I can recall, as a teenager, being rather sceptical when an adult friend claimed that they could not remember what o-levels they had taken. During my schooldays, those exams represented something so huge that I couldn’t begin to imagine a time when they would be unimportant enough that forgetting was even possible. It was the same with adults and age. How could anyone forget how old they were? Well now I am that person. It was my birthday on Monday, and on Tuesday morning, after wishing me well, Dagny asked that fatal question.
‘So how old are you now?’
I glanced up from the dog’s leg over which I was hovering, trying to find the vein. ‘Forty five,’ I said without hesitation.
She stared at me for a moment with her head on one side. ‘That can’t be right,’ she said with a frown. ‘I was born in 1970 and I’ll be forty-five this year.’
I confess I was quite disembarrassed. I really don’t care that much (though I note I have frozen time when I was younger, rather than making myself more mature). I was amused though that she had asked me, when she must have known the answer on some level already. Fortunately, I managed at this point to puncture the dog’s vein and slid the catheter into place. After years of working for Vets Now, with their ECC nurses, who would raise the vein for me in my (usually conscious) patient, and then stem the bleeding until the bung was in place, I fear that with a sedated animal and a tourniquet I very often find some blood escapes onto the table, or more often, onto the animal’s leg. This was the second dog I had catheterised for Dagny that day, and the second time I had fumbled it.
‘I think I’m going to call you Messy Lady from now on,’ she said.
Eleven o’clock arrived, and with it Jan-Arne. From him I received not only good wishes, but a birthday hug as well, but there was no time for chat as it was time to go back into theatre. Emerging a while later with a recovering patient to monitor, I was rather surprised to see Jan-Arne wandering around the practice with a fluffy white dog on a cushion. He walked out of the prep-room with it, and then reappeared and went and sat down in the computer chair, leaning back with the tiny animal rested on his stomach.
‘Vondt i magen,’ (pain in the stomach) he murmured, or at least I thought that was what he said.
‘Do you mean you have a pain, or is it your next patient you’re talking about?’ I asked idly and he looked up at me with a frown.
‘What are you talking about?’ he said.
‘Is it you that has a pain in the stomach, or your next patient?’ I asked again, indicating the computer-screen that he was examining.
He shook his head. ‘No, I just said my next patient was called Tommy,’ he said. Sometimes I wonder whether other people functioning in a second language experience quite so many mind-bending moments, but I suspect it’s just me. Getting up, he walked back across the prep-room and out into the corridor that leads to the kennel-room and I assumed he was going to take the little dog there, but instead, he poked his head into the dental room, spoke for a moment and then reappeared, still clutching the small bundle of white fluff like Paris Hilton on anabolic steroids.
‘Now what should I do with this little chap,’ he said looking down.
‘You could always put it in a kennel,’ I said. His face brightened visibly.
‘So I could.’ he said
Thursday was a crazy day. First thing in the morning, when Marita checked the two cats that had been left for operations, she discovered that instead of being one male and one female, both were girls. Spaying a cat isn’t a big operation, but it takes a lot more time than castration. Happily, she managed both quite quickly, but even as I was preparing the second cat for its op, Wivek asked me if I could possibly take some stitches out of a dog, as three of her patients had arrived at once. I had to decline as I was in the midst of sedating and prepping Marita’s cat. Once that operation was safely underway, I found that the stitch-dog was still in the waiting room, so I took it in. Of course, some days nothing goes smoothly, so typically having taken most of the sutures out, I couldn’t manage the last one and had to fetch Wivek anyway as I was worried the owner might not be happy with this stranger prodding away at her dog with a pair of scissors. I finally managed to get back to Marita, who by now was finishing up her second spay, though her next patient had arrived half-an-hour early. It was one of those days. At eleven, Jan-Arne arrived again.
‘Good day, little British girl,’ was his greeting this time. I was just happily contemplating the word girl, when he enveloped me in another wonderful bear-hug.
‘Good day to you, big Norwegian man.’ I couldn’t help but smile as he disentangled himself and went to get changed. I was standing with Wivek and she looked after him with a smile and said something in Norwegian. I had been running around at this point, trying to catch up with the cleaning and I was wearing latex gloves and clutching a bucket of water and a cloth. I didn’t quite catch what she said and I asked her to repeat it. I still didn’t catch what she had said, partly because it didn’t seem to make any sense. She had definitely said something about Jan-Arne being smelly. Somehow in my demented brain there appeared a picture of me running along and swilling him down with the detergent and cleaning cloth. That couldn’t possibly be what she had said. I hadn’t noticed any bad smell.
‘Say it in English,’ I urged her.
‘If you want to know where Jan-Arne is, follow the smell,’ she said patiently and then corrected herself, ‘scent, might be better. If you want to know where Jan-Arne is, follow the scent.’ She had been commenting on his aftershave. I must confess I felt very relieved.
Despite the few spare catch-up moments, most of my day was spent tending to animals. Just before one, I noticed a lovely little dog, which Jan-Arne was preparing to x-ray. A few moments later, we were looking at an image of something that appeared to be in the dog’s stomach.
‘What on earth is that?’ Jan-Arne asked.
I however, knew only too well. ‘It’s a dummy teat,’ I said.
‘What?’ He was looking up at me in some confusion.
‘You know, one of those things that babies suck. It’s quite a common foreign body.’ Poor little dog. There was nothing for it but to open him up. We put him on a drip first as he seemed a bit depressed and had been vomiting for a day or two. In the meantime, there was Jack, a gorgeously friendly Rottweiler with a cut on his foot. As I was working with Jan-Arne anyway, I began to help him with Jack, and was delighted to find that the owners were British. As I sutured the foot, Jan-Arne went to start preparing the little foreign-body dog for his operation. He came back, and we swapped over again, so that he could sort out a prescription and as I was in a hurry, I asked if he could please take a photo for my blog. Sadly, the photos don’t do him justice because he was a very handsome dog. Still, he has a lovely brightly coloured bandage which I hope my fellow-blogger icelandpenny can appreciate.
My day ended with the successful removal of the rubber teat from the dog’s intestine. It’s a very fiddly job making sure that the gut is stitched back together securely enough to ensure there is no leakage, without narrowing the tube so much that nothing will get through. Finally I could massage fluids past the incision without anything bubbling out, and so after an inspection of the rest of the intestine, I gladly sewed up the muscle and skin. It’s always a bit nerve wracking after any such operation, as there is always a slight risk of complication. I can only hope that, like Linus, he goes on to make a full recovery.
1 thought on “Salmagundi”
Oh, I think we all have mind-bending moments when functioning in a second language, which — when they’re not scary or causing problems — are delightful because they add other dimensions to the language and to the possibilities of language. I feel in ways I have a much more intimate relationship with my second languages than with my mother tongue, since (like you, I think) I have anecdotes attached to so many words & phrases, little stories about how I learned or misused that word.