not be sedated.”

Nope, definitely NOT tolerating the camera!

And this is the cool, the cool part, the cool part… The demonstration dog HAD BEEN BITTEN BY A PUFF ADDER!!  I was so excited! Not excited that the poor dog had been bitten by a puff adder, poor thing, but YES!, to have evidence that there are puff adders in Africa, even if I haven’t seen one.  Before coming to South Africa, I read anything about South African flora and fauna I could get my hands on.  In some of my reading, I learned that South Africa’s more common snake is the puff adder (Bitis arietans)—it’s found in all regions of South Africa.  A family member, noting my excitement asked, “What’s a puff adder?”  I replied, still excitedly, “It’s one of the most venomous snakes in the WORLD!”  She was worried, I was excited!  By the way, no, I do not want to be BITTEN by a puff adder;  however, it would be thrilling to see one.  As with all wild creatures, they despise being bothered and  bite only defensively.  They do not slither around with the sole purpose of seeking and biting someone.  I have not come across a puff adder in the wild, even though I worried I would when building my thorn fence (but it was winter time).  I have come across a cape cobra (Naja nivea) outside my village and a horned adder (Bitus caudalis) in Messina when I went to see the baobab trees.  Thrilling finds!

Ounaai now very grumpy with my camera has decided to sit outside.

Anyway, back to the dog. I had often wondered what domestic animals do if bitten while grazing: the cattle, donkeys, and goats are all over the wild places between the villages. The vet told me that dogs actually do better than humans with a puff adder bite. This is because a dog has very loose skin that has plenty of “give” to accommodate the swelling of tissue that results with a snake bite. Humans, on the other hand, have tight skin and therefore have no “room” to “give” with the resulting swelling. The vet then he pointed out, of the dog, “See how big his head is? His head is five times its normal size!” (I couldn’t tell because I was unfamiliar with the breed. He just looked to me like a dog with a big head—hey, some breeds have big heads!—and woozy from his sedation.) The vet felt certain of this animal’s recovery and further added that the antivenin for dogs is very expensive. So, this guy had a very caring owner.

So, that was pretty cool. However, I still had to face Ounaai, so it was time to head home.


This is Ounaai’s former beau, Fella… Isn’t he gorgeous? 
The “heat” of the romance cooled with Ounaai’s spaying.

Poor Ounaai. She just knew something was up. As soon as I walked in the door, she ducked her head and cast down her eyes. I just read Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Tag and Erdrich does a fantastic job of portraying the family dogs in the novel as ultra sensitive to the family dynamic—dogs just know, you know? I could tell Ounaai knew something was up. In the States, our vet back plies our animals with Pupperoni to distract them when administering vaccinations. I couldn’t find any Pupperoni in Vryburg, but decided to try biltong instead. (Biltong is a South Africa’s version of beef jerky. Go ahead, roll your eyes. But I’m telling you, a girl in Peace Corps has gotta do what a girl in Peace Corps has gotta do!) I approached Ounaai, with biltong in hand (and the syringe behind my back), but she would have none of it. Because she is a very, very good dog, she did not run from me, but sat bravely for the painful horrors that awaited her. I tried to give her the biltong, but she only tentatively held it in her mouth, not even biting it, but holding it between her lips! I tried to wrestle up some neck scruff, but she had hers bolted down like armor. Bless her heart—she knew what was coming. Her injection went much better this second time. I felt much better about administering it, felt better informed with the how and why of it, and was generally more relaxed all the way around. She did struggle a bit, I let go of the syringe, and she quieted immediately, just as the vet had said she would. I reassured her, the worst of it was over (she had already felt the needle stick), and I lightly depressed the plunger. With the needle withdrawn, she decided she liked biltong very much, could she have some more?

Fella is very shy.

Just think… If I kept at it, I could become the best vaccinator Ounaai has ever had! It’s too bad I only had a couple of tries and she had to endure my beginner’s clumsiness—especially in regards to a painful shot!

In thinking about Ounaai enduring the development of my veterinarian skills, I couldn’t help but make comparisons in other areas of my life. I shudder to think of my first class of freshmen composition students, and how in the world they survived me trying to figure out what in the heck I was doing. Surprisingly, my best student that first-go-round of teaching remains a very good friend, even today, and he remembers nothing odd or amiss about our writing class. And then my sons—oh my-- how they suffered from inexperience and my ongoing, blundering attempts at parenting! You can’t imagine how I wish for a second chance at raising my sons!

Ounaai suffers the development of my veterinarian skills; my composition students suffered the development of my teaching skills; and my sons suffered the development of my parenting skills.

Second chances? If only!


PS. While I is easy to fall into a guilt-induced spiral of shame and regret inspired by the lost opportunities of second chances, it occurs to me that some things just won’t improve with second, third, and well, many more tries: No matter how many times I try, I cannot seem to cook a pretty egg; no matter how many attempts I make at homemade hummus, I can’t seem to find happiness with my resulting paste; no matter how hard I study or try to learn an additional language, I can’t seem to find fluency.

PSS. Ounaai is officially “ruined” as a dog. She knows that in a cabinet in my kitchen sits a tin canister containing a lovely biltong treat that she sometimes gets if Karen is anywhere near the kitchen. So guess who is lying at my feet anytime I’m near the kitchen, mildly begging for a treat? Go ahead, roll your eyes! I’m rolling mine too!

Fella usually lies curled up in the tall grass outside my home at the bottom of my stairs.


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