Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2008, 12:00am

This week: A vet's accident

As a veterinarian my daily routine usually involves a continuous barrage of sick and injured animals, with several routine vaccinations dispersed in between. We are well equipped to deal with animals of the furry and feathery kind but occasionally we have other, unexpected human emergencies to deal with, some with hilarious and embarrassing results.

I remember about six years ago, at about 3am, I was the emergency veterinarian alone on duty. The nurse who was supposed to be on duty with me had a family emergency of her own and had to leave early. Murphy's Law is alive and well in the veterinary world - the moment my nurse left I had an emergency crash through my doors.

It was a client who lived on The Peak and had the rare privilege in Hong Kong of having a garden of his own. He doesn't do the gardening himself but has a gardener. With a garden come pests and a common garden pest is the humble brown snail. The gardener had used snail bait containing a compound called metaldehyde, and a small dose can be lethal. It causes a myriad symptoms, not the least of which are seizures, muscle tremors, panting, fever, increased heart rate and respiratory failure.

The quicker the dog is presented after ingesting the snail bait the better its chances are. The way we usually deal with the problem is to induce vomiting and start the animal on fluids, to help flush out the poisons in the blood and keep the kidneys working. Often we'll feed activated charcoal, similar to the stuff that people use in fish tank filters to absorb toxins. For muscle tremors we use valium as a relaxant.

But this dog was presented with respiratory failure as well as all of the above. I managed to stabilise its breathing and decided to place what we call a nasal-oxygen tube. This provides oxygen directly into the nostril. The tube is pushed into the nostril then fixed to the dog's head with superglue.

As it happens, the tube of superglue hadn't been used for a while and the outlet for the glue was jammed. It was getting rather late and I was very tired, and patience was running thin. I squeezed with a little too much strength and something horrible happened. The tube of glue split down the middle and the whole load of superglue shot straight into my face at both my eyes.

I was alone and had no solvent I could use, and it quickly dried and my eyes were glued tightly shut. I couldn't see a thing. First and foremost was the dog. I placed the dog gently back in the cage, blindly, and closed the cage door. Fortunately the dog was still very flat from the valium and there was no struggle.

Another fortunate thing was that my mobile phone was still in my pocket, so I figured it would be OK to call in the cavalry to save me. But when I pulled the phone out of my pocket, I realised I had one of those stupid new phones with a touch screen dial. That meant I couldn't dial out by feel.

There were the clinic's fixed-line phones, but they were wireless and could be anywhere in the clinic. So I felt my way through the clinic and all the surfaces, and after about 15 minutes of pure panic I finally found one of the phones.

I swallowed what was left of my pride and called up one of the other vets to come in to cover for me and to organise someone else to walk me to hospital.

After 20 minutes of darkness, the front door of the clinic opened and I heard the approach of two familiar voices. On entry to the room I was in, there came a moment of absolute silence for a long breath and then hysterical laughter.

After two or three minutes they managed to regain their composure, and with occasional snickering, my nurse walked me to the hospital nearby.

It was a quiet night in the hospital emergency ward and I was seen to quickly. The doctor used forceps to peel the glue from my eyelids and took off all my eyelashes and eyebrows in the process. She said I was lucky that I closed my eyes in time as there was overlapping of my eyelids when I closed them tight. My contact lenses were in bad repair but I manage to get home on my own.

The joy that I brought to my overnight duty nurses extended to my day time nurses and vets when they saw my bare naked eyelids and eye ridges. I had the humiliation of having to tell this story over and over again, not only to my staff but also my clients.

The other side affect of having superglue on your face for a few hours is the caustic fumes that get up your nose. I lost my sense of smell and taste for almost two weeks. Hey you, don't laugh, professionals are people too and people have accidents all the time!

By the way, the dog was fine after four days in hospital and the owners rewarded my efforts with a huge box of my favourite candy and a voucher for a pair of new glasses!