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Helping Mama – Julie Sparks

November 2, 2017

There were many things about our time in Igloolik that were unforgettable for me and the day I met Mama was definitely one of them. A sled dog owner had dropped by to ask us if we could go out onto the land to vaccinate his team and have a look at one of his dogs that had been attacked by another dog. His team was tied out within walking distance from the clinic so we loaded up some vaccines and supplies and headed out.

Upon arrival, we did a quick examination of the dog who had been attacked, and who later became affectionately known to us as “Mama”. It was immediately obvious that she needed to come back to the clinic for treatment, so we vaccinated the rest of the team and came back to her.

Mama who had recently whelped a litter of four pups had been attacked by another dog a few days prior. Two of her pups had died and she had suffered several puncture wounds, an infected ear laceration and lacerations to her caudal abdominal and inguinal mammary glands. She was an older dog, lethargic, dehydrated, in pain and smelled of infection – but she was still alive and she was still nursing her pups.

We packed up the two remaining days old pups safely inside my coat and proceeded to lead Mama to the clinic. While she was reluctant to leave her dog house, she refused to allow her pups to stray too far from her side and we were able to slowly coax her inside.

Back at the clinic, we quickly got started on her pre-med and anesthesia in attempts to better assess the extent of her wounds. Her ear laceration was approximately 1/3 of the way through the base of the pinnae and was severely infected and the caudal aspect of her mammary chain was torn open so far that I could almost fit my hand inside of it. While the puppies were kept safe and warm, Dr. Gunn-McQuillan went ahead with debriding and repairing her ear laceration and administering antibiotics, and I proceeded to set up her IV fluids and flush out her mammary wound. Upon recovery from anesthesia, the change in Mama was astounding and uplifting. She was bright, alert, comfortable and welcomed the return of her puppies to nursing.

The next day, we received an update from Mama’s owners. Unfortunately, the smaller of the two puppies hadn’t made it through the night, but Mama was doing well and was continuing to nurse her remaining pup. The gratitude expressed by her owners was heartwarming.

The day we treated Mama was a turning point in the project for me. Our patient turnout had been low, not even close to those that we had anticipated and I wasn’t getting the surgical experience that I had hoped for. In addition, I was finding it hard to rid myself of the initial nervousness and “first day jitters” that I had expected to be quickly washed away when things got busy. The slow days had caused me to become so focused on the few small mistakes that I had made that I had become annoyed with myself and was beginning to lose sight of our objective. But Mama changed all of that.

Seeing her phenomenal response to treatment instantly changed my outlook on our time there for the better. I stopped focusing on my mistakes and our low numbers, and felt so grateful for the opportunity to have assisted in her care. I am doubtful that she would have survived if we hadn’t been there to treat her. I was beyond proud of our work that day.

Mama taught me so many things. She was tough and strong and she persevered. I feel the change she instilled in me was as valuable as what we had done for her. No longer did I dwell on my mistakes or risk losing sight of the objective of the project. I felt rejuvenated and eager to tackle more challenges. She changed my outlook and my attitude for the better and, for that, I will be forever grateful.

Julie Sparks, AVC 2018, traveled to Igloolik in 2017 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 her pieces.

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