When I reflect on my time with the Chinook Project, I am reminded of a particular case I worked on with Dr. Heather Gunn-McQuillan. It was the case of a dog from Nain, who came to our clinic with severe dental disease.
Dental disease is a very common condition in dogs and cats as they age. And it can cause severe pain that can eventually impair an animal’s ability and willingness to eat. Once experiencing this kind of pain, these animals often require extractions of teeth that may be infected or dying. Most of us know how painful a single toothache can be. If you multiply that by about 20, you’ll have some idea of how our Nain patient must have felt.
Dental procedures can be difficult and tedious, even with all the proper tools available: high-speed drills, various different sized elevators, dental probes, polishers, and inhalant anaesthetic. Unfortunately, many of these instruments were not available to us on Chinook, in our basic field clinics.
In these kind of situations , I’ve learned that it pays to be adaptable and resourceful. For our patient, we needed to create something that would allow us to cut larger teeth into smaller sections that we could remove individually. Dr. Heather fashioned a “high-speed drill” by attaching a burr to a dremel used for woodworking. This idea seemed laughable at first, and we weren’t sure if we would be able to cut the tooth at all with our makeshift dentistry gadget. But the results were surprising. Our “dremel-drill” was able to cut the tooth — although it was evident this was no substitute for a proper high-speed dental burr. However, it served its field purpose, and as we continued, each tooth became a little easier to remove. It was a slow and steady process — cutting the teeth and using the limited elevators we had available to remove the tooth roots, slowly but surely. Each tooth was a small victory since it was one less source of pain for the patient. In the end we were able to remove more than 20 affected teeth that were causing this patient pain and discomfort.
When I reflect on this case, I experience a collection of emotions. Initially I remember how uneasy I felt as we began to cut the dog’s teeth. I remember thinking, “is this going to work? Are we going to make things worse?” Then I am quickly reminded of how incredible a procedure this was, and how lucky I am to have been a part of it. This dog came to us feeling pain, and I’m sure he left feeling invincible. I felt excited, over-joyed, satisfied and proud.
I feel privileged to have worked with Dr. Heather on this case. It has taught me to look beyond the obvious for the solution to a problem. The relief these owners felt when they took their furry companion home at the end of the day was the cherry on top. This is truly a case that defines a once in a lifetime experience.
Chris Dominic, AVC 2017, traveled to Nain & Sheshatshiu in 2016 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project. As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of reflective writing. This is one of Chris’s pieces.