The Lion, The Dentist and The Pulse Oximeter

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“Would your device work on one of my patients?”, the gentleman sitting next to me asked.

The Dentist

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The year was 1987. The place, a British Dental Association meeting somewhere in London. I had just addressed the British Dental Association advisory panel on Safety in Anaesthesia and Sedation (headed by Professor David Poswillo) and had been extolling the virtues of a newly available piece of monitoring equipment which could, in real-time and non-invasively, measure a patients pulse rate and oxygen saturation. This device was the Pulse Oximeter.

However, before handing over a £2,000 state-of-the-art monitor, I had to hear more about the case. The gentleman who had asked the question (The eminent and forward-thinking Dentist Dr. Peter Kertesz) to me went on to describe one of his patients, Arthur. Arthur was not your typical housepet – he was a very particular patient and lived in the Regents Park area.

He was London Zoo’s signature Lion, weighing in at 180kg.

The Lion

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Cut to one week later – I’m sat in the office when I receive panicked phone call from our sales rep Heather. She had taken the Pulse Oximiter to visit Dr. Kertesz and Arthur – but couldn’t get the monitor to work!

Peter, I learned, was operating with a headlight on – which was interfering with the monitors operation. We had originally thought we could use Arthur’s tongue for the clip sensor as Arthur, being a lion, didn’t have the fingers and toes we were so used to. His ears were also a no-go because the hair prevented successful attachment of the clip.

We quickly thought about the principals of Pulse Oximetry to find a solution. We needed a well perfused capillary bed, with minimal pigmentation and in an accessible area of the body. I instructed Heather to put the “finger sensor” on Arthur’s prepuce, to great effect!

Consequently, over the years it has been my privilege to have been involved in a number of interesting cases with Peter, a particularly memorable one being The Lioness, The Dentist and the BBC, where we helped anaesthetise a female lion for a dental procedure.

The Pulse Oximiter

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Thames Medical VM-1260 Handheld Pulse Oximiter

This was arguably the first time a pulse oximeter was ever used to monitor a Veterinary patient outside of the development laboratories.

I shall be eternally grateful to Peter for asking me that question in 1987.

It took several more years before I was able to really introduce Veterinary Anaesthesia to the pulse oximeter and that took the help of another caring and very influential and inspirational lady, Dr Polly Taylor. You can read that story here: Polly put the Pulse Ox on.

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