When I learned about my acceptance into the Chinook Project, my first reaction was excitement; my second was fear –“ Oh my goodness,” I thought, “I know nothing.” Up until that point, I had not really had a great deal of surgical experience — a cat spay here and a dog neuter there, but really it was all in the comfortable padded walls of AVC with all the bells and whistles a student could ask for. I began my Chinook experience feeling like many other 4th-year vet students – vulnerable and afraid. But the Chinook Project helped to change all that.
On our first clinic day, our beloved surgery god, Dr. Alison Pollard was right on hand helping us through what proved to be some trying times. There was hair in our sterile fields, we couldn’t find anyone’s linea alba, and our intradermal skills left something to be desired. For some of us this was our first shot at being real live vets, and it was proving to be a challenge. The first day brought on a ritual for me. Every time I ligated a pedicle and was ready to let it go back into the abdomen I prayed, “Dear spay gods, please guide this pedicle safely to its destination where no blood shall fall from its freshly cut edges and no abdomen shall fill with blood.” Maybe this healing mantra of mine worked – fortunately, no abdomen filled with blood on my watch.
On our second day of clinics I started realizing that we weren’t dealing only with Huskies in Iqaluit; there was everything from Chihuahuas to Great Danes walking through our doors. One of my fondest memories of a breed I was shocked to see in Iqaluit occurred mid afternoon. Our coordinator Marti approached me with a large smile on her face and said, “ I have something for you to do. There is a client sitting with her dog in her car in the parking lot. He needs his vaccinations but he is not good with other dogs.” I said, “No problem.” But then the kicker came, “ And oh yeah,” she said, “His name is Hulk Smash and he is a 60kg Bullmastiff mix.” As the words left her mouth visions of my last moments on earth flashed before my eyes. All I could think was that I was going to die in Iqaluit. I laughed and put on my brave face as I left the clinic doors in search of what could be my ultimate demise. To my pleasant surprise, though, I survived the ordeal, and Hulk Smash taught me the art of distracting and vaccinating all at once.
In the wee hours of clinic day three a beautiful white husky came into the clinic. As she was lying on the table, ready for surgery, I noticed she was quite rotund but nothing too shocking. After I had opened her abdominal cavity I reached my hand in to feel for her uterine horn and quickly removed my hand in horror. My glove was covered in an oily substance – liquid fat! The rest of the surgery was like fishing for reproductive organs in a vat full of olive oil. Everything was sliding through my fingers. It was as if I was spaying a seal. Thank goodness Alison suggested taking over for the second pedicle, as I was ready for a bath. She proceeded to teach me how to spay a seal right there in our makeshift surgery suite.
Our fourth and final day taught me probably the biggest lesson I have learnt to date: don’t trust a land shark with your hands. A sweet, white, small, mixed breed dog came in for a routine spay in her owner’s arms and was placed in a cage. Everything was going well until I went to take her out of the cage. This is when the devil himself reared his ugly head. The small dog was terrified and leapt out of her cage and shot like a bullet through our clinic. She looked at me like nothing was going to stop her from tearing my right hand right off. I proceeded to put gloves on and throw a towel over her to calm her until the medication we had so quickly administered while under attack had done its deed. Lesson learned: always wear lead gloves when dealing with potential land sharks.
All in all, the lessons I learned from my Chinook experience added greatly to my repertoire of skills for my future career as a veterinarian. And, in the end, I was so thankful to be surrounded by a supportive crew and to still have my right hand.
Mila Profit, AVC 2017, traveled to Iqaluit in 2016 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project. As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of reflective writing. This is one of Mila’s pieces.