Animals

I’ve always been a bit conflicted regarding the subject of pets. On one hand, I hate the concept of ownership of another living thing. On the other hand, I love the adorable, little things. If left on my own, I probably would not have a pet, but my wife was a ferret owner before I came along, so when we moved in together, we all became part of the same family. Since then, our family has grown. Animals take up a significant part of our life now, so allow me to introduce you to our triumvirate of triumvirates.

Ferrets

I’ve already mentioned these guys to you and, since they were our first pets, it seems only right that I should talk about them first. Currently, we have 3; one male, Ollie, and two females, Luna and Harley. They are rescue ferrets, as all of ours have been for the past decade or so. The most ferrets we’ve had at any one time is five, which is a lot of ferrets. They are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active during dawn and dusk, and are obligate carnivores. Mischievous and sly, they have the “fuck you” attitude that I like in my pets. They’ll sleep 20 hours out of a day and spend the rest planning an Oceans 11 style bank heist.

Before you get any ideas about owning a ferret, let me destroy them for you. Ferrets are not for you. I have talked more people out of owning ferrets than I have talked people out of suicide, and I worked on a suicide hotline. Born escape artists, if you don’t tirelessly scrutinize every inch of whatever area you’re going to keep them in, they will find a way out. They will be gone and most likely dead inside of a week. Leave anything around for them to chew on and something will inevitably get stuck in their intestinal track and, boom, dead. That or surgery for a few grand. Courageous to the point of stupidity, they laugh in death’s face every damn day. Oh, did I mention their tendency towards adrenal disease and kidney failure? I’ve fed the little suckers by hand, injected water under their skin (sub-Q) to keep them hydrated and stayed awake over 24 hours at a stretch caring for one post-op. Unless you love ferret enough to see yourself doing those things, ferrets are not for you.

Chickens

When we first expanded our menagerie, chickens were our first non-ferret to join. I gotta admit, these girls are hard to love. They are not cuddly. They do not love you. They are straight up bitches sometimes. That being said, if you had any idea how much chicken art I’ve done, then you know I find them gorgeous. Also, you can’t beat fresh eggs from your own free range chickens. I shit you not. Seriously, the difference between what our girls lay and the bland, uniform monstrosities that you buy in the grocery store is straight up legit.

These guys do demand a degree of vigilance, because everything thinks they are so very tasty. I’ve fought off more than one racoon who was looking for our little Chic-fil-A. We’ve lost at least one to a raccoon and one just disappeared. Could’ve been a hawk that flew off with it, but there weren’t even signs of a struggle. We have an 8 x 8 chicken run, walled in on all sides with fine mesh (about 1cm, I think) wire screening on all sides. When I say all sides, I mean it; four walls, a top and a bottom. Why a bottom? Because you wouldn’t believe the number of things that want to burrow up from below. If not to eat our chickens, then to get to their tasy, tasty feed.

 

Goats

The latest addition to our crew are two Nigerian dwarf goats near the end of 2017, Colleen and Moon Pie. Colleen got bred and, in the summer of 2018, gave birth to our little chocolate chunk, Starfire. We didn’t initially intend to keep Starfire, but she kind of grew on us and now we have three goats, hence, our triumvirate of triumvirates. They are pets, but we milk them, too. Or rather, my wife milks them; I have yet to put in the time in to learn. She uses the milk to make cheese and yogurt.

I lump goats into one of three categories: meat, milk and fiber, depending on their uses. Ours are basically pets, so there’s a fourth category, but goats, in general, are considered livestock, so have been defined by the resources they provide. As much as I love goat meat, the last thing either my wife or I want is a slaughterhouse in our backyard. The neighbors probably wouldn’t be too thrilled either. Since my wife spins and knits her own fiber, I would’ve guessed that we would have fiber goats, but the cheese making won out. No complaints here. I like our goats, and their milk, just fine.

Speaking of our backyard, we actually delivered Starfire ourselves there. It was quite the experience. I can remember, back in medical school and internship, being with an OB/GYN doc and waiting for a patient to go into labor. Just waiting for my pager to go off. Yes, I’m that old, we used pagers. It could be an hour or it could be a day. Every minute that ticked off was one spent in anxious anticipation, like an exam that one was nervous about and the proctor could jump out at any moment, even if you were asleep, and proceed to start the test. Waiting for Starfire to be born was very much like that. Not having any experience in recognizing the signs of goat labor, we probably spent a week or two in that Sword of Damocles state, getting maybe 3-5 hours of sleep a night. Once it began, the delivery itself was over in about 40 minutes, but, boy, that waiting. And, we’re about to breed Colleen and Moon Pie again, so hopefully I’ll handle it better this time. On the plus side, I’ll have a blog post all about new baby goats in a few months, so it’ll all be worth it.

Emergency: Hand Laceration!

During my internship, my fellow interns and I were assigned a different service each month. It was part of a family practice residency, so we rotated through most of the basic things we would be expected to deal with. A few months of pediatrics, a few months of OB/GYN, a few months of internal medicine, etc. Four months out of the year, we were house docs, just staying in house (in the hospital) and taking care of whatever needed a doctor, or to be more accurate, a doctor’s signature. Mostly, this was just keeping things on an even keel. The patients were stable for the most part, with orders written already. We were there in case something came up; complaints of constipation, keeping blood sugars in check, talking with family member who wanted info if the attending wasn’t around, stuff like that.

Two of these months were the day shift, coming in at 6AM for morning report and working until 6PM. Two of those months were night shift, coming in at 6PM and leaving, usually, after morning report, around 7AM. The nights were quiet for the most part, but whoever was on was the only doctor in the hospital. That’s not entirely true; there was an ER doc on overnight, too, but, except for the most life threatening of emergencies, he was never seen. And while the hospital was not large, it consisted of a standard medical/post-surgical floor, an ER, a rehab unit (occupational/physical therapy rehab, not drug rehab), a geropsych lockdown unit and a 5 bed ICU. I loved working nights. I’m a night person, so I never slept when I was working nights and I made sure everything ran smoothly.

I would come in at 6PM and meet with whoever was on day shift and get the report. How many patients were in each unit, what needed to be done, what problems should be anticipated; that sort of thing. Then, and this is the important part, I would meet with the nurses on each unit. They are the boots on the ground and could usually tell me more about the patients than the doctors’ notes. If things were quiet, I’d go back to the residents’ break room and get some food in me. There was cable TV and internet, so I could occupy myself quite well, but I knew that an emergency could arise at any second. So I would round every 3-4 hours, visiting each unit, talking to the nurses, preemptively taking care of whatever I could. For the vast majority of the time, things worked great. Every now and again, however, I would get something story worthy.

One such night was going swimmingly. Quiet Med/Surg floor, empty ICU, empty rehab unit. I was happily surveying our empty ER when I saw two men standing at the admitting desk. Both swayed ever so slightly, one of whom was holding his arm up, a crimson towel wrapped around his right hand. I was slow to realize that the towel had originally been white. Once back in the ER, I learned that the gentleman in question had just recently been fired. He had been a cook at a local bar and, after getting his walking papers, decided a day of drinking would be in order. Evidently, he had drunk enough, with his companion, that it had seemed like a good idea to go back to the fine establishment he had been fired from, to continue his inebriation. Upon encountering the manager that had fired him, my patient had decided that it would be better to put his fist through a plate glass window, rather than his former manager’s face, leading to him now sitting before me.

Unwrapping the bloody towel, I found his hand to be a gory mess, oozing red, with a single, pulsing jet of arterial spray providing dramatic effect to the whole scene. I rewrapped the hand and excused myself, swiftly walking to find the ER doc. Explaining to him that I felt that this man needed more than what I could provide, that he needed an orthopedic hand surgeon, he groggily followed me to inspect the damage. He was nonplussed. Pointing to the spouting arterial, he said, “Tie that off first, then repair that tendon, and that one, and then sew him up. He can follow up with a specialist later.” With that, he wearily went back to bed.

Resigned to the task at hand, I set up my sterile field, gloved up and injected his hand with anesthetic. Luckily, both of the men were so inebriated that I don’t think either of them were feeling much of anything. It took me roughly 90 minutes to put his hand back together. After it was done, I was convinced that I had mutilated and crippled this man. I urged him to follow up with some doctor (any doctor, for the love of God!), fearing infection, fearing disability, and sent him on his way. It was one of the more trying experiences in my life and it remains vivid in my mind and I’m not sure I would be telling anyone any of this, if this were the ending I had. As they say in the infomercials, however, but, wait, there’s more.

Years later, after I had left medicine, I was working out at some gym (I don’t remember which one I was with at the time) and I heard someone say, “Excuse me.” I didn’t recognize the man, but he asked if I was a doctor. After a few more questions, we had determined that I was, indeed, the man that had sewed his hand up. I openly expressed how convinced I had been that I had ruined his hand. He showed me the appendage in question and there wasn’t a single scar upon it. His take on the night, though fuzzy, was very different. He felt very well cared for and said his hand healed better than he expected it would. I don’t live in a world of black and white, but his words allowed me to chalk this experience up to a win. The whole reason for me to go into medicine was to feel like I was helping people, and his thanks to me is an experience I will always cherish.