Since I’ve been back in the United States, I found it hard to talk about my experiences in Belize. As incredible as they were, I knew that even if I described them for hours and hours, nobody would really understand how they changed me and how they made me feel. Of course, everyone can realize the weight of the educational advantages of this trip. However, my friends and family here could not truly imagine how I felt visiting those local farms/ranches, speaking to the locals, walking through San Ignacio. I found myself very thankful that Dr. T had us write day-to-day blogs, and I was also thankful that I captured my experiences on this blog, as well. It’ll definitely help me immortalize the experience for myself so that the humility and inspiration that hit me in Belize would not fade easily. As for now, I am bursting with inspiration to succeed with the tools I have received from my study abroad!
The first sheep farm that we went to today, I was a little frazzled. The sheep were much rowdier than the ones from Friday. Luckily, I definitely got a hand of it by the end. I never handled sheep before Belize, so after handing such a rowdy herd, I felt proud. Even the uncastrated males at the breeding facility acted more calmly than any of the sheep at the rowdy farm. The breeding facility was cool to visit. I definitely haven’t had to deal with a lot of biosecurity issues at school since we’re only working at one farm at a time, which is already open to the public. It was a lot more stressful than it should’ve been for me to clean my boots. I was really scared the foam was going to turn pink. But it ended up being fine, and I got in. I never really thought about how important herd genetics and getting pure breeds in your herd is, and it made me appreciate a facility like this a lot more. The worker told us about how they just received Dorsets from Illinois, and they had to be quarantined for 40 days after arrival. It also cost them about $4,000 per sheep to get them here. However, after today, I was very proud of myself for becoming a much better and comfortable handling sheep, even in the worst situations of getting kicked in the stomach and thrown into walls.
Horses still make me nervous, but I definitely feel myself getting better at handling them and giving them vaccines/physical exams after today. We visited a gorgeous horse farm where the horses just roam leisurely next to a beautiful huge estate with dogs running around playing. Surrounded by beautiful tropical mountains and forests, this farm really was the dream. When we were taken horseback riding, the view of the area from the mountaintop was breathtaking. I only wish I remembered how tiring horseback riding was. I rode a mule named Salsita, and I loved her. I had a lot of fun, especially when she trotted, but I got tired really fast on the way down from the mountain. I definitely have a new appreciation for people who regularly horseback ride. Afterwards, Ruben brought us to cave canoeing, where we explored a cave that the Mayans once believed was the entry to the underworld. The cave was so massive and beautiful, but it definitely was unsettling knowing that human sacrifice was once preformed there. We then had fun swimming in the water outside the cave for a bit before heading back home.
I definitely have a soft spot for pigs so I was excited for today. I was able to do another castration today. I’m realizing that I’m pretty comfortable handling pigs and getting things done with them. I had never seen a castration of a boar that wasn’t a piglet, so seeing that larger castration was super cool, as well. In the US, to avoid boar taint and aggressive male behavior, we rarely don’t castrate boars unless we need to replace a boar. And the process to choose which boar to raise is pretty selective and thought through. I don’t really understood why we castrated the boar when it probably already had boar taint in its meat, but it might’ve been inconvenient to keep the boar uncastrated. Doing surgery outside with the dog out on a turned over plastic tub in front of the whole family is starting to not be off-putting to me. I’ll definitely never forget these outdoor surgeries when I’m in the super sterile OR with all the monitors and all the extra equipment. I’m glad we had one more chance to see more dog spay/neuters before leaving Belize. I’m beginning to mentally prepare myself for going back to the US. Belize was so eye-opening, going back to regular life is going to be a little hard.
I can’t believe today was the last day of class. I’m speechless. People would tell me that it would all go by so fast, and they were so right. It was a nice day, today, even if it was hot. I rarely worked with beef cattle before Belize, let alone with Brahmans, so it was definitely exciting to really get into that today. The palpation lab last week was the only other time I worked with beef cattle. Today we vaccinated the cattle for rabies and black leg and injected them with dewormer and vitamins. At this point, I was barely nervous at all when learning what to do. I think the biggest thing this course has brought out of me is to jump out of my comfort zone. A large difference between the US and Belize is the injection spot for cattle. Any animal used for meat is given injections near the neck subcutaneously in the US to minimize damage to the meat. However, we gave all our injections today IM in the hindside of the cattle. I was one of the two people who were able to help Dr. T castrate the stallion on the farm today. I was definitely more nervous to go into this procedure than any other procedure because 1) I definitely have hesitations about working with horses and 2) he was taking a long time to become sedated and kicking a lot. But he eventually became more sedate and I held the testicle as Dr. T worked. The coolest part was that the horse was a cryptorchid so he only had one testicle that was descended, which I had never seen before. When the other testicle descends in a few months, he will have to get it castrated, as well.
Today was the most fun day of all the days. It’s been my favorite day so far. I had a moment today, a big moment, where I realized that following my hunch about doing large animal medicine was such a good decision. We spent the morning on the pig and sheep farm, wrangling them for their vaccines. I was one of the lucky four people to perform a pig castration today. I had wanted to try my hand at performing one for so long, and I was finally able to do it! It was pretty similar to how castrations are done in the US, except the pigs are not held upside down. It was definitely pretty fun though to be able to hold a scalpel and perform the procedure. I also found out that I was actually really good at wrangling a 100 lb pigs. The first time I tried, I definitely was not good at it, scared, hesitant, and it took a really long time. By the second time, I felt like a pro. And every time, I just wanted to keep going in there and do it. I felt so comfortable so fast. I had done vaccines on pigs before but it was still nice to brush up on those skills. There were some definite differences between the Belizean facility and the US facilities I’ve seen. I had never handled sheep before, but after handling the pigs, it was a piece of cake. I was so thankful for this entire experience today. Being so comfortable with what I was doing, given the opportunity to try these procedures and give these vaccines at this point in my life and education, I was able to have that moment of clarity. I know now with certainty that I’m definitely in the right field. Afterwards, Ruben took us to a beautiful waterfall where we swam for a few hours. The river even had those little fish that ate the dead skin off your toes!
The clinic today was a once in a lifetime, incredible experience that was very stressful but exciting. We opened up a one-day community clinic for spays, neuters, and general health checks that included deworming and vitamin injections at a nearby town called Cristo Ray. In my US clinic job, a busy day would include 4 surgeries and maybe 20+ appointments. On Saturday, we did around 20 surgeries and over 40 general health checks. Of course, there’s a lot of corners that are cut to make the day the most efficient day. Surgeries are done very differently here to preserve resources and time to save clients on cost. The entire day was extremely exhilarating, and I’m stoked that I got to suture dogs closed by myself after surgery. The biggest lesson was efficiency, though. By the end of the day, me and Safa had become absolute pros at getting heart rates, weights, respiratory rates, and temperatures on dogs. Either way this was an incredible experience that allowed me to practice a lot of skills and get proficient at them. I felt very fulfilled to help the people of Cristo Ray get their animals checked out and fixed. I already had a feeling that once I became a vet, I would want to do Veterinarians Without Borders. This experience definitely reinforced that hunch of mine.
Today was our free day, and Ruben took us to an island 30 minutes off of Placencia where we spent the entire day lounging, snorkeling, eating, and getting incredibly sunburnt. Although the boat ride was scary and super rainy, it was so so so much fun. The sky cleared, and the water was bright turquoise. Just a few minutes into being on the island, Ruben spotted a couple lobsters in the water, and his friend hooked them in. We ate those for lunch, and I had never tasted better fresher lobster! We even spotted another one while snorkeling and brought it to shore, too! During snorkeling, seeing the coral, I was so in awe. We saw a huge starfish and so many beautiful fish that were straight out of Finding Nemo. The entire day was pure paradise :). When we came back to Placencia, we got the best milkshakes and ice cream in the world before heading back to San Ignacio.
Today, We visited several farms to vaccinate their horses, which we were able to do ourselves! I’ve worked with horses in the past however it felt completely different to be able to vaccinate and conduct a physical exam practically on my own. I definitely learned a lot more about the culture through seeing how the farms were managed and speaking to the farm owners. However shocking and exciting those experiences were, they did not compare to the pick-up truck dog spay that Dr. T did later. Between the food, the people, and the shocking differences in veterinary practices, I am fully feeling the Belize culture and lifestyle. I can definitely see the benefits in the way that Dr. T runs his practice and does his surgeries. People aren’t able to afford a surgery in which their pet is hooked up to a million monitors in a completely sterile OR. A midline cut surgery is also not ideal when the animal will remain outdoors, lying on the ground, throughout its recovery. So although these differences are shocking at first, they make complete sense in the context of Belize.
I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the food, trying new things, and ownING IT! This morning, I palpated a cow’s reproductive system for the first time in my life, and I was able to determine that she was not pregnant by the feel of the cervix. Everyday, I’m gaining more and more respect for everyone around me who’s teaching me these new procedures. I also had never met a Brangus cow or done injections in cows before, so today was a lot of firsts. But I did feel like I really enjoyed working with cattle! At the clinic I worked at, we would always send fecal samples to get fecal flotation tests done. Today, at the BAHA lab, I was able to finally see what that test actually was. The lab was fun in that it unveiled that curtain about lab diagnostics for me. Learning the blood smear technique was also fun because I never understood what was a successful smear vs. an unsuccessful smear in the US.
Although our original plan was to go to bed at a ripe 9:00 PM to get enough sleep before the dairy class, Safa and I had an unexpected and very unwelcome roommate the night before. A scorpion (~4 inches long!!!) had gotten into our room, and my entire bed had to be taken apart in the search to find it again. Thankfully, the scorpion was found, but it had gotten really late already. This morning, though, we got up on time. There was something about the mist and the fog on the hills of Belize at 5 in the morning that I feel like I’ll never forget. The dairy farm owner was cute old man who taught us about the California Mastitis Test, how he milked cows, how he built up his farm from one heifer, how he fed his cows, upon other things. I loved how he wanted us to truly know his thought process with every decision and every development of his farm that he narrated. Because of the climate (hot and humid), Belize dairy farms can only really produce 40 lbs per cow on the high end, which makes for dairy farming to be pretty unpopular. He was able to maximize his milk production and keep the cows a bit more adapted to climate through making them almost entirely Holstein with a little bit of Brahman. My favorite part of the morning was drinking the raw milk, and also, I liked watching Letty drink it straight from the teat haha. A little stomach ache later is nothing compared to the cool experience of being on a dairy farm in Belize and tasting fresh milk like that.
It seems surreal to finally be in Belize, and it definitely doesn’t feel like I’ve only been here not even 3 days. I already feel so at home with the people that I’ve met so far, and I already consider Midas a second home.
On Day 2, we had a free day, which is when we visited the Xunantunich Mayan ruins. Although the hike was long, hot, and humid, the view was 100% worth it. We had the most amazing luck that day because we were able to see a family of Howler monkeys, up close and personal. While exploring San Ignacio, we walked along the main streets, ate craboo ice cream, and window shopped to our hearts content.
On Day 3, it was our first day of classes! We met Dr. T and Reuben at the Paw’s Veterinary Clinic, who taught us different sutures on chicken legs and then on their patients (dogs who had come in for a spay)! Dr. D from BAHA also gave us an engaging lecture about how animal diseases are regulated in Belize. There was so much that I learned just by the lectures and the surgeries today that is so different from anything I learned back at home. It makes me incredibly excited about the next lessons we have planned.