by Melanie Goble, DVM
There are many ways to recharge when life is getting to be too much for me. It may be playing mindless games on Facebook (perhaps not on a screen free Saturday!), walking in the woods, or flying to Mongolia to train veterinarians and treat patients on the other side of the world.
“Wait…what? Doing veterinary medicine to recuperate from veterinary medicine? That is crazy talk! How can this be?” I hear you, invisible NOMVers in my head! What I say is true though. I have traveled with Christian Veterinary Missions to many places including Nicaragua, the Navajo Nation in Arizona, and Mongolia to work with people and animals.
I won’t entertain (or bore) you with all of the details right now, but I thought I would share a little bit about Mongolia and how my soul was rejuvenated and was able to hold it all together when my life crashed upon my return. As you read, I am actually preparing to return to Mongolia this summer to renew my strength yet again.
Somewhere around 2009, I received an email asking for veterinarians to travel to Mongolia to work with small animals and veterinarians in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I wanted to do this, but wasn’t in a position to do so at that time due to finances, work, and health. After 5 years of thought and prayer, I was finally able to go in 2014. I raised the funds needed and boarded a Korean Air flight from Chicago, Illinois to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia via Seoul, South Korea. Approximately 27 hours later, I landed nauseated and sleep deprived, but ecstatic to finally be there. I was picked up at the airport as the light was fading about 11:30 pm and began the ride into the city. My first impression was rather terrifying as one side of the highway was under construction, so the 3 lanes of one direction were being shared in both directions. The center lane served as a location for whoever wanted to be there to drive in the direction they wanted to go, I witness a lot of vehicles playing chicken that night. As we made it into town, there was a car that had just been destroyed by a dump trunk and a person was still inside the car, emergency vehicles had not yet arrived. My heart dropped as we drove past. A few hours later, I was finally heading to bed after meeting my roommate and settling in a bit.
The next morning, after devotions and introductions, I headed to the small animal clinic for the first time. I was greeted with a request to show a veterinarian how to do a thoracocentesis on a cat in respiratory distress. Later that day, I was informed that they had an ultrasound, so we took a peek and saw pericardial effusion. Surrounded by about 10 Mongolians, I performed my first pericardiocentesis with only a slight shake to my jet lagged hands.
Throughout the following month, we worked with dogs, cats, turtles, birds, and a ferret. The ferret presented my first week there and was bouncing around as ferrets tend to do, despite the fact that her hematocrit was about 12%. She had been in continuous estrus and was suffering from estrogen toxicity. Since the veterinarians had never seen a ferret before, we discussed what was going on and that she needed to be spayed, but we had no ability to try and improve her hematocrit prior to surgery. That day, we went to surgery and spayed her, thankfully, it was pretty bloodless. She then was carried around with me most of the day and we had no way to keep her warm other than body heat. With the eyes of people bulging from their heads when they saw her, she did wonderfully and went home in the early evening. I was so proud when about 8 months ago, the veterinarian I was working with posted a picture on Facebook of her with a ferret that she had spayed and had returned for its post-operative recheck exam. The ferret was fat and happy. The joy on the vet’s face was glorious. She did a great job, all as a result of having learned from me two years before. It was delayed gratification, but wow, my heart swelled in joy at her success.
We spent time doing lessons (with me as mentor) on various conditions and disease processes. Working through differentials and treatment options not only improved my skills, but theirs as well. I went to teach and help others, but it turned out that I may have gotten more out of it all myself. With limited supplies, medications, and diagnostics, I leaned even more heavily on my physical exam and history (which is a little more difficult when you don’t speak the language!). My skills and confidence increased during that month. The big “ah ha” moment came when I realized I was the “most experienced” small animal veterinarian in the country at that moment. I was “the expert.” That blew my mind away. I am by no means an expert, I am just your average family vet that calls for help and refers to the specialists when a case gets crazy or extra difficult. Little did I know, how much this experience was shaping me for what was to come in my life!
We spent some time in the countryside to allow us to focus on God and renew our souls. It was in the countryside, while watching the golden eagle fly overhead that I came to some understanding of my life and some of my troubles. I was able to come to grips with the fact that I am not what society expects me to be and that that is ok. I am who God has meant me to be, and I will always grow and change. Sometimes I am a better me than others, but I now work to always be the best me that I can be in a given circumstance.
The day before I left, a 6-month-old, female Chihuahua came in that had fallen off of a bed a few days before and had been given copious amounts of vodka (a common treatment in Mongolia – think coconut oil…). Cocoa came in with significant swelling of the brain with bulging between the eyes, torticollis, nystagmus, and the inability to stay upright. (insert picture of Cocoa) The primary doctor on the case came to me to ask for help. We worked through differentials and options. When I asked if they had mannitol, I was asked what mannitol was. When I asked if we could see if the human hospital/clinic had any, I was told they had already closed for the night. As an IV catheter was placed and furosemide was given, I went onto the emergency page on VIN to ask about options for treatment. I had to give a small laugh when I was asked if we could do a CT or MRI, or even get a blood pressure, or place on oxygen. No, these were not options. Meanwhile, the primary vet did make a telephone call to a central number that lets you know if a medication is anywhere in the country. Mind you, Mongolia is roughly the size of the USA east of the Mississippi River with less than 3,000 miles of road (4800 km). The chance of having access to the medication was not great. Next thing I knew, I was being handed a bag of mannitol that had been on the shelf at the corner pharmacy less than 2 blocks away. I called that a God moment! Seriously, when is the last time you saw mannitol on a pharmacy shelf not in a hospital? After a couple hours of treatments, Cocoa was sent home as we didn’t have 24-hour care, with instructions to return the next day. She returned the next day and throughout treatment, she began to improve a bit. By mid-afternoon, she began growling at me, so I figured she would do just fine. I flew home that night wondering what would happen to that little one. A week later, I asked for an update, and Cocoa was back to normal, or nearly there!
I have made friends of both staff and clients that I still keep in contact with to this day. When I am stressed and knocked down by the craziness that is veterinary medicine in the US, I think back to how my training saved lives and through training others, even more lives are saved. To think, in just a few months, I will again be heading out for month of “screen free Saturdays” on more than just Saturdays. Although, I will have access to the internet, the goal will be to disengage a bit online, so that I may be more engaged face-to-face. I find passion in missions and in helping others (human and animal). I recharge by sharing myself with no expectation of a return. It turns out that the return is even greater when you don’t expect it!
What is your passion?
How do you recharge?
Please, share your story. Who knows, you may inspire someone to step out of their comfort zone and experience life on a whole new level!!
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.