For the fourth time Charles launched into describing his day with five camels. I was all ears. Each time he had told about the adventure I learned something new. It wasn’t that he was embellishing the story, but because he’d had little time since the camel episode to have the luxury of telling the whole tale. This was Sunday afternoon after a very hectic week at Cairo Animal Hospital. Charles’ sister Revonda sat on the couch in rapt attention, a captive audience. That made two of us. After all, my only role the day this happened was to learn about noon that Charles was on his way to see camels in Tallahassee and wouldn’t be in for lunch.
Charles said he was returning from a call in Thomas County when he was notified by Emily at the office that he needed to return a call to someone at FAMU in Tallahassee. Turned out the man at the university was connected to a circus setting up to perform that afternoon. The request was for Charles to come take blood samples for brucellosis tests on five camels who would be traveling across the Alabama line the next day. He said he groaned and asked if they couldn’t find someone in Tallahassee to do the tests but the answer was no. He had treated two or three camels before and knew they were not angels to work with. And his day was already full with afternoon appointments packed in every hour. But the man sounded pretty desperate and very persuasive. Calling the lab in Tifton Ga, as he drove, Charles was told he would have to have the samples there by 5:00 that afternoon in order for them to run them in time.
He rushed to Tallahassee, a 45-minute drive, nosed around FAMU until he finally found the right entrance to the multi-purpose building he’d been directed to. There, outside that building in a semi he met his first camel patient of the day. The semi barely held the camel with little room for him and the handler to maneuver. He jovially began his procedure, asking the handler if a camel is more like a cow or like a horse. Should he put a twitch on its nose like a horse, or tie its head to its back legs like a cow. The handler didn’t know, didn’t really think either of those methods would work, said he hadn’t done much camel handling. “Makes two of us,” Charles told him. The camel had begun to scream, holler, howl so loudly it was hard to hear anything else, especially in the confines of that semi. They decided to take him outside. The handler then tried ‘cushing’ the camel, meaning telling him to sit down. That was one way the camel was obedient. He ‘cushed.’ But he didn’t hush.
Charles went to his truck and got a twitch. “We’re going to treat him like a horse this next try,” he told the handler.” But the twitch landed promptly on the pavement fifteen feet away. The camel seemed to be laughing at them.
“The hair on that joker was two inches thick and his hide like an alligator’s,” Charles said. “Every time I moved a hand anywhere near his long neck, his big old head whipped this way and that, his tongue pouring out of his mouth like so much liver, his three-inch yellow teeth bared–and he howled worse than a whole farrowing house of pigs.” Charles gesticulated dramatically as he described the camel, and made an atrocious sound something like a hyena mixed with a bull. “The only things small about him were his ears.”
“Took me thirty minutes to finally get what I hoped was enough blood out of that one animal,” he said. “I looked at my watch. Four more to go and it was already 2:00. It would take a full two hours for anyone to get to Tifton lab.”
One camel was fairly docile, but three were almost as difficult as that first one. Those “ships of the desert” were not happy about being tested for brucellosis. “At least I got a good look at those interesting critters,” said Charles. All five of the camels were one-hump ones. He said they had what appeared to be huge pads on their knees, in the middle of their chests, and on their elbows. “Because they need them for the funny way they lie, ” he explained. “When you see their movements and abilities, you just know more than ever before, that God really does have a sense of humor.”
But what, I wondered, did they do in the circus? Did someone ride them, maybe a clown? Charles didn’t know. He said with something like disgust that there was no time or opportunity to learn what they did because he had to hurry to get the job done–and they were so loud!
It took an hour and a half to test them all, fill out the test charts including microchip numbers, and start the courier on his way to Tifton. That was about 3:00. Charles called at 5:00 to see if the courier had made it, but the lab technician who had promised him she’d stay and do the tests “just for you, Dr. Graham,” reported the man had not arrived. The next morning at 8:00, however, he was there waiting on her and she did send him on his way satisfied.
Was it P.T.Barnum who said “The show must go on”?