Tales of a Medicine-Watcher: 6. Our Friend Ever True

Tales of a Medicine-Watcher are true stories from 50 years in medicine. Names and dates changed, staff names real (unless otherwise noted). The term Medicine-Watcher is used in The Youngest Science, the autobiography of Lewis Thomas, which I use with respect. 

His eyes glared, unblinking. He was angry. Really angry. “Hold him tighter” was all I could say.

Jamie was eleven, and lived on a small farm on the Mornington Peninsula, about 60 km due south of Melbourne. I had a milk run once a week back through the nineties, spending a day a week in a clinic at Frankston, a town at the base of the Peninsula. The area was, and continues to be, one of Melbourne’s playgrounds. Natural bush interspersed with neat farmlets, lots of vineyards, terrific beaches. And plenty of wildlife. Jamie’s mum continued. “I reckon it’s the bloody ‘roo. He’s been coughing since we got it”. The family collected injured wild animals, kept them till they were better, then released them back in the wild. There were always birds, echidnas, koalas floating around, and they would be housed in a large shed. But when Skippy came along, a very young, small kangaroo with multiple flesh wounds from barbed wire, young Jamie adopted him. Skippy had the run of the house…well, he hopped around. He still had stitches, another two weeks the vet said.

Jamie had asthma, mild occasional symptoms, rarely used a puffer. His asthma flared up, his mother believed, when Skippy arrived. “No Mum, it’s not Skippy. It’s not. It’s not”

The allergy tests showed Jamie had a small allergy to dust and mould. There was no carpet or damp in the house, Jamie’s mum always hot-washed the bed linen. There were no tests available for kangaroo. There still aren’t. “Bring Skippy in next week” I said, bravely, and put Jamie on a puffer.

Jamie was in the back seat of the car. He had wrapped Skippy in a blanket, just his small head showing. “Hold him tighter” I repeated. I was going to extract some saliva, and push it through a micropore filter, and skin test Jamie, together with a few staff as controls. Skippy didn’t like it when I eased open his small mouth, and gingerly inserted a syringe to suck out the spit. Have you ever looked inside a kangaroo’s mouth? It’s dry. No fluid. Just a thin layer of mucus. Who knew that?

“Don’t let him go” I said as I ran back into the consulting rooms, half-filled another syringe with sterile saline, ran back, re-opened Skippy’s mouth under his ferocious stare, squirted the saline into the cheek pouch and immediately sucked back, prepared a sterile solution, and tested Jamie with a skin prick test. A large 20mm positive result, with negatives to 6 staff controls, including me. Skippy was immediately relocated, Jamie came off his puffer.

Skippy, Skippy
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
Skippy, Skippy
Skippy, our friend ever true
– Eric Jupp, theme from Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
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