In reflecting on this trip, I have been able to appreciate that there were both so many incredible things and equally ample frustrations. While resiliency and rolling with the punches, so to speak, were two concepts that were very important on this trip, the overriding and most important aspects of the trip lie in the veterinary knowledge gained and personal development that happened.
To begin, I would like to share a handy little trick taught to me by Dr. Gunn McQuillan – about salvaging a catheter that is in the vein, but not fully seated. Should you find yourself in this situation, all you need to do is grab a syringe of saline, attach it to the catheter hub, and gently flush in some saline as you ease the catheter into place. The saline opens up the vein, and the catheter can slide right in. This wonderful mentor said that the trick doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try and can sometimes help save you from sticking the vein a second time. It also helps to reduce equipment waste. It worked for me during the Chinook trip, and I have already had the opportunity to teach this nifty trick to two colleagues. Thank you, Dr. GM!
Another thing I learned from a case in Igloolik is that a little debridement, a few sutures, and some IV fluids can go a long way. I was not a direct part of this particular case, but the change I saw in the patient from the time she arrived to the time she went home was phenomenal and had a great impact on me. The patient was a sled dog who had recently whelped, likely no more than 5 days earlier. She had also been attacked by other dogs twice, once before and once after whelping. Only two pups remained, and she had several severe lacerations, including a wound to one of her mammary glands that left approximately 50% of it detached from her body. Upon arrival she was extremely weak, but not too weak to still be very protective and concerned about the whereabouts of her pups. A pain management plan was instituted, her wounds were cleaned, debrided, and sutured (where necessary), and intravenous crystalloid fluids were administered. In the 5 or so hours she spent at our makeshift clinic she became brighter, stronger, and frankly seemed like an entirely new dog. She needed assistance now and then to even walk coming into the clinic but when she left she didn’t need any help at all. It was truly inspiring.
Another thing I loved about being part of the Chinook Project was having the opportunity to work with different vets who have had ample experience teaching outside the environment of the teaching hospital. As a senior vet student, I’m still developing my skills and figuring out which techniques and approaches work for me. I love working with new people and learning from their experience.
Client communication is a skill that should not be underestimated! I found the Chinook Project gave me a number of opportunities to practise speaking to clients about medical issues – everything from explaining the components of our basic physical exams to teaching people about how rabies is transmitted and what signs to look for. This second subject was particularly important given that there had recently been a confirmed case of rabies in the community.
Finally, an experience that I’ll never forget was performing a canine neuter while one of my colleagues brought by a parade of youths who were bored and interested in what we were doing. The kids were on summer vacation and many of their family members were away hunting, so roving gangs of kids seemed to rule the streets of Igloolik. We made pals with one such group and invited them to come hang out at the “clinic” in hopes of piquing their interests in veterinary medicine or science, medicine or learning in general. They came by at a time when we had only one patient – an adult canine neuter that I was just about to perform. After explaining to them about sterility and the importance of looking only (and not touching), Jaimee brought the girls by the surgery table one by one to see what surgery looked like. I found their curiosity, bravery, and enthusiasm astonishing and invigorating.
I would like to close by saying that now, after getting some of these thoughts and stories into writing, I am overcome by a sense of nostalgia and positivity. Igloolik is not a community that is accustomed to hosting outsiders and their initial skepticism of us was both palpable and understandable. In the short time that we were there, however, we could feel the locals warming up to us. People started talking to us in the street and opening up their community for us. Igloolik struck me as an incredibly unique place for many reasons, one of which is that a traditional way of life is still very much the norm. Animals factor greatly into that way of life, making our veterinary work all the more important. I feel deeply honoured to have been part of this trip and very much hope that The Chinook Project is able to work with the community of Igloolik again at some point down the road.
Anna Swick-Coryell, AVC 2018, traveled to Igloolik in 2017 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 Anna’s pieces.