The Lioness, The Dentist and the BBC

“What do you think, Mike? Deep or light?” whispered John the Anaesthetist, after he clambered around the patient and over the wires, cables and general paraphernalia that filled the small cage we were working in.

“I was going to ask you exactly the same thing.” I replied.

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An Unusual Patient

We had both just checked the vital signs, respiration rate, depth, palpebral reflex, and a quick look at the monitor said the patient (a Lioness at Chessington Zoo) was sound asleep. The Pulse Oximeter confirmed the mucous membranes, which were nicely pink. The Capnograph agreed on depth and rate of breathing, the blood pressure showed as normal and the ECG just doing its thing.

Peter Kertesz (the specialist dentist in charge of the procedure) said that everything was fine as he continued to work away on the Lioness’ teeth, a headlight illuminating the area as he worked. However, Peter didn’t really need the headlight on this occasion.

If you’ve ever had the privilege to appear on national news, you will be familiar with the amount of equipment that is required to film even the shortest of pieces. This time, they had brought a cameraman, a sound recordist and a lighting man (armed with some of the most monstrous lighting I have ever laid eyes on) – all of whom were crammed into the tiny cage with Peter, his lab tech and myself.

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Dangerous Distractions

Due to the distraction of the BBC filming us for the day, neither of us had tracked the anaesthetic perhaps as closely as we should have. It is often said (incorrectly in my opinion) that anaesthesia is 99% boredom, 1% terror. On this occasion, we weren’t sure if we were approaching that 1%. Another difficulty with wild animals, even those in captivity, is that whilst there are recipes of drugs that can be used, by definition there aren’t thousands of cases available to build a cast-iron anaesthetic by – and there are always individual differences in how patients react to drugs.

This was demonstrated spectacularly on another occasion with The Bengal and the missing dart.

So there we were – 6 people too many in a cramped cage with a female lion, unable to tell if she deep or light. The only call to make in this situation was to call a halt to surgery. Peter said he needed a few more minutes but needed everyone else out of the way as quickly as possible. John and I made ourselves as useful as possible by standing outside the cage whilst all the BBC gear was dismantled and handed out to us as quietly as possible.

Well don’t want to go waking the patient too quickly by making too much noise eh?

Everyone safely outside and John administered the wake up and we retired right outside to wait…

and wait…

and wait…

The first signs of stirring came from the cage about an hour later, and the lioness (with delightfully clean and repaired teeth) took her first steps post-anaesthetic. We retired to the bar for a well earned cup of coffee and a stiff drink after a stressful, but successful day.

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