Sarah Lynch, AVC 2019, traveled to Nain and Sheshatshiu in 2018 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project. As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of reflective writing.
The day that I received the email that I had been selected for the Chinook project I was ecstatic. I looked forward to it more and more as every day passed, but the time seemed to drag on forever. When we began having the training sessions it started to feel “real”, tangible, so close I couldn’t contain my excitement! I had previously had the opportunity to participate in similar trips through my old job as a veterinary technician. However, this trip was going to be different because I would now be taking on the role as a student veterinarian! The thought both thrilled and slightly terrified me.
I prepared by reading notes and brushing up on relevant information, but I knew that no amount of books could prepare me for the situations that I was going to encounter. Despite that, I looked forward to the challenge. I am a firm believer that some of the best learning comes from experiences outside of one’s comfort zone, and I knew that on this trip there would most likely be many.
The first full day of surgeries in Nain was a whirlwind. We hit the ground running at 9am and finally wrapped up for the day long past dinnertime. I performed three surgeries that day and overall they went great. I was surprised at how “rusty” I felt with my surgical skills, after all it hadn’t been THAT long since junior surgery! I ended the day feeling a little down on myself. I felt clumsy with my sutures and my closures, things that I knew I could of done much better. I set a goal for myself the next day to be focused in the moment and not worry about all the things going on around me. Before my first surgery I took a few deep breaths and turned off the “overdrive” mode which had been running all morning to get things prepared efficiently. When I began cutting I felt a great wave of calmness wash over me and all the jitters and insecurities of the previous day melted away. I remembered how much I love surgery and that this was actually fun!
As the days passed in Nain I became more and more confident with both surgery and medicine cases. I really enjoyed the freedom to communicate with clients. One of the things that is challenging about entering clinics in fourth year is erasing all of the “doctor” terms that have been hardwired for the past three years and switching back to laymen’s terms in order to effectively communicate complex cases with owners. At the end of the week we said a tearful goodbye to our shed and the great friends we had made in Nain and continued on to Sheshatshiu.
Our first day in the new clinic was a little rocky because we weren’t used to the setup. There was less organization to the schedule and we were struggling to keep things flowing steadily. I performed a spay that day with another student on an overweight, deep chested, recently postpartum dog. From the second we made the skin incision we knew it would be a very bloody surgery. Everything was extremely vascular and we were struggling to keep our field of view to find the linea alba. As we dissected away each layer of subcutaneous tissue more and more bleeders occured. We spent a long time trying to identify the linea alba, and couldn’t make a confident decision to cut. As the minutes ticked past I felt myself getting more and more frustrated and anxious. The surgery was already going poorly and we weren’t even in the abdomen yet. Eventually we continued on and completed the spay, but the beginning of the surgery had shaken my confidence more than it should have. I found myself questioning and doubting things that I knew I was capable of. As we recovered our patient I tried to focus on the positives. It was an extremely difficult spay but we overcame the challenges that arose and we completed the surgery. The patient was doing great, however, in the back of my mind the negative thoughts wouldn’t go away. As hard as I tried to put it behind me and keep a positive attitude the rest of the day, I couldn’t embrace our new clinic and how the day was going. I missed the shed. Other students had similar experiences that day and as we discussed them that evening we reminded ourselves of how much progress we had already made in just four days. We built each other back up and made a pact to begin the next day with an open mind and a positive attitude and for the rest of the trip we hit our stride and everything went smoothly. As we travelled home I couldn’t stop thinking about how grateful I was for the amazing team we had and the experiences we shared.