Friday, 9 February 2007

Blinky Pinkie

I end up on my hands and knees, rolling up the newspaper and picking up poop individually with my fingers. Unbelievably I find another THREE ticks in the corner, rolling around fit to burst.

Wiruna Lucky
From koalawrangler's gallery.
Being in Sydney earlier this week has stripped me of my newfound 'green' veneer, so I've been craving a good dose of koala. I've also decided that the scent of fresh eucalyptus, especially the concentrated gamier odour that the ICU emits is one of my favourite smells.

There was a new face in the day-room today -- Damien, one of the uni vets, who must have been away on holidays. He looks about my age. I recognise him from the hospital home page. His blurb says he has completed a doctorate in koala disease.

I'm assigned to work with Anne again today. We've got the aviaries (which Anne comically calls "ovaries") and yard 6, where the joeys are (as apposed to where the wild things are). The joeys are more spread about the yards these days -- Ocean Kim is now sharing yard 9A (the enclosed yard within yard 9) with Links VTR, and Burraneer Henry has been moved to his own yard -- yard 4.

Judy tells me that she's laid out last night's leftover leaf on a rack outside the leaf-shed. It's to be used as today's recycle. Anne and I head off to yard 6. Barb calls from the adjacent yard 9; she is feeding one of the girls. She asks Anne if she'll come in and help with feeding. There are a few tourists about and they are generally more likely to participate in the adopt-a-wild-koala scheme if they see activity from the koalas. Anne used to be a guide so she likes to re-enter the limelight occasionally.

I carry on raking around the joey yard. They are nowhere in sight as usual. We're just the hired help who come in to sweep a bit and restock their food while they swan around the treetops like complacent little monkeys...whom we worship nonetheless.

Barb calls me over so I can feed Wiruna Lucky. She's a big old girl with midriff bulge. As she's feeding, I study her claws which seem to be missing in places. She also lolls her head about as though she's blind, although I'm not sure if that's her affliction. Meanwhile, Barb is telling the tourists about the resident koalas. Apparently, the NSW Parks & Wildlife only permit the hospital to treat and release koalas; they were given special permission to keep some of the koalas permanently. If they're not well enough to be released, they are generally euthanased. It's against the law to keep native animals. She talks about Ocean Therese whom I remember some of the handlers joking about with Cheyne, saying she can never be released. Technically she's got to be, but Barb thinks Therese might be suffering from some sort of brain injury which could influence that outcome.

I return to the joeys and wash out their pots and discard the leaf. Anne already replaced the recycled pot with leftover leaf from the leaf shed. As I finish raking, I find not one but two plump ticks on the ground among the koala droppings. They are similar in size and shape and colour to poo, except that ticks have a glossier purple sheen to them, while poop is more matte. After gorging themselves on koala blood they drop off and wind up lying on their backs like upturned turtles. They are so distended with blood that their legs poke out at odd angles like whiskers. I have the uneviable opportunity of studying them closely in my palm before depositing them in individual phials and killing them with a squirt of ethanol.

The leaf gatherer is nowhere to be seen so we have to break the koala kommandment of starting a new yard before the first is finished. Anne says Oxley Jo has been acting up so she allocates me Ellenborough Nancy. Oh no! I may be projecting but I feel like Nancy really doesn't like me, whereas Oxley Jo is a placid little lamb. Jo's still not eating much nor producing much poop, which bothers me some. Can they force-feed a koala?

Perhaps it's the effect of Nancy's sore eye making her a look a little meaner than the rest, but I'm sure she's going to take a swing at me the first chance she gets. Nancy's aviary is not very wide so it's difficult to give her the wide berth she needs so as not to get too uppity. She's down the left end so I quickly cut free the towel from the right side, all the while watching my back, and replace it with a fresh towel. I decide to use my neverfail method of luring her towards the clean towel with fresh leaf. I cut up a batch from last night's leftovers. Anne says I need to use fresh but I explain my tactic. It works well as I remove the pot from the end I want her to vacate and she moves towards the newly wetted leaf. It's not fresh but it's better than nothing. I realise the other towel is way too long so I head off to the shed for a smaller one. I find a swollen tick near the door and write this one up in the day-room. As I return, I see that Nancy has had her fill of leaf and is returning to the leafless end that I'm yet to re-towel. Gadzooks, my best-laid plans, foiled! I should have laid the longer towel while I had the chance. Note to self...

Meanwhile, Damien is just approaching her aviary to give Nancy some medication. He graciously offers to move Nancy out of the way while I finish tying the new towel. You can tell he's a koala expert by the way that he gently pats her rump to move her along without complaint. Perhaps it's to do with showing your fear. And because I'm rushing to get it done, the string (which is cheap jute) is getting all knotted and all the while he's waiting with a needle in one hand and a koala's butt in the other.

Finally, that part's done and I can get back to cleaning the floor of the unit. It's hard to wield a broom in such a small space and I don't want to disturb her. I end up on my hands and knees, rolling up the newspaper and picking up poop individually with my fingers. Unbelievably I find another THREE ticks in the corner, rolling around fit to burst. Another trip to the day-room. At this rate, Anne has almost finished both Oxley Jo and Oceanview Terry -- a newcomer.

Finally the leaf is done and I can prepare fresh leaf for Nancy. Anne says she'll do the joeys' leaf; I can go and see what's left to be done in ICU.

Peter says that ICU has mostly been done. The first two units need fresh leaf. I go off to prepare it. For some reason they've decided to limit the units to two pots of fresh leaf and no recycled. Probably for space reasons. It makes it harder to manoeuvre the koalas about, to lure them here and there with new leaf. The first unit contains a newcomer -- Oxley Westi. She's a small koala with bulbous eyes. I feel so sorry for her; her eyes look so uncomfortable. And I have to move her old leaf which means virtually pulling it from her. Outside on her whiteboard it says "pinkie in pouch".

Judy is helping Damien in the treatment room with a bagged koala. I ask who they're working on. Damien says "Tezza". I ask Judy about the pinkie and she clarifies that this means she has an unfurred joey in her pouch. Wow! I wonder if that means she'll stay in the hospital until the joey emerges. I fill up a pot of leaf and carry it awkwardly into the ICU. Cheyne is walking through the corridor and remarks that I look like I'm carrying a wedding bouquet up the aisle. "It's just as I imagine it too", I respond.

Warrego Martin
Warrego Martin
From koalawrangler's gallery.
To finish the last units we all muck in. Barb is stripping the towels from Warrego Martin's gunyah as I muck out his floor. No lack of poop here. At morning tea, Geoff talks about a fundraising cruise that's coming up. He asks Cheyne about "koala superannuation" -- it's their term for the kind of financial forecasting they're doing for koalas' welfare in the future; not spending everything now, but planning for the koalas in thirty years' time.

Barb retreats to collect a joey she's caring for at home, Siren Gem as Cheyne says they need to give him a jab with some medication. Anne tells us (me and Carole from the shop) about the joey's background. Some people found it and kept it for a few days. In a milk-crate. It was getting weaker so they brought the little joey in after two days. It was quite dehydrated and lacking in energy. It was called Gemma until they determined it was a boy, so now he's "Gem". Barb has been caring for him for a a week or so and he's picked up quite a bit.

When she arrives back at the hospital she carries him in the usual washing basket configuration. Barb leaves the basket on the treatment room floor while Damien sets up a drip device for the next patient. Barb loosens the bicycle clasps on the basket so that the top basket is just sitting loose. I stand in the doorway, waiting till they bring him out.

He's obviously gotten more energy because he manages to poke his head out between the gap in the two baskets, trying to make his escape. I rush forward. Damien says "just push on his forehead" -- I remember Cheyne showing us this technique: it makes them retreat. Barb returns and holds Gem on the treatment table while he gets his jab. It's awful watching the poor little thing flinch as the needle goes in. He tries to turn and climb back into his foster Mum's arms.

Afterwards, Barb pops him back in his basket and gives him a tender bunch of new leaf to munch on. He tucks in; the doctor visit is all but forgotten.

Click here to view more of today's koala hospital photos.