Sunday, August 6, 2017

It's The Little Things (That Freak Us Out)

You guys.  I had a dream last night that inspired this blog.  In that dream, I got this idea, which resulted in the remainder of the dream being spent trying to operate my phone in order to open the Notes app to write down a blurb to remind me of the idea.  But like all of my dreams that have to do with my phone, I CAN NEVER USE IT.  Like WHAT IS THAT.  I can’t run from monsters/bad guys in my nightmares, 911 is always busy, and I suddenly have completely worthless hands that cannot operate a touch screen on a cell phone.

 
STAY AWAY

So all of this hype basically means that I will now continue on to totally disappoint you with a relatively mundane (but, I’d argue, very important) topic that was important enough in my subconscious to bring forward.  But then again, I have also dreamed about half-mice-half-women and also, frogs.  

This blog, as well as countless other zookeeper-related social media posts, have addressed some of the major downsides to our job, including the really scary ones.  Most of us have worked with animals who can kill us, via brute force, precise lethal blows/bites, venom or toxin.  Most of us have major anxiety about locks and gates, or leaving potentially dangerous items in habitats that can be ingested.  We worry endlessly about sick animals, pregnant animals, animals who look slightly off but probably are just a little constipated.  These are the Real Fears of zookeeping.

But what about the OTHER things we freak out about on a daily basis? Are those tiny, insignificant worries not worth their own blog?  According to my brain, it’s time we addressed them.  The world should know what animal caretakers deal with emotionally.  And frankly, all of you need to know that you’re not alone and/or effing insane.

Let’s take a look at the Top Ten Really Stupid Fears I had in my tenure as a marine mammal specialist.

1. THE FEAR OF  My Favorite Hose Nozzle Breaking

Ain't no exhibit gettin clean with those kinks!


Oh. Oh.  ANY zookeeper who uses a hose for any amount of cleaning is probably standing up and placing their hands over their hearts.  There is nothing like walking into a sea lion-poopy (or, oh god, otter poo-slime) habitat and knowing that you have a baller hose that is basically 1 psi away from a fire hose.  You KNOW that sh*t is getting clean.  You feel like some kind of Doolittle AquaMan as you wield and manipulate jets of water like they are extensions of your own hands.  You control where each water molecule goes, you dilute and rinse every soap bubble, every speck of disinfectant.  You time yourself and know you can bang out a spotless exhibit in record time.
But then, your beloved nozzle breaks.  Or, worse, another coworker gets “the good hose” before you get there.  And then you’re left with the shriveled little hose, that is just left installed for posterity, that does not so much spray as it oozes water.  This is the nozzle that would do a worse job than if you carried in a water fountain to clean up massive piles of sea lion crap. You’re going to be there for hours.  Hours.  And the entire time, the sea lions judge you.  YOU judge you.  You only need one experience with this pathetic, worthless nozzle to instill intense fear that THIS WILL HAPPEN AGAIN IF YOU ARE NOT ON YOUR GAME NEXT TIME.

Let’s not even talk about winter, when water lines freeze and you not only can’t clean the exhibit, but you slip and fall directly into a pile of whatever that brown goo is on pinniped teeth that they shoot everywhere like giant streams of snot. 


2. THE FEAR OF YELLOW FLIES

Behold, for I bring you demons from hell


Florida peeps,  hear me.  I moved to Maryland where the worst bug we get is a mosquito. Yeah, they carry some illnesses.  But really, this is the safest place I have ever lived insect-wise (of course, I live right next to Baltimore City so it all evens out, safety-wise).  But you guys have yellow flies. 

Despite being utterly miserable working outside in freezing temperatures in Florida, despite wanting to be warm and enjoy not feeling like I was going to die, I still dreaded summertime when I worked as a dolphin trainer in the sunshine state.  Why? Because the Yellow Flies liked summertime too.  That is where our common ground ended. 
You see, *I* like summer time because it meant sun tans, sunset fishing on the beach, wearing nothing but a bathing suit all day, gardening, etc.  Yellow Flies like summer because blood.  

Now imagine your entire back covered in those

I have never experienced pain from an animal like I have yellow flies.  As a zoological expert, I can tell you that the mouth parts of yellow flies are composed of circle saws dipped in hydrofluoric acid. Unlike mosquitoes, which you may or may not feel biting you, yellow flies land quietly on the most inaccessible part of your body and perform major surgery in order to extract what seems like 89 liters of blood and at least one major organ.

I literally flipped out in complete, paralyzing fear anytime I saw these stupid mofos.  You know how people react when a spider is on them? Or a bee or something?  That is all of us in Yellow Fly country, except as zookeepers we are outside 90% of our day and usually have our attention and hands focused on something more important, like our own safety or the safety of our animals.  The Yellow Flies know this and make their vicious attacks, leaving gigantic welts and PTSD in their wake. 

3. THE FEAR OF Forgetting Deodorant

The internet understands

As a zookeeper, this is one of the worst mistakes you can make that does not result in anyone’s death.  Although, I think I have come close to killing someone with my uh, Natural Scent after being in the sun for 10 hours with no deodorant.  I AM SO SORRY.

4. THE FEAR OF Being In A Wetsuit and Have To Pee.  No, I lied.  Number Two.

Too bad

Yeah, they don’t tell you about this in the shamelessly-monetizing BE A DOLPHIN TRAINER books.  But you will get hermetically sealed in a wetsuit.  And then, just like when you played Ultimate Hide and Seek when you were a kid, you will have to take an enormous dump 5 minutes afterwards.  This is especially true in the winter months, when you are wearing two or three layers of neoprene and require the Jaws of Life to get you out.  Good luck if you had Chinese food the night before….

5. THE FEAR OF Girl Problems
Except you have to drive a front loader today


Not to be gross, but we are all scientists here.  We are biological experts.  And we know what happens to human and naked mole rat females on a monthly basis.  I distinctly remember standing next to one of the dolphin habitats in my bathing suit and rash guard, listening to a supervisor go over our plan for the next round of sessions when all of a sudden….I knew something bad was going down.  I knew I had at most, 30 seconds to address it.  So when my (male) supervisor looked at me and said, “Okay Cat, here is your role, go do it right now” I looked at him, my heart racing and anxiety through the roof, and said something like, “NO I CAN’T RIGHT NOW” and just ran away.  I was so terrified of what was happening to me that I didn't even care if I got in trouble.  Because you know what, I was sparing my supervisor some Night Of The Living Dead stuff. 
Girl, I feel you


Woe betide those of us who have had khaki uniforms…..

6. THE FEAR OF Reading Your Work Schedule Wrong

WE HAVE ALL BEEN THERE

Shift work is hard to keep track of, even if your manager is amazing at scheduling consistency.  You know that your week is not always going to look the same.  Who else has dealt with Excel-based work schedules?  Who else has worked on a team with more than ten people on it?  Who else has looked at the wrong column and showed up at the wrong shift time because they did not have Golden Eagle Vision? 

The fear I experienced about misreading the schedule was instilled deeply in me after an experience I had as a mid-level trainer.  I was sitting in bed, hanging out with my cockatiel Lennon, reading a book.  I was enjoying my morning before a later shift (11-7:30), which was especially needed because I had horrendous tonsillitis.  Around 8:45, I got a call from my supervisor asking why I didn't show up for my 8:30 shift.  Furthermore, I was scheduled on the 9:15 dolphin swim.  

THIS


I flew out the door and made it to work in time, panicking that I had made a Terrible Mistake That Would Totally Get Me Fired.  Luckily, that fear took my mind off of the feeling like I was swallowing shards of glass.  But I sure did develop an OCD habit of checking and rechecking and rechecking and rechecking and rechecking the schedule

7. THE FEAR OF  Speaking To Guests In A Language I Took in Middle School 17 Years Ago
You're welcome.

“Hey Cat! We have guests from France who only speak French! You speak French, right?”

*Heart lurches into my throat, butterflies flap wildly in stomach, intestines stop working* “Uh, yes, in high school 35 decades ago”

“GREAT! Here they are!”
And then a horribly embarrassing exchange would ensue, in which my foreign guests would attempt to speak English to me after hearing my pathetic attempt and probably ruined their entire vacation, where they would return to Paris or whatever and tell their friends, “Oh, we had this well-intentioned girl with the intelligence of foot fungus guide our dolphin swim.”

8. THE FEAR OF Forgetting My Lunch

 
#forgotlunch

This is simple.  We burn 90926892368236 calories a day.  If you forget your lunch at most aquariums, your choice is to eat french fries the snack bar bought from Walmart 9 years ago, or eat ice cubes from the fish kitchen’s ice machine until your shift ends when you can eat Chinese food in large quantities.

9. THE FEAR OF Weather n’ Wildfires
UNLESS YOU ARE A DOLPHIN TRAINER. THEN YOU HAVE TO STAY OUTSIDE


I’ve never been afraid of thunderstorms until I was required to work outside in them.  Also, wildfires that blew ash all over everything.  Red Tides. 

10. THE FEAR OF Gastric Samples
It's all fun and games until the dolphin volunteers the Sacred Fluid

This is more specific to dolphin trainers who take their own gastric samples.  I know some of you suck on the end of the tube (you guys are, and I say this with love, seriously insane and do you realize you do NOT need to do that????), and you guys probably experience this specific fear more often than the rest of us.  But…there is really no fear as compares to inserting a tube into the mouth of a dolphin who is just ready to blow out every ounce of gastric fluid they have directly into your face, onto your shoulder, or (for you crazies) into your mouth.  Directly. 

THIS IS IT EXACTLY

I have seen dead animals.  I have fallen in blood, poop, pee.  I have gotten pus in my face.  I have had weeks worth of otter poop poured over my head.  I have used limb loppers to cute sea lion ribs.  There is not a lot that grosses me out.  But gastric fluid shooting onto my shirt? AHHHHHHHHHH

So, friends, those are just a handful of the fears and unpleasantries I experienced as a dolphin trainer.  But now let’s hear some of yours!