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First surgeries – Nicole Cummings

A series of posts from the trip of 2009 to Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay.

Originally published at

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 | Posted by Nicole Cummings

This morning I awoke 1 hour and 13 minutes before my alarm was set to go off at 7am. I lay in bed anxiously awaiting the day. The few slivers of sunlight peeping through the tinfoil-covered windows did not really bother me (we have tinfoil covering the windows to keep out the “midnight sun” and allow us some darkness so that we can sleep). What kept me from sleeping that last precious hour was the thought of how our first day would turn out. I felt a sudden wave of panic, because no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to think of one single thing I was taught in the first three years of veterinary school. Today was truly the first day of clinics. With the nauseous feeling in my stomach waxing and waning, I turned to my roommates, and was happy to know that they were just as nervous as I was.

Students Aleta (performing surgery) and Stephanie (monitoring anesthesia) on a patient.

Before I knew it, we were at the clinic. There was no time to ponder how the day might go. Our first appointment arrived almost the moment we showed up. It was a husky mix who was brought to us for a simple wellness exam, vaccines, and de-worming. Okay, not so bad, I thought, I can handle this. The next dog entered, a beautiful German Shepherd, well behaved and also visiting for a wellness exam, vaccines, and de-worming. Simple enough. As I walked out to the owner, feeling very competent, I did my best “veterinarian” impersonation, explained the procedure for the de-worming, and handed her the vaccination record. Her response was to inform me that the record needed to be changed, because her dog was not a German Shepherd, but a Czech Shepherd. Wow, did I feel stupid. I clumsily corrected the sheet, apologized, and off they went. Could have gone better.

The surgeries began picking up in the afternoon. The four students divided themselves between the two surgery tables. One student was the surgeon, while the other monitored anesthesia. I did my first official spay today on a feisty and playful 1-year-old female husky mix named Dora. By the time I had finished, it was supper time, and I couldn’t tell you where the day went.

We still had a few more surgeries to complete before we headed home for the day. It was an emotionally draining day, and I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that a small part of me wanted to throw in the towel and go home to eat, shower, and sleep when the clock reached 7pm and we were still working. By the time 9 pm rolled around, the hunger pains began, and I could actually feel myself crashing. But we stayed until the very last dog was awake and recovered from anesthesia. And when the rest of the team headed out around 10 pm—when all the clean up chores were completed, Dr. Carey and Aleta did not leave the clinic until almost 10:30.

Nicole, performing surgery.

The day was a roller coaster of emotion. There were many moments when I doubted myself, but I also know I left that clinic today having learned a lot about myself and veterinary medicine. I know that as a team, we did really well today and really helped out the community of Kugluktuk. And at the end of the day, that is what this trip is really about.

Tomorrow we have a much-needed day off, and we will be traveling the land by snowmobile. Stay tuned for a blog about the amazing landscape, and hopefully a story that does not involve a run in with a polar bear!

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