Let me make this clear at the start. I'm no animal lover. No vegetarian. I may be hypocritically squeamish about tongues and trotters, but I'm rarely shy when they're handing out the breaded veal. Since being bitten by a Yorkshire terrier as a small child, I dislike dogs, to the extent where I have become physically allergic to them. Admittedly, most days I blame that on over-ingestion of antibiotics as a child (medical ratification and follow-up article in The Lancet pending), but the fact remains I am still profoundly canine-averse. I start emitting anxious squeaks should anyone incite me to heartily pat a horse during a trip to the countryside.
But even from that hostile starting position, I was perturbed to see this information posted on the glass wall of the intensive care unit at the New England Aquarium.
Clearly there is no vetinarian equivalent of the hypocratic oath.
One frail turtle has had his dirty washing well and truly hung out in public, in some macrocosmic version of being examined by a doctor in front of an audience of student medics. Only instead of, say, four weary junior doctors standing around staring at your physical vulnerabilities, there are thousands of visitors from all over the world, taking pictures of them, which they will then take home and publish on the internet to their literally tens of readers.
I can't decide whether it is better or worse that the patient answers to a number rather than a name. It offers a kind of anonymity of course - as much as you can find when you're swimming around in a transparent tank right under your medical records. But still, I keep thinking about that turtle saying to himself, 'If I'm going to die here, I want someone to call me Michael just one more time before I go.'
I can't quite bear the diagnosis of 'flipper lameness'. It makes me think of physically ungifted children struggling through school sports lessons, or tottering old people edging their way down the bus, looking hopefully at blank-eyed youths with Walkmans (Walkmen?) occupying the priority seats. I murmur a constant prayer that Michael isn't made to perform his physiotherapy as some kind of sideshow for visitors, like the reptilian Esther Williams.
I shudder at the notion of a similar report on my physical wellbeing getting a public showcase. 'Borderline verrucca. No discernible stomach muscles. Recurrent sniffling. Scaly dry skin (possible reptile cross-species?).'
At least I didn't take a prying picture of the patient.
Sorry, but the press never sleeps. Still, you will be relieved to see I've attempted to protect his anonymity, in my own small way.
38. QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK, LONDON
11 months ago