It was the first time in 29 years as a surgeon that Dr. Michael Bushuk planned his escape route from the operating room.
In fact, the orthopaedic surgeon at The Scarborough Hospital mapped out two ways out.
It was also the first time he performed surgery in a cage.
Bushuk took the extra precautions because the patient was Sadiki, a 10-year-old Western lowland gorilla.
“We sort of had escape routes planned at the two ends of the cage,” Bushuk said in an interview on Wednesday.
Sadiki required surgery after he seriously injured a toe while horsing around (for lack of a better term) with other gorillas at the Toronto zoo in mid-December.
His right fourth toe was fractured and he developed a chronic infection in his bone and a septic joint that was potentially fatal.
While preparing for his first-ever operation on an ape, Bushuk heard of an orangatun who woke up mid operation.
That was when he started to think about escape routes.
“If they get the adrenalin going, it can be hard to put them to sleep,” Bushuk said.
As it turned out, the operation went swimmingly.
Afterwards, Sadiki was calm, at first.
“He was a little groggy,” Bushuk said. “Rolled over. Arms came up. Hit his face. Rolled around a little bit.”
Then Sadiki noticed his bandage, which the surgical team had applied with great care and no small amount of surgical glue.
“When he woke up, he tore the whole dressing off,” Bushuk said.
The surgery was performed at the zoo and took just 20 minutes.
Today, 115-kg. (254-lb.) Sadiki is happily climbing again.
The special team worked free of charge and on their own time, said Dr. Chris Dutton, the zoo’s head of veterinary services.
“We wanted the best care for this critically endangered gorilla which is why we approached Dr. Bushuk, who performs similar orthopaedic surgery on a regular basis,” Dutton said.
“This is a great example of the community coming together to ensure the animals at the Toronto Zoo receive the best possible medical care,” said Dr. Simon Hollamby, Toronto Zoo veterinarian. We are grateful to The Scarborough Hospital and the hospital staff who provided their expertise on a voluntary basis for Sadiki,”
Such treatment of animals by surgeons who normally work with humans is rare but not unheard of.
Dutton said: “We have had: a human dental surgeon in for work on our gorillas; a respirologist, University Health Network and Mount Sinai Hospital to look at an orangutan with chronic bronchitis; a member of the Pediatric Critical Care Unit from The Hospital for Sick Children to help with a young orangutan, and probably others as well.”
In the U.S., a team of surgeons from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York was called in to treat Holli, a gorilla from the Bronx Zoo, for a deep abdomen abscess in 2013.
A team that included a veterinarian, cardiologist, and two dentists operated on Suzie the organgutan of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, in 2011, after she needed an arm amputated after a climbing accident.
In Honolulu, a cosmetic surgeon treated the dorsal fin of a bottle-nosed dolphin in 2004 after the male was injured roughhousing with others at a resort.
Bushuk said Sadiki immediately knew that he was an outsider when he first checked out the toe.
“This gorilla knew I was a stranger. He knew the animal-keeper. He knew the vets.”
Sadiki stared him down before finally permitting the doctor to examine him.
Bushuk was amazed by what he saw.
“The anatomy of this gorilla is just like an adult human,” Sadiki said.
But there were the inevitable differences.
“His leg and ankle and foot was hairier than most humans,” Bushuk said.
“The toughest part of this case was getting him to sign the consent form.”