Monday, January 25, 2016

Chomp Chomp

Many people assume that veterinarians get bitten a lot. In the ultrasound referral part of my practice where I don't know the patients I often get comments accompanied by a wry chuckle along the lines of, "It's a good thing you're seeing 'Killer' today, 'Precious' would take your arm off!" (This also illustrates a general principle that there is an inverse correlation between the name of the patient and its behaviour.) I'll sometimes catch people mentally counting my ten intact fingers. The truth is that I've only been badly bitten twice. I've been in practice 25 years and see somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple thousand patients a year. These are much better odds than you probably guessed.

That being said, the exceptions form an indelible mental rogue's gallery. Every veterinarian has one of these.  At the top of mine is Oscar Westenheimer. Oscar was a little chihuahua cross (of course he was) who resembled a baked potato with four toothpicks stuck in for legs and an angry walnut for a head. Oscar was in for a nail trim. We knew that he had anger issues so we were careful to muzzle him. The nail trim was done up on a table and afterwards Oscar was set back on the floor and then the muzzle was taken off. Have you guys been to Sea World? Or at least seen a video clip of when the trainer stands on a high platform and holds a fish out for Shamu who leaps cleanly out of the water to get the fish? Well, Oscar was Shamu, I was the inadvertent trainer and my right index finger was the fish. How that little baked potato could catch so much air astonishes me to this day, but as soon as the muzzle was off, up he came. Sailing through the air, fangs sharpened and then chomp, right through the fingernail. Off it came. This hurt. Fortunately the client wasn't there so I was able to verbally express myself in an honest and uncensored fashion.

The second time was more surprising. Despite the name I generally trusted Peaches so I thought nothing of examining her mouth. I carefully opened her mouth, holding the upper jaw steady with my left hand while gently levering the lower jaw down with that poor right index finger. Chomp. I still don't know why. She always wondered what it would be like? I didn't wash my hands thoroughly after lunch? Early onset doggie dementia?  

This is why we get bitten so rarely (relatively). The great majority of dogs will warn you using body language. I was probably too intent on chatting with the owner and on Peaches' tartar to tune into her warnings.

Occasionally though you will encounter a sociopathic dog. A dog who does not conform to the norms of dog communication. A dog who is going to bite you just for the heck of it. So although it was not a "bad bite" (i.e. no wound dressings and antibiotics required), Daffodil deserves honorable mention in my rogue's gallery. She was a Brazilian German shepherd. Very expensive, very fancy. She sat perfectly beside the owner in the waiting room, just as a very expensive, very fancy dog is expected to. The owner and I were talking and I was leaning on the reception counter, perhaps as far away from them as the distance across the average living room. Daffodil looked very relaxed and at ease. And then, before I could flinch or even blink, she was across the room with her jaw clamped on my thigh. Half a second later she was back beside the owner, sitting primly again, as if nothing had happened. The owner seemed unfazed. I, however, was thoroughly fazed and excused myself to go take my pants off in the washroom. She hadn't broken the skin, but had given me temporary red dental chart tattoo.  

What about cats? I've been lucky. Cats also generally give plenty of warning. A cat that is going to bite you radiates tension like a force field. I've also become very adept at carrying them gingerly like unexploded ordinance and handing them over to my staff, who are almost magical in their ability to manage the exploding cat. Usually. I do get scratched with tiresome regularity though. Once the nails went right through my lab coat and through my shirt, raking me across the chest and giving me a faintly piratical scar that I bear to this day.

But Oscar, oh Oscar, when I am one hundred years old and drooling and cannot remember that shoes go on my feet and not on my hands I will remember you.

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