Veterinary Life in Alaska - 144 Hours - The End

Posted: Feb 4, 2013
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It’s day 5. My last day at Far Country Animal Hospital. In some ways it’s been a really long week, but I still can’t believe I’m done! Last night before leaving, one of the techs asked me if I’d be there in the morning because she had her first solo anesthesia then. You betcha! I’m excited that she asked and even more excited to be there.

So I arrived this morning and of course we had some minor setbacks (getting an IV catheter in? Hmmmm…) but we decided to put this patient on the anesthesia ventilator as well. Why not pack as MUCH information into one anesthesia as possible?! Everyone did great. The dog did great, anesthetist kept her cool, answered the questions, and knew what to do in case something went wrong. We even flipped on the ventilator and had a successful use! The rest of the day was more drug discussion and MATH. I believe we had a few breakthroughs… fluid additives, calculating fluid rates, percentages, dextrose, and how much drug to draw up. Keep practicing. I even managed to find a non-sterile sampling catheter to use to show them how to place that. Come on over DKAs, these guys are ready for you.

First veterinary anesthesia with ventilator

At the end of the day we did a CPR discussion. I gathered everyone together and ran through some scenarios using a “dog” made out of a folded in half cat bed and a hand towel head. The white tape ears is where I lost them, I think. We went over the new RECOVER stuff, made fun of my lack of crafty genes, and I headed upstairs to give the last lecture. We talked diabetes, thyroid, Addison’s, Cushings, blood transfusions, and CPR (kind of a catch-all day). The techs who were able to stay for the lecture then took me out for an evening in Palmer.

We went to the VHo (pronounced Vee-Ho) which is short for Valley Hotel. More precisely, we went to the Caboose Lounge. I had the halibut and chips (delicious, perfect amount of crunch and grease and fish) and we talked about how everyone ended up at Far Country Animal Hospital (no one is actually FROM Alaska) and some fantastic working interview stories like almost getting into the wrong car with a random stranger at the airport, and getting lost AND running out of gas in the boss’s new Subaru on the way from the hotel to the hospital. For an introvert, this was a really fun week of meeting new people and spending just a little bit of time with them outside of the hospital was a great way to end the week.

Tomorrow is snow machine day. While not technically a work day, it’s going to be worth reporting on how this lower 48 tourist handles a 700lb sled with an engine…

Day 6.

I’ve taken some some great showers in my lifetime. There was one after 4 days of camping in the Utah desert. Another one after an 18 hour stint working at the hospital and who knows HOW many critters peed on me. And now, the hot shower after a day of snow machining in Alaska. Today is my final day of this Alaska adventure, the one day set aside for doing something “Alaskan”.

Amazingly enough, it was too WARM to go where we had planned on going, so we had to drive north to the cold. After a trip to Dr. Whittington’s "gear shed" I was ready. I stood on the frozen ground while he tossed out gloves, coveralls, boots, gloves, a helmet, goggles, mittens, and hats. It takes a lot of gear to enjoy yourself in the winter! Thankfully (as I previously mentioned a few days ago) one of the techs loaned me her boots (rated to -60 degrees of protection!), I had the gloves and hat covered, and the rest was dug out of the gear shed. A down vest, coveralls, and a helmet. I got a quick lesson on the snow machine in the driveway (turning it on, how to make it go, stop, and most importantly, how to control the hand warmers) and we were off to Eureka where it was a cool 14 degrees.

It’s about a 2 hour drive from Palmer to Eureka right through the mountains. It was clear and sunny which made for a perfect drive. I now find myself running out of words to describe the beauty of this place. I knew that no picture would ever capture the depth and color and breathtaking views but I tried anyway. We passed a huge glacier and had plans to get out there on it but they hadn’t made the trail yet and I’m probably not the best person to take out on an unbroken trail. Being a city girl and all. So we continued to Eureka.

Alaskan scenery snow machining

In case you’re wondering – yes, you CAN tell the different between 25 degrees and 12. Just in the time it took me to put on the boots and coveralls I lost feeling in my fingers. All feeling. And I was wearing my liner gloves already. Once I got them warmed up I had to put on the snow machine helmet (apparently only tourists call them snow mobiles). That thing is like gearing up to fly an F14 fighter jet (negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full). Helmet on, face piece clicked over your nose and mouth... only slight claustrophobia here. It took me about 5 minutes. Not kidding. Then a few minutes of getting a feel for the machine on a frozen lake and we were off on the trail.

This whole snow machine thing is FUN. Holy cow. 25 MPH feels like 50, 30MPH feels like 80. It takes a bit of strength to turn, as my screaming muscles will tell you. It’s hard to remember that squeezing the handle, which one tends to do when you’re terrified and going fast, will only accelerate you faster. Luckily I’m a relatively fast learner. I got a few more lessons about going over lakes: if you see water GUN IT and get out. You won’t die or anything (my favorite thing to hear) but the skis can freeze to the ground and then I’d be persona non grata on the trip. Unfortunately the fog had rolled in by the time we started so everything looked white everywhere, but I could see the trail and the times we stopped it was SO quiet. We could have been on the moon. Stopped the snow machines, walked off the trail, collapsed in the snow and just sat… Amazing.

We made it to Monument Mountain (no view through the fog, but I could just FEEL it was really impressive) and we headed back to the truck. One more lesson (steep hill coming up, GUN IT and don’t hesitate and you won’t get stuck… uh, okay?) and I was ready. I had no idea that simply "riding" would be so much work. We had to stop a few times just to get the helmets off and cool down! And my muscles are now SORE. Turning one of those things at 25MPH takes some muscles, most of which I do not have and or use on a regular basis. By the time we were done I could barely make a fist or lift my arms past shoulder height. But I had FUN! And I went FAST! The last 20 minutes of the trail it finally all clicked in (PUSH into a turn, don’t pull. You’re welcome) and I was confident enough to scream around some of the corners.

The last evening was spent telling work stories and debriefing my week with Dr. Whittington before my Sunday morning flight home. I’m not ready to leave now. It’s an odd feeling for me, I’m ALWAYS ready to head home after a trip. But leave me somewhere for a week and I get attached! This was such a great experience for me and I hope equally as inspiring for the staff at Far Country. They have a great group of eager and talented people and it really was a pleasure to spend the week with them. I continue to be motivated by teaching and can’t believe that this is my JOB. I’m in the right place for what I love to do, and I’m thankful to get the opportunity to continue to teach through video, writing, speaking and coming directly to hospitals. It’s been a great week, can’t wait to do it again! And in case anyone offers, January in Alaska is the PERFECT time to visit. Trust me on this one. You’re welcome.