Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The New Pet

Today at the You Can't Make This Stuff Up Department:

Have you ever had a chance to fulfill a childhood dream? Has there been something you've longed for all your life, and now with hard work, effort, and a little bit of scratch you can finally live out your fantasy? 

Meet Bob. Bob grew up in the Midwest and now lives in sunny California, so when he comes to Kansas City in April and feels the hint of chill in the early morning air, he harkens back to the halcyon days of childhood. He thinks about laying in the grass under a cloudless summer sky, snowball fights on Christmas Day, and romping through untamed woods and gullies where endless gated communities now hold court. The only black mark in this nostalgic idyll is knowing that he never had the pet he always wanted. Sure there were animals in the house, but Nip the Dog was really his brother's boon companion, and Tab the Cat...well, belonged to herself, as cats will do. No, he never had a pet that was just his, something that he could hug and pet and squeeze and pat and rub and caress just like Hugo the Abominable Snowman and his Pink Bunny.

Fast forward thirty years. Bob's a success. In demand, well respected, flying all over the country to add to his riches. He's got a wonderful wife, two great kids, two cars, and a few pets that, just Iike before, seem to love someone else in the household more than him.

So he wakes up one morning in the Midlands, having finished his work a day early and with a full twenty-four hours to himself. He gazes around his hotel suite, the expensive one with the the soaking tub and the mini-bar that doesn't charge you every time you jostle a Pepsi, and he thinks, "Today. Now."

He goes to the specialty pet store. There's something specific he wants, and he's spent the morning researching where to find it. He buys an airplane carrier for it, too, because he's going to take it back to California to show his wife and kids, hear their squeals of delight and their sighs of admiration, and hug it and pet it and squeeze it and pat it and rub it and caress it.  Buying this pet is Bob’s ultimate act of self-actualization.

He buys it and names it Bosco. He keeps it in the box from the pet store nail the next morning, when it's time to enter the pet carrier and get on the plane. But Bosco likes the box, and is young, and afraid, and so Bosco bites. And chews, and won't let go.

Did I mention chews? Oh, right. I forgot to tell you. Bosco is a Gila Monster.

Here's the scoop on the Gila Monster. It's one of the two poisonous lizards native to the United States , the other being the Mexican Beaded Lizard. They are found wild throughout the American Southwest. For the record, that's not Kansas. Our native lizards could be fine domestic companions, which can be surmised by the fact that nowhere does the word "monster" appear in their names.

Gila Monsters normally live underground, are generally shy and retiring, and it seems to take a special effort to get bit by one.  This says something about Bob.  But you don’t have to take my word for it:

“I have never been called to attend a case of Gila Monster bite, and I don’t want to be.  I think a man who is fool enough to get bitten by a Gila Monster ought to die.  The creature is so sluggish and slow of movement that the victim of it’s bite is compelled to help largely in order to get bitten.”  -  Dr. Ward, Arizona Graphic, September 23, 1899

(While we're speaking of Hispanic lizards, and especially in this Trumpian moment, I'm reminded of a display at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. There's a tank of small amphibians from Mexico, really cute little fellows that run about and jump on sticks and eat bugs and look out at the tourists. The adjoining wall is adorned by a cartoon version of one member of the company, dressed in a sombrero and holding a pair of maracas, greeting visitors with a warm, “Hasta la vista, muchachos!”  It's so cute that not only do you not want to build a wall to keep them out of the country, but you'll even gladly consider setting up terrariums along the Rio Grande and provide them with free sticks, bugs, health care, and college tuition for those eggs that hatch. Of course, it would never fly in America, but I suppose when your version of undocumented aliens from south of the border are Syrians you can get away with that.) 

Bosco is chewing. He likes this. He has yet to bond emotionally with Bob, and for the moment thinks of Bob not as his pal for life, but as a probable threat that just happens to be soft, fleshy, and possibly quite tasty. Bob is macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, cream gravy; Bob is comfort food. So Bosco keeps chewing, and won't let go until Bob grabs the carrier with one hand, sticks his other arm, (Bosco attached) into the box, and whacks his newfound friend against the rigid plastic walls of the enclosure to make him break his group. Bob thinks things are going well as he quickly clips the door shut.

Did I mention that the Gila Monster is poisonous? And that the reason he chews is because, unlike rattlesnakes who inject their poison through their fangs in less than an instant, the venom of the Gila Monster slowly flows into the bite along grooves in the lizard's teeth. So the only way it has to kill it's struggling prey (or his new best friend) is to chew like there's no tomorrow. Which, with the life span of a Gila Monster being about a quarter that of a human being, there may not be.

The swift blows having done their job, Bosco is back in the carrier and it's time to head to the airport. Except that as Bob drives, he notices his hand swelling. A lot. And it's turning colors, reds and blues and purples that he's only seen in formal photos of the British Royal Family. So Bob does what any normal person would do in our technological age. He asks Siri to find him the nearest ER.

The clinical care here is really an afterthought. There are local effects such as pain and swelling, and more general effects that include weakness and drops in blood pressure.  The physician evaluates the extent of the swelling to determine if there's vascular compromise that will require emergent surgery (fasciotomy, a particularly nasty procedure) to release pressure on the blood vessels of the hand. You get some basic lab tests, start some fluids and give pain medication, and wait. If things seem to be getting worse, with more swelling, increasing pain, or unstable vital signs, it's time to find out where the nearest anti venom is. If not, you are often able to discharge the patient home. Above all, you get everyone you know (perhaps even flagging down a couple of truckers at a nearby rest stop) to come see the patient because...let's be honest...Gila Monster bites are cool, and patients need to be gawked at to be fully engaged in the Teaching Moment of Animal Safety. As paperwork is always important, it's my understanding that in cases like this the American Medical Association has concluded it is not a breach of medical ethics to use the terms "stupid" or "idiot" in clinical documentation.

What's more fun is imagining the next day. His right hand freshly bandaged and splinted, narcotics on board, Bob gets on the flight home. It's an airline where you can bring a pet onboard as long as it fits in a carrier beneath the seat. So someone...it could be me...is sitting next to Bob. There's an angry Gila Monster near my feet, longing to chew through the walls of the carrier and quite possibly my shoe, sock, and second metatarsal. For me and my fellow passengers, it's the most nerve-racking three hours in the air since Samuel L. Jackson had to cope with airborne serpents. 

Meanwhile, Bob is trying to figure out how to explain to his wife that not only did he purchase a Gila Monster, got bit by a Gila Monster, and almost lost his hand to that very same Gila Monster, but he is also bringing home that very same Gila Monster to hug it and pet it and squeeze it and pat it and rub it and caress it and watch it bite Nip the Dog and Tab the Cat and Delores the wife and Anna the Daughter and Bob Junior the Son, because there's nothing that brings a family together like poison-produced pulpy purple puffy painful wounds, even without the added fun of possible necrosis. And Bob's also reviewing his grade school knowledge of fractions, so he can figure out exactly how much he's going to have left in his bank account when Bosco crawls in and Delores walks out.

And as for me, sitting alongside Bob, my eyes in constant vigil as an evil hiss works it's way towards my ears from under the seat in front of me? 

I f-----g hate Gila Monsters on a plane

1 comment:

  1. I have, over the years, worked for many nursing supervisors that possessed Gila Monster traits. They moved slowly, spit venom, and stored copious amounts of fat in their tails. Gila Monsters can survive for months on the fat stored in their tails. None of my old bosses even attempted that feat.