"I got my first ever surgery induced blister from doing surgeries from 8.30am-4pm but we accomplished 43 desexings."
I was looking forwards to escaping a week of Melbourne's wintry weather and the challenges that awaited me on my first week as a volunteer vet for AMRRIC. Our group consisted of 3 members from environmental health for the Pilbara Meta Maya Aboriginal Corporation, 1 vet nurse and 3 vets. Loading the vehicles up and grabbing a tarp (as an afterthought to cover goods in the trailer from red dust) we began our 8 hour drive from Port Hedland to the Indigenous community at Jigalong. We got to know each other over the long drive, a tyre blow out, group effort preparing dinner and card games and by Tuesday morning were ready to start the dog health program.
We drove to houses where dogs were lingering and a sedative cocktail was given to all dogs once verbal consent was given to "do surgery to stop puppies". A quick lesson learnt was that once a dog was sedated don't let it go, as a few managed to slip away and escape desexing. Another lesson learnt is that ticks there spread anaplasmosis with a side effect of reducing platelets and increasing bleeding during surgery. I plunged into flank speys in young and mature bitches. An old door on top of a BBQ provided a surgery table, valium and ketamine used as maintenance anaesthesia, chlorhexidine used to sterilize everything and that old tarp proved invaluable as a wind break and insulator for recovering dogs. We managed 43 desexings that day.
Some more surgery the next morning (in light rain with no protection) and then off to the community of Cotton Creek we went. It was a smaller community with starving scrawny mangy dogs and people this time bringing their dogs to us in droves. At one stage we had 20 heavily sedated dogs lined up for surgery and a lunch break consisted of 10 minutes scoffing down a hamburger. I got my first ever surgery induced blister from doing surgeries from 8.30am-4pm but again we accomplished 43 desexings. Needles were running low and chux had replaced swabs. Returning the surgery tables (old doors and steel bins) to the tip and returning recovering dogs back to their houses in various states of sedation we called it a day. An early morning start for our 10 hour trip back to Port Hedland and time to reflect on the week. A well organized trip in difficult to organize communities, I had mastered dog flank speys and did get to enjoy some Pilbara warm weather. I'd gained an insight into a part of Australia that many Australians never see but should all be aware of. I would come back again and I hope we have been able to make a difference.
Find out more about volunteering with AMRRIC.