Of Maggots and Scorpions

Most often, our opossum patients were babies found wiggling or scurrying along the road nearby where their mother had been hit by a car.  Sometimes, the babies were so young they were still latched onto the dead mother's nipples and had to be pried off.  This is how the mother transports the youngins in their first couple weeks of life.
Most often, our opossum patients were babies found wiggling or scurrying along the road nearby where their mother had been hit by a car. Sometimes, the babies were so young they were still latched onto the dead mother’s nipples and had to be pried off. This is how the mother transports the youngins in their first couple weeks of life.

Some of the required duties of an animal caretaker are absolutely revolting. I’m not talking about menial chores like scraping feces out of enclosures or pulling out fresh carcasses from crates. This is more along the lines of tasks as disgusting as the “Meat Run.”

An adult opossum came in one night, rescued off the side of the road. Having been struck by a car a day or two earlier, he was in fairly bad shape. Apprentice Emily had been upstairs cleaning his wounds when she resurfaced on the ground floor.

“Um,” she started, “does anyone feel particularly excited about helping me clean maggots out of an opossum’s rear end?” (She of course used a more scientific term for “rear end,” but I don’t find it appropriate to write here.)

Evidently the idea of wiggling white worms in mass numbers causes most people to cringe. I stomach this better than seeing the sawed off head of a horse staring at me from a bucket in the freezer, so I volunteered. We used fluid-filled syringes to force out the maggots. Boy, did those maggots keep on coming. They gushed out by tens then hundreds until a total of nearly three hundred had washed out of the crevices of this poor creature.

Tarantulas have the same effect on me that maggots have on most other people. At the sight of them, my skin turns in on itself, a hair-raising tickle creepy-crawling up the length of my body. I thought I would never see a tarantula again until my return to Ecuador. Then I ended up in Texas, one of only a few states in the U.S. that provides suitable territory for these hairy beasts. My primary goal while in Kendalia was to avoid tarantulas at all costs. I escaped with only photos and stories of sightings by others. As it turns out, I should have been more concerned about the scorpions.

Newborn opossums were kept in crates with sleeping sacks to mimic their marsupial mother's natural pouch.  Once weening from syringe feeding began, they were moved into wire cages.
Newborn opossums were kept in crates with sleeping sacks to mimic their marsupial mother’s natural pouch. Once weening from syringe feeding began, they were moved into wire cages.

One night around eleven, I answered the 24-hour hotline about a deer needing rescue. Groggy and donning my pajamas–and needing to be at work in just seven hours–I opened the door to my trailer. A staff member was driving by while doing the clinic closing rounds, so I put my hand over the mouth of the phone to call out to her. But as I leaned out the door, one of my bare feet stepped over the threshold and above the door step, landing directly on a baby scorpion. The pain from its sting was instant, hurting more than a bee sting. Especially with my luck, my foot happened to find one of the itty bitty scorpions who have more toxin than the adults. I screamed wildly, mixing the pain with anger, sleepiness and frustration. Evidently, I threw the phone down because when the staff member came running toward me, I noticed her peering through the open doorway. The phone lay on the floor inside, the battery rolling next to it.

Okay, okay, so I over-reacted to the scorpion sting, but can you blame me? It hurt, I’ll tell you that much. However, after three hours of constant ice in the form of frozen vegetables, the pain was gone. Unfortunately, I still had my disheveled appearance and beaten pride to remind me of the episode.

At the juvenile stage, the opossums are running about.  Once on a solid diet, they were ready for release upon reaching a certain size and weight, approximately the size of a human hand.  Many well-intended people brought us a juvenile they thought was orphaned due to its small size, when, in fact, it was perfectly equipped to be out on its own.
At the juvenile stage, opossums are running about. Once on a solid diet, they were ready for release upon reaching a certain size and weight, approximately the size of a human hand. Many well-intended people brought us a juvenile they thought was orphaned due to its small size, when, in fact, it was perfectly equipped to be out on its own.

Embarrassment, however, does not come easily for me. This is one reason why I take it upon myself to be publicly foolish, with or without a stage. The weekly karaoke nights at a local bar in Blanco, the next town over, provided me spotlight opportunities to do just this. Really, I’m all about having a (level-headed) good time. My karaoke escapades included covering for a co-worker who gave up mid-way trying to sing a Spanish song. I had never heard the song before but I understood the lyrics, so I made up my own tune while acting out the words I sang. I also surprised myself and many others by serenading my then-boyfriend with “Kiss the Girl” in the Jamaican accent of Sebastian the crab from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I do not flaunt PDA so I really confused the boy on how to respond to the serenade. (Come on, people. You know me. It was all G-rated.) And perhaps my favorite, I performed my signature literal interpretation song and dance to a triage of hit karaoke tunes. On my birthday, I was so entranced by the music that I closed my eyes and bounced up and down while belting out the lines of “It’s Raining Men.” That’s when I bit the microphone. It was bound to happen. My mouth was open and I lost my balance, eyes closed, all that jumping, when my teeth came slamming down on the mike. The crowd of regulars hooted and howled. Me? Well, I kept on singing and dancing.

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