Concise Prose. Enough Said.
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Beyond The Call Of Duty

By Kay Cavanaugh

The knocking woke me. It was 1 a.m. Groaning, I dragged myself to the door, expecting to see a camper with a stomachache. Four counselors stood there instead.

“We need your help,” Tad said.

I rubbed my eyes. “What is it? Is someone sick?”

“We caught a skunk. We want you to cut out its scent bags so we can keep it as a pet. We already have it asleep.”

It was cold and dark and I was standing there my pajamas, but I had to laugh. “I’m the camp nurse, not a vet. I don’t even know where to find a skunk’s scent bags.”

I’ve never seen such looks of despair.

“We have a book. With pictures! It shows exactly where they are. We’ll help. We’ve got all the right equipment,” Ben argued.

Long story short, I found myself slipping on my jeans and a sweatshirt and following them to the woodworking shop. There, on a stainless steel table, was a skunk sprawled out. They’d anesthetized the poor creature with ether.

I checked the book they supplied for the location of the scent bags, put on a pair of sterile latex gloves, and, feeling beneath the animal’s tail, located the sacs. Not quite believing what I was doing, I made an incision. I didn’t have to cut deeply because a skunk’s bottom has little muscle or fat. The sacs were right where the book said they’d be. They were full and glossy.

Then, in one of the stupidest moves of my life, I decided to aspirate the fluid from the sacs before I removed them. As soon as the needle pierced the skin I realized my error. I’d hit one hundred percent skunk juice, and it sprayed everywhere. My nose started bleeding and my surgical assistants gagged.

I herded them outside. It was too late. We were soaked in the liquid and carrying the odor with us. After a few minutes I realized we still had a patient on the operating table.

Back in the shop, the skunk was still sleeping. Quickly, I tied the other scent bag off with a piece of suture and removed them both. Then I closed the wound. My suturing technique wasn’t meant for use on a skunk. I did the best I could, but his tail looked like it was coming off his hip.

The skunk’s heart was still beating; a miracle in itself, I thought. However, his breathing was noisy. I told the counselors he’d probably have pneumonia and they should take him to a vet.

“I’m starting him on antibiotics. One of you will have to keep him warm and watered and give him his medicine every six hours. DON’T EVEN SUGGEST that I nurse him.” I think they knew I’d reached my limit. They didn’t protest.

For the next three weeks I smelled like skunk. I tried every remedy I could think of, including shampooing my hair twice a day with tomato juice, but nothing worked. It was embarrassing. I’d be sitting at the dinning table with the younger boys and they’d ask, “Do you smell a skunk, Nurse?”

“Yes I do. Maybe it’s under the floor of the kitchen,” I’d say. “We’ll just leave it alone, OK?”

The skunk survived, with a crooked tail, and was taken home as a pet by one of the counselors.


Kay Cavanaugh is a retired Nurse Educator living in Powder Springs Georgia. She volunteers at West Cobb Senior Center, checking blood pressures and teaching health-related classes. Her last work for VerbSap was Ms. Ellie.


Photo "Striped Skunk," Washington D.C. Libarary, via U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Digital Library System.

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