I left to O’hare at 8:35am on Monday, January 6th.The flight was scheduled for 11:56am and it was about 6 hours total- 3 hours to Houston Texas, a 4 hour lay over and then 3 and a half hours to Managua. It was a long flight and an extremely long day of traveling. This was my first time traveling to another country “alone.” I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have friends in the group as most of the other students did. However, even though I did not know anyone we already had two things in common, we all desire to become veterinarians and we were eager for this amazing opportunity.
We finally arrived in Managua at 10:30pm. We met Eli, the man in charge of Vida in Nicaragua. He helped us with our luggage and had us board a bus to go to our hotel. We didn’t get settled into our hotel until Midnight so we did not have much time to explore the city.
Today we started our morning at 7am with breakfast and then orientation at 8. The breakfast was different from what I am used to. We had eggs in a red sauce, rice and beans and fresh orange juice. It was quite delicious. In orientation we met the professional veterinarians; Dr. Farron, Dr. Douglas, Dr. Leo, and Dr. Juilian. They all introduced themselves and then we went around the room so everyone else could introduce themselves as well. All the vets seemed extremely friendly and I was pleased to know that we would be working with them for the rest of our stay in Nicaragua. In orientation we learned the different names of the surgical instruments, how to use them, how to set up areas in clinic, different medicines and what they’re used for, how to put on gloves in a sterile manner, and then we practiced sutures! Practicing sutures was my favorite part of orientation. We practiced sutures using a shoe lace on a thick cord. We practiced the surgeons knot, the millers knot, and how to tie a square knot. Learning all these different types of sutures was challenging but all the vets were helpful and patient with us. After orientation we got on the bus to head to Diriamba. We made a pit stop along the way to exchange money. I thought this part of the trip was kind of sketchy.. We picked a guy up off the side of the road and he exchanged everyones American dollars to Nicaraguan cordobas. Nicaraguan money is so beautiful compared to American money, its really colorful. And I didn’t know American money is worth so much here.
The ride to Diriamba was beautiful! It was about an hour ride and we got to see the breathtaking landscapes Nicaragua offers. We stopped at a focal point to take pictures of one of Nicaragua’s volcanos. Did you know Nicaragua has 8 volcanos, 6 of which are active?
When we finally arrived in Diriamba and were settled into our hotel rooms, we decided to go and explore the town. Diriamba wasn’t the nicest of all cities but it allowed us to see the reality in which people of a third world country live. We saw some really fancy homes and some run down ones as well. We saw stands on the side of the road and a carnival! I thought it was interesting how many people had rocking chairs on their porch or facing the window where they could sit and watch the world go by around them. In America where everything is so fast pace you rarely see that.
After our walk through the city we went to dinner. What an experience that was! The VIDA staff allowed us to go to dinner on our own and none of the waiters spoke English! Mind you, we were a group of “gringos” as the Nicaraguans called us and only one person from the group spoke Spanish. We all tried speaking Spanish, which the waiters found amusing. I ordered my meal, arroz con pollo, chicken and rice. My meal was quite yummy and only cost me $8! After dinner we all were ready for bed, it had been a long day and we had to be up early again for clinics tomorrow.
Today was our first clinic day. I was very nervous about it because I had never worked in a clinic nor had any animal care experience. We woke up at 6am to get ready and have breakfast. We had to be on the bus by 7:30. We drove to a rural area, since the goal of VIDA is to provide free veterinary care for those who cannot afford it. When we arrived, our clinic was a small building with about 4 rooms. We set up the intake, surgery and recovery areas. The intake area was put outside to provide the most space. After setting up we got put into groups and then we started receiving patients. My partner for the day was Ana and our first patient was Binky. He was a mutt and he was coming in to be neutered. We began Binky’s exam with a physical assessment.
With the aid of Dr. Julian, we checked the heart rate, pulse, body temperature, respiratory rate, capillary refill and the lymph nodes. After the physical assessment we measured out the doses of medicine based on the weight of the dog. After measuring the exact amounts of medicine needed, we checked our calculations with a veterinarian and then we learned how to make injections. After pre-medicating Binky, we shaved his left forelimb and cleaned it off. This shaved forelimb would be for the catheter. Dr. Douglas helped Ana and I learn how to place the catheter into the dogs vein, cap it so no blood spilled, and then bandage the catheter up. Once the catheter was in place, we injected cocktail into it which put the dog under anesthesia. Immediately after injecting the anesthesia, Ana began monitoring to make sure that the dog was under anesthesia while we continued prepping him for surgery. The next step was placing the endotracheal tube. To me this was the hardest part of pre-surgery preparation. We measure the endotracheal tube comparing it to the size of the dogs nasal septum. Then, we pulled out the dog’s tongue, stuck the tube in bringing down the epiglottis and sliding the tube to the tracheal inlet about halfway down the pharynx. Once the ET tube was in, we shaved the surgery area and then the dog was finally ready for surgery.
I was assisting Dr. Douglas in surgery today. I put on a scrub cap and sterile gloves, and cleaned the surgery site. Dr. Douglas walked me through the steps of the procedure. First he showed me what to do and then he allowed me to make incisions myself! It was so cool!! I was able to make an incision on the scrotum and then squeeze the testicles out and cut them off. Then when closing up Dr. Douglas caught me off guard when he asked if I wanted to suture. Making incisions was easy, you just cut, but sutures? We had only practiced using shoelaces and now he was asking me to suture a live dog. I was hesitant but he showed me how he wanted the suture done and then handed me the instruments to replicate his knot. I did a surgeons knot and then finished it off with 4 square knots. The surgery was successful. I cleaned the instruments while Ana took the dog to recovery. We removed the ET tube and we administered Fipronil, a treatment for fleas and ticks and injected our patient with Ivermectin, a dewormer. Then we clipped the dog’s nails and cleaned his ears. It took him a while to finally wake up, but when he did, we removed the catheter and he was ready to go home.
Today was large animal day! Yay! I was extra excited because I had never had any large animal experience before. We took the bus to the farms. We were driving down a highway and then we turned and took a dirt side road. The road was super hilly and bumpy so the bus couldn’t drive all the way there so we had to get out and walk. It was kind of far but luckily we were in the shade most of the time. The first farm was big, it had pigs, cattle, and horses. I worked mostly with calves, I got to inject them with Ivermectin and Fipronil. Even though most of my work was with calves I also injected cows and bulls. As most of you would expect, animals don’t really want you coming at them with a needle. Or, coming at them at all as a matter of fact. So it is not easy injecting a bull or a cow that is 10x your weight. The veterinarians and the owners of the animals had to tie them down. They used rope and a wooden post to tie the animals up. It was kind of scary watching this process because we were working in the pens with the animals and some of them had horns. While getting tied up the cows and bulls would get angry, kick and throw themselves around. If you are not careful while working with these animals you could easily get injured. Luckily, no one was injured while we were on the farm.
We visited several farms today and treated 149 animals total.
Today we went to the beach. It was nice to have a day off to enjoy the weather and get a nice tan. The beach was beautiful. The water was clear and the sand was clean. There was mountains on either side of the beach creating a serene landscape. We all went swimming and played in the waves, then I went on a walk with some of the girls to look for sea shells. I found a few interesting sea shells, and a hermit crab. We had lunch on the beach and then got back on the bus to head to Granada. Granada was by far the most beautiful city we saw in Nicaragua. It had brick roads, spanish influenced buildings, and everyone was out and about. Our hotel was very nice too, with huge beds, stone floors and a swimming pool. At night we went to the disco teca. It was… Interesting, to say the least. We ordered a few drinks, and embarrassed ourselves dancing. It was a lot of fun and we made the natives laugh. We had dinner in Granada at an outdoor restaurant. The food was good and I really loved that we got to see Granada’s nightlife. There were parades, music, and dancing for us all to watch.
Today we were able to go our and tour Granda on our own. We saw the cathedrals, took lots of pictures and bought a few souvenirs. My group, Jon, Meghan and I ventured out to a local market. It was interesting to see how they exchanged goods. After wondering around Granada, we headed to Masaya. We stopped along the way to go ziplining. I was both excited and nervous about ziplining. I had gone a few times before but never through a canopy! There were 13 platforms all at various heights in the trees. Some were higher, some lower and some went really fast! We had to brake ourselves by putting our hand on the rope. After going across the canopy a few times I got the hang of it and wanted to try the different tricks they were letting us do. I asked the people in charge if I could go upside down like everyone else was doing, and they let me. They strapped me in, lifted me up and sent me flying. It was so scary!! But also really fun!
After ziplining we arrived in Masaya and got to meet our host families. I shared my host family with Jaclyn and Audrey. My host family was very nice and they were the owners of the local cafe. They lived in America for 36 years so they were fluent in English. They have a son but he was away while we were there, a small dog named Shaggy and parrots that would scream and talk every morning to be fed. We stayed in cute little rooms at the back on their cafe.
Today was another clinic day. We worked about 15 minutes outside of Masaya. Gloria was my partner for the day. We saw lots of patients because we finally mastered all of our tasks and didn’t need to ask for assistance from the veterinarians so often. I was able to both assist and monitor in surgery. I didn’t like monitoring. We had to monitor anesthesia by hand, so every 5 minutes I had to record the dog’s temperature, heart rate, pulse, respiratory rate and capillary refill to make sure it was still under anesthesia and not feeling any pain.
Jon, got bit by a dog today. When I first heard that I needed to get a rabies shot for this program I thought it was silly because I didn’t think anyone would get bit on our trip. However, not all animals are cuddly and cute. Some of them are mean and nasty, especially when going to the vet is involved. Jon’s dog got loose and when he tried to grab its leash to restrain it, it bit his hand and took off running. The dog didn’t come back and Jon is ok. No rabies since he got his vaccines!
Another clinic day! We worked in Masaya again at a new clinic. I was surprised because this clinic was completely outside. Sarah was my partner today. I got to assist in a spay for the first time. Spays take a lot longer than neuters and are a lot more complicated. I got pooped and peed on today, which I was not used to but I guess that happens a lot in veterinary medicine. We had lots of aggressive dogs today and one dog that would not wake up from anesthesia. She was administered multiple doses of cocktail in surgery because spays take too long. We sent the dog home with the vets so they could keep an eye on her for the night.
Today was our last clinic day and the last day with the vets. At clinic, Jon and I had a dog that had a heart attack! It was so absurd!! She was bleeding from her nose which I have never seen before. We gave her antibiotics so she would be ok. We saw the most patients today, 88 in total. It was a very successful last day. At night, we had a farewell party in which we said goodbye to the host families and the vets. We exchanged gifts, I gave our host family a picture frame, kitchen towels, and a candle. Our host family gave me a Nicaragua shirt and a cute wallet keychain. I also gave the vets postcards from Chicago with a message thanking them for everything they taught me.
Today was our last day in Nicaragua. It was bittersweet because I missed home but didn’t want to end this amazing experience so soon. We spent our last day going to local vendors to buy souvenirs. I bought magnets, shot glasses, chocolate, and a beautiful vase for my mom. After shopping for a few hours, we went to a lagoon. The lagoon was marvelous. The water was so blue and we got closer to the volcanos. We were able to go swimming and try all the tropical drinks Nicaragua offered. I tried their national drink, the Macua, which was made with guava juice, lemon juice and rum. It was delicious. After the lagoon we had a pizza party by our hotel pool, and celebrated Jaime’s birthday.