My Final Testing Grounds

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September 16th 2009
Published: November 28th 2009
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Majuro, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the flagship, Richard Byrd. It's continuing mission, to explore strange, new islands... to care for people and animals and to boldly go where no Supply Officer has gone before. Okay, that was a little dramatic, you catch my drift. My final place to enjoy my Veterinary experience... I truly don't want it to end. Who says the Army, Navy, Air Force and Public Health Service can't work together? They should have seen all the fun we had!

As the last stop, my boss was really great about letting me go out every day with the team. I really didn't have much else to do, so he was happy to accommodate. Thank goodness for my great boss, because this turned out to be the spot where I got the most experience and would have lived out in town if they had let me. Most of us were a bit melancholy, we knew it was almost time for the mission to finish and everyone fly back to their respective homes. Most were at least comforted that they would soon be reunited with their family... as we all know, I get no such
So Many Cuties!So Many Cuties!So Many Cuties!

We did over 50 animals in a day, can you imagine?
luck. I'm still stuck on the ship after the fun leaves. Oh well, so goes life.

We were anchored in the atoll, with water taxis shuttling us to and from the little port facility. Getting all the equipment ashore was a little bit painful, but the vets had a nice truck to help. Funny enough, our first stop was only about 2 blocks from the water taxi dropoff. Yet again, we were going to provide services in an outside environment. No big deal, I'm used to it, but right next door is a hotel, some restaurants and I'm shocked at the amount of civilization around. There really isn't a veterinary clinic at a place like this? Nope, apparently not. We're resorting to a stage, a little strange, but it worked well with the lighting and shade.

Each day we see so many animals... these islands have no way of population control for dogs and cats. Though it sounds cruel, at least in Tonga they ate the dogs. I find it's more humane to think about that than all the animals starving due to overpopulation. Here, maybe the typhoons and the occasional tsunami might kill a few, but the rest are starving and looking like they need to be shot. It would have been better for many of them. A few days, we would get over 50 animals. The ones that came in were decently taken care of, you could tell which ones were pets and loved. There were more puppies than I could hold and squeeze, if that tells you anything. I was very happy that the people understood the problem and were trying to neuter/spay as much as possible. Some didn't know the age restrictions, we even saw some pups/kittens that hadn't been in the world long enough to open their eyes. We spayed one cat that had just given birth the day before.

As you can see from the photos, we also spayed a lot of pregnant animals. Yes, don't cover your mouth, totally aghast. Remember, there is a severe overpopulation problem that caused needless suffering of these animals and can cause more diseases that I won't get into. For me, I'd rather them die in utero without suffering. Almost sounds like a God complex, doesn't it? I'll leave you to your opinions, just leave me to mine.

In the

We've done our good deed for the day!
lunch breaks and after stopping for the day, absolutely exhausted I might add, we go to the cafe above the hotel to have a drink and some pretty good food. This is where everyone goes apparently... pretty good food, but something else happened to me there. On my way out, paying the bill, we run into this older woman ex-pat (either American or Canadian, I didn't ask). She is wearing this gorgeous bracelet made out of cowrie shells, so I tell her how beautiful it is and where she got it. She takes it off and puts in on my wrist! I couldn't believe it. She said "thank you for coming here to help the people". It was so touching... of course it's now my favorite bracelet.

The other place we went to care for animals was at a vocational college about an hour away from the port. Another ex-pat opened it up to teach people how to weld, construct, make furniture and, of all things, raising clams. When we arrived there were loads of people camped outside waiting for us to see their animals. This was definitely one of the coolest days. Tammy and Jay asked me
My first surgeryMy first surgeryMy first surgery

Tammy led me through my first cat neuter.
if I wanted to do a cat neuter! Duh! Don't you know who you're talking to? Okay, it's been a long time since I've done one of these. Tammy, make sure I don't do anything stupid or forget a step. "Oh, you'll be fine... I'll watch the whole time." Okay! You can see from the photos that I was concentrating really hard. Oh, and I was shaking I was so nervous. I didn't feel nauseated or scared, just wanted to do a good job. Apparently I did, but let me tell you... it took more effort than I remember. Cat skin is stubborn!

So, I continue to work anesthesia... then comes this terror of a dog. He's never been socialized with other animals or people. No one ever taught him about a collar or leash, so now he's terrorized by all the things he doesn't know how to deal with. You want us to catch and neuter this dog for you?!? Have you lost your mind? Where's the dart gun? Just in case! Somehow, by the miracle that is luck, no one gets bitten or hurt and we squeeze some drugs into it with a quick shot. We
Patience is her middle name.Patience is her middle name.Patience is her middle name.

She was really good at teaching. Tammy, you're so awesome.
had thought about chemically neutering the dog, but this guy deserves to be castrated. Oooh, oooh! I volunteer!!! I was going to do the chemical neuter before this comment, which is just this drug that is inserted in the center of the testicle and ends up turning it into scar tissue. It's really cool, painless and no surgery... but, as I said, this guy has too much aggression. Taking them out could help a little. Jay looks over and says, "Sure, go ahead and scrub up." Seriously?!? Holy moly! He looks at me again with a smile, "You deserve this for all the help you've given. We've loved having around."

Imagine me doing an Irish jig with my happiness and dial it up about 10 fold. I'm going to do my first surgery! Open surgery! I've seen these done millions of times, I'm only concerned about the stitches, but that's what I'm looking forward to the most. So, Tammy scrubs in, just in case, I get cleaned up and BAM! I'm off! I've never used a scalpel to cut through skin before, just to do skin scrapings to look at under a microscope. Duh, they're sharp, but skin
My first Dog Neuter!My first Dog Neuter!My first Dog Neuter!

I can't believe I got to do this!
is more difficult to get through than I would have thought. Nature is amazing when compared to man-made objects, this just further confirms that for me. Everything goes smoothly, Tammy is encouraging me, tells me I did a great job. She looks over at me. "You want Jay to teach you to close, I'm terrible at it." Hahah, she hates closing... that's cool, I've seen Jay teach others. He's got more patience than Tammy even, so I feel safe.

He teaches me about the different ways to suture and how deep to go, shallow to go, and ways to ensure the animal isn't left with bruises. The more you touch the outer part of the skin with forceps, the more bruising and pain the animal will have. He was so good at dumbing it down, or maybe I just had learned so much to that point that I already knew what he was talking about. I finished and looked down at my handiwork. The suture was straight, no puckers and was really damned good! Thanks Mom for teaching me how to sew, I think it helped me out here. I was just so proud of myself, I think
Surgeon PelstringSurgeon PelstringSurgeon Pelstring

I even sewed him up with Jay's tutelage. It was a good job too!
I look like a peacock in the photo, I'm just so happy.

This was the ultimate way to see my friends go. They taught me so much, showed me that I could do anything I wanted with some more patience and practice. It was bittersweet, but I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything. I made some life long friends, not just the Vets, I wonder if the Navy can ever truly capture what something like this does for an individual. Of course, the Navy is supposed to worry more about the collective, but I feel more enriched as a result. I hope they continue to do these Pacific Partnerships. I can't speak for any of the other years, but the BYRD team certainly made an impression on these small island nations and their peoples. I hope I get the opportunity to go visit them again.

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


The AnesthetistThe Anesthetist
The Anesthetist

Not bad, I got used to it!
Being sillyBeing silly
Being silly

Thomae and Jay... my big brothers.

She loves the puppies.
Long dayLong day
Long day

Yeah, he was hurting afterwards, so I used a golf ball on him.

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