When I was younger, I really wanted a Guinea Pig. Why I had a bee in my bonnet for this particular pet is unclear, but I remember begging for one with all my might. After studying my book about Guinea Pigs and repeatedly presenting my case for why I was ready to care for one, I finally got my little Guinea Pig. She was an Abyssinian with black, white and light brown swirled fur. (There are over 10 breeds of Guinea Pigs, but I won’t even go into that. I’m not a show off.) I named my little friend “Anonymous” (cool, right?) and called her Ani for short. I sort of phoned it in on that one now that I think of it. I definitely could have tried harder with her name. Anyway. She was really cute and liked to get lost in our pachysandras. She did not like dodging attacks from our poodle, Oliver. One time, he gave her a bit of a mohawk after he chomped some of her fur. That was pretty scary and she squealed a lot, but she was fine.
Years later – we’re talking roughly 14 years later – my times with little Ani came back to me. On my pediatric anesthesia rotation, I was taking care of a darling little girl who had cancer. She was returning to the OR for one of many procedures and naturally, she was terrified. Sometimes the really sick little kids just get used to all of the trips to the OR and get very passive about it; sometimes they get more and more afraid. Either way, it is absolutely heartbreaking. I talked to my little patient and her family and then she started making this high-pitched squealing noise that I instantly recognized. It was the noise Ani made when Oliver gave her the fur mohawk!
“Um… Are you making the frightened Guinea Pig cry”? I asked.
She nodded at me slowly, with big wide eyes filled with tears and amazement that I had decoded her squeaks. She then pulled a locket out from under her little hospital gown and opened it.
“This is Panda,” she said, showing me a little black and white Guinea Pig photo inside the locket. An Abyssinian.
“You won’t believe this, my dear, but I had a Guinea Pig too! Let’s work on that Guinea Pig noise though. We want a happy one!” I then launched into a little clucking noise I remembered Ani made when we fed her or pet her. It’s like the cutest noise ever, by the way.
My little patient started laughing and clucking with me. I told her I promised to give her Guinea Pig dreams and we rolled back to the OR while I gave her parents my best reassuring look and smile while holding back tears. Everything went smoothly and I brought her back to the recovery room very comfortable. I kept her “Panda” locket next to her for the whole case and put it back on when we were done.
So there you have it. One little animal and one little childhood memory made a big difference that day. Who knows, maybe that was why I was so jazzed about Guinea Pigs. Ani did more for me and for that patient than my memorization of the periodic table, the Krebs Cycle or the mechanisms of chemotherapeutic drugs ever did.
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