Thursday, 1 February 2007

Ticks & swipes: koalawrangling's tawdry underbelly

There's no way I can finishing tying the towel: Ellenborough Nancy still has it in her clutches and is giving me a death stare to boot.

Scrubbing brushes
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I’m late in today as I had to get a blood test done first thing this morning. The clinic opens at 8am –- the same time I’m due at the clinic. I call and let Peter, the team-leader know. I stand around the pathology clinic wearing my koala smock and khakis. Annoyingly, there are a bunch of people ahead of me -– all fasting. Don’t they realise I’ve got koalas relying on me!?

I get to the hospital at about 8.45am. Peter directs me to help Jackie in ICU. There are a bunch of new koalas in. Just before I start, Peter bags Tozer Tom who is taken into the treatment room. He is to be released to one of the new subdivisions in yard 10. First he’s given his supplement, which I stand by to watch, chatting with Cheyne and the vets. Cheyne suggests it'll please him to be over near the ladies (after the guttural mating cries emanating from his unit other day).

Tozer Tom
Tozer Tom
From koalawrangler's gallery.
With Tom off to new digs, I get to do a complete clean of a unit, which I’ve never done before. This involves spraying the gunyah liberally with disinfectant (bleach damages organic matter so it's not used on the wood) and mopping the floor and walls with bleach. It's heavy work scrubbing high up the walls using a heavy water-sodden mop. I have sweat dripping down my nose by the time I’m done.

Next I start on Warrego Martin’s unit. I’ve developed a system with the wet-bottom patients, where there is the added complication of the towels to be dealt with. The koala is sitting on the towel, but somehow you have to remove the old towel and replace it with a new one. Naturally, this also involves moving the koala somehow. What I generally do is start on the end the koala isn’t. I remove the leaf from the end I'm working on so as to discourage the koala from scurrying down there till I'm ready. I cut free the string and roll up one towel, brushing the poop up as I go. Then I replace this towel and tie in down. Most koalas will stay up with their leaf.

The new leaf bundles are ready so I go and prepare the one, scrubbing the pots and separating the branches into two piles. It all goes swimmingly. I put the new leaf down the clean-towel end and remove the old leaf from the other end where he's been hiding. This sends Martin ambling down to the clean end -– all a part of my cunning plan. He he. This enables me to replace the other dirty towel and replenish the leaf without a furry, distressed obstacle. As I'm crouching under the gunyah and mopping, I glance up to see what he's up to; he's leaning down out of his gunyah just staring at me as if to say "what are you doing down there?". There I am, projecting again.

Jackie is cleaning Condon Geoff’s unit. I stick my head in to see if I can help. I don’t see a koala anywhere, so I wonder if he's been bagged for transfer outside. "Is there a koala in here?", I ask. "Up there", she gestures nonchalantly. I follow the wall until I see the little fellow curled up in the space above the door, fast asleep. It's the highest place in the room: it's like he's fashioned himself a gumtree until he can be moved outside and back to the real thing. He seems content with this makeshift arrangement for now.

Geoff's absence from the gunyah makes it easier to clean up his unit. I prepare his leaf while Jackie finishes mopping the floor and laying paper. It starts raining properly now. I stand at the cutting rack outside ICU which begins just as the roof awning ends, so that the rain descends in a sheet that dribbles down my face and arms. I don't need to spray the leaf before taking it to Geoff's unit -- it's already drenched.

I stop by the laundry with some wet-bottom towels. Jackie has a system she likes to follow -- she fills the washing machine (a top-loader, obviously) with water and lets the wet-bottom towels soak there for a while. As we add new towels, you pull the power knob out and let them agitate for a few seconds and then depress the knob to let them continue soaking. They're covered in smeared koala poop and bladder leakage so benefit from the extra time.

Next we have a cuppa. I always associate the tea break with green tea since I was doing a detox when I started volunteering here. I could only drink herbal tea and Madura green tea was all they had. Peter says that the aviaries still need to be done so I finish up my tea and head out there.

Ellenborough Nancy
Ellenborough Nancy
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I start cutting the leaf first and notice that the koala in Ellenborough Kelly's old aviary is scaling the grate in her door. She's also from Ellenborough. This one's called Nancy and appears to be another extra wild one.

What is it with climbing today? She's making a god-awful metallic scuttling noise, as she moves around the aviary. Fortunately, she's back on the gunyah when I enter. Her swollen left eye makes her look forlorn -- I think I recall reading on the whiteboard that that eye is blind. Her water is full of dirt and her dirt tray is overturned. Otherwise the paper is not too bad and the towel seems quite clean. There is a bag on the floor which should have been a sign that the koala was newly returned to the aviary. I've managed to replace one towel when I narrowly avoid a fierce swipe. Perhaps Cheyne needs to add "Swipey" to her koala-reading categories. She still has the towel caught in her claws and looks...grouchy! Just then I hear Jackie approach to tell me that Nancy's aviary has already been done! No wonder Nancy was so annoyed. She must have just been bagged and brought in from the treatment room. There's no way I can finish retying the towel now: Nancy still has it in her clutches and is giving me a death stare to boot. I lock her unit and start on Oxley Jo, vowing to return to retie the towel later when Nancy's settled down.


Oxley Jo
From koalawrangler's gallery.
Oxley Jo is the most angelic-looking koala I've seen that isn't a joey. She even gives Burraneer Henry a run for his money. She stares at me, fascinated, as soon as I enter the aviary. Her gunyah is very awkward -- low and difficult to get around. She doesn't take her eyes off me for a second. I think it's just curiosity. She doesn't look exactly scared, just a bit transfixed by my presence like Warrego Martin was. She's also one who's quite 'attached' (literally/figuratively) to the central vertical branch of her gunyah. She's not interested in moving down to the other end of the gunyah so that I can replace the towel. I suddenly notice a grey swelling on her forearm -- a tick! I decide after the swiping I nearly got from Nancy that I'm not going to brave the removal of a tick so close to her claws. She's a timid one but she could turn! Especially as she's quite focused on my every move.

Oxley Jo
Oxley Jo
From koalawrangler's gallery.
I call Peter over to see if he can get the tick off her. She eeps a bit and scuttles to the other end of the gunyah, which at least means I can finish the towel and the leaf. She goes even further though, and climbs down to the lower beam and continues to stare. I collect Jo's dirt tray to replace the dirt and notice a swollen tick sitting in it. I take it to the day-room and follow the routine Amanda showed me weeks ago: put tick in phial, cover in ethanol, write name of koala, yard no., and whether found on koala or ground on chart, then write the allocated number on the phial lid. Some researcher has got a serious collection of pickled ticks to go through.

Back in the aviaries, Jackie has finished with Links Lorna (the eeping one from ICU). I'm done with Jo except for removing the tick, which Peter says he'll do when she's settled down. He's managed to retie Nancy's towel as she's taken to climbing up the wire again. He's pegged up some towels to the open grate on the side of Nancy's aviary since she seems so upset at the moment. I recall what Cheyne said about covering distressed koalas after a rescue: what they don't see, won't alarm them.

I head off about 12pm. Driving home, my eyes scan every tree. It's a thing I find myself doing now -- looking for koalas. I see a lot of dead critters -- squashed lizards and bowled over wild chooks mostly. I actually pulled to a screaming halt just before our driveway last week because a lizard was scuttling across the road. The lizards give themselves half a chance, but the chooks are mad -- they bolt out of nowhere in front of your car and across the street (if they're lucky). A hundred why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-road jokes come to mind... Anyway, I also find myself staring closely at the forks in the branches now that I know tree branches so intimately. I tick off in my mind where I'd cut the branch to produce the optimal leaf...yes, I've crossed over to...the koala side!

I give myself a thorough going-over when I got home. It freaked me out finding those ticks so easily on Oxley Jo. I empty my pocket and find string there from one of the wet-bottom units.

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