Eyeing Hazards In The Workplace

Working in the veterinary profession can be quite hazardous to your health.

Patients occasionally try to bite you, and a variety of zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from pets to people) enter the hospital every day.

Still, though, there are some situations that scream of danger. The following story is true and until today makes me cringe.

I had just left my last appointment of the morning that required a heavy dose of education. The lesson involved overnight storage of a poop sample at home. Mr. Kimura insisted that a used vegetable plastic bag was good enough. Our recommendation is to double bag the stool in Ziploc bags, since the foul sample is to be placed in the refrigerator. We encourage this practice to prevent contamination of food items in the refrigerator, and so that the odor that wafted out when the refrigerator door was opened did not reek of takuan (pickled radish).

“Doc, hurry and eat your lunch. Your squeeze-in surgery is almost ready,” ordered Janelle, our head veterinary technician.

“I’ll pass on lunch. After speaking with Mr. Kimura at length about poop storage, I suddenly don’t feel that hungry,” I replied.

Walking into the surgical preparation site, I noticed that “Bootsy” already was anesthetized and being prepped for surgery. Bootsy came into our hospital earlier that morning with a chronic eye infection. Things went well for a couple of weeks but then turned for the worse. The infected eye was now filled with pus and was no longer visual. Not only did Bootsy not see anymore from that eye, but it was a constant source of pain.

Enucleation, or eye removal, was our only recourse.

As I watched Janelle clean the eye and surrounding area, I couldn’t help but notice that the eye seemed even more swollen than it was earlier that morning. The abscess filled the eye and pushed it beyond its limits like an overfilled water balloon.

Then it happened. Bootsy’s eye ruptured. Watching from a distance, it seemed to occur in slow motion. The pus within the eye shot into the air and arched toward Janelle. It propelled so quickly that she didn’t have time to react and the spewing liquid bathed Janelle’s left eye.

“Watch out,” I yelled with futility.

We all stood frozen as Janelle winced like a drunken, seasick pirate. Seconds passed as the staff digested what just occurred. Eyeball puss from a dog shot into a human’s eye could not be healthy.

We rushed Janelle to the sink and washed her eye out with copious amounts of water. After minutes of this exercise, we flushed her eye with antibiotic eye drops. Janelle insisted on helping with Bootsy’s surgery, but we convinced her otherwise.

Thankfully, or rather miraculously, Janelle’s eye was fine.

I, on the other hand, was psychologically scarred for life.

It’s crazy what can happen in the “blink of an eye.”

Dr. John Kaya is the director of the Windward Community College veterinary technician program and associate veterinarian for VCA University Animal Hospital