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Comfort zone- Pierre Charlebois

( Chinook students are asked to write personal reflection pieces about an experience during the project. Pierre (AVC 2016) travelled to Natuashish, NL in 2015)

I remember writing in my travel log, the night before our first clinic day, that “…. I was anxious to start clinics as this was my first real clinical experience of my career”. This was true; the Chinook Project was the second clinical rotation of my life, but my first primary care work. As we go through veterinary school, we spend much less time with live animals than one would expect... until we get to our fourth and final year. Suddenly the biggest challenge isn’t memorizing book after book of information, but instead facing the sudden reality that you need to gain confidence in yourself and marry your intellectual, social and manual abilities together. Chinook Project was a great step to start building this confidence, especially as we were supported by an incredible team of veterinarians and a technician that supported us in every way possible.

As expected, when the clinic opened up in Natuashish for the first day, I can recall feeling out of place, unsure of myself and trying hard to show that I could this job. I remember double checking, even triple checking my calculations and dosages while making every effort to be efficient. I quickly learned that it is one thing to learn about drugs and their effects on paper, it is entirely different when you are the one responsible for injecting them into an animal’s veins. You worry about your doses, you worry about your patient’s reaction to the drugs, and then you worry that you gave too much or not enough. Finally, when the medical procedure is over, you worry about their recovery and again if you gave enough analgesic drugs to keep them comfortable. It is a never ending cycle of self-doubt.

A busy day in the clinic means at least 2 surgeries are happening simultaneously, with additional dogs recovering and being sedated for their procedures. Here, all 5 Chinook students are in the OR, with Pierre monitoring anesthesia, upper left corner

After the first few days, I learned to be more confident, to trust myself and more importantly, to accept that I have to start at the bottom of the learning curve, just like everyone else. Just like that, I was slowly becoming a more confident student and things that we kept on repeating over and over were becoming more and more routine. Pre-medicating, anesthetizing, intubating, doing surgery, recovering… But routine can sometimes be broken when you least expect it and life has a way of reminding you not to become overconfident.

A few days into our clinic, I was in charge of anesthetizing a patient and everything had been normal; physical examination, pre-medication and a catheter was placed uneventfully. I proceeded to inject the anesthetic agent and everything seemed to be fine. However, as I was getting ready to intubate the animal, I realized that there was no more rapid breathing. In fact, there was no breathing at all, and no pulse. Luckily our entire team of students, technician and veterinarian jumped into action and were able to reverse the adverse effects of the drug, and save the dog's life.

Dr. Chris McLaughlin (standing) and Pierre (kneeling) administer CPR to a patient, who had undergone a cardiac arrest during anesthesia. Pierre is giving breaths to the dog through a tube, while Dr. McLaughlin gives chest compressions and Andrea (background) is preparing emergency drugs. Luckily the patient made a full recovery.

After that event and the wave of emotion that hit all of us afterward, I reflected and realized that I had not been prepared at all for this. How could I have been feeling so confident after just a few days? It was a stern reminder that in our profession, we simply cannot afford to let our minds fall into a routine. I am lucky that this happened under supervision of experienced veterinarians and that the outcome was positive. I consider that moment an eye opener for me and I take away from it lessons that will prepare me for future emergencies in my career. That day helped me take a huge step towards my own career.

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