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VTMAS No.4: Surprise Autopsy

**WARNING: This story may not be for the squeamish or sensitive**

One of my favorite things about the veterinary office today was that it was closed.  I was having a frustrating day and the idea of working alone walking and caring for the dogs, cats, and any exotic animals was a nice moment. Taking advantage of the fact I was flying solo at the office, I made the decision to not where my scrubs. Instead, I was in boy’s khaki shorts, a white tank top with a Hawaiian shirt over that, and of course, flip-flops.

I cruised the whole way to work with the windows down. It was a nice sunny Florida day out as I pulled into the backside of the parking lot. Climbing out of my old blue GMC Yukon, I paused. There was a small pickup in the parking spot closest to the back door, but that wasn’t the part that had me on high alert. There was no signs of anybody, but the small  Ford Ranger had water dripping out of the back. Ok, that’s odd. It hasn’t rained today…

As I cautiously approached, the entire bed of the truck was filled with ice. I stood there for a moment pondering what on earth would prompt such action. The side of the truck read “Key Largo, Florida”. I stumbled slowly to the back door as my thoughts were putting the puzzle pieces together. Holy cow! Key Largo is a 7 or more hour drive from here. I know Dr. Rodgers does a lot of marine biology cases, but I couldn’t imagine driving anything that far.

My heart skipped a beat when the back door was cracked and unlocked.  Did someone break in? I mean, we do have tranquilizers for Tigers in the lock box. 

“Valerie? Is that you?”  It was Dr. Rodgers shouting from the surgical room. “I could really use your help!”

“Yea…” I walked in to see a man in tears and two others consoling him. “What do you nee-”

I couldn’t finish my sentence as I walked into the Surgery room. The doctor was currently wielding a hack saw as he removed a portion of a Bottlenose Dolphin’s tail. Clearly, it was dead, but it wasn’t what I had expected to see. He finished the task before him and then beckoned for my assistance to rearrange the body better on the table now that it fit.

“What on earth is going on?” Slapping on gloves, I jumped into the task at hand. “I’m not quite dressed for the occasion, Boss. Sorry about that…”

“You’re fine!” We centered the mass of the dolphin to the center of the table. “I was just glad it was you. Don’t you have experience with working with large mammals? And dissection?”

“Technically, yes.”  Well, today was a bad day to where tropical weather attire. “Between raising cattle and swine for FFA and I’ve done my share of helping my dad clean fish or watching his buddies clean deer and hog…”

“PERFECT!” I jumped from his excitement.

He had me first take care of all my normal responsibilities before we turned our focus to the autopsy case on the table. Apparently, this Bottlenose Dolphin was barely 15 years old, and they are known for hitting over 20 years of age easily. She was healthy and active the day before and this morning washed to shore dead. No outward signs of disease had been seen nor strange behavior. It was our job to figure out what happened to kill her so suddenly.

“Ok we need to get the intestines out of the way so I can take samples and check her vital organs.” Dr. Rodgers pointed to the trash bags on the counter behind me. “We can bag them in one of those.”

“Uh, Doc… I don’t think it’ll hold, even if I double bag it.” I was hesitant, but there really wasn’t anything else we could use unless I emptied the giant tub of dog food. “Fine, but go slow so the weight doesn’t bust through them.”

“Yes, we’ll need to do this slow.” He nodded in agreement; a 250 pound marine mammal had a LOT of intestines.

We weren’t sure if all of them will fit as I approached and opened the bag. With a nod to each other, he started to push them out and towards the bag. Much to both our surprises, they slid a little too well in response and an avalanche of innards came rushing out, off the table, and into my open bag at alarming speed. I failed to react fast enough to drop the bag against the floor and instead they busted out the bottom. My flip-flopped feet were greeted in cold, slimy, dolphin guts. I stood there staring into the bag and at my own two feet with their new embellishments.

“Oh my God!” Dr. Rodgers exclaimed.  “I’m so sorry Val! Are you going to be ok?”

“Yea.” I sighed, If it weren’t for my bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. “I had a funny feeling my luck would end like this no matter what we did…”

After shoveling the intestines into another bag, I took a moment to thoroughly rinse and disinfect my legs, feet, toes, and flip-flops. Worse off, I had a billion angry messages on my cell phone from my mother after being at work 2 hours longer than the normal. She was insistent that I show up to ‘Wingy Dingy’ night at the local bar & grill. Tired but hungry, I said screw it and headed there next. As I sat there enjoying my grilled honey mustard wings, it took all I had to keep ignoring the comments of “What smells fishy?” and “Something smells, salty, like the ocean”.

RESULTS OF THE AUTOPSY: By the way, in case you were wondering, the poor Dolphin died of a sudden failure of the liver due to Hepatitis C.

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