Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 March, 2009, 12:00am

It must be a mid-30s curse, but I have been to 14 weddings in the past 12 months, and it doesn't look like it's going to let up in the next 12. Not to mention my own wedding in November. There are many weddings to which I get invited where I am at a table of people I haven't met before. I am faced with the option of either keeping to myself with my partner and being absolutely bored all night, or going through the routine of meeting new people, and like a broken record, repeating the same conversations I have had over and over again.

The good thing is that being a veterinarian is a great ice-breaker. The bad thing is I end up talking about my job all evening and never finding out what everybody else does. I have noticed that most people I meet in Hong Kong don't like talking about their jobs unless they are trying to sell you something.

These conversations always start very innocuous and innocent. First, there is usually a mild exclamation at finding out that I am a veterinarian, then there is a bout of 'I have a (fill in an animal) and I have a question', then they assume that I must have lots more interesting stories to tell and ask ever more difficult-to-answer questions in an endeavour to alleviate their wedding boredom blues. The one question that I get asked most often is: 'Have you ever been hurt, bitten by an animal?'

I usually give them a blank stare, blink, give another blank stare to build up the suspense and then tell them the answer: 'Yes, so many times I don't even know where to start.' Today, I have decided to share some of these stories with you.

The worst injury I ever sustained was surprisingly from a small 2kg Yorkshire terrier. It was during my early training days in Melbourne. It was late at night and I was responsible for the intensive-care cases in an animal hospital. My job was to check their vital signs such as their pulse rate, respiratory rate and temperature, check that their fluid drips were functioning normally and give them scheduled injections or medications.

I was by myself that night and there was this very sick little Yorkshire terrier that I needed to give an injection to. The nurses who were on the shift before me had told me that the little guy was so sick it could barely move. This lulled me into a false sense of security, and when I put my hands in the cage to shift the dog to a better position for the injection, it bit me savagely on my left hand. Both its canine teeth punctured right through my palm, and it proceeded to shake its head from side to side viciously. There was nobody around to hear me scream and help me.

I ended up tearing the dog off my hand, and it took a chunk of meat with it - there was blood spurting everywhere. I rushed out to the night reception area and was wobbling on my knees.

I was rushed to the human hospital next door and had 20 stitches. The good news was the dog wasn't really that sick and went home the next day.

Another time, about three years ago, I was dealing with a large stray dog here in Hong Kong. Being much older and wiser - not to mention this dog giving me lots of warning it didn't liked to be touched - I approached with utmost care. My favourite trick to help control a dog is to use a thick towel to wrap around the head from a distance; I am usually faster at flinching than the dog is at lunging, but not this time. It lunged at me from quite a distance, and bit me on the forearm quickly and sharply. Fortunately, it didn't manage to latch on to me, but it got in a lucky bite and hit the bones in my forearm. It was arguably the most painful moment of my life. My nurses told me that I had turned a decidedly pale shade of blue and I was totally stunned on the ground, unable to move. I had no feeling in my arm for half an hour.

We have a draw when it comes to the biggest bruise I have ever received from an animal. The first happened on one of the largest cattle ranches in the world, a farm in the very rugged northern region of Western Australia called the Kimberley. The farm was the size of Belgium. The usual mode of transport was either helicopter, four-wheel-drive or horse. It was an amazing experience overall, but there was a lowlight. I was on a horse casually talking to a friend on another horse when his animal decided it didn't like mine and decided to bite it. Unfortunately, my thigh got in the way and it bit me instead of the horse.

Another time on a dairy farm in eastern Victoria state, Australia, while attaching the suction device for milking, I got a swift kick from a cow, on the same thigh as the horse bite. In both cases, the whole of my thigh was a giant bruise the next day.

But the animal from which I receive the most frequent bites is undoubtedly the humble hamster. It doesn't leave any devastating wound, but it hurts like being stapled. Fortunately, getting bitten doesn't occur very often any more - famous veterinary last words.