A Travellerspoint blog

When the Henro Becomes a Cook

Integrating into Raro Life

It feels surreal to be back in the U.S., after having spent 6 months on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. My last day felt like any regular day - working out at 6 am, roaming around at the Saturday markets, sunbathing on the beach, and having a delicious meal with my friends. It didn't hit me that I was leaving Raro until I woke up with an hour left until landing on LAX. There were no barking dogs to wake me up; August and September were no longer snuggling up beside me; Mama wasn't there to greet me; and I wasn't able to step outside and hold Kokane or Bully in my arms. At that moment, I cried. There was no way to stop these tears.

Coming to Raro, I did not expect myself to integrate into island life so easily, comfortably, and deeply. From Esther Honey to my workout classes and Hash, I became a part of many different communities on the island and was able to form many beautiful relationships. I got to meet people from Europe, U.S., Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific Islands, and Asia. I picked up new words from different cultures and started using them in daily conversations. I use 'aye' in the end of sentences and say 'yeah' and 'yes' in a NZ accent. Coming into the island hating coconuts, I have returned to the States craving for a fresh nu. I have come back home 50 shades darker and it may take a lengthy time for me to return to my normal skin tone, get used to Seattle's cold and rainy weather, and readjust to the big city life. Raro has changed me in so many ways and I want to thank everyone who has been in that part of this eye opening transformation.

I still think pawpaw smells like vomit though.

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Posted by thewongway 15:30 Comments (0)

Scrubbin' Poo (and a whole lot more)!

My typical day at the EHF clinic.

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The island weather has been getting wetter than I want it to be, but I guess that means I’m stuck indoors to write a new post! I’m getting pretty good at giving cuddles, picking up poo, feeding, and giving medications to all our animal patients. For someone who hasn’t really taken care of any animals other than a goldfish and a parrot all my life, I’ve come a long way! For all future volunteers of EHF or anybody who is interested in what I am doing at the clinic, here is a typical day at work for me:

I usually wake up at around 7:45 am, brush my teeth, and change onto my scrubs by 7:55 am. I feed Mama (house dog) her medication first thing in the morning because she will have to wait an hour before she can get her meal. When one volunteer comes out, a unanimous symphony of hungry cats, kittens, dogs, and puppies has started and they’re demanding their food.

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We typically divide ourselves into two teams: the feeders and the cleaners. There are usually more cleaners because it takes more time to clean all the cages and kennels. For cleaning cages, there is lots of scrubbing poo and changing towels. For feeding, we give all our animals a mix of dry and wet foods. If they need meds, we put those in their meals as well. After being here for so long, I have gotten a routine of the foods each patient likes, their daily medications, what kinds of foods they should not have, etc. (For example, fish poisoning patients cannot get fish-related foods even after they have recovered since it may trigger fish-poisoning symptoms). I try to say good morning and give every animal a nice cuddle as I clean their cages and feed them.

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After all that is done, we fill their water bowls, pick up poo, laundry, and burn the paper rubbish. At the same time, people would come in to bring their pets in for their scheduled desex appointment or consults. (Monday is usually the busiest because people are too lazy to bring their pets over in the weekend). We typically finish around 10:00 if we are lucky. But there are times when it could get hectic. One time, there were only three volunteers that day and three consults came in at the same time along with the four scheduled desex appointments. We haven’t even finished feeding and cleaning yet! Sometimes we don’t finish cleaning/feeding until 11:30/12:00!

Afterwards, the volunteers continue their day with their respective roles. Consults are in charge of all the consults that come in. It varies ranging from a sore foot, hit by car, skin irritations, or nail clipping. Surgeries perform all the surgeries that day. These are mostly neutering cases, but we have occasional dental work, amputations, eye removals, orthopedics (pinning bones), and hernia repairs. Floaters do everything in between and help wherever they are needed. Most of the time, they do a lot of laundry. Don’t underestimate the importance of this job because towels can pile up fast! Laundry runs 24/7 because there are so many poo-covered towels that need cleaning. We have a lunch whenever we can, typically for about 15 minutes. At around 3:00 pm, we start another round of feed and clean. It’s usually better in the afternoon because the animals haven’t pooed as much, so there’s less to clean. We finish usually by 4:30 pm and if we are lucky, we end at 5:00 pm. Each volunteer is scheduled to be on call and hold the emergency phone at least once per week. So if someone calls at 11:00 pm and you’re on call, you would probably be the one to treat the animal. When I need help (dog got ran over by a car, stab wounds, emergency surgeries, etc), I will call Amy (our manager/vet) to come to the clinic. We each work 5 days per week and have one weekday and one weekend day off.

Random moments:
• Had a bicycle accident and scraped my knee of gravel/rocks when I was rushing back to the clinic from the heavy rain. I couldn’t dive in June, but once it’s healed, I’m going out for a dive! (It’s whale season, so I’m hoping to spot some whales in the ocean!)
• These past three weeks, I’ve dug a total of 5 graves.
• I can crack a coconut with five simple taps.
• I am planning my trip to NZ and going to visit the friends I’ve made from EHF!
• I’ve been kissing so many puppies that the other volunteers suspect I may have worms. These puppies have so many worms it’s unbelievable! Maybe I should deworm myself…

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Posted by thewongway 16:19 Archived in Cook Islands Tagged dog cat island animal poo cook medicine disease veterinary rarotonga rarolife raro ehf Comments (0)

Coping with Death

Facing my biggest fear in Rarotonga.

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A lady came to the animal clinic I was volunteering at and said, “I found this kitten on the road. It’s too young to survive without its mother. Should we put it down?” The moment the kitten grasped onto my finger, I knew I was going to take on the huge responsibility of becoming a mother. I named the kitten Milo. Since Milo was unweened, it only had a 50/50 chance of survival since it hasn’t received supportive care from its real mother. Every three hours, I fed Milo with a bottle of formula milk and stimulated it to defecate. I lost countless hours of sleep and was always stressed about it not getting enough milk. There was a point of time when I thought about giving up. Putting it down may end its misery and mine. However, every time it grasped onto my finger and twitched its ears as it sucks the bottle of milk, I sense hope and life. I realized that if this kitten has a will to live, then I should give him the opportunity.

I knew the responsibilities and risks that came along with taking care of baby Milo. The vet warned me that issues that could happen and I should always be prepared for the worst. I knew death could happen, but I put that in the back of my mind. Maybe if I had forgotten about these bad case scenarios, it wouldn’t happen. Unfortunately, that’s not how life works.

Today, I had my worst fear come true. I experienced death of a loved one in Rarotonga. I am the type of person that falls deep when it comes to relationships, whether it be friendship or kinship. And in Raro, I became deeply invested in my baby Milo. He passed away tonight. He was curled in my hands like he was peacefully sleeping. I put my face on his head as tears stream down my eyes and into his forehead. He still had the same smell of formula milk. As I wrapped him in a clean towel and saw him, I can’t help but blame myself. I cried in the shower thinking what went wrong. He was energetic and vocal one day and suddenly died in another. The other volunteers told me these unfortunate events can occur to any of the animals, especially for a kitten who has been hand-raised. I am still coping with the death of Milo, but I try not to let it interfere with my work in the clinic. Even though he is gone, watching him grow up during those few weeks was one of the most rewarding and honorable moments of my life. Baby Milo will always have a special place in my heart.

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Posted by thewongway 19:47 Archived in Cook Islands Tagged islands island death animal cook kitten esther honey rarotonga milo foundation ehf Comments (0)

A Test of Passions

The complicated revelations I had on Rarotonga

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Kia Orana! It is currently winter in Rarotonga, but since winter here is around the mid 70s, it’s basically Seattle summer for me. The locals are huddling in their fleece jackets, complaining about how cold it is while I am wearing shorts and tank tops, loving every bit about it. There has been a couple of breezy days, but this is so much better compared to the hot and humid summers in Raro.

Quick Updates: My internship has been settling in surprisingly well. Feeding and cleaning has become a normal daily routine for me and I know the little tidbits about every one of our patients. Since this is such a small community, the locals are starting to recognize me as an EHF volunteer. A few days ago, a local brought her dog in for dental work. I was chatting with her on the side and told her that I wasn’t used to how much eggs cost in Raro. The next day, she gave me two cartons of eggs and a bushel of bananas. I realize that this is one of the ways locals show their appreciation for the free service we do for their animals.

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Now to get onto the main part of this post:

Since I don’t have pets at home, having dogs and cats everywhere is a very new environment for me. Before arriving to Esther Honey, animals were just “cute.” When I first started in EHF, I only touched the animals without fleas, worms, sharp claws, or diseases. Now having worked in EHF for over a month, I am starting to truly love these animals, regardless of their conditions. A kitten with a massive hernia is just as beautiful to me as the fluffy ones we see on ads.

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Many of the EHF volunteers and locals on the island have asked me if working in the clinic has changed my mind in becoming a vet instead. And my answer to them is, “I don’t know.” Even though I am currently applying for medical school, I am still an open book. Now, this may make some of you think I am not truly passionate in human medicine and therefore, unfit to become a doctor. But the reason why I decided to go into medicine in general was because I love how flexible, open, vast, and interconnected the subfields are with each other: veterinarian medicine, human medicine, public health, and research. The paths of medicine are endless! However, interning at the EHF may have been my final test to see if I truly wanted to pursue human medicine.

No matter how adorable the animal patients are and how interesting the cases are, I realized that my passion still resides in pediatric medicine. When a preschool class came earlier this week, the other volunteers were exhausted after spending an hour with these kids. However, for me, I felt even more energized than before. I realized that human interactions in medicine drives and motivates me, just like how animal motivates the vets and veterinary students. No matter how much I love these animals, I don’t feel the same joy as the other veterinary volunteers. I can see the smiles of pure happiness on the other volunteers’ faces when they work on these animals. I don’t have that. At first, I thought it was because I was new to the clinic and I would find that soon, but that was not the case. To be honest, I felt a bit jealous that they have that kind of connection and love for animals that I don’t possess. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to work at EHF, but for me, that same kind of happiness and passion that they have is only found when I spend time with the patients in Seattle Children’s Hospital.

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Discussing about human and animal medicine with a couple of vet students over dinner, I realized they felt the same way. They wouldn’t mind spending weeks and months working on a leg amputation of a dog and nursing it back to health, but they cannot imagine doing that for a human. Their passion resides in serving animals, not humans. Veterinary and human medicine may be similar, but there is a reason why vets are vets and doctors are doctors. Our patients of interests differ. Just like how they cannot deal with human patients, I have extremely difficult times holding onto a cat for pre-medications during surgery. My passion resides in serving kids and out of all places to have this important realization, I think a vet clinic on a small island is the best place to have it!

Other Notes
• It’s hard to say goodbye to the volunteers. Many of them come and stay for two weeks. So after becoming good friends, I have to say goodbye.
• I did Zumba for the first time… I am not very coordinated. Haha!
• Monday was a crazy day. We admitted dogs, cats, goats, pigs, and even a rooster! What a day!
• Hiking up the Needle… it gets more beautiful every time I hike up there.

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Posted by thewongway 13:08 Archived in Cook Islands Tagged children animals islands human cook medicine honey rarotonga passions pediatric Comments (0)

The Zoobiquitous Mindset

My experiences in the veterinarian world as a premed

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** 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.

Euthanasia –

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

My EHF family

Patients –

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.

Kare and piggy.


Afternoon nap for Orlando.

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!

Scuba diving with my new friend from Germany!


Paddle boarding for the first time.

Paddle boarding for the first time.

Posted by thewongway 12:01 Archived in Cook Islands Tagged animals human medicine vet Comments (1)

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