Column: Life lessons from strange teachers

Helena Edwards, Opinions Writer

I am currently in possession of three pet leeches that I am babysitting for a friend for the summer. This friend could not take them home due to transportation issues, so I buckled them into my passenger’s side seat along with my potted rosemary as I raced down the highway trying to avoid spilling the water from their enclosure all over my car.  

I have now been taking care of the leeches for about four weeks. 

I’ve always been bad at taking care of animals. Routine has never been a strong suit for me and that’s something that is needed for most creatures.  

However, it’s extremely easy for me to take care of the leeches. Right now, all I need to do is change their water once a week. They only need fed every three months, so during the gap of summer I do not need to worry about feeding them. 

Changing their water can sometimes be a nightmare though. To change it I must swirl the enclosure around, hoping that the leeches will latch onto the sides so that I do not dump them down the sink as I pour water out.  

Most of the time they do not like latching on or two of them will be at the bottom while one swims around, almost like they are taking turns on which one swims in an effort to not get their water changed. 

Though leeches are called parasites, I have come to learn the usefulness of medicinal leeches. Traditionally they would be used for bloodletting, which was believed to cure disease but is not practiced anymore.  

Now, leeches are used for reattaching limbs, grafting skin, and other reconstructive plastic surgeries. They do this by using the saliva of leeches that has an anticoagulant to prevent blood clotting and allows new veins to grow in an area that is needs to heal. 

The three leeches swim around and chill in the corner of my room, a nice dark area for them. At first, I thought it was just some quirky thing for me to have pet leeches, but I have started to gain a respect for them along with learning about other creatures used for science. 

This started out because I so greatly and deeply appreciate my friend and knew the importance of taking care of animals is for them. They also wanted to give the leeches that they took in a good life after they have contributed to us humans.  

Knowing that I will be moving in with my friend, I felt like this was a way to bond with them in a way to prove responsibility before the final transition of living together. I do get anxious about the leeches passing away under my care, but my friend has reassured me that even if they did pass away, that is just the way of life, and they were not expecting to have them forever anyways since the leeches are older already. 

It is weird to gain an appreciation for certain parasites with the bad image they have in many peoples’ eyes, but it has helped me with finding good and useful qualities in things that are at first perceived as bad.  

I want to start searching for the good and usefulness in people, too, instead of reducing them down to perhaps one negative aspect about them. 

Helena Edwards can be reached  at [email protected]