by Sarah O’Donoghue
“It woke up, it woke up” Laura repeated to herself over and over again in her delirium. It was the last thing she remembered before the searing pain and her sudden loss of consciousness. Drifting in and out of sleep, hot and confused by a high fever, she tried to remember what had happened. She couldn’t piece together the sequence of events that had led to her being in a hospital bed connected to tubes and machines. All she knew now was pain, intense pain. Where exactly the source of the pain was she couldn’t be sure. It seemed to flood her whole body, but perhaps it was worse in her right arm. It was difficult to tell.
Now she could hear voices, concerned voices. The conversation seemed to be about her but she was taking no part in it. She could make just make out fragments of speech and was dimly aware of masked figures moving around her bed.
“Can we save the hand? Are the tendons completely severed? What damage is shown by the X-Rays?”
Who were these people? Were they talking about her? What had happened? Laura couldn’t remember. “It woke up, it woke up,” she repeated over and over again through the pain and the fever.
At last she thought she heard a familiar voice, a voice from somewhere else.
“Try to remember…to remember…to remember…Laura darling you will be alright,” said the familiar voice of her mother as she gently held her hand, her left hand. The sound of her mother’s voice seemed to calm Laura and she tried to focus on her visitor. “It woke up,” she explained and then started to cry, sobbing gently and squeezing the hand that held hers. “I know”, her mother replied and there followed some moments of companionable silence while each tried to adjust to the situation.
“Laura darling,” her mother spoke slowly and gently, holding back her own tears, “you have been bitten by a baboon. You probably don’t remember much about it. It happened at the zoo when an adult male animal was in the operating theatre for investigative surgery. On that day you were assisting the surgeon. The baboon was anaesthetised before surgery as all animals are.”
Before her mother could continue Laura lurched violently forward and screamed out “It woke up, I remember, it woke up!” Perhaps this was all that Laura could remember. Her mother stroked her forehead to calm her and sat silently beside the bed for several minutes before she felt ready to continue.
“That’s right; the baboon should have been asleep throughout the procedure but obviously something went wrong with the anaesthetic and it woke up too soon. It was angry and frightened and bit your right wrist. Baboons have a very powerful bite and you have been seriously injured.” She felt that was all the information her daughter could cope with but added, in what she hoped was an optimistic tone: “You’re going to be alright.” Laura’s recovery was actually far from certain.
To train as a vet specialising in wild animals had been Laura’s childhood dream, a dream she had almost realised. Now fully qualified, she had been accepted for a post-graduate course by a most prestigious zoo. Helping at operations was a most interesting part of the course. This had been a freak accident. The bite was serious, leaving doubt that Laura would be able to fully use her right hand again. She had been given antibiotics and something to lower her fever. A preliminary operation had revealed extensive damage and the prognosis was not particularly good. No one told Laura.
Months later and following a successful second operation, she considered her future. A still angry looking scar could still be seen across her hand and wrist but it was fading. Movement had come back to her hand but it wasn’t perfect. Both dexterity and strength seemed to be affected. Worse was the frustration of not being able to work at the zoo.
Endangered species were kept in zoos in the hope that they would breed and thus avoid extinction. Laura knew that working with such animals was very important. She began to realise that she would never be able to return to her previous role as a zoo vet. It was heart breaking but she had to find a new way of helping species that were in danger. Gradually she came to see what this role might be.
She would become a writer, championing the cause of wild life in all its glorious diversity. She could bring knowledge, passion and determination to her work. Now the loss of biodiversity and the probable extinction of many species has become a hot topic and one which is beginning to grab the attention of the public. Laura started by researching all the literature written by experts on the subject. She also conducted surveys of the interests and concerns of people with little or no scientific knowledge. Her first book ‘Extinction is Final’ became a best seller. Scientifically sound and easily explained for the general reader it made Laura a well-known name. She was soon in demand as a speaker.
(c) Sarah O’Donoghue