In 1988, I responded to a humble want ad looking for a receptionist at an animal hospital and had no idea I’d spend the next eight years working as a surgical veterinary-technician. I spent my childhood wanting to be a veterinarian before life got in the way, and was excited to get the chance to work at a small local clinic with my basic front desk skills.
Within a week of being hired, one of the veterinary technicians working for the clinic left the practice. The next day, the vet, Dr. Donald Stremme, approached me and asked, “So, are you squeamish?” I assured him I wasn’t, and he invited me to begin training as a veterinary technician. I jumped at the chance!
Over the next eight years, I worked at three different clinics. Each was a great learning experience in its own way, but it was the last veterinary hospital where I worked—Queen Village Animal Hospital in Philadelphia—that I loved the most. In the five years I worked there, I was lucky enough to work with the genius veterinarian, Dr. Marty McGuire. He was an intuitive diagnostician who always went above and beyond the call for his patients and their owners.
One of my favorite stories involved Daffodil, a pretty little calico kitten of five months who had an unfortunate encounter with a car engine. Stray and outdoor cats are often attracted to the warmth of car engines during the cold winter months, and have been known to crawl into the engine compartment to keep warm. Unfortunately, if the car owner starts the car and the cat doesn’t get out in time, severe injury can occur.
Daffy (as we called her) tried to get out, but her foot was caught in a drive belt, resulting in a traumatic injury referred to as a degloving. The fur covering one of her rear paws from the patella (knee) down to her paw was stripped away. While not life threatening, it is a painful wound that is challenging to treat because there isn’t much extra skin in that part of a cat’s body to use for surgical repair.
Despite her injury, Daffy was a delight. She purred up a storm and loved being cuddled by all the technicians in the office. Happily, the car owner decided to not only keep the kitten but also pay for her veterinarian care. We began working on her right away! After the examination, put her under anesthesia so we could begin repairing her leg.
Completing the repair required two different surgeries, but her leg was mostly healed and covered with skin except for a quarter-sized spot. That meant there was only one solution—a skin graft from another part of her body. So she went back into surgery where we choose a bit of skin from her side where she had plenty to spare.
Here’s where this story gets a bit embarrassing—and amusing!
Calicos, of course, have fur in three colors: black, orange, and white. Daffy was primarily white, but her leg was dark. So we knew the skin graft was going to be a different color than the rest of her leg, but we weren’t too worried. After all, calicos are patchwork cats already! But there was one thing we failed to consider: the grain of the fur.
We had to shave the area where Daffy’s skin graft came from to keep it sterile, as well as her leg. We shaped the piece of skin to fit her bare spot on her leg, and grafted the skin in place. Daffy recovered from the surgery quickly, and upon waking, she demanded cuddles and pats. We sent her home with instructions to come back in ten days to remove her stitches.
Fur grows back quickly, so when Daffy returned for her suture removal, we could see our mistake: Daffy’s skin took perfectly and was healing brilliantly, but her fur was growing straight up instead of down! Luckily Daffy didn’t care—and neither did her owner. After all, it makes a pretty good story!
I feel blessed to have spent so many years helping small animals as a veterinary technician. Veterinarians are innovative and dedicated healers. I am so thankful that I was able to learn so much from my vets. I’m a better pet owner today because of it!
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.
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