Even though the ER can be a stressful and sometimes sad place, we try hard to stay positive and find humor wherever we can to lighten our days. This is an important lesson I try to instill in the students, as taking time out to laugh can definitely be good for your soul, especially when dealing with a tough situation or case. One Sunday in early February was such an occasion.
We had experienced a very severe hit by car that morning, an accident so bad that no matter how hard we tried to intervene the patient could not survive his injuries. We were all a bit down afterwards. I was finding it difficult to shake off the sense of disappointment and melancholy.
“Get ready, we’ve got a skunk on the way,” our ER technician told me as she entered our triage room.
“What in the world are we going to do with a skunk? We’ll get in so much trouble because of the smell,” I exclaimed, thinking of how many people will be unhappy come Monday morning to get a whiff of its presence. She went on to explain that it was dead, but the person bringing it in wanted it tested for rabies and distemper, as it had been in their backyard and near their dogs.
I happened to be working with the our Emergency and Critical Care intern that day, who is completing a specialty internship in this field and has been a friend of mine for several years. Together we devised a plan. We called the owner and told them not to bring the skunk inside. Instead, we would meet them in the parking lot and transfer the body to several thick garbage bags to prevent any odor escaping. When they arrived, we walked outside to make the trade.
Unfortunately, the body was inside a large, sealed Rubbermaid container. I dreaded opening it, but knew it was unavoidable because no matter how bad it smelled, the person wanted to take it back with them.
“Hold your breath Mike! It’s going to be bad,” I told the ECC intern, as he had volunteered to remove the skunk. As soon as the lid opened, the odor came boiling out like an invisible roll of steam. Mike began coughing and sputtering with tears running down his eyes and a green hue coloring his features. Needless to say, he gave up. I stepped in and somehow managed to remove the skunk, place it in the triple layered bags and began tying it up. I didn’t think about how bad it would be after removing some of the air in the bags. I almost fell backwards. Eventually, the skunk was contained and carried to our sample holding area. However, the smell filled the hospital.
The funniest part of the whole situation was the front desk staff watching us through the windows. They did not know what we were up to. As we walked past, a receptionist told us she was almost ready to call the police. Given the way we were acting, she was worried there was a bomb in the container.
Mike and I still laugh about that day and I’m sure we will for many years to come.
(Dr. Amanda Rainey, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor in the small animal clinical sciences department at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville.)