My time at the Esther Honey Foundation flew by. We saw many cases but a few really stood out.
The first was the huge number of Ciguatera Poisoning cases. Cigautera poisoning is a condition that can affect animals and humans when they ingest certain reef fish which have had a bio-accumulation of a toxin produced by a flagellated parasite found in algae. The humans on the island know not to eat the reef fish, but would throw the by catch onto the beach where stray cats and dogs would quickly devour it. They would then develop a horrible condition which I like to think of as a mutant cross between tick paralysis and parvo (any vets out there will be screwing their face up in disgust right now). The poor creatures get horrible bloody diarrhoea, vomiting and neurological symptoms such as shaking and paralysis. Unfortunately there is no anecdote and we lost many animals to this condition. But we also saved a lot too!
Another case that comes to mind is a little dog that fell of a motorbike and broke his leg. unfortunately we didn't have the tools to fix such a complex fracture (or an x-ray machine for that matter!) so his leg was amputated. The preparation for surgery involved pressure cooking our bone saw on the stove. A few days later the owner came to pick him up... on a motor bike! As they drove off into the sunset we were all cringing and had our fingers crossed he never fell off again!
Not only did we treat cats and dogs on the island but also live-stock. Pigs are commonly kept on the island and many are treated like part of the family. We had one little piglet arrive at the clinic with puncture wounds into his lungs from a dog fight. Repairing these wounds in a 'normal' clinic back home would cost the owner upwards of $3500, but here in the Cook Islands the owners paid us $20 and gave the clinic 50 bananas from their trees to cover his treatment costs. The little pig was such a fighter though and the day after surgery was destroying his cage and all of its contents!
Working in this environment also helped me appreciate the definition of 'Island Time'. We encouraged people to make appointments so we could organize our day, and the happy islanders obliged us. But the appointment time was but a rough guideline of when they should arrive - some would arrive a few hours early or late, others would come days later! But they were always so happy, even if they had to wait, so it was hard to be annoyed and we learnt it was just part of island life.
I had just finished my third year of my studies when I came to the Cook Islands and we had only learnt the very basics of being a real vet. So it was an initiation by fire when I realized I was to be the only 'vet' on the island for four days after Dr Susan and her team left. Dr Susan wrote me a chart that went something like this:
Skin disease = noroclav = 12mg/kg
Ear disease = surolan ear drops = twice daily
And so on...
Thankfully nothing to serious came in to the clinic over those four days, but I got good at placing intravenous catheters to give fluids to dehydrated animals! I learnt so much more than I could have ever learnt in a class room and I attribute many of my practical skills, and my flexibility as vet, to those few weeks at Esther Honey.
That weekend I also got a surprise visitor which I will talk about more in the next chapter!
Image 1 - Piglet recovering from anaesthetic
Image 2- Dr Susan and her team
Image 3 - Perfecting my surgical skills
Image 4 - One of the many puppies that would be rehomed from the clinic
Image 5 - A ciquatera poisoning case
Image 6 - Our hospital ward
Image 7 - more surgery!
Image 8 - And more puppies!
Image 9 - Tiny the dog
Image 10 - Joel enjoying the company of a patient