Another locum job, in the grey and dirty outskirts of London. Ranks and rows of houses in the cold cloudy misery of an english winter. The wind trying to slip through any little cranny in your layers of scarves and coats and dance with your shivering bones. I remember, early one morning, looking out the window to see an urban fox prowling along the bank of a stream all straight jacketed in cement, and punctuated with floating litter. He trotted along, a flash of red life lighting up the dismal morning with his very presence.
I finished my breakfast, wrapped myself up tight against the cold, even more than I had been inside. It was cold in the flat. The technical ingenuity of the english is not to be underestimated. They have these wonderful reservoir heaters – they store heat in the off peak time, and then warm the house. The timing, however, is abysmal. The house is warm while you’re at work, and by the time you get home, it’s cold again!
I stepped out into the day, and the cold hit me in the face like a cup full of icy vinegar. My eyes and nose immediately began to stream, and I set off, leaning into the wind. Luckily the clinic was only a few blocks away. I was more than happy to burst into the warmth, and shed my layers – trench coat, scarf, warm hat, a couple of jumpers…
Cheery greetings from the nurses and the other vets rattled off the walls. “Would ye like a cuppa?” “How are you today? Settling onto the flat?” “Looks like a busy one today!” It’s always a bit strange in the first few days of a new locum. You don’t know where anything lives, so you’re always hunting in the wrong cupboard or drawer for something you need in a hurry, and the clients are never quite happy to see you. The odd “You’re not Doctor Sally”, or Doctor Greg, or whoever their familiar and favourite vet is, tends to burst into the conversation. It feels a bit awkward, like a set of new shoes that need a bit of breaking in, and feel like they could well give you a blister or two.
It was my second day, and cuppa in hand, I went into the wards to see what needed doing. The day before I had admitted a cat with hyperthyroidism. For some reason , many, many more cats develop hyperthyroid problems in the UK than in Australia. I’d been in the country for long enough to pick them almost as soon as they walked out of their cage. Skinny, just a rack of bones, with a maniac edge to their personality. And then, the kicker – gentle fingers running down the front of her neck found the twin subtle bumps of enlarged thyroid glands.
“We’ll need to keep her in tonight, so we can run some bloods tomorrow, to confirm that it is what I am sure it is, then we’ll have to get her onto some medication to control it,” I told the owner.
“Awright then,” the cheery answer came back. “Watch her though, she can be a bit grumpy, you know.”
So I’d popped her in a cage, with a warning tag. I was reading the chart of another cat, and one of the nurses was cleaning the cages. She opened the cage of the hyperthyroid cat, and WHAM!!! The cat erupted like a volcano, flashed out of the cage and latched onto her arm with all four sets of claws, and bit her twice, all four canines on as deep they would go, and then leapt on the other arm and bit that one oce for good measure. I hadn’t even had time to turn around before she’d grabbed the cat off herself, hurled it into the back of the cage with a crash, and slammed the door.
“Jesus!” I muttered.
“We need some help in here, quick!” I yelled. “Nancy has been savaged by a cat.”
I turned back to see her, looking down at the puncture wounds dripping blood onto the floor. She was as grey as the floor, and looked like she might pass out at any moment. Suddenly there was a gaggle of the other nurses all around her, all squawking and fluttering like chooks who’d seen a snake, and at the same time gently taking her out to the scrub sink, washing the wounds, sitting her down, tending to her. I was obvoiusly superfluous, the sisterhood had enfolded her in their circle of healing, so I pressed on with doing the morning rounds, taking temps, heart rates, examining each hospital case carefully. The crazy cat (the odd hyperthyroid cat just flips out, like this one did – the high levels of hormones seem to upset the brain somehow), I left alone. We got her out later, very, very carefully indeed, a whole team of us, to collect some blood. We were all pretty nervous, I can tell you.
The nurse got bundled off to the doctor. She was white with the pain of it as she was helped out the door, with temporary bandages on her arms. The doctor gave her antibiotics, but it was a week before she could come back to work. It bred a very healthy respect and care for hyperthyroid cats in me, I kid you not! Mind you, after a week or two on the medication, all the bad craziness, that hyped up edge of nastiness and frantic demeanor had faded. She had put a bit of weight on, and was purring away on the table, head bumping me and wanting to make friends.