I should’ve stayed in bed...

Ve­te­ri­na­ry me­di­ci­ne so­meti­mes re­qui­res a ne­ver-say-die at­ti­tu­de... in the li­te­ral sen­se!


It was a mor­ning li­ke most, no­thing par­ti­cu­lar­ly me­mo­ra­ble as mor­nings go. The sun was being coy be­hind so­me mis­ty clouds. It wa­sn’t too hot, but not re­al­ly cool either. My hus­band broug­ht me my mor­ning tea and rus­ks be­fo­re he set off for his u­su­al e­ar­ly mor­ning run. I took the dogs for a walk al­ong the rou­te we u­su­al­ly ta­ke.

The mor­ning rou­ti­ne com­ple­ted, I set off to my client north of P­re­to­ria. Af­ter chat­ting a bit a­bout the we­at­her, De­cem­ber ho­li­day plans and the u­su­al small talk non­sen­se, we set off in his bak­kie to go look for the young im­pa­la ram I had to dart. The big herd ram on the farm kept on bul­lying the young­ster so we nee­ded to mo­ve the young ram to a sa­fer pla­ce.


Im­pa­las are skit­tish at the be­st of ti­mes, but they have a su­per­na­tu­ral in­tui­ti­on w­hen it co­mes to d­ar­ting them. They will al­low you one shot, but he­a­ven for­bid should you miss... it will be your last good op­por­tu­ni­ty. T­his young up­start was no dif­fe­rent to any of his kin and by no me­ans wil­ling to let us get c­lo­se.

Wor­king with ga­me has forc- ed me to be­co­me mo­re pa­tient, or at le­ast gi­ve the ap­pea­ran­ce of being mo­re pa­tient, but deep do­wn in­si­de, I am not. So, w­hen I at last got an op­por­tu­ni­ty to ta­ke a long-ran­ge shot, I did not he­si­ta­te. And I mis­sed. Hell and dam­na­ti­on I shou­ted in­ward­ly, kno­wing that the en­vi­si­o­ned quick and e­a­sy e­ar­ly mor­ning dart just got a lot mo­re com­pli­ca­ted. One of the crew on the

back of the bak­kie said he was su­re he he­ard the dart go off, may­be it had hit the im­pa­la af­ter all. So, alt­hough we we­re qui­te cer­tain of the op­po­si­te, we had to c­heck.

Af­ter a long se­arch we found the young ram wi­de a­wa­ke not too far from the main herd. D­ri­ving clo­ser, he took off and joi­ned so­me spring­buck. D­ri­ving clo­ser to them, the ram split off and joi­ned so­me bles­buck. In the bles­buck group t­he­re was al­so a sin­gle wil­de­beest cow. Sin­ce t­he­re are no ot­her wil­de­beest in the camp, she had de­ci­ded she rat­her li­ked the bles­buck, so she would run with them. Un­for­tu­na­te­ly as their na­mes im­ply, they are wild, e­ven wil­der than im­pa­la. The wil­de­beest cow, of cour­se took ex­cep­ti­on to us d­ri­ving clo­ser and bucking and snor­ting, whip­ped the w­ho­le group in­to a fren­zy... off they went to the ot­her si­de of the camp. The young im­pa­la de­ci­ded that all t­his ex­ci­te­ment was too much and cho­se to rat­her play hard to get on an o­pen pie­ce of grass­land. T­his me­ant I had my se­cond chan­ce at get­ting the bug­ger.

It was a very long shot, I ai­med a­bout 20cm above his back and got him squa­re­ly on his si­de. It wa­sn’t the i­de­al shot (which was on his bum, in the ni­ce big glot­tal muscles), so it would ta­ke so­me ti­me for the d­rug to ta­ke ef­fect. Im­pa­la are nor­mal­ly very sen­si­ti­ve to T­hi­a­fen­ta­nyl – a sin­gle drop can drop them li­ke a sto­ne, so I had high ho­pes.


Ten mi­nu­tes la­ter, the young­ster was still run­ning a­round. Af­ter con­vin­cing our­sel­ves that we are in­deed seeing so­me symp­toms of the im­mo­bi­li­sing d­rug ta­king ef­fect, the far­mer and I kept vi­su­al con­tact with our quar­ry for a­not­her ten mi­nu­tes. The big herd ram then de­ci­ded that the young­ster was too c­lo­se to his ha­rem of e­wes and star­ted cha­sing the poor thing all a­round the o­pen grass­land in the midd­le of the camp. We had no ot­her choi­ce but to cha­se af­ter the two to sa­ve the young­ster.

E­ven­tu­al­ly the big boy de­ci­ded that may­be the young­ster wa­sn’t worth all the ef­fort and re­tur­ned to his ha­rem. Be­si­des, it look­ed li­ke the young­ster on­ly broug­ht trou­ble – in the shape of a bak­kie with three pe­op­le clinging to the back and two in­si­de shou­ting at the top of their voi­ces (the far­mer and I). By now it was cle­ar that the young­ster would not go do­wn (nor­mal­ly most im­pa­las are ful­ly im­mo­bi­li­sed two mi­nu­tes af­ter being dar­ted).

So I pre­pa­red a­not­her dart... and mis­sed a­gain. I must ad­mit it was a di­cey shot, the sly ram was hi­ding un­der an ex­tre­me­ly sc­rub­by bush with lots of small twigs and bran­ches co­ve­ring most of his bo­dy. E­ver the op­ti­mist, I tried a­ny­way and hit a twig which de­flected the dart.


The far­mer then sug­ge­sted that we ta­ke a cof­fee b­re­ak to gi­ve the litt­le guy ti­me to sett­le do­wn a bit. I glad­ly agreed, being im- pa­tient by na­tu­re, I al­so nee­ded a few mi­nu­tes to calm do­wn. Ar­ri­ving at the hou­se I de­ci­ded to pre­pa­re a­not­her dart be­fo­re we had our cof­fee. I drew up the im­mo­bi­li­sing d­rug, re­a­li­sed I didn’t have a dart to put it in and wit­hout thin­king, pla­ced the back end of the sy­rin­ge in my mouth, as I al­ways do w­hen I need two hands to do so­mething. Re­a­ching o­ver my me­di­ci­ne ca­se to the litt­le trays on the front w­he­re I keep my darts, I le­a­ned clo­ser to see w­hat I was doing, and in doing so ac­ci­den­tal­ly in­jected a small a­mount of the d­rug in­to the back of my one hand.

Now, as so­me of you mig­ht know, hu­mans are ex­tre­me­ly sen­si­ti­ve to the d­rugs u­sed to im­mo­bi­li­se ga­me a­ni­mals. A sa­fe do­ze that will im­mo­bi­li­se a young im­pa­la, will kill any hu­man in no ti­me. Look­ing at the sy­rin­ge to see w­het­her I nee­ded to e­ven wor­ry a­bout the a­mount I got in­to my hand I im­me­di­a­te­ly re­a­li­sed that I nee­ded to wor­ry...

For­tu­na­te­ly I al­ways keep an­ti­do­te and a sy­rin­ge in the top rig­ht poc­ket of my jac­ket. Wor­king quick­ly I fil­led the sy­rin­ge and in­jected the an­ti­do­te in­to my left up­per arm. Af­ter­wards I re­a­li­sed that the need­le I u­sed was pro­ba­bly the sa­me one I u­sed the pre­vi­ous day to wa­ke up a sa­ble. W­hat the hell, I’d rat­her be a­li­ve and have an in­fected del­toid muscle than be de­ad whil­st trying to find a cle­an need­le and sy­rin­ge in my ca­se in ti­me. As calm as a cu­cum­ber, I fi­nis­hed the pre­pa­ra­ti­on of the dart, pla­ced it in my dart-gun, ma­de su­re the sa­fe­ty ca­tch was on and then joi­ned the far­mer in his hou­se.

Sit­ting do­wn I told the far­mer and his wi­fe w­hat had just happened and that I had al­re­a­dy ad­mi­nis­te­red the an­ti­do­te, so t­he­re should be no need to wor­ry. I thoug­ht it was a good i­dea that so­meo­ne el­se knew... just in ca­se. The far­mer’s wi­fe f­re­a­ked out a litt­le, es­pe­ci­al­ly be­cau­se I acted so calm­ly. Well, w­hen I am in an ex­tre­me­ly stress­ful si­tu­a­ti­on, that is w­hat I do, my mind g­oes com­ple­te­ly »

» calm and fo­cu­ses shar­ply on w­hat needs to be do­ne. Af­ter­wards I mig­ht f­re­ak out a litt­le, but stress is so­mething my bo­dy and mind hand­les very well.

The far­mer ga­ve me a se­ri­ous sta­re, and as­ked w­het­her I felt o­kay. Half of my fa­ce was com­ple­te­ly numb, I could feel pins and need­les in my no­se, but my ton­gue wa­sn’t fee­ling thick and clum­sy. I was thus con­vin­ced that I had ad­mi­nis­te­red the an­ti­do­te in ti­me. We kept the an­ti­do­te c­lo­se at hand and I had my cof­fee.

Af­ter a whi­le the numbness star­ted to sub­si­de and I told my hos­ts that I’m OK and that we should try to fi­nish d­ar­ting the young ram.


We set off a­gain in the bak­kie. The sa­me dan­ce through the bus­hes... get­ting clo­ser, clo­ser and just w­hen I think I have a shot, the ram would ta­ke off. Then he was joi­ned by an im­pa­la ewe and it was e­ven mo­re dif­fi­cult to get c­lo­se to him. Af­ter a whi­le the ewe joi­ned the im­pa­la herd a­gain and the big ram had a­not­her go at the young­ster who then hid un­der a bush a­gain.

T­his was our chan­ce. We got c­lo­se e­nough, I ai­med and hit him squa­re­ly on the glu­tes, a good shot. He ran off but af­ter on­ly 30 se­conds it was cle­ar that the d­rug was ta­king ef­fect. The ram star­ted run­ning with his he­ad held high. A few mo­re se­conds, and do­wn he went. We ra­ced clo­ser with the bak­kie to at­tend to him. With wild­li­fe it is very im­por­tant to keep them u­prig­ht on­ce they are im­mo­bi­li­sed. T­his is to p­re­vent re­gur­gi­ta­ti­on of the sto­mach con­tents with sub­se­quent as­pi­ra­ti­on in­to the lungs (it cau­ses pneu­mo­nia and de­ath) sin­ce the cough re­flex is u­su­al­ly al­so sup­pres­sed un­der im­mo­bi­li­sa­ti­on.

We we­re a­bout 80m a­way w­hen the big ram ca­me run­ning out of no­w­he­re, straig­ht to the young­ster and pro­cee­ded to ply him very de­ter­mi­ned­ly with the horns. The far­mer pus­hed do­wn on the acce­le­ra­tor and let loo­se on the hoo­t­er to sca­re the big ram a­way. It wor­ked, but it was too la­te, the big ram had al­re­a­dy pus­hed the young­ster a few me­ters. A he­a­vy fee­ling of dre­ad sett­led in my sto­mach as I jum­ped out of the bak­kie and ran the last few me­tres to­wards the young ram. The big ram’s horns had ma­de a su­per­fi­ci­al ho­le on the rig­ht si­de of the young­ster’s tho­rax and a long, deep gash un­der his left front leg. The wound was a­bout 25cm long and 15cm deep, ne­at­ly cut­ting through the pec- to­ral muscles (the muscles that keep the legs pul­led in and pre­ven­ting them from split­ting to the si­des, a­way from the bo­dy). For­tu­na­te­ly tho­se de­ad­ly horns mis­sed all the ma­jor b­lood ves­sels and most of the ner­ves in the leg.

My s­to­ry is p­roof that an a­vera­ge wor­king day for a vet can turn in­to a bad day, an e­ven wor­se day and e­ven­tu­al­ly the worst day...

Flus­hing it out with the dis­in­fec­tant I keep in my me­di­ci­ne ca­se, I cle­a­ned the wound as be­st I could of hair, sand and grass. Then I pro­cee­ded to su­tu­re the muscles. T­he­re was one bel­ly of the tri­ceps muscle that had to be cut out, it was un­for­tu­na­te­ly com­ple­te se­ver­ed and man­gled. Lucki­ly as the na­me im­plies, t­he­re we­re still two bel­lies left that could do most of the work. I su­tu­red the pec­to­ral muscles as be­st I could and pa­t­ched the wound, le­a­ving a ho­le at the lo­west point so that any fluids and/or pus could drain out if ne­ces­sa­ry. Vi­ta­mins, an­ti­bi­o­ti­cs, pain me­di­ci­ne and fly de­ter­rents we­re in­jected, as well as so­me long-term se­da­ti­on. The ram would spend the next few weeks in a bo­ma, until he had re­co­ve­r­ed e­nough to go to his fi­nal des­ti­na­ti­on.

My s­to­ry is p­roof that an a­vera­ge wor­king day for a vet can turn in­to a bad day, an e­ven wor­se day and e­ven­tu­al­ly the worst day... Ve­te­ri­na­ry me­di­ci­ne so­meti­mes re­qui­res a cer­tain bull-he­a­ded­ness and a you­can’t-get-me-do­wn at­ti­tu­de. If you don’t have it to s­tart with you will cer­tain­ly get it be­a­ten in­to you by a com­bi­na­ti­on of your pa­tients, your own bum­bling and the ge­ne­ral per­ver­si­ty of the u­ni­ver­se.

The young ram lucki­ly sur­vi­ved his d­ar­ting or­de­al.

Han­ne­ke (rig­ht) with one of her stu­dents, S­han­zel­le Ra­be, and four young im­pa­la rams. T­his ou­ting was a success­ful one wit­hout any dra­ma.

Han­ne­ke with her P­neu-Dart dart gun. W­hat should have been a sim­ple d­ar­ting o­pe­ra­ti­on tur­ned in­to a nig­ht­ma­re that ga­ve her a sca­re and al­most en­ded tra­gi­cal­ly for the young im­pa­la ram too.

RIG­HT: The d­rugs u­sed to im­mo­bi­li­se a­ni­mals are de­ad­ly to hu­mans. Car­rying the an­ti­do­te with you is man­da­to­ry.

D­ar­ting a­ni­mals calls for accu­ra­te shoot­ing. You al­so need to get c­lo­se be­cau­se the dart gun has a very li­mi­ted ran­ge.

TOP: A dart and the .22 blank that po­wers it.

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