Whenever a chimp is in the clinic for a procedure, I can’t wait for it to be over so we can put them back into the recovery room.
But as soon as we get them in the recovery room, I almost wish they were back in the clinic.
That’s because in the clinic, we have tons of information about their vitals and far more control over the administration of analgesics, antibiotics, and other drugs that are essential for well-being and even survival. Once they’re in recovery, we have to hope for a cooperative patient. And chimpanzees are not known to be very cooperative under even the best of circumstances…
If a chimpanzee has a major surgery or shows difficulty recovering from anesthesia, we will stay with them overnight – sometimes for nights on end. We’ll monitor their respiration, give medications, and in some cases just nudge them to get up in order to promote circulation and deeper breathing. Our recent sleepovers with Burrito were actually pretty quiet, though the other chimps occasionally had something to say about the cornucopia of food available only to Burrito.
Some of the behaviors we work on in positive reinforcement training come in handy in times like these. While a no-contact thermometer isn’t very scary to begin with, it helps that Burrito is used to holding his temple to the caging while we get a reading.
Administering meds is the most difficult part by far. Anesthesia and medications can make a chimpanzee lose his appetite – even a professional eater like Burrito. And some medications taste and smell disgusting. So whenever a chimp is on medication after a procedure, you will find the counters filled with all sorts of goodies – pudding, applesauce, juice, yogurt, soda, smoothie, bread, bagels, baked goods, jam, honey, syrup, dried fruit…anything that will mask the pill or liquid. And in many cases it only works once, so next time it’s back to the drawing board. But they have to take their meds, so there’s no giving up.
We’re so grateful that Burrito’s world-famous appetite is beginning to return and his suspicion of being surreptitiously medicated is starting to wane. In the not-too-distant future, he will be back to his old routine. And while I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to go back, I know he’ll miss those midnight bagels…