Waving goodbye to my mum, Meta, 88, I got in the car.
Between my full-time job as a social worker and caring for Mum after work, I was exhausted.
I can’t wait to have some dinner, I thought, as I began the 20-minute drive home around 7pm.
A minute from my place, though, in my headlights I spotted something furry curled up in a ball, rolling in the gutter on the same side of the road as me.
‘Poor thing must have been hit by a car,’ I fretted.
Putting my hazard lights on, I pulled over to rescue the little fella.
I couldn’t tell what kind of animal it was, but having made rescues in the past, I knew how important it was to help wildlife off the road.
Checking the car, I couldn’t find a towel or blanket to pick it up with.
I’ll be gentle, I thought.
Approaching the creature slowly, I realised it was a small, brown platypus.
It appeared to be stuck trying to get into a blocked stormwater drain.
Interestingly, just weeks earlier, I’d watched the documentary The Platypus Guardian and had even met the subject of the doco, Tasmanian Peter Walsh, at a walk to look for platypuses in the Hobart Rivulet.
‘Male platypuses have spikes on their hind limbs,’ I remembered him saying.
The spurs could release a powerful venom to ward off other males during the mating season, and were a defence against predators.
Without thinking though, I placed my bare hands around his belly and gently lifted him from the drain.
‘You’re going to be just fine,’ I smiled.
Wriggling in my hands, the little guy didn’t like being held and, as I walked to my car, I tried not to drop him.
Just then he twisted in my hand.
Suddenly, I felt a paralysing pain shoot up my right arm and across my chest.
It felt like my head was going to explode!
That’s when I realised, I’d been impaled by the platypus!
His spurs had speared my right hand.
This is really bad, I panicked.
Desperate to get him off, and with red-hot pain spreading through my body, I was tempted to place him in the nearby grass.
But my conscience kicked in, wanting to get him to safety.
With every minute that passed, though, I was in agony – like someone had stabbed my hand with a knife.
This is worse than childbirth, I thought.
And more serious, the platypus was stuck to my hand!
Finally prising him free, the spikes slid out of my hand.
Somehow I held onto the wriggly platypus with my other hand.
‘We have to get home to help,’ I fretted, feeling woozy.
I had no idea how strong the venom was.
Back in the car, I placed the platypus on the seat beside me and drove slowly with one hand.
At home, I called Healthdirect who advised me to take ibuprofen, and elevate and ice my hand.
Desperate to save my furry friend, who was still in the car, I called my daughter Gabby, 31.
‘Call Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, tell them there’s a platypus in my car,’ I said, between shrieks of pain. ‘I’ve been speared by it.’
‘Are you okay, Mum?’ Gabby asked. ‘Get to the hospital.’
There wasn’t an ambulance available, so I called a friend who lived nearby to drive me to Emergency.
There, the staff were shocked when they saw my hand, now swollen to twice its normal size and with blood oozing from the puncture marks.
They were concerned as the swelling was spreading up my right arm.
‘Really? A platypus?’ the triage nurse said, gobsmacked.
‘You’re the first case we’ve seen in 20 years,’ a doctor said, reassuring me that the venom wasn’t lethal to humans.
‘Platypus venom is resistant to pain medication,’ he said gently. ‘But this will take the edge off.’
I was pumped with antibiotics and painkillers, but nothing helped.
Whisking me into theatre the next day, surgeons extracted the venom, and cleaned and stitched my wounds.
Coming to after, I was relieved that the pain had subsided dramatically, leaving just a dull ache.
‘Glad you’re okay,’ Gabby said, when she rang me.
Kept in for monitoring, I was discharged the following day with my hand still swollen.
Back home, I couldn’t believe my rescue attempt had left me in agony.
But despite it all, I wasn’t angry at the platypus – he was just trying to protect himself!
A few days later, I met Fiona, one of the lovely carers from Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary who’d rescued the platypus from my car.
‘Thank God you’re okay,’ she smiled, hugging me.
I was over the moon to hear that the platypus, who I’d nicknamed Mr Feisty, had been safely returned to a river close to where I’d found him.
I learned platypus travel long distances on land, and use drains like we would use highways.
Mr Feisty hadn’t been stuck in the drain, he was just waiting for the right time to dive in.
Now I know the best approach is to take a video or photo of a stranded platypus to share with wildlife rescuers, then let them take over.
Discovering that the platypus population is decreasing, I’m on a mission to protect the ones we have left.
A month after the attack, I’ve been chatting with my council to find new ways of protecting our local platypus population.
I’m also organising a clean up of our local waterways that are littered with rubbish.
I’m saving a very special species, one platypus at a time!