September 1, 2012

"I Learned as Much as I Gave." by Dr. Erin Z.

by Guest Blogger Dr. Erin Zimowski

What a whirlwind, amazing, interesting, challenging, difficult, exhausting and gratifying experience this was! I participated in the August 10, 2012 to August 25, 2012 veterinary volunteer trip in Iquitos, Peru for Amazon CARES.  Because I was only able to squeeze a week off from my “normal work” in the states, I had to leave early on August 17. That said, I feel as though I got the full experience in this week! My normal work” is as an emergency veterinarian for a 24 hour ER and general practice hospital in Monterey, CA.  My original goal for volunteering was to come to Peru with an open mind, ready and willing to help in all ways that I could. I accomplished this goal, and although I knew that there would be challenges, I overcame these challenges and more, learning new solutions during this trip.  I learned as much as I gave of my time.  

Alex Shroth, Molly Mednikow and myself.
On August 11, after a long, exhausting night of travels from California through Panama City, I finally arrived in Iquitos, Peru. I arrived at the Amazon CARES office and met Alexandra Schroth, one of the young volunteers working as one of our veterinary nurses.  
The tour of the Amazon CARES' office and Veterinary hospital proved that despite meager facilities, they run a very efficient practice! On my first day, I met this adorable kitten and very loving male cat which both greeted me with lots of love and purrs! We traveled back to the animal shelter and Molly's home where we would be living.  We traveled by MotoTaxi, of course (How fun!) to meet the rest of our “team”. The team for the 1 week that I was able to take part in was: Molly of course, the director of Amazon CARES; Dr. Sean Pampreen of CT; Dr. Racelle Lamar of CA; Dr. Megan Prendergast of Sydney, Australia;  Dr. Susan Cunningham, of Northern Ireland; the aforementioned Alexandra  of NY; Sophie Sage, a third year veterinary student from France; Dr. Jackie Imai, of Redding, CA and myself. 

We would also be working with the Peruvian vets and their amazing veterinary technicians. Plus, there was Mary Haight, who would be our professional blogger documenting our every move, and Darifa and Jan, a young couple from the Netherlands that were going to be filming our trip! A very diverse team indeed! We all had dinner and then early to bed as we were exhausted from travels.

The spay and neuter clinics followed a similar routine each day.  However, on the first day we set up a clinic at the shelter for the neighborhood animals.  Each day started EARLY with a hearty breakfast, and then we loaded up into Mototaxis to pick up the rest of the crew, supplies and instructions before being taken to the next “job site”. Sometimes things started out slowly as things very much move on “Peruvian time”. Always though, the job site was ready for us, consisting of a tent and tables from the locals’ kitchens!! We covered the table with plastic and then set up our examination table, check in tables, surgery and prep tables, as well as supply tables for the various drugs and treatments we needed.

We were very busy each day, treating at least 20 to 25 cats and dogs per day and performing sterilization procedures on at least 12 to 20 dogs and cats per day as well a taking biological samples. I will discuss the scientific study I assisted with in my next blog entry.
It was very HOT but the multiple collaborative help was MUCH appreciated. At the end of a day we still needed to pack all of the equipment up again, deliver the samples to the biologist and then clean instruments and drapes and pack surgery packs for the next day.

The dinner that was served after these long days was always amazing and well appreciated!
All in all, I was extremely impressed by the collaboration of the AMAZON CARES organization; it definitely takes a TEAM to build a village! (OR sterilize and treat multiple dogs and cats …) Even with the many challenges, (Limited drugs and possibly limited medication supplied, limited suture material, limited ability to keep medications in refrigeration, and of course the challenge of performing surgeries on dining room kitchen tables and outside in the elements (RAIN, wind, heat, etc) the amount of animals helped on a daily basis is immense and the work is much needed. 

Definitely good for the soul as well!



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