20 patients recuperating in Sea Turtle Sick Bay

Flipper check

Dr. Craig Harms, a veterinarian, performs a flipper check.

Submitted photo
Published: Sunday, December 29, 2013 at 04:58 PM.

To paraphrase a popular Christmas song: “Do they know it’s Christmas in their tanks?” Even with our volunteers humming “Jingle Bells” as they feed and scoop, it’s doubtful that our patients celebrate anything other than waking up each morning. But we certainly celebrate whenever a critically ill or injured turtle makes it through another night.

Right now we have about 20 patients in Sea Turtle Sick Bay — our ICU. The smallest one, a little Kemp’s just under 4 pounds remains in isolation due to a nasty wound on her shoulder. Hospital visitors who are Dr. Seuss fans will giggle when they learn the names of our little greens: Grinch, Cindy-Lou Who, Sam-I-Am, Yertle-The-Turtle and Lorax , among others. We’ve had more than 400 turtles under our care so sometimes just coming up with a not-yet-used name is the hardest part of our job!

Santa Vet, our own Dr. Craig Harms, stopped by last week with his bag of tools (and a small entourage of students and techs) to check on our patients. The shoulder wound on our little Kemp’s is healing nicely, and flippers that had been stitched back together on our green and loggerhead are on the mend. Out in the “big room” (Sea Turtle Bay, where our ICU patients will eventually relocate) Nichols’ badly mangled flipper, which had been stitched and splinted for months is totally healed and functioning nicely. When Nichols was admitted there was much concern that his flipper may have to be amputated. Knowing the remarkable powers of sea turtles to overcome horrific injuries Dr. Harms and Jean decided on the less aggressive treatment and it paid off. Nichols got a flipper in his Christmas stocking.

Back in the ICU we fired up the therapy pool. First in was “ICie”, a good-sized green who’s still with us because of a flotation problem. We had already observed that she’s a bit of a bully and doesn’t play well with others so she had the pool all to herself. Next in was a quartet of our smaller greens: Crush, Wiggles, Sigmon and Earle. After the initial novelty of having space to zoom around in wore off Earle and Sigmon became a little cozier with our smaller guys than we wanted them to, so they were snatched out and returned to their tanks. Wiggles and Crush then had the entire pool to themselves and those little flippers were working at top speed, fighting the currents and building muscle for their eventual release. It’s fascinating to watch the grace and acrobatics of these critters in our simulated “ocean.”

Dr. Harms is the consummate teacher, always willing to spend time with us, answering questions, explaining procedures and listening to our concerns. We discussed our long and ongoing collaboration with the College of Veterinary Medicine at N.C. State, and his work with sea turtles at CMAST. We reminisced about the old hospital and the amazing work that came out of that little building. We got a little giddy when talking about the joy of finally seeing our dreams of a first-class rehabilitation center come true. Clearly we have all learned much together and grown in our abilities to care for these amazing creatures. And we thank all of you who believe in and support us financially, and in so many ways. Blessings and flipper hugs in this holiday season.

Visit us in December

We will be open for tours and shopping on Dec. 28 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. In our gift shop you’ll find our logo and other exclusive hospital designed T-shirts, including long-sleeved T’s, warm hoodies and sweats, lots of youth and toddler items and an array of locally crafted jewelry, pottery, sea turtle art and exclusive-to-us note cards.

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