Saturday, February 22, 2014

All Creatures Great and Small

An unexpectedly good follow-up to my last post:

This past week I visited the Anglophone Northwest region of Cameroon, winding an intentionally tortuous route back up to the Adamaoua and my new post.  I met up with a friend from training, Michael, and traveled with him from the regional capital of Bamenda through the verdant mountains to his post of Mbengwi.

On the way, he mentioned that his cat, Dee, was very pregnant. "We might come home to a pile of kittens," he warned.

Instead, we walked into his house to find Dee prone on the couch in a puddle of kitty vaginal secretions. Michael bent over her, then straightened up quickly.  Something was very wrong. The tiny tail and one leg of a clearly dead kitten had been delivered, but the rest of the body remained lodged in her birth canal.  Dee was no longer having contractions-- in fact, she was no longer moving-- and from the almost-rotten stench, it seemed the stillborn kitten might have been there for hours.

Being a health volunteer in Cameroon, one inevitably encounters medical emergencies in less than ideal conditions, and learns to deal with them as efficiently as possible.  Within minutes, Michael and I had washed and gloved up and constructed an impromptu veterinary operating theater with a deep plastic tub, an old pair of pagne pants, and a Maglite weapon-grade flashlight.  As I balanced the light and held Dee down, Michael gently worked the body out of her birth canal, easing the second back leg around before pulling the upper body out in a gush of foul-smelling fluid.  We phoned Julie, a volunteer veterinarian, who recommended the correct dosage of antibiotics to combat possible septicemia; Michael fetched a syringe and gave Dee a subcutaneous injection of saline solution to ensure that she rehydrated as quickly as possible.  As I gently stroked the camel's hump of saline wobbling over Dee's shoulderblades, I felt sad for her trauma, but proud of us.  We had handled the situation.

There was, however, a mystery that remained: what had happened to the rest of the litter?  Michael was sure he had felt at least three kittens kicking in Dee's belly, but searching in and around the house turned up nothing.  We concluded that they must have also been stillborn, and that Dee had eaten them (this being, it seems, something that cats do).

The next day we spent with Caitlin and Emily, the other volunteers in the Mbengwi cluster.  We hiked up a mountain to get a view of the town spread out below us, buildings interspersed with lush palm and eucalyptus groves.  It was a lovely spot, and we spread out a picnic of fresh bread that Michael had baked the night before, buttery avocados, and bananas.  Hiking back down to a bar, we met up with some friends and colleagues of the three volunteers, and drank and danced into the evening.

Once back at the house, Michael and Emily found their way to bed, but Caitlin and I stayed up talking.  Suddenly we heard a clattering in the kitchen, followed by a chorus of piercing mews.  We turned to see Dee trotting into the salon, something gray and wriggling in her mouth.  Mouse! I thought at first, then, horrified, Dead kitten!

It was neither; Dee, it seemed, had successfully birthed at least one of the other kittens, and hidden it away somewhere in the brush behind Michael's house.  Once sufficiently recovered from her exhaustion, she had apparently remembered her kitten and fetched it again.

The kitten, eyes still shut tight, was mewling frantically, but seemed unable to nurse. We tried to guide it several times to one of Dee's six nipples, but each time it crawled blindly over her body, a little ball of writhing need.  Dee was no help, purring contentedly but seeming not to know what to do with her own offspring.

Caitlin and I, again thrown into the role of impromptu vets, mixed powdered milk and made a makeshift nipple out of a plastic bag.  We drippily fed the kitten until it quieted down, then tried again to guide it to Dee.  This time it found a nipple and clamped on, kneading Dee's stomach with its tiny pin-prick claws.

And once again, I was proud of us.

Is it bad that I want to name this guy Adolf?  Maybe we can compromise on Charlie.

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