Girl’s Gone’s Wilde

First chapter of my current work in progress

There are very few things more repulsive than a boil on a buffalo’s ass.  My boss comes close.  He didn’t even have the balls to contact me himself. I got a radio message from one of the rangers,”male bison needs surgical intervention up in far north field.” I swore under my breath.   Jim didn’t respond when I tried to radio him directly.  I knew  exactly why he was punting this to me. His newest hire, was the most incompetent vet I had ever seen.  As federal employees, we aren’t all that easy to fire. Still, why the hell should I have to pay for Jim’s incompetence? He could hang up his striped button down shirt with the expensive cuff links, scrub up and do it his damn self. 

The ranger came back on the radio,”To clarify, Tatanka has an abscess visible from the chopper.” I whistled under my breath 

The bison herd is largely self regulated, which means that we vets only step in to tag the animals and sometimes do a necropsy if a we aren’t sure how an animal died. But we were talking about   Tatanka, the patriarch of the herd ,whose picture has been seen all over the world. He’s the symbol of the Salt River Valley national park.  He is on posters, hats, tee shirts and commemorative coins.   Stuffed “Tanky’s” end up in most of the minivans that are driven out of the park.  Families come from all over the planet in hopes of seeing him and his herd. We couldn’t have him gamboling  around with a growth the size of a basketball on his hindquarters.  All of that was true. It was also true that it was a Friday night and I had pulled ten consecutive shifts, getting maybe 6 hours  of sleep between them.  

I threw the jeep into park and barreled into the office. “No fucking way, Jim. You’ve worked me half to death this week. Your lazy ass can head up there and squeeze the stinking pus out of Tanky’s hindquarters. ”

Instead of hurling venom right back at me , like he usually would have, he gave a stiff smile.“Come in, come in-meet our visitor.”

Well, fuck. 

I walked all the way into the office, hair sticking out of my baseball cap all funkily and smelling like roadkill. I would have been mortified about having to meet someone looking like that, even if I hadn’t just been cursing like a seahag at my boss.  I had to force myself to lift my eyes from the floor and say hello. 

Only I didn’t, because I was struck dumb. The most handsome man I had ever seen filled half of the tiny office. Tall, broad shouldered, with thick black hair and piercing blue eyes. 

Jim began the introductions,”This is Dr Clementine Jasper, my lead vet.”

All that and a bag of chips stepped towards me and held out a strong hand. “I’m Nate.”

“Nate,”I whispered back like I’d recently suffered a head injury.

“Nate here, is one of our zoning advisors,”Jim explained.  I nodded. My understanding of what the zoning advisors did exactly, was vague, but it had to do with land use- which parts of the park could be camped in, for example.

He was still holding my hand.“For such a  young lady you already have  a  sterling reputation. The park is lucky to have you on staff.”

There is something weird about being called “young lady” and lauded for your professional accomplishments in one sentence.  I ignored it, busy drowning in those dark blue eyes. 

Jim reinserted himself in the conversation. “You know, Clem the other night, I saw the most amazing documentary. It had a girl with the same name as you, and she was practically an alb…”

I cut him off. “Albinism is the complete lack of pigments, you have it or you do not, let me guess you skipped that day of vet school?” I have always had snow white hair.  As a toddler I looked like a dandelion ready to have its seed spread all over the lawn. I’d given up on my attempts to dye it, since the color would never stay more than a few hours.  My eyes are blue though, and I can even get a tan. I glared at Jim. If he was trying to get me out of that office, and up to the north pasture, he had picked a very efficient way to do it. 

“I’m just saying that it was very interesting,” he continued, ignoring my glare. I didn’t have to hear anymore. That stupid documentary blew up my life.  It introduced the entire world to Clementine Jasper of the white curls and her brilliant, if clearly nuts, father, Zebulon Jasper, possessor of 6 Phd’s, who threw his career away by taking cryptozoology seriously.  My dad found his career vanished overnight, as serious scientists laughed at him. My mom ended up taking me and leaving him. The amount of damage that 90 minutes of footage did is immeasurable. 

“Alright,” I said. “Listen, if you come up with anything else you need me to do before I get a full eight hours of sleep,I am coming after you with the burdizzo pinchers. Assuming I can find one sized to castrating a mouse.” 

Nate  apparently understood that burdizzo’s are used to neuter  animals, because he threw his head back and laughed.  Jim chuckled a bit more nervously, “Good luck Dr. You really are the best I’ve got.”

On that high note, I sauntered away.  We might not like each other, but he  mostly stays out of my way and I love my job.  I also was gong to have to learn more about the zoning advisors in general and Mr Blue Eyes in particular.

The sun would be going down in an hour so I  hurriedly grabbed a jacket and a surgical kit. Bisons have incredibly tough skin, not much could penetrate it and stay imbedded  long enough to become infected.   I grabbed a coke and walked out of the  medical support center. 

“Dr Jasper?” a man I didn’t know opened the door to a parks service jeep.

“Hey, so where are we going?” I asked as I settled into  passenger seat.

“We have him contained up in the eastern pasture.”

Being contained isn’t something a bison can tolerate for very long, it’s dangerous for them since they might  fight so hard to get out  that they hurt themselves. It’s dangerous for the people containing them, cause it involves a furious American buffalo. 

“So when was Tatanka hurt?”

He shook his head,”Not sure,  he was out of a sight for a few days.” This isn’t that uncommon the park is big and the herd is very mobile.“When we saw him a few hours ago, he has a hell of an abscess on his hindquarters. It was spotted from the chopper.”

That was not good. An abcess that big could mean all kinds of badness was happening.  I ran through the protocols of  drainage technique and the best way to kill any infection in a wild bovine while the forest  rolled by outside of my window. 

I was in luck, Teo, the best ranger I had ever worked with, was in charge. When I arrived at the eastern pasture, he met us. “We’ve got him in a tube.”

I was impressed. A treatment tube is a metal container that doesn’t give the animal room to move around. They usually have small windows on the side that slide open to give the vet access to the body part that needs attention.  The ones needed for a bison have to be pulled behind a truck.

“How the fuck did you get him in one of those?” I was relieved, the idea of shooting a charging bison with an anesthetic was a nightmare, especially one as old and cherished as this one. 

“They are all acting funny. We got near the herd and he walked out to us. Like he was offering himself as long as we left the others alone. Crazy. We unloaded the tube from the truck and opened both ends and he just walked in and has been quiet the whole time. Didn’t even freak when I used the remote to shut both ends. ”

My good luck has just run out, I thought. No  healthy bison walks into a metal tube away from his herd. The sound of two heavy metal doors slamming shut should have sent Tatanka into a frenzy.  He had to be really sick to not even react.  Fuck,fuck, fuckity fuck, I thought. Of all the animals to lose, why did it have to be the beloved symbol of the park?

The herd  was quietly clustered at the edge of the clearing.  It was nerve wracking. A charge from one of them and I could be trampled to death in no time.  

“Don’t worry, Doc,” Tho said. “I’m watching them.” He shrugged his shoulder and I could see the gun that hung from it. 

“Thanks, Im sure we won’t need that today,”I said nervously.  Hoping that saying it somehow made it true.

Working quickly, I spread a clean tarp and then laid my implements out on it. I slid back one of metal doors and gasped when I saw the abscess.   The hot swollen mass started on his back and moved down the flank of his left hind quarter. At its biggest, it was damn near the size of a basketball.  Even in silhouette he would have looked misshapen.  Tatanka trembled, and I noticed the sweat running under his fur. There was no question that he had a massive infection. I  walked around to open the door around the huge animals face, it’s always best to monitor how your patient is doing.  One of Teo’s men brought me a bucket of hot water. I washed up in it and got some gloves on.  I clipped the hair around the head of the abscess.I tipped some antiseptic into the water and  using a turkey baster hosed big Daddy’s infected flank down.  His flesh quivered as the water hit it. It took four buckets of hot water to get the fur around the abscess clean enough  for me to open it up.  Bison fur is dense, and if Tatanka hadn’t been in such obvious pain I would have scrubbed it with a brush .  Once the smell of dirty bison was partially abated, I could smell the purulent flesh. As I always did I whispered that I was sorry, that I was here to help.  I sincerely doubt that this tradition of mine has made any difference to any animal I have treated, but I do it anyway.    In bovines (which  a bison is although they are the kings of the bovines- you don’t usually use a local anesthetic before lancing an abscess. I know it might sound mean, but when you weigh the risk of reactions and the huge relief they feel when you drain it, it is a reasonable choice) Taking a deep breath,  I made a  decisive vertical cut  with a scalpel and leapt back out of the way of the fountain of pus that came gushing out.   I wasn’t fast enough. My jeans took a torrent of the nasty stuff.  I wiped off what I could , while it continued to   to drain. I could see Tatanka’s breathing grow easier. Using the flat of my hands I pressed on his flanks, so that the last of the  discharge was expelled. I had never seen such a deep, deep infection from a break in the skin.  Eventually, the wound was mostly empty, and there was a pond of stinking pus around the  holding tube. Straddling the river of purulence, I picked up some gauze with my forceps and as gently as I could began to probe the lesion. Before I rinsed it I needed a swab to send off to the lab.    There was a click  as my forceps hit something hard.  I set the forceps down and  gently probed with my finger. I  couldn’t figure out what the hell was in there. No thorn could pierce a bisons skin. I was thinking that some asshole hunter had shot him with a bow and arrow. I could make out a sharp point, but it was imbedded and I  couldn’t pull it out.  I decided to give him a local anesthetic.  If I was going to have to dig in his flesh, I needed to reduce his suffering.  While that took affect, I looked around the clearing. 

I loved the place. I loved  the grassy plains, edged with enormous trees. I loved that there were bears in those woods, and a family of foxes hunting rabbits in the high prairie grass.  For a split second I thought I saw a tall man leaning against one of the trees, but it was just my exhaustion and the dappled sunlight on the forest.

One of the hands called out, “A tree got hit by lightning near the front gate!”

Teo directed them to go help.  I preferred working just with Teo. Some of the other rangers were loud and that made it hard for  me to do my best work.  

“It’s just you and me, kid.” I said to him and we both laughed. Teo is 15 years older than I am and is determined to see me married off. 

“Doc, have you found true love yet?

I shook my head and laughed, “Aint no such thing.”

He held his hands over his heart as if he’d been shot,”I hate to hear a pretty young woman say that. The right man is out there and he is looking for you. I found my Annie at the state fair- we were both cleaning up after our horses. Even carrying a shovel full of fresh shit, I knew she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.”

“Maybe someday,”I said, not wanting to be too cynical in the face of such cockeyed optimism.  It was definitely not the time to bring up, David the cheater, Nick the liar, and Ben the unemployed. I had looked for love, and frankly, wild bison were more reliable.  Teo was just an incurable romantic who had been lucky in that department. 

I returned with my forceps and whispering an apology to the animal dug the interloper out of his flesh.  When I withdrew my forceps They were holding a huge claw. This should have explained  the entire situation. Except it didn’t. Because  Tatanka lives in Wyoming and the claw in my hand came from a Siberian tiger.

2 Comments

  1. Rosie
    Jul 10, 2019

    I want to read more of this!

    • Susannah Shannon
      Jul 18, 2019

      Yay!

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