“I need you to put your hand right here and hold on.”
“Hold on to the penis?”
Errrr, maybe I should put this conversation into context before things go any further….
It was 2am and I was standing next to a dashingly good looking man. I can’t say for sure because he was wearing a mask, but I think he smiled at me when he told me to pop on a pair of latex gloves. I bounded up with as much enthusiasm as I could muster for the late hour, eager to please.
That’s when he handed me the horse’s penis so he could prepare a catheter for it.
Did you honestly expect this story to turn out differently?
Now, there was a lot going on in addition to the catheterisation. Once a horse is anaesthetised, everything moves very quickly to get them on the table and ready for surgery. Nurses were scrubbing the surgical site and anaesthetists were doing some kind of magic to ensure the horse remained blissfully unaware of everything happening around them. Even with the skeleton crew on for after hours emergencies, things were ticking along nicely. The operating room flowed like a choreographed dance; everyone knew their role and their place.
Everyone, that is, except me. I was just awkwardly standing there with a firm (but -obviously – not too firm) grip on the Gelding’s Genitals. As people continued securing the horse to the operating table, it became apparent that I was in the way. I was asked to move to the other side of the horse, which I did with as much finesse as I could muster given the circumstances. Then, I was told to move back to the previous side as I had ended up in a region called, “The Danger Zone” (I don’t know if that is a technical phrase, or if people were just trying to get my attention.) Anyway, I was standing in a place where, I’m assuming, should the anaesthesia magic fail, my head could be separated from my neck by a flailing hoof. I contorted my body in a way that would have done my yoga instructor proud in an attempt to move away from “The Danger Zone” whilst still staying out of the way of the aforementioned surgery team and maintaining positive control of the penis entrusted to my care. As the vet walked up with a sterile catheter in his sterile gloved hands, it happened….
I dropped the penis.
It just slipped through my hand like a slick baby eel. And it was gone.
The penis was gone.
Horses have a musculovascular penis. This means very little. I just wanted to prove that vet school has indeed taught me something about horses (which, doesn’t say a lot if you’ve been following this little adventure since it started in 2013). It also means, however, that when one lets go of an extruded equine member, it snaps back into it’s sheath and hides like a shy church mouse.
Everything happened so quickly, but also in slow motion. I looked down at my empty hand, and then looked up at the vet.
“You dropped the penis.”
Statement of fact.
“I dropped the penis.”
There really wasn’t much room for argument.
I made a feeble attempt at fishing it back out, but this Geldings Goods were as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster and I wasn’t sure if I would ever see it emerge again. Fortunately, a qualified vet recognized the look of horror, shock and failure on my face (almost as if he sees it a lot) and knew exactly what to do. He extruded the penis in one deft move and the other vet passed the catheter.
Surprisingly, they still let me scrub into the surgery, even after failing at the one simple task they’d entrusted to me. I wish I could say I redeemed myself in the emergency middle of the night colic surgery. I wish I could report that I’d done so well assisting in the surgery, major equine hospitals around the world were calling to recruit me to their ranks. Unfortunately, all I can say is I did very little but hold instruments, untangle some guts, and get intestine juices dribbled down my leg.
It’s hard to describe colic surgery. Picture Grey’s Anatomy meets The Walking Dead – all the surgeons are so tired, they look like zombies and there are guts everywhere, but things are kept quite clean. Helping with the surgery meant that I pulled a 36 hour work day, but honestly, who says you can only cram 24 hours into a day? I think my out of hours team is doing a pretty good job squeezing in a few extra hours every day to save some lives.
And saving lives is exactly what we’re doing right now, which is pretty cool. In addition to a few horses in the hospital who have actually tried to die on us, we’ve had a few emergencies walk in the door. In addition to Thursday night’s colic surgery, Friday brought us a horse with guttural pouch mycosis who was at risk of spontaneous life-threatening haemorrhage. He required constant monitoring throughout the night and had surgery first thing Saturday morning to ligate the vessel that had been almost completely eroded away by a fungal plaque.
Here’s the best part, though: when I was handed his penis in preparation for surgery on Saturday morning, I knew exactly what to do with it: hold on for dear life (and stay out of The Danger Zone!)
The same surgeon was present to pass the catheter. I was so excited to see him, to have a second chance at proving my worth as a final year vet student, a soon-to-be veterinary surgeon in my own right!
I smiled boldly, “I didn’t let go this time! I got better at this!”
He said nothing. But he didn’t need to, I mean what could he say, “Congratulations. You are successfully holding a penis. You’ve gotten to be very good at it?” Really, is there an appropriate response?
I guess the important thing is I’m still moving forward, still improving. Baby steps are still steps, and even on the steep learning curve of vet school, life’s little anecdotes hold true: if you slip up and drop a penis, the important thing is you scrub in and get back on the horse the next chance you get….or something like that.