Monday, April 18, 2005

Really Revolting Post

OK, I'm going to talk about something gruesome and morbid at work, so if you're sensitive about those kind of things, just skip to the next post.

If you're still with me, just know that I warned you!

I really want to learn how to do root canals on dogs. I have taken a couple of laboratories on the procedure, and its pretty complicated. I've got the basics down but I need to practice. I don't want to get bogged down in the details while I've got a patient under anesthesia. So that means cadavers.

I called a local humane organization in a neighboring county. They agreed to bring me a cadaver head. They only euthanize if the dogs don't pass their behavior test. I also needed a dog that wasn't very young (with immature teeth) or very old. It took about 2 months before they had a suitable subject for me, then they found 2.

The dead dogs arrived on a day when I was not in the clinic, so the staff put them in the deep freezer. On Thursday I pulled them out. They were both large, and hard as doggie ice cubes. I only need the heads, so I thought I'd defrost them to cut the heads off. I put them in the shower and decided to check on them the next day. "This is going to take longer than you think," one of the nurses said to me. "Think how long it takes a turkey to defrost. This is like 5 or 6 turkeys."

I returned the next day, and even after 24 hours, they had only defrosted about 5 millimeters deep into the dogs. At least they didn't smell. Some of the staff suggested defrosting in water but that sounded too messy. I asked my boss for advice, and he said have our kennel guy cut it off with a hack saw.

The kennel guy was not thrilled when I told him about this task, and immediately started making excuses. "The hacksaw is dull. And! The handle is broken." "Here's $20, go to Lowe's and get a new one," his supervisor said. "I don't know if this is going to work. I don't know if I can stomach it. I've seen dead people before but this is a dog. Oh, and its head! Why do we have to do this?" I told him I would help if he would just go to the store while I was seeing appointments.

Finally, he returned with the saw and new excuses. I told him if he would just help me lift the dogs into the tub I could do it. I started sawing away at the first dead dog. It went a lot more easily than I thought, and pretty soon I was 3/4 the way through the neck. About this time the kennel guy said, "I feel bad that you're doing this, and between your appointments. I'll do it." But I said no, no, I'd gotten this far through the dog, I wanted to finish it. He could to the next dog if he wanted. But I did the second dog, too.

As he was bagging up the dogs' bodies for me, he said, "You know, I really admire you for what you're doing. Not just that you're doing this to learn root canals, but that you're able to cut their head off! I hope I don't have nightmares about this!" So I told him that it helped that I never knew these dogs, and these dogs were too aggressive to be placed in a home, and that at least they would be contributing something for some other luckier dog. Still pretty gruesome.

1 comment:

Emily said...

A friend of mine lent me a book called "Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach. It's been difficult to read, although she does give an interesting perspective on all the things cadavers have helped us learn. Sounds like you're a true scientist to me, Jenn. You can distance yourself when necessary to see the bigger picture.