Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My Summer: Vet team to Guatemala

I went to the Career Development Center one day hoping to get some help finding something productive to do with my summer.  I was looking into doing something veterinary medicine related, something that would help build my résumé for vet school.  But I never expected to find what I did: A program that involved traveling to a foreign country to play with animals, learning a little Spanish and faking a lot more, cliff diving, horse riding, staying with a host family who spoke a Mayan dialect, and having one of the biggest experiences of my life.

Vida is a nonprofit program based in Minneapolis/St. Paul. They run pre-health programs (dental, medical, veterinary) out of Central America. I did a medical/veterinary program in Guatemala and had an unparalleled experience with 15 other people from the U.S. and Canada.

This is Guatemala from the sky. This country is filled with gorgeous landscapes.

We all travel together and set up clinics in the same areas (we were mostly in schools). It’s announced in the village that we are coming so people can bring their children and animals to our clinic.

This is that super awkward first group picture, taken before we really got to know each other. This is the vet team—nine from West Virginia University, one from the University of Minnesota, one from Allegheny College, and one—me—from Macalester College. 

The clinic offers owners the chance to spay/neuter their cat or dog. We would see on average about 30 animals a day. We worked in teams of two to three and followed the patient from the time it was brought in until it left recovery. Our first patient came and left in a creative way. This is her post-operation. It was more common for animals to come to us in baskets and feedbags than in a wheelbarrow—whatever works!

We had two large-animal clinic days. This was the chance to work with cows, chickens, horses, pigs, rabbits, and a goose named Billy. It’s different handling these animals because most of them don’t get handled a lot, let alone get poked with needles. We didn’t do surgery on farm animals, though. Large-animal days were also days when we did house calls. Four of us would travel to a home where we vaccinated 75 chickens. And yes, I did get to hold and vaccinate 13 day-old chicks! (See image above)

In addition to doing vet work, we got a few days off. On one day we toured Antigua and wandered the city a bit. I know English, a bit of French, but Spanish—not so much. While I did learn enough Spanish to survive in the end, it was mostly touristy Spanish.
There were street vendors everywhere selling colorful clothes, but as tourists with limited money, the phrase “No gracias” quickly became our staple phrase. This is at a bartering market in Antigua where everything’s colorful and a vendor called me crazy, but I did get coffee and chocolate for about $12

We did a home stay in the mountains of Guatemala. The families spoke a little Spanish, but mostly spoke a Mayan dialect called Quiché. Communication with my host family involved a lot of gestures and looking up words in a dictionary.  The kids in my host family attend a school taught in Spanish, which helped. And I got really lucky because one of the kids understood some English and French. They were fascinated with our technology—iPhones and cameras.  This is our selfie taken with our host family’s kids.

This is one of the many rewards of doing what we do.  In addition to providing care to animals, we get to play and cuddle with puppies and kittens.

After all of our clinic days were over, we had three days of relaxation and fun in Panajachel.  The first day, we went cliff jumping here with volcanoes in the background.  The group also did zip lining and had fun being in a tourist city. 

We did six clinic days. By the fourth day, we undergrads were taking an animal in, doing a
complete examination of it, calculating and administering anesthetics, doing catheter and endotracheal tube insertion, vaccinating, monitoring animals during and post-surgery, writing prescriptions, and even  doing some of the surgery. For an undergrad, this is definitely an unparalleled hands-on veterinary experience. And I never would have found it if the CDC hadn’t helped me find something productive to do with my summer.

-Tae ’16 (Rockport, Indiana)