Buffalo milk and a scalpel

Today began like any other day.  Lakshmi and I headed out for her morning constitutional early, at 6:30 AM because the trainer was due to pick her up to take her to be spayed at 7 AM.   It was a Saturday and already the neighborhood was bustling with activity.  Every piece of athletic equipment that had recently been installed in the part across the street was filled with one or two children, some using their equipment as intended, some not.  The two basketball courts next to the park were being put to multiple purposes:  In one, a group of teenagers were playing what looked to be a game.  The other basket had a swarm of younger children beneath it, vying for turns to put the ball in the basket.  The further end of their court had been transformed into a badminton court, with a net placed along the length and a group of older men, two appeared to be in the thirties, two in their forties (maybe).  The older ones were wearing blue T-shirts with yellow lettering announcing the name of their club, presumably a badminton club.  The man with the beautiful German shepherd was out walking with him,  and I wished that Lobo, the huge German shepherd whom  I had met at the shelter had someone who wanted to own him and take him for walks.

The covered soccer field two buildings down from my apartment was quiet, and most of the shops were still closed although the man who sells candy and miscellaneous snacks was ready for business.  Traffic was minimal, the sky was blue, the sun was out, and pollutants in the air were minimal.  It was a glorious day to be part of a local Nepali urban neighborhood.  And, of course, I had Lakshmi to thank for this.  Were it not for her, I would not have been up early enough to see how much goes on just outside my front door at the crack of dawn.   The question was, if it is so busy at 6AM, what time did they come? 

Some of the children came to see Lakshmi and to pet her, which she loves.  Others backed away, apparently not used to dogs.  Some chattered to me in Nepali, other tried out their faltering English.   Between the neighborhood children and the day and night guards at my apartment, I probably had all the support I needed to learn a little Nepali, I thought.   I  wonder why I haven’t been moved to begin studying the language thus far, although I had brought books with me.  My intense desire to learn a new language had, it appeared, been sated with my months of Kinyarwanda study in Rwanda last year.

7AM found us back at the apartment, waiting for the Ramprasad, Lakshmi’s trainer-to-be.   They were running a little late, they texted, but showed up before 8AM.  Ramprasad arrived with a veterinarian, Arjuna,  and his wife, Paru, and son, Ayan, in tow.

Ah, I said, I remember Arjun from the Maha Bharat.  Everyone happily agreed

Arjuna was carrying a backpack, which he began to carefully unload.

Sorry we were late. We had to take my mother to the bus station as she is traveling today.

A family outing, I thought.  First to the bus station, then to perform surgery.   It had already become abundantly clear that Lakshmi wasn’t going anywhere to be spayed.

By 8 AM, my living room had been transformed into a surgical suite, the vet gloved and ready to go, his instruments set out on my coffee table, his wife and son and I as observers, and Ramprasad as an assistant.  Anesthesia, local and general were administered, each limp leg was tied to a leg of the coffee table, which had a sterile cloth laid across it, plus sheets of clean white typing paper, my preferred alternative to newspaper, which seemed less sterile to me. Anyway, I didn’t have any to offer although, for a moment, I was going to send the day guard in search of some.

Eat your heart out U.S. veterinary clinics, no matter what comforts you try to provide your surgical patients,  being operated on at home was undoubtedly less stressful than anything you could create in an office setting. 

I began to mentally compose an email to my veterinarian at home, and the clinic where he worked in Vermont.  I had already mentioned rescuing the pup to him.  He had, in turn apparently told the clinic staff because, soon after, came a request for a picture.  I thought they would enjoy hearing about my converted living room.

Arjun, the veterinarian was skilled, trained in Antwerp he told me.  You can take pictures for yourself but this is not the officially best way to do surgery.  Still we do this here because may people cannot get their animals to a hospital and some are too aggressive anyway.

Undoubtedly, it was also going to be less expensive, I thought.

He was in and out in a flash, taking along with him something that was nothing more than a slender length of bloody tissue.  It would become this big, he showed me with his hands, if she were to become pregnant.   To me, hardly seemed big enough to worry about.  He sewed her up with internal degradable stitches that would be invisible and then, for extra measure, presumably because she was a dog and would be running around in no time, he informed me, he wrapped thread around the incision externally.  If I understand correctly, this will also eventually vanish and she will have a scar-free belly, as if that might matter to her, or to me, for that matter.  Still I was impressed.

There was some bad news, however, Lakshmi has mild ascites, fluid in her belly, he announced as he mopped up the excess liquid after his initial incision.  Not much but not  a good sign. Could be from worms, could be something else.

Well, I did deworm her the day before yesterday.  Now I knew why her belly was so round.  High protein diet was the recommendation.  I wondered if this was a dog version of kwashiorkor, edematous malnutrition, evidenced by a swollen belly that children who are starving.  Obviously, my decision to bring her home had been the right one.  In fact, I did it because her hind end seemed extremely thin.  I had wondered about her bulging belly at the time.Despite her cheerful and friendly demeanor Lakshmi had undoubtedly been starving.  Many dogs in Kathmandu have problems like this, he said, shaking his head.

I am overwhelmed with the 26,000 stray dogs of Kathmandu.  I know that I feel utterly helpless to make a difference, although I was able to get one gal with severe mange into on the few overburdened shelters.   I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a vet and have to see so many animals in need and be unable to do anything.

A pain injection followed by an antibiotic one, and the job was done.   The scalpel mysteriously disappeared, clamps and scissors and dirty linen flew into the backpack, sheets of paper, without a drop of blood on them I noted, and the slender uterus fell into a trash bag to be disposed of in an appropriate manner.   Ramprasad will come back every day for five days, I was informed, with his assistant, the young man who had come earlier with him in the week to administer a handful of, apparently painful, vaccinations.    I  realized that he must be a vet tech rather than a veterinarian.  They will check the wound and administer new  doses of antibiotics and pain meds.  She will be fine by tomorrow, she may feel a little pain today.  Yes you can take her out to pee and poop. 

Her bandaged belly will, I am sure, attract some attention, I thought.

Yes, I can provide all the paperwork you need to take her to the U.S.  We can get a carrier, we can do everything to get her ready to go.  It is very easy to take a dog to the U.S., many people do, Arjun assured me.  Europe is more difficult.  It takes at least four months, maybe more.

How was Antwerp?

Europe seems all the same to me.  But when I went to Paris for a visit, it was difficult, no one would speak English.

Some things, even after 40 years have not changed, I thought, remembering my time in France and the eternal expectation of the French that everyone speak French.  Not that I minded for myself.  Since I was there to study French, I preferred to use it.  But for a poor Nepali man on vacation, couldn’t you give just a little?

His parting instructions were no food or water for 3 hours, then try a little milk or broth.  If she vomits, wait another hour, if not then she can have anything.  If she bleeds, call us. 

It wasn’t even 9:30 AM and all was well.  Safe in her crate, I went out to find milk; I already had chicken to make broth.   No milk at the corner grocery, so I went to buy myself some vegetables.

You haven’t been here for a long time, my local grocer informed me.   By the time I left, my bags were filled with fresh tomatoes, mint, coriander, potatoes, daikon, garlic, onions, cauliflower, papaya, pineapples, Nepali apples, Japanese apples and pears, persimmons, a sample of each of two fruits I did not recognize, and, wonder of wonders, pomegranates.   The persimmons and daikon came, I knew, from Japan.  Okra, green beans, and a strange looking vegetable I had never seen before but decided to try, bought at another grocer, and my previously depleted vegetable stores were replenished.    Then, at the second grocers, I saw the glass doors of a refrigerator — paneer, butter, tofu (yay! practically right next door!!??), and plastic bags of milk and curd, some prepackaged and sealed, others simply tied shut with a rubber band.

Fresh buffalo milk, very good, the shopkeeper informed me.

I guess if I can get used to performing surgery in my living room, I can try buffalo milk, I thought.

Now I sit watching a movie on cable TV, listening to Lakshmi moan as she wakes up from the anesthesia, and drinking a cup of warm buffalo milk which, surprise, surprise, is absolutely delicious.  I wonder what the rest of the day has in store for me.   It isn’t even noon yet.