** One of these topics may be a sensitive subject for some people (euthanization), but it is an important part of veterinary medicine and I want to express my thoughts and feelings about it.
Zoobiquity means the joining of the cultures of human and animal medicine. Many diseases are shared between animals and humans, but most physicians see animals and their illness as “different.” I learned that elephants get tuberculosis and jaguars get cancer. Instead of segregating the roles of physician and veterinarian based on the species of the patient, the conference suggested learning from one another. After the conference, I was inspired and decided to intern at the EHF Animal Clinic to gain a more holistic perspective on medicine. I want to break the barrier between physicians, veterinarians, and scientists because we all share the same goal – to heal our patients, human or animal.
Most EHF volunteers are either vets, vet students, or vet nurses, so it’s interesting to come in as a premedical student. Since I am not experienced in veterinary medicine, I am fairly limited on the activities I could do such as performing surgeries or diagnosing patients. However, due to limited staffing, I am learning how to perform anesthesia, dosages on medications, subcutaneous and intravenous injections, and other surgical preparations. It has been almost a month since I’ve been interning at Esther Honey and I am slowly seeing similarities and contrasts between human and animal medicine.
At Esther Honey, we believe that animals should not suffer through a painful death. When an animal is dying and the damage is too severe to be treated, we euthanize the animal. On Raro, dogs and cats roam freely around the island. HBC (hit by car) accidents happen fairly often and these patients are brought into our clinic. Depending on the severity of the hit, many of them do not survive due to the limited access in equipment and technology we have on the island. Thus, to prevent a prolonged, inevitable death, we ethically euthanize them.
My first “on-call” experience was with a stray cat who got ran over by a car. Amy, the vet, came over to the clinic to help me that night. The cat was paralyzed on both hind legs and possibly had a damage in the spine. For humans, we could still live our whole lives normally on a wheel chair. Unfortunately, wheel chairs for dogs and cats do not exist… at least in Rarotonga. And even if we did manage to save the cat and put her on a special kitty wheel chair, she will have no control of her bowel movements. She may defecate uncontrollably or not defecate at all. Infection, blockage, and multi-organ failures could all occur for this little one in the future. Her quality of life would be greatly diminished.
Working at the clinic, euthanization on animals isn’t as rare as it seems and it bothered me at first. Shadowing physicians in Seattle, when one treatment plan doesn’t work for the patient, we try another plan. And if that doesn’t work, we plan again. We try to save the patient even if there is only a tiny ounce of life in him/her (with some rare exceptions). We never give up on a patient. And when we save the patient, we work with the patient, their family and friends, social workers, and the community to improve the patient’s quality of life. However, in veterinary medicine, especially in a clinic with limited funding and supplies, our only treatment plan for the patient may simply just prolong its pain and death, which is what we aim to not do to our patients.
I think for a clinic that relies solely through donations from the public, we are doing a pretty awesome job in serving our patients. There are times when we couldn’t save a patient, but there are many more times when we saved and nursed patients back to its original health. One of the other volunteers told me, “I feel clueless everyday and worry about making mistakes. But I try to think of it this way – if we, the volunteers, aren’t around, then no one is going to help these animals. So don’t be afraid to go in and save them.”
My EHF family
Obviously, the patients at Esther Honey aren’t humans. They are dogs, cats, birds, cows, pigs, and goats, but surprisingly they aren’t as different from human patients as I thought they were. Every patient at Esther Honey has his/her own personality and charm. They have their own particular taste in food, daily routine, and I have to tailor to all their needs. We have quiet patients who sit in their houses and are absolutely content with their chew toy, and noisy ones who loves kisses and long walks on the beach (literally)! McGoo (cat) is a picky eater who only eats dry cat food; Brenden (dog) hates baths and would roll around in the sand right after you give him one; and Piggy (pig) squeals when you hold him, secretly thinks he’s a dog, and follows you around. I was overwhelmed at how many patients we have in the hospital/clinic, but seeing these patients every day, I start to develop a relationship with every single one of them. I know the medications they have to take, their schedules, likes and dislikes, and preference of food. Every one of our patients has their own thoughts and feelings, just like the patients I’ve interacted with in human hospitals!
Kare and piggy.
Afternoon nap for Orlando.
On the side note, I am having a great time in Raro.
• I paddleboard for the first time and got my PADI certification this week!
• I finally found a store that sells chopsticks! I can eat rice and noodles with content.
• I miss my grandmother’s home cooked meals.
• Locals now recognize me as the girl who rides her bicycle around the island.
• The water is very salty. Very, very salty.
Scuba diving with my new friend from Germany!
Paddle boarding for the first time.