Rosie, the first of the burnt wallabies to arrive weighed 4.6kg, the pads on the underside of both feet had been burnt away. Vets had washed her feet and applied wet dressings, her hands had also been treated and strapped; eyelashes and whiskers were also burnt, her fur was singed, especially around the end of her tail. Rosie had then been taken to the Alderson home where Garry and I had picked her up along with her medical treatment chart from the triage area. She was made comfortable in our bedroom so she could be constantly monitored and not frightened by the other animals in care. Exactly one week later [WRIN meeting day] Garry and I again drove to the Alderson’s and this time picked up 2 smaller wallabies, one with badly burnt and blistered feet [3.5kg], the other smaller and not burnt but with a non-fixable leg injury. Although a medical chart was written up for every animal that was taken to the triage area, there were so many animals arriving that records and animals became separated so positive ID’s became impossible.
Ros showed me the feet of the second wallaby and asked what I thought, her pads had been burnt away but the flesh on the underside of the feet was also blistered, particularly on one foot, I said I would give her a few days to see what happened. Wet dressings were done every morning on both burnt wallabies. After 4 or 5 days the wet dressings were discontinued and daily dressings using a specific burns cream [Silvazine] began. I was pleased with their progress, especially Lily’s. After about a week the upper side of the feet of both wallabies developed the same problem, presenting first with Lily. There had been no indication of any problems anywhere other than the underside of the feet, but then I had seen the same thing happen to Icarus, a Black Wallaby treated for burnt feet 12 months earlier. Lily was having her feet flushed one morning – this is done gently but firmly – when an area of furred skin on the upper left side of one foot sloughed away and exposed an area of bare flesh about 1cm x 1cm with pus around the edges, the area was cleansed with saline then treated with a different cream than what was being used for the burnt area, a cortisone based ointment, a mix of antibiotic, anaesthetic and pain reliever and it worked exceptionally well. The same happened to Lily’s other foot and she ended up with 2 large raw areas on the upper side of each foot as well as burns coming out along the outer edges of both feet. Exactly the same thing happened with Rosie. Also at some stage prior to capture but after the initial burns Lily must have stood on a still burning twig that had burnt deeply into the flesh, this had been covered over by the drying off of the burnt flesh over the entire foot and was exposed as we gradually sloughed off the dead and dry burnt skin, what a shock that morning as the dead flesh slowly sloughed away exposing a long weeping jagged burn line beginning on the main toe and extending about a third of the way down the foot, it looked as if someone had pressed a scalpel blade into the flesh and ripped downwards.
The day before Lily arrived I had noticed Rosie was beginning to walk unevenly as though it was painful to walk – what a silly statement when you consider both feet were burnt raw! On examination I found what looked and felt like a corn developing right in the centre of the main toe. The next morning it was off to the vet to have this area checked out. It was diagnosed as a corn but the vet wasn’t sure whether to surgically remove it right then or wait for the burn to heal before opening the foot. I suggested doing it right away rather than waiting several weeks then opening up a freshly healed area and risking infection problems so it was done straight away. The large hole healed over amazingly fast, in less than 48hrs you would hardly know a crater had been gouged out of the flesh and Rosie was obviously feeling much better, so much so that she decided to liberate herself by trying to break out through the bedroom wall.
It was decided a change of scenery was needed and that’s when the computer room was cleared out and the wallabies moved in. Everything that couldn’t be removed was covered with sheets. It was relatively plain sailing for a while, dressings were done daily for 3 weeks, the 14 large towels covering the waterproof sleeping bags and blankets that were covering the floor were changed and washed daily before my helper arrived to hold the sedated wallabies while I did the dressings. Lily was never happy and not long after arriving it became necessary to board up the lower half of the full length window. As more time passed it became obvious that the 2 wallabies were not getting on and we had outbreaks of fighting and even more mess to clean up so the room was laboriously divided in half so each had a separate area, this behavior wasn’t all that unusual as we were dealing with larger animals, nowhere near adult but definitely not pouch babies.
After 3 weeks the dressings were changed to every second day, this went on for about 3 weeks then extended to every third day. Eventually the time between became longer. After about 7 weeks it was decided to leave the feet unwrapped to see what happened. By this time the feet of both wallabies were developing small areas of new grey pad except for the area around where the corn was removed from Rosie’s toe, there was no sign of new pad growth in this area. A concern with leaving the feet uncovered was damage to the fresh new skin which was quite dry and looking really good. It was decided to try an over-the-counter Vitamin A healing ointment to assist in 2 ways, firstly to keep the new skin moist and prevent cracking which would be disastrous and secondly to hopefully assist with new growth. The Ungvita was put on reasonably thickly and the feet covered with gauze then vet wrap, at the second change of this new dressing the Ungvita was applied in a thinner layer and I spent several minutes gently massaging the ointment over all new areas and between the toes, this application and massaging went on at each foot examination, occasionally I would choose to apply a dressing if I thought it necessary.
By now the time required for treating the feet had been reduced from a minimum of 2 hours to about an hour. Soon I began sedating them once a week to give the feet a thorough check over, Lily was never easy to capture but once in my arms was fine, between the 2 of us we developed a routine that I named the ‘capture ballet’ the scenario was exactly the same each time, slow and quiet manouevres culminating in a bottle of formula once in my arms. Rosie allowed herself to be picked up but once in my arms told the world she wasn’t happy with loud screams, growls and meowing, all the time kicking her legs, she was picked up only for sedating. Funnily enough right up until the day of release she would tumble herself into the hanging pouch in her section of the room, she would either lay in bed or stand for her milk [not once did Lily ever get into her pouch voluntarily].
One morning it was obvious that I would no longer be picking up and sedating Rosie to check her feet, she had grown into such a big strong animal weighing almost 7kg that I could no longer hold her securely and there was too much risk she would injure herself – she drew blood on my arms or legs every time without fail. From then on brief checks were done while she lay in bed taking her milk, these checks were mostly accepted with good grace and little, if any, vocalisation.
Several days prior to their release it was becoming obvious that both animals wanted to be gone, their behavior had been changing dramatically over the previous few days, my nights were spent listening to their arguing and banging and worrying that one would attempt to leap into the others area and be injured. It was with mixed feelings that I rang Ros early one morning after very little sleep and said they had to go, preferences would have been another couple of weeks in care. Their stress was showing in a number of ways, one of the most common and obvious – the poo – it was changing from beaut easy to pick up balls to a much softer consistency and a much greater volume, I was now changing the 14 towels at least twice a day, thank heavens for those hot summer days.
The following day they were sedated for the last time and transported back to a safe spot with lots of fresh food, water and nice soft substrate. How Ros Alderson managed all her charges I’ll never know, she had many more burn victims in care plus all the regulars. Lily and Rosie combined with the dozen others in care took all of my time and energy which was made much easier with the assistance of Katja who missed only 2 days of helping with the dressings and feeds of the other animals in care.