Vet Med Students Volunteer in Costa Rica & Panama

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  • Day 3: Monday, July 11, 2011- First Clinic Day in Cartago


    That was not a (big) exaggeration. I did my first surgery ever today and it was so fantastically unimaginably AWESOME. Its like all the work Ive been doing for so long to get here and all the miserable hours Ive spent locked in a windowless room or the library is actually finally sort of starting to seem worth it because Im actually doing something. Its a very accomplished feeling, really.

     But I’ll start at the beginning of the day. During our 50 minute drive (courtesy of a bridge being out) from the hotel to Cartago to set up our first clinic, we got to soak in the natural beauty of Costa Rica. It’s rather foggy in the mornings, so it’s like being inside of a cloud- hence the “cloud forest”. We passed lots of trees (everything is soo green), a few coffee plantations, and a volcano. A freaking active, smoking volcano. Honestly, this place is ridiculous.

     Seriously, a volcano. So cool.

    Seriously, a volcano. So cool.

     Once we finally got to the “clinic”, as it were, we had to change it from a big green empty room into something suitable for seeing patients and operating. Everything we needed was in big boxes in the van, so we had to unload and set everything up. The clinic setup was as follows: 4 surgery tables in one area, 4 exam tables in another area, and a third area with blankets and a heating pad on the floor for recovery. After we finally got everything set up, we saw the “waiting area”- a small room, filled with people speaking Spanish and a plethora of dogs and cats in boxes or bags or with leashes made of rope or chains. Only a few of them had collars or leashes of any sorts, and there were a lot of nervous-looking cats being held in laps. Oh boy.

     Our clinic set-up, as it were. Surgery tables (foreground), exam tables in the back corner.

    Our clinic set-up, as it were. Surgery tables (foreground), exam tables in the back corner.

      Andrea was my surgery partner for the day, and we were, of course, picked for the first round of surgeries. Eeek! We both looked at each other nervously and I volunteered to go first. Our dog was Mama, a mixed breed dog who came in with the three puppies she had birthed recently. We did our first surgery with Dr. Bennett, the surgeon from University of Illinois that had come with us on the trip, and he did a lot towards making me feel like I wasn’t going to kill the animal by looking at it wrong. He showed us where to make the incision and how deep as he did it, and then he passed the instruments to me.

     My first act of surgery was to not pass out, and I (thankfully) did that part successfully.  It doesn’t sound like much, but this was a HUGE relief. It was like a giant mental stumbling block that I got to dropkick out of my mind. I could do surgery. I wasn’t going to be a failure of a vet student. Take that, irrational fears. Take that.

     Anyway, after successfully not passing out, I got to (warning: boring details of surgery that you might not understand, if you’re not interested I’d just skip to the next paragraph now)… break down the suspensory ligament, which is like snapping a really tough rubber band, and allows you to manipulate and eventually remove the ovary from the body. I also got to clamp and cut the uterus, remove it from the body, and close the body wall and the skin with sutures. It doesn’t sound like much, really, but I was so nervous before it and came out feeling so much more confident.

     Andrea did a neuter, and then I got to do my second surgery- a cat spay on a cute little tortie named Julieta. By luck of the draw I ended up working with Dr. Bennett again, and since he’d helped me with the last spay, I basically got to do this one ALL BY MYSELF. So nerve-wracking but seriously so awesome. I’ll never forget it.

     By the time 5pm rolled around, we were all dirty, sweaty, and exhausted. Today as a group we did over 20 surgeries and saw another 30 consult appointments for vaccines and such. After cleaning up, we went to a local resteraunt to watch the Costa Rican Futbol team play (they lost, but we’re not supposed to bring it up). Much to my chagrin, I discovered that “Heather” is not a very common name down here, and by that I mean that no one can pronounce it to save their lives. They ask your name when you order food so they can bring it to you, but after I said mine, all I got was blank stares. I tried again, with similar results, and then even tried spelling it- in Spanish! No luck. I think eventually they just made something up and moved on, but from here on out I’m not going to be Heather at dinner anymore. I think I’ll go with Catalina, my Spanish name from high school and we’ll see how that works out.

     Another busy day in the clinics tomorrow! I can’t wait!

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