Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bawk, bawk, bawk....Charge!

One of the random articles printed by the local paper pointed out that a nearby sentinel chicken flock turned up positive for West Nile Virus.

Although the term "sentinel chicken" sounds like an oxymoron, it's a perfect term for what they are. California keeps flocks of chickens around the state and tests their blood every week for antibodies to a variety of illnesses that they either want to track (like West Nile) or panic about (like Exotic Newcastle). This article struck me as funny because:
  • Duh! California has had WNV for at least six years. It's summer. There are mosquitoes. Why would we expect to not have it?
  • After all this time, I still think "The Sentinel Chickens" would make an excellent band name.
  • Although I've always assumed that there is a sentinel chicken flock somewhere nearby (given the fact that there is a state lab next to the vet school), I've never seen it confirmed. The form we had members of the public fill out when turning in injured wildlife asked "How far away is the nearest sentinel chicken flock (if known)?" Not once did anybody answer that question. (That form also asked more relevant things such as 1) How long have you had this animal? and 2) What have you fed it? We received a lot of interesting answers to those questions...)
During the last summer that California didn't have a confirmed WNV case, I spent four weeks cutting up dead animals in the pathology department. It's about as glamorous as it sounds, but I learned a lot, such as when making the initial abdominal incision in a cow that has been dead for two days in the heat of summer be very, very, very careful not to puncture the rumen or you will receive an explosion of rumen contents all over you and after showering three times you will still have people in the grocery store wrinkling their noses.

But anyhow, that was the summer that everyone in California was first panicking about WNV, and the path department didn't want to get a reputation for killing off the students, so every time a neuro horse arrived they closed the floor to the students and made the resident do the post-mortem. But... at the same time, the students did all of the bird necropsies. And by students, I mean that I did all the bird necropsies since none of the other students on the rotation wanted anything to do with them. A horse dying of WNV will have some low viral level in their blood, and you wouldn't want to inject yourself with it (although most people get West Nile and develop antibodies without even realizing they're sick), but birds... birds have a huge viremic load, to the point that you might not even need to transfer it directly into your blood. Sometimes there's no room for logic on the dance floor.

In other interesting West Nile stuff, one of the professors at LSU worked with alligators (since alligator farming is a huge industry in Louisiana) and proved that the disease causing blemishes on the hides of alligators was actually West Nile. The only problem was that the hide-scarring disease showed up in Florida one year before WNV was recognized by a veterinarian in a New York zoo.

So, okay, I think I've transferred all my West Nile knowledge. Someday I may even start wearing mosquito repellent. But probably not...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Charmed, I'm sure

In a recent poll at work, I was chosen (out of the candidate pool of me, Jeff, and Eric) the "most charming". I won't print my reply because my mom might read my blog someday, but rest assured I was aware of the irony.

Anyhow, some friends of mine are going on vacation and I agreed to check on the cat and water the plants a few times while they're gone. I went over to their house today to pick up the keys and meet the cat.

In case you've never been to my town, there are a few parts. There's the older part of town, almost entirely bounded by North Street, West Street, East Street, and Gibson (which I can only assume used to be named South Street), with Main Street running halfway between North and Gibson. On the other side of the highway, there's also a newer part of town which is all housing tracts that spread like fungus in the last fifteen years. I live in the older part of town with all the cool people. If you look at the last-five-days crime map, there is a fairly consistent square south of Main Street where no crimes have been reported, surrounded by areas that apparently keep the police department fairly busy.

I live smack dab in the middle of the non-reporting area. My friends live six small blocks east of me, right where it starts to get a little more interesting. It's not really a bad part of town, but the houses are a little smaller and the cars a little older.

My friends own a house that is probably described in real estate brochures as "charming". Or possibly "eclectic". It obviously started as one thing and was modified over the years to be something else, to the point that there is some debate about which parts of the house are the three "bedrooms" described on the tax document. The only shower is in the detached garage, and it has the first basement I've seen in this town. I really like houses that are a tad odd and this one certainly qualifies.

Anyhow, the neighbors seem friendly enough over there. So friendly, in fact, that five inebriated middle-aged guys tried flagged me down to try to convince me to drive them to "Frank's house" as I was leaving at 10:30 at night.

I refused, of course, but I said it as charmingly as possible.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Which a Middle-Aged Woman Blogs About Her Cat

It's bound to happen, I suppose. You get multiple cats and at least one of them is going to be defective. (All you cat haters out there can just shut up about how they're all defective.)

I adore Scooter and I want to kill Scooter. Usually multiple times in the same day. I've had him since he was about two weeks old, a little ball of more fluff than kitten, the only survivor of his litter to make it to me. Scooter was one of the many (somewhere in the range of 40+) orphaned kittens that I raised while in vet school. The plan, which produced well-adjusted, well-socialized cats out of the rest of them, was to wean him onto solid food, let him play with the two other kittens I had at the time, let the adult cats instruct him on appropriate cat behavior, then adopt him out after he was neutered.

The reality was a little different. Everything was going well until he was about nine weeks old and I woke up at 5am hearing "scratch, scratch, scratch" on the down comforter. He was trying to cover the spot he'd peed on. I spoke a few choice words and put the comforter in the washing machine. Well, it was my own fault really. He was really too young to be sleeping on the bed, and he'd probably woken up with a full bladder a little too far from the litter box.

When I got home, I dried the comforter and within five minutes of it being back on the bed, he'd peed on it again. At that point I realized that I'd never be able to adopt him out.

Over the years I've found it easier to modify my environment than to modify Scooter. Instead of cleaning up after him, it's better just to make sure I don't leave any paper or plastic out. And if I want a down comforter on the bed, it has to be under something else.

Scooter's also afraid of many things, including the garbage truck (which drives in front of the house at least six times a week), ceiling fans, loud noises, and fast movements. These are the sorts of things that lead clients to comment on how the previous owner must have abused their adorable little Fifi, but in this case I know he wasn't abused. He's just like that.

With that background in mind, here are the interactions we had today:

8am: I get up only to find that Scooter has unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper onto the floor of the bathroom.

10am: Scooter pees on the paper bag that's been on the floor for three days. (The other cats like to play with paper bags, so I occasionally leave one out and accept the consequences.)

10:01am: I clean up the mess and turn on the ceiling fan. Take that, you bastard! (This was a more effective punishment in Baton Rouge where every single room had a ceiling fan. Now I can only torture him in the dining room.)

7pm: I'm lying on the couch reading a book, and suddenly the light goes out because Scooter has grabbed the plug with his teeth and yanked it out of the socket. Once again, he has managed to avoid electrocution.

So, yeah, he's a pain in the butt.

But he'll sit on my lap and purr for hours. When I'm not ready to kill him, I love him.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yeah, I'm Just Poetry in Motion

Eric inspired me to set down some of my internship/residency experiences in haiku form. You might notice a pattern. (Okay, a pattern besides the 5-7-5 haiku thing...)

Little Pomeranian
Ate sago palm seeds.
Liver fried, no hope for life.
It went home and died.

Barn Owl
Broken wing all fixed.
Shattered again in flight cage.
And then I killed it.

Great Horned Owl
Barbed wire stuck in eye.
Took eye out, but fungus grew.
And then I killed it

Labrador with heart-base tumor
Biopsied tumor.
Bleeding, gushing blood, yet lived.
"Sample size too small".

Juvenile Egret
Out of nest it fell.
Almost every bone broken.
And then I killed it

Okay, on a different note, since nobody believed it was a picture of K-poo that I had (oh-so-skillfully!) superimposed on the dog's head in the last post, I give you the original below.

It's not the best-quality photograph (probably due to bad lighting), but it really is K-poo. So there.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Mind is a Terrible Thing

So I went to the hardware store to get diatomaceous earth for the garden, and also to get a few other things (like a replacement valve for the sprinklers that have been one hassle after another since we put them in). While I was there I got a wheelbarrow, PVC stuff (purple primer, glue, connectors, blah blah blah), a couple hibiscus plants, and a set of pliers. I had even written a list since I needed more than two things.

So what did I forget? Diatomaceous earth, the very first thing on the list. Sometimes I wonder where my brain is...

The hibiscus plants have been planted in front of the gigantic stump in the front yard. The original plan was that the ivy would grow over the stump and cover it from view. However, the ivy is not liking full sunlight, so the yard currently consists of 1) patches of about seven different types of grass, 2) dying ivy, and 3) bare patches. Some of the bare patches have composted manure heaped on top of the cracking earth. This looks about as good as you'd think it would.

The diatomaceous earth was supposed to protect the last surviving sunflower plant.

Just so you don't think I have a completely black thumb, this is a lavender plant in the garden. The bees love this thing.

And this is what artichokes look like if you don't harvest them. The bees really like these as well.

And finally, K-poo had the temerity to complain about my choice of Spock pictures in the recent photoshopping post. Is this one any better?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"um... the new Spock is hot." (*)

Okay, rvan, are you happy? I have Photoshopped something...very badly, but I've only had Photoshop on the computer for less than an hour.

(*) The title is an email I received from K-poo, in its entirety.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

School's out...

... and apparently the kids have nothing to do.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Not a Wise Purchase

We had a thunderstorm last night, a fairly rare occurrence here, and as I was waiting for the thunder-phobic dog's Benadryl to kick in so I could go back to sleep without her panting, drooling, climbing on top of me, and clawing at my face, I was thinking about the differences between the Louisiana shown in the HBO series "True Blood" and the Louisiana where I spent 54 weeks in exile.

- I can understand all of the characters on the show when they talk. Two illustrations of my experience:

1) My next door neighbors had a boy who was in first grade. One day he offered me ("Miss Theresa") a "pay-ya". He repeated it no less than five times before I figured out he was talking about a pear. That's not an accent, that's a speech impediment.

2) At the hospital all of the doctors (and all but one student (who was from out of state)) were white. All of the custodial staff were black. I honestly couldn't understand anything the janitors said. Those guys worked hard, if somewhat ineffectively (eg, they pushed around these huge floor buffers for two hours every morning, but no one ever cleaned the floors first, so there was a fifteen year buildup of dirt and floor wax in all the hallways -- once I found a dead little Mediterranean house gecko that had obviously taken a few turns under the buffer), but I can't see any of them getting another job that required any speaking skills.

- Nobody on the series is driving around while drinking. I used to see people driving while taking swigs out of an bottle in a brown bag. While driving drunk was technically illegal, the police didn't seem interested in enforcing that. Driving in Baton Rouge at night was scary.

On the plus side, it meant that people were used to avoiding the impaired. That worked in my favor as I was driving home one morning on the fourteenth straight day of fifteen-hour overnight shifts. I woke up as my car was going across two lanes of traffic. Nobody around me seemed particularly bothered. The shock of it kept me awake for the rest of the way home -- I was too tired to care much if I lived, but there was no way in hell I was willing to die there.

- Nobody on the series is blaming everything on the hurricanes. I moved to Baton Rouge (which actually didn't have much storm damage) less than a year after Katrina hit. Turns out there was absolutely nothing that you couldn't blame on the hurricanes. "Since Katrina and Rita..." was the start of every explanation from corruption in the government to roads that hadn't been repaved in fifteen years.

On the other hand, the series is about vampires, so maybe they're not really claiming it's all true...