ZP Week Two: Highs and Lows

Now I’ve gotten through my first full working week here, I’m beginning to find my rhythm a little. I always think of the first week somewhere new as something of write-off as you’re always playing catch-up, learning where everything is and how everything works. The second week always seems to give me more time to settle, start building a routine of sorts, and work out my thoughts on things.

I’m definitely starting to get the hang of the work, which isn’t exactly complicated but does involve remembering a lot of little things. The most involved part is the first feed of the day, which is also when you clean the areas. How much I enjoy it is quite heavily reliant on which nurse/feeder (synonyms) I’m working with. No one is unpleasant but some of them seem slightly less patient with someone new who doesn’t work as quickly. However, that could be entirely projected.

Some of the feeders are also involved in other thing. Eva’s about to start a Masters at the University of Groningen, hopefully studying how the sleep patterns of the seals change throughout different stages of treatment, while Bea and Marga have been researching common seals in the wild.

The most difficult part of work came at the start of the week, when I saw two seals being euthanised. They were in a quarantine building called Griend, which  for some reason seemed to house the sickest of the lungworm patients for a little while. These two, Tuga and Jack D., were going up and down but not getting any better for quite a while. Tuga had a temperature of 33.1 degrees when I took it one morning, which then rocketed to 38.5 when they took it again in the evening. The decision was made by the vets to euthanise.

They do this by paralysing the seal with one injection, then euthanising it with a second. I was warming up the fish porridge for the other four patients in Griend as they began the process with Tuga. It was only towards the end of this that Anna, the vet, seemed to notice my presence and exclaim in a panic, “Shit! I forgot to check if you were okay being here for this! Is it a problem for you that we’re doing this?”.

I said no, and that’s the truth. If we’ve done all we can, and the alternative is a slow and painful death in an enclosure, coughing up lungworms, then I’d happily wield the needles myself. (Although, watching the vet intern have a go with Jack D., it didn’t look quite so simple.) However, watching two beautiful animals being put down isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. When I was left to ‘zero clean’ their enclosures (thankfully the vets took the bodies) I got a little melancholy about it, and couldn’t help wondering how much the other seals in Griend understood about what had happened.

While I’m sure the most satisfying part of this work will be when the opposite happens and I get to go see a release, in day-to-day terms I also have a favourite task. We get to do this in the morning clean, and at every feed. It is, simply, showering the seals. This is only when they’re in quarantine, when often they aren’t allowed to swim.

20kg of yummy fish…

It’s safe to say that generally the seals aren’t enthused by our presence. Those that can eat alone are excited by fish, but no one likes the prospect of a tube- or force-feeding. They think the bucket, brush and squeegee are their mortal enemies, so cleaning is a stressful time for them. But they do love a shower. Some more than others, to be fair. I have seen some roll completely over like a dog having its tummy rubbed.

I’m positive that the smarter ones wait until the hose comes out and then shit everywhere. This means less time lying in their own filth, so makes a lot of sense to me. One in particular was having a violent coughing fit, so I left him in peace to finish while I showered his neighbours.  When I returned and switched on the hose, he promptly turned his hind quarters towards me and did all his toiletting at once.

It’s really satisfying both to see them actually happy with something, as well as to leave them clean and tidy. It always makes me laugh to watch their little faces as they get hosed down. I don’t think I’ll ever feel bad now if I see seals out in the rain!

In terms of routine I’ve started to work out some running routes, the easiest quick lunches to make, and returned to working on a PhD application that I’d been neglecting. I’m still going to bed very early (one night, at 8pm) now that my job actually involves moving most of the time rather than sitting at a desk and drinking lots of tea.

Running route along the dike

I’ve also had my first full two days off (it’s now the morning of my second). I went to Groningen yesterday, which is a small university city about 45 minutes away by public transport. It’s amazingly cute and a nice reminder that civilisation really isn’t all that far away! I got to post all the Christmas presents that I bought for people in the shop here, and find a perfect gift for my Secret Santa.

Tomorrow’s another 6.30am start at work as I’m on the fish porridge shift – a thought that amazingly fills me with no trepidation. Part of that is probably that work is less than five seconds out of my front door. The other part (as I think we all know) is that it’s much easier to wake up at 6 for something you’re excited about than it is to wake up at 8 for something you’re dreading.

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