Note: Everything in this story is true. Even the part where the ferret soars over the doctor’s head.
I came to the world of caring for animals shortly after moving to the Northwest in 1998, from the need to do work that I would enjoy long term; I needed a meaningful career, you might say.
Upon completing my “formal” training as a veterinary assistant, I was hired by a small but very good animal hospital in the Phinney/Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. As part of my education I had learned important things like: the different breeds of dogs and cats; looking through a microscope; scruffing cats; and cleaning kennels. Okay, I also learned basic animal anatomy, and there were lots of scientific terms – drug names and medical conditions – to remember, which would prove to not be my forte’. Yet it was the real world experience of a hospital where my education truly began.
It was one thing to learn to restrain a docile, cooperative feline in a classroom setting. But holding onto a cat that desperately wants to scratch and bite your face off is another thing altogether. It was there, too, I learned to draw blood (which I think I got good at), place I.V. catheters (not so good), and my favorite, assist with surgeries.
The coolest part, though, was that we were one of the few animal hospitals that dealt with exotics and a gamut of small furry critters – chameleons (very cool!); iguanas (very scary when they’re 5 feet long!); sugar gliders; a chinchilla that would obsessively groom its erect genitalia (I’ll let you picture that imagery for yourself); and ferrets.
Now, ferrets are way cool! I even considered having one once. But, they smell, even with their scent glands removed. And their dander tends to aggravate my allergies and asthma.
From a vet-tech’s point of view, they are also difficult to restrain. They’re slippery, weaselly little weasels! Holding onto one is like grabbing a long, flaccid water balloon – except with claws and teeth! Your grip around a ferret, for purpose of restraint, has to be firm enough to prevent escape, yet not so much to injure it. Even so, I felt I had gotten pretty good at the task.
One day, a ferret needed to have blood drawn. Getting blood out of such small veins was beyond my expertise at the time, so I chose to hold the little guy while the doctor did the honors. I wrapped my delicate but firm fingers around his neck and body with confidence. The vet found the appropriate vein and stuck the needle in. The ferret squirmed in surprise just enough to sink his teeth into me! His upper and lower canines penetrated either side of my thumb, one going through the nail, the others piercing the other side until they met in the middle – of my thumb!
What would be your natural reaction? Probably the same as mine, which was to jerk my hand back suddenly! Mind you, the ferret still had his teeth in my thumb. Thus, he jerked right along with my hand. At the apex my motion – he let go!
That little weasel flew over the doctor’s head, soared across the room, and stopped with a gentle smack against the wall on the other side before sliding down to the floor.
Before I get hateful comments or emails, just know that the ferret was fine. Upon landing, he rolled over and scurried about the room until I picked him up once more to make sure he was okay. It turned out he was much less traumatized than my ego and my bloody, swollen thumb.
Another, wiser, technician took over, one wearing thick leather gloves, while I scurried off to clean and bandage my wound. I didn’t hold a grudge against the ferret; I’d done the job long enough to know that bites and scratches were part of the profession. I really thought nothing more about it.
Until that night, as I went to bed…
To be continued…