Jourdan McPhetridge, 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.
As soon as we touched down in Nain, our luggage was loaded onto the back of a pick-up truck and we were taken to our clinic location known as “The Shed”. To my amazement the clinic was constructed of tarps and plywood. We were seeing appointments within hours and one of my first cases was a geriatric male-neutered mixed breed with diabetes mellitus and non-symmetrical chronic swelling over the muzzle. The dog had also been increasingly polyuric, polydipsic and polyphagic with concurrent weight loss despite starting insulin therapy. No direct veterinary care had been available to this client for the past two years.
On physical exam nasal airflow was obstructed unilaterally and the eye was not able to be retropulsed on that side. Antibiotics had been prescribed by a veterinarian after phone consultation a few months prior, but the mass continued to slowly increase in size. Truthfully, this case took me a bit by surprise. I had been more prepared for wellness exams and vaccine appointments, yet here I was dabbling in the world of oncology and endocrinology four hours after landing in Nain with limited supplies. After rummaging through our available pharmacy, we sent the client home with urine dipsticks and educated the family on management of diabetes mellitus. We recommended discussing piroxicam for treatment of a suspected nasal tumor with a veterinarian in Goose Bay. Quality of life and diligent monitoring was also discussed. I recognize that this treatment plan was not the gold-standard taught in veterinary school but everyone involved, including the client, was determined to offer the best care possible while acknowledging our limitations.
Two days later, I was back on medicine clinics where I met a 13-year old male-intact mixed breed dog who presented for a vaccine appointment. He had marked exophthalmos and corneal edema of the right eye which was first noticed about one year prior, shortly after being in a dog fight. The eye was non-visual and painful and the owner elected to have the eye removed at the same time as the castration surgery. Again, I found myself involved in a case a bit different from the routine wellness appointments I had anticipated. An enucleation and castration were performed the next day and a large mass was discovered on the dorsal aspect of the globe. The procedure went well and the dog was discharged that evening. I saw him out with his owners the next day and they said he had become a puppy again overnight. I received some quick kisses from the dog and realized that this was one of those rewarding moments that made me love what I do in veterinary medicine.
I had an incredible time in Labrador, performed a lot of spays and neuters and did countless physical exams and wellness appointments. I even had a couple of mass removals and dentistry procedures with extractions. I also had several opportunities to be involved in more complicated cases and learned what it is like to manage these patients with limited access to supplies and diagnostics. Client communication and education became very valuable to me. I realized that in areas where veterinary care is not available, empowering owners with knowledge can be the most proactive way to impact the lives of people and their animals. Most importantly, I learned that there are many ways to practice veterinary medicine and regardless of the situation we can find ways to help by thinking outside of the box.