Vets Beyond Borders volunteer Trish Keating had always wanted to volunteer overseas so that she could travel, experience different cultures and assist local veterinary programs with her 16 years of veterinary nursing experience in Australia.
Trish currently works as a senior vet nurse for Mamre Road Veterinary Surgery and North Richmond Veterinary Hospital in NSW. Her dream had always been to see the Himalayas and so in 2017 she went on her first volunteer trip to Sikkim, India!
“I had the privilege to work with some of the most dedicated people I have ever met – the SARAH (Sikkim Anti-Rabies and Animal Health Program) team,” she said. “My peers, the paravets, are amazing and I would be proud to work with them again anywhere, anytime.”
And so she did, returning to Sikkim earlier this year for another two “awesome” months!
“Things were more familiar this time round so I got over the ‘out of place’ feeling quickly and didn’t feel as homesick as in 2017 because I was working with people I already knew and respected,” said Trish. “It was easy to find my niche and fit in so I could help the vets and not hinder them in the performance of their duties. I also felt confident enough to suggest new methods.”
In the SARAH hospital at Gangtok, Trish helped with whatever got thrown her way – from assisting vets with restraint and treatment, daily wound cleaning and re-dressing, and administering medications to training veterinary surgeon interns on aseptic and sterile techniques, packing kits, folding swabs, setting up ORs for the day’s surgeries and more.
Trish also assisted in field camps, which are generally for sterilisation and management of assorted minor surgical procedures (i.e. dog fight wounds, minor tumour removals). Besides setting up and dismantle ORs at field camps, the Aussie vet nurse had a variety of other duties, such as monitoring patient anaesthetics/recoveries and removing as many ticks from anaesthetised dogs as possible!
Her most memorable experience was helping to save a young puppy’s life!
“During the monitoring of a routine spay surgery on a six-week-old puppy, she started to crash so adrenaline was required pronto and then atipamazole when the surgery was completed. The vet was certain this puppy would have died had it not been for my quick intervention. I do think the speed and efficiency of the puppy’s operation had a lot to do with it! It was a wonderful feeling knowing I’d contributed to saving this puppy’s life,” she said.
Trish also participated in VBB’s community education program, addressing the local school kids and villagers about responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, including their responsibility to ensure animals received veterinary treatment for untreated wounds or broken legs from car accidents, and had their animals desexed through SARAH’s free service.
Trish said volunteering for VBB has helped her to focus on what’s really important with patient care and value how lucky she is working in Australia. “We are lucky to have modern facilities and gadgets in most veterinary clinics; SARAH has to manage without any of this,” she said.
Trish had to work with limited resources and sometimes a lack of resources, such as long-acting antibiotics.
“There is absolutely no waste – everything is re-used until it’s run out or will just not function any longer!” she said.
Trish also faced many ‘MacGyver situations’ with the local vets by working a way around every obstacle, such as hanging IV fluid bags off unusual places or shaving patients for surgery using a ‘Sweeney Todd’ blade as there’s often no power in the field.
“An empty IV fluid bag can be used as an ambo bag if the top’s cut open and the end of the ET tube is shoved in. Brilliant!” she said.
Trish shared some advice for vet nurses who wish to volunteer in Sikkim.
“You have to continually think ‘outside the square’ and come up with ways to handle a problem with only some of the basics,” she said. “There are no gadgets that blink and beep here; you need to actually MONITOR the GA yourself, hand or stethoscope (take your own, there’s not many around) over heart, checking respiration, CRT and colour yourself.
“To any prospective volunteers, I’d say stop thinking about it and DO IT! And to feel the full benefit of the experience, spend longer than a couple of weeks in Sikkim. Be ready for work practices to be completely different. Be ready for very challenging conditions, especially for patients and for your emotions.”