The Possum

Yesterday at college I sat outside at lunchtime with my classmates, enjoying the thin, watery Spring sunshine, until one of us noticed that, as a bunch, we were going to be late for our next class. So people started picking up their stuff, and wandering off to the next classroom.

The nature of my brain injury is that I have difficulties with organisation, laying down timetables, and laying down maps in my mind, so after all these months I’m still dependent on finding a classmate and following them to work out where I’m suppose to be next, and what subject we’re doing next is always a mystery to me until we get there.

So I was following the group bringing up the rear, not paying much attention to the conversation, although I could hear as if from far away the chatter of voices and laughter. My attention was wandering, and it wandered far enough off the path to notice a small brush-tailed possum clinging tenuously to the metal grill over the piping.

My first thought was how rare it is to see them abroad during the daytime – they are strictly noctournal, and this fellah should have been in bed a long, long time ago in a hollow tree, log or roof cavity somewhere.

My second thought was that it was a fairly warm day and he was clinging to metal that was in full sunlight – his paws would be getting burnt, surely? Why wasn’t he moving away, out of the sun, to his sleeping place, away from the danger of human beings? After all, noctournal marsupials tend to be terribly timid.

Then I caught a glimpse of his left eye (I could feel he was a boy). It had the white, blind glaze of what looked like a cataract over it, but it was also leaking pus. I have had minor eye injuries in the past – nothing like that – and I judged he must have been in horrible pain with infective stuff leaking like that from his eye.

I spoke to the girl in front of me, telling her that I was going on a Possum Rescue Mission, and to tell the teacher I’d be in later. My plan as it was starting to form, was to catch the possum, go to the nearby cafeteria and ask them if they have any cardboard boxes I could stab holes in and use to box up the possum, then find a staff member with access to the internet and a phone to find a local number for WIRES and ring for a WIRES volunteer to come and pick the poor thing up and get it to a vet.

So with my classmate watching (the rest of them were long gone), I gently picked up the poor little thing by the torso. It was still but tense in my hands. I damped down my energy and made myself feel as safe and comforting as possible, but nonetheless it was a wild animal, and although I could feel its terror abate, it was still scared and angry. It evidently thought I wanted it for lunch (I didn’t – I had eaten quite well already) despite the evidence of the fact that I was holding it gently and hadn’t inserted any fangs.

It wriggled, and bit the webbing between my left thumb and index finger, hard enough to be uncomfortable and to later raise a hard, lumpy, dark bruise, but not hard enough to break the skin. I kept holding it gently, waiting for it to calm down enough for me to walk with it so that I could ask for a box.

I shifted my grip slightly, and that proved to be an error of judgement. It got a hold of the index finger of my right hand, and bit down hard. This time it intended to cause some serious pain, and succeeded. Still, I knew it was going to hurt, so I wasn’t going to flinch or blame the poor little thing in any way. The classmate hadn’t quite left yet, and screamed a little at the sight of my blood. To me, my own blood-loss was quite beside the point – the possum was in a lot more pain and medical distress than I was in, had less power to reason it away, and deserved the best veterinary treatment I could organise, which I judged to be through WIRES.

The scream, however, distracted me, and the poor little thing wriggled out of my grip, landing on  the concrete near me. It didn’t run – it didn’t move. Remember – it couldn’t see to make judgements about what direction to head in.

I said to the girl to go to class and make my excuses, I’d get a box for the possum, get it to WIRES and be in later. So she went, and I headed for the canteen. I finally got the lady to understand what I wanted, and she produced two cardboard boxes that fitted into each other almost like a box-and-lid, with air-holes stamped into it by one of their working-knives.

I went outside,  put the two boxes down near the poor, terrified creature which was about two metres from where it had fallen and still not knowing which way to head, picked it up again, placed it in one box, inverted the other over its head so I could carry it without it causing me any more injury – or my causing it any more injury.

Making sure it was fairly secure, I left it outside afraid of what regulations would be quoted at me if I took it inside the building, and found one of my teachers to ask her if she had access to a phone book. She referred me to a librarian. So the possum and I trekked across campus to the library, where I asked the librarian if she’d be so good as to look up the WIRES phone number for me and let me know where the nearest public phone was.

For some reason, the librarian decided that this was a “security matter”, and rang campus security. How, I ask, is a small, injured, helpless marsupial any kind of security problem? Nevertheless.

I listened to her half of the phone call. I really needed to get to class, having missed that subject last week for my birthday lunch with Avril and Frankie, so I told her and she repeated to the person she was talking to, exactly where I’d be leaving the box, and that the creature had eye and facial injuries and needed to be given to WIRES for veterinary treatment.

Dubiously I went to class, and spent the whole time worried, and not at all reassured. As soon as I was allowed to escape I did, and back-tracked to the doorway. The two boxes had come apart and were both on their sides, as if someone had opened it up and set the possum free. I spent some time searching for it, with no success.

I tried, I really did try. It will probably die of shock and the infection, now, if not from thirst from being unable to see to find fluid.

(If anyone is concerned, tetanus shots are supposed to confer immunity for about ten years, and I had one six years ago, so I’m really not worried – I did wash out the wound very well before going to class, and did the antiseptic thing to it on coming home.)

There are times I really, really don’t like “civilised” human beings.

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