The hospital we went to was not able to do the surgery. I had to be wrapped up and given lots of drugs then transported to another one. Dave drove and we picked my mother up along way. When we walked in it was like my 15 minutes of fame. Everyone was talking and commenting about “you’re the one that was bit by the monkey”. My first thought (then and it is now) was that it was an ape, not a monkey. I didn’t always correct them. For some reason, I remained rational about the whole thing and came to accept it very quickly. I really didn’t have much else to do while sitting in the hospital for many hours waiting for my surgery. I remember a nurse coming in to take my blood and asking me about what happened. She then asked so “what are they going to do?” I matter-of-factly stated that “oh, they’re going to take it off”. She actually went pale. To this day I’m not sure what upset her so much the thought of the amputation or my casual attitude. I was given a choice when it came to the surgery. I could have my hand numbed, my arm numbed (so I could watch) or put fully under. I really wanted my arm numbed and to be able to watch. Just as they were wheeling me in they changed their mind and put me under. To this day I regret that; I wish I could have watched it. To me the worst part of the whole thing was waking up from the surgery. I had a very hard time with that and literally thought I was going to die. Something went wrong and I was choking and gagging yet not able to stay awake to get enough air. I made it through and arrived home at something like 5:00 in the morning. You really learn who your true friends are when you go through and experience like that. So many people stepped up and did so much to help me through. I also lost a few friends over it too. One in particular could not understand why I would possibly go back to work there after all that. She quit talking to me over it. That’s ok though; the friends I made then have become lifelong friends and will be celebrating the 20th anniversary with me.
The doctors told me to stay away from the zoo for several weeks for risk of infection. Of course I couldn’t wait that long. On day two a friend drove me up. The very first thing I did was walk over to that chimp enclosure. I knew it was something I had to do. Of course, I stayed on the visitor side but I was proud that I went over there at all. I did go back to work at the zoo a few weeks later. I needed to understand why it happened. Here was a permanent thing that happened and I wanted to know absolutely everything I could about the reasons behind it. I was told that the chimp was jealous. That sounded so weird to me but it took me another year to fully realize that it was absolutely true. Rosie liked her regular keeper Dave and I was too new to see the signs that she did not appreciate having me around. It would not have mattered if Dave was there or not for her to bite me. Chimpanzees have the intelligence to wait for the right opportunity no matter when it is.
I moved up to becoming the full-time primate keeper and not only worked with chimps but worked with the very chimp that took off my finger. It was a daily battle between the two of us. She was constantly spitting at me or throwing things. I did well with them though. No one knew better than I did what could happen if you make one simple mistake. A male chimp came along that developed a crush on me. He was amazing to work with and so gentle with me. I could put my arm along the cage (keeping it on the outside) and he would groom my arm and under my nails. But if a person came in the building, especially if it was a male that was close to me such as my brother, he would go berserk. He had an enormous plastic drum as part of his “furniture” and he would pick it up and throw it against the wall like it was a soda can in a fit of rage. The strength behind these animals is truly amazing. I have a huge amount of respect for them and enjoyed the challenge of working with them. That being said, I would never have one here at our sanctuary.
I do have to say that there was one piece of advice from a dear friend at the zoo that has always stayed with me. I did have some moments of struggling with the concept as you would expect. She told me that I had to mourn the loss. I had lost a part of me as if I lost a best friend and that I had to allow myself to mourn. That concept was so healing and made all the difference in the world.