[As the first team makes its way North, I thought I’d post some musings about the preparation of the Project.]
I haven’t posted about the 2016 Chinook trip, most likely because I’ve been too busy planning it. Last September we began to confirm veterinarians – some of whom we have been talking to for years. It is very hard to find veterinarians and veterinary technicians who can take the required amount of time off. Often people can only take one week off at a time, and/or only at certain times of the year. And asking a colleague to volunteer their time to work 18+ hour days in tough locations with stark resources… well, let’s just say that they are a special bunch.
Usually an Atlantic Veterinary College faculty member participates, since the Project is a rotation for the senior students. Dr. Peter Foley is returning for his 5th Chinook trip and will act as ‘lead instructor’ on the Labrador trip. I, Dr. Marti Hopson, will do the same in Nunavut and will be travelling to Labrador too. We are also lucky to have Dr. Heather Gunn McQuillan returning for a second year, and Dr. Carrie Lavers of Kensington, PEI (AVC 2002) on her inaugural trip. These 4 vets, along with Dr. Becky Jackson (Inkpen) of Goose Bay, Labrador will work sections (or the entire time, thank you Peter!) of the Labrador clinics.
On the Nunavut leg, we are so excited to be welcoming back 2 Chinook student alumni! Dr. Alison Pollard (AVC 2007) was on the FIRST Chinook team, travelling to Kimmirut, Nunavut in 2006. She is a small animal veterinarian in Nova Scotia. Dr. Katie Lee (MacDonald, AVC 2011) was a student on the 2010 Labrador trip to Natuashish and has been practicing in Ottawa. It is always special when students return as veterinarians to lead Chinook trips!
At the same time as veterinarians are being confirmed in the fall, locations and timing are negotiated. We always have a running list of requests and look to coordinate with local liaisons. It’s not as easy as picking a spot- there is an extensive list of requirements, commitments and cooperation needed to ensure the Project can be a success. This year, I have bitten off more , perhaps, than I should have – coordinating 3 locations in Labrador and Nunavut, with 2 complete vet/student teams. The logistics of supplies and shipping alone is daunting. The timing? Well – the rotation has to fall into certain ‘blocks’ of time set out by the university. The students begin their final year in early May. Also, we can only borrow certain equipment after classes end in April, and have to have it returned on time. Often the weather plays a role, or the local coordinators have restrictions on when they can host us.
Through September and October I am writing reports on the year gone by, inputting medical records into our data spreadsheets, receiving the students’ writing, editing blog posts and working on publicity and funding. Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. By November, we need to have a current student application in place. In December this is disseminated to the third year students who will enter their fourth year the following May. By beginning of January we need to have our students selected, so that ‘The Chinook Project’ appears as part of their senior rotations. 26 students applied this year, for 9 spots. It takes a long time to go over applications, check references and make these choices. Dr. Lisa Miller (co-coordinator) and I often agonize over this, since all the applicants are worthy.
January-February. Communication with on-the-ground liaisons continue. Setting up locations for clinic, building surgery tables and finding autoclaves and supplying us with accommodations and food. I take a partial inventory of our supplies on a 9 page list, and start approaching companies for donations of materials. Letters go out to Department Heads to secure the borrowing of equipment. March – we meet with the students! Welcome to Chris, Michelle, Kelsey, Alison, Liz, Mila, Dionne, Nicolle, Vanessa. We get together and go over history and concepts involved in the project. There are excellent snacks which bode well.
In April and May Lisa and I continue to work on transportation, booking plane flights that make sense and getting people from point A to point Z and all points in between. This year we have to rent a vehicle to get a team and cargo from Montreal to Ottawa in the middle of a leg – just because that’s how the flight plans worked out. Hotel accommodations in Goose Bay and Montreal, ordering supplies from many different companies. This year, we had to research new anesthetic machines and surgery pack wraps, and were lucky to be able to ‘MacGyver’ both of these, the latter thanks to 2 students’ mother’s and grandmother’s sewing skills and a 3$ bedsheet from Value Village. Now all purchases also have to go through UPEI’s new electronic accounting system – so we even had attend training sessions on this, and learn to generate purchase orders for everything.
May is the busiest month for me. After many rounds of ordering and counting supplies and calculating ( how much ketamine needed for 100 dogs at approximately 20kg each, each having 20-45 minute surgery? How many packs of 2-0 PDS needed to spay 50 dogs? How many 22 gauge catheters? How many 20 gauge? How many 3cc syringes? How many doses of analgesic? ) my basement looks like a bomb has gone off. My children are cautioned to avoid the downstairs level of the house. We are finally ready to ship. For about a week, the Air Canada cargo employee becomes a close and personal friend. ” Can you tell me if the cargo has left Halifax yet? Because the Air Canada people in Toronto are telling me it reached Goose Bay, but I can assure you, it did not.” Every needle, PRN cap, vaccine, dewormer, gauze, surgical instrument… it all has to get from here to there.
Training sessions begin in May. The students and I meet weekly with the other local veterinarians if they can attend. We cover vaccines, protocols, parasites, deworming, anesthetic, surgery… and what to pack and which snacks would be best to take. Last minute arrangements are made- does everyone have a ride to the airport? Who is collecting boarding passes? Do you have the flight info, the cargo info, the accommodation info?
From May 24-June 4, Team 1 will travel to Labrador. Landing in Goose Bay, they will then travel on the ‘milk run’ to Nain, the northernmost settlement in Labrador. This will be our third trip to Nain, and the clinic will be at the fire hall for four days. Returning to Goose Bay on May 30, we will change out some of the veterinarians, and set up a clinic at the arena in Sheshatshiu. This is our second trip to Sheshatshiu, but first time using the arena as a location. We will set up the second clinic for another four days and pack everything to return to PEI. Not all cargo can make it on the small planes. We pre-ship almost everything so it is waiting at the first site, but getting from first site to second is problematic.
Along the way we will meet so many people who have helped us coordinate these efforts, and we will see and treat so many dogs and a few cats too. I’ll post again on the preparation for the Nunavut leg which will take place in three short weeks! In the meantime, I have to go put out another fire – the team arrived at Goose Bay airport early this morning, to be told that they had been cancelled from the flight. Apparently the UPEI accounting system hasn’t been talking to the Air Labrador accounting system and the purchase order wasn’t processed. From lost cargo to cancelled plane tickets there is never a dull moment through the year with the Chinook Project!