2023 Year in Review: Dr. Olivia, Senior Veterinary Intern

It’s time to look back on 2023! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2023 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

During the time I have spent at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, I have developed a fondness for all of my opossum patients. Each one rapidly becomes my favorite patient to work with and they are the ones I look forward to seeing every day. Opossums are incredibly resilient creatures and tolerate the stresses of rehabilitation well, so we can carry out more complex or intensive treatment plans for them compared to some of the other species we see. This year, I saw numerous opossums, each with their unique issues. Some of my favorite opossum patients were an opossum (#22-3694) trapped and mildly burnt in a grill at the end of 2022, a big opossum (#22-3692) who was severely affected by lead, and a mother opossum (#23-0695) who was injured by a dog and was able to raise her eight young in captivity.

But my absolute favorite was opossum #23-2379, who was a large adult male who was unintentionally trapped on the finder’s property in September. I assisted one of our front desk members, Lilly, with moving him from the trap to a crate when he arrived. When we saw his face, we both looked at each other with concern due to the severity and extent of the wound. My first concern was that the opossum’s eye would be ulcerated and not functional due to the high skin tension in that area. Later, when I completed his intake examination, I found that the eye was intact and was immensely relieved because I already loved this big opossum. He had a large wound over the left side of his face and both of his external ears were missing, so I suspected he was previously burnt. The wound on his face had been healing on its own for some time, which caused significant contracture of the skin on his face, stretching his left eye and moving his ears to the top of his head. He was not the most aesthetically pleasing opossum but was my favorite immediately. Our students at the time were skeptical but I was positive that we could fix this poor guy’s face.

The day following his admission, I performed the first surgery to repair the wound over his face. In the weeks following his admission, he ended up requiring multiple surgeries due to the high tension and significant scarring around the wound. We performed daily wound care to encourage healing and he was a stellar patient. He became very comfortable with his life in rehabilitation and gained some weight and was often observed to be sleeping quite deeply.

After nearly two months in care, his wound finally was completely closed, and even though his face was not like most other opossums, he was still suited for release. When I went to take him to his release site, I had to rather rudely rouse him from a very deep sleep, which he did not seem to appreciate. Once at the release location, he took his time sniffing the air in his transport box. He spent maybe five minutes looking out into the forest in front of him before he caught a scent and meandered off into the undergrowth.

I am always overjoyed when I get to participate in releases of patients whose treatments I am heavily involved with and therefore quite attached to. I am grateful for every experience I have here, both good and bad because I can learn something from every one of my patients. I will continue enjoying all of the little glimmers of hope every day and rooting for all of the opossum patients!

– Dr. Olivia, Senior Veterinary Intern

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!