You might think that practicing vet medicine on a Belizean island would be different than in other locations, and you’d be right. It’s not only the medical issues that are different, it’s the locations, transportation, and access to diagnostic testing.
In my previous 10 years as a veterinarian I never did a house call. It was not something that my employers offered and I was happy to follow suit. In the clinic I have control over most factors, at people’s homes it can quickly turn into the Wild West. There are a variety of reasons here on Ambergris Caye that the occasional house call makes sense. Many clients here don’t have a car, many will come by cart, bike, or on foot. So, if the animal is very old or they have multiple pets they may ask us to come to them. In most cases I go to their home on a golf cart. Admittedly, I feel that every time I forget something that would make my life that much easier. I just try not to let on and make a mental note for next time (ie. bring gloves, every time, no matter what, seriously, do it!).
Saga Golf Cart
If I’m really lucky, usually on a Saturday morning, I’ll get to ride to my house call by boat! The owner will have a captain pick us up. This is always one of my favorites.
Travelling to a Call up North for Vaccines
Private Island Visit for Illness
Once on site I could be chasing 5 dogs around the yard while covered in sweet sticky dewormer while trying to keep track of who’s had their rabies. I could also be kneeling in the mud catching newborn puppies from the business end of a tired bulldog while the cat looks on with great disapproval, nursing her own kittens with ease. Sadly, one of my most requested house visits is for euthanasia. I have sent many dogs to the other side in front living rooms and yards with the ocean breeze blowing in from a beautiful view of the Carribean Sea; not a terrible way to end a long life.
My ability to perform a variety of tests here is limited, both due to availability and finances. Most of my treatment decisions are made based on a thorough history and physical exam. The physical exam is an often underrated piece of the puzzle that can provide a lot of information. In both human and vet medicine it’s importance is often overlooked. Ever been to the doctor and they didn’t really even touch you? There are times though, that I really wish for or need something more. In my previous life as a vet I would just walk a dog to the back of the clinic for blood work, xrays, or ultrasound. More extensive blood tests would get picked up nightly and shipped off with minimal effort, then results would appear magically the next day. When I am able to get an xray here I must take the dog to a clinic just a few blocks away. This is a human clinic that is kind enough to let us use their machine. I often administer a little sedation before we leave, we then drive to the clinic with a half sleeping dog in my lap on a golf cart, we get our xrays then return back. Their human patients always look a little surprised!
Road Trip to Xrays
In order to do basic blood work, like a cbc and chemistry, I must send the blood to the mainland. We are lucky to have a little animal lab in Belize City. We will take the blood tubes and put them on ice, then call the lab (1 lady) to let her know we need a sample run. One of the staff will then personally drive the samples over to the airport to put them on the next plane over. The owner of the lab will then go to pick them up, run them, and usually provide me with emailed results the same day! Nothing happens without planning and effort.
There Goes my Blood Sample
Emergency On Call
I had also never done emergency on call before working here at Saga Humane Society. I have always been lucky enough as a vet in the 21st century to work in close proximity to emergency clinics. This meant that at the end of my day I went home, not to return until my next shift. Here there is currently no other vet aside from myself. This means offering 24-7 emergency call. At Saga I see 1-5 after hours emergencies each week. They range from vomiting, to low blood sugar, to severe dog bite wounds, to hit by car(t). It could be a weeknight at 9pm while putting on my PJ’s, a Monday morning immediately after my Crossfit class, or a Sunday while I am ordering my pancakes. I attend most of these on my bicycle. I usually take the liberty of wearing my flip flops as some form of consolation. I might be in gym clothes, I might be sweaty, I might be in a dress with lipstick. People don’t seem to care as long as I show up to help their pet.
Severe Weekend Emergency during Lunch Out
Although I do NOT attend night emergencies alone I do definitely see some interesting characters. I recall getting a call to come to the clinic late at night for a dog that had been attacked by another dog in the family. As I pulled up on my bike with my boyfriend I recognised the owner from a previous visit for vaccination. If I had not met him before I may have been a little worried, as I think we are all influenced by stereotypes at one time or another. I motioned for him to follow me, but as I approached the building there were a few things amiss that made me worry that there could be an intruder inside. Everything was in complete darkness and I called out “hello?” before I entered the front door. Although it turned out to be a false alarm, I remember thinking, “Buddy, if you’re in here you’d better run, because I’ve got a rather large boyfriend coming behind me followed by a muscular Belizean guy with multiple facial tattoos and a 90 lb pitbull”. This was a man that then got teary asking me if I could save his dog.
I Said Yes
Every day is an adventure in Belize. I can always reheat my pancakes later.