This first year of traveling to Big Corn Island was definitely an experience. This tiny island is not exactly easy to get to – after leaving our houses at approximately 4:30am, we arrived in Managua, Nicaragua in the afternoon, to prepare for the final leg of our journey. A huge part of the success of our first trip was making contacts with a group called NicaVets, who also travel in Nicaragua doing mission work on the mainland, as well as on BCI. This group of amazing people welcomed me into their world, and after a few phone calls and emails, agreed to let us borrow some of their surgical supplies and put me in touch with a Nicaraguan vet in their group, Dr Jasson, who would help me acquire our anesthetics and much of our medications. As you can imagine, bringing controlled drugs into a foreign country is frowned upon, so it was critical that we had someone we could count on to get us the supplies we needed!
Dr Jasson lives in Granada, which is about an hour and a half away from Managua – so once we landed, myself, Kira, and Shannon had planned to travel to Granada to pick up all of our supplies. There was a specific driver who was supposed to meet us at the hotel, but once we arrived, he was nowhere to be found and there was another driver who claimed to be there in his stead. Of course, I was ready to jump in and go, and will always remember Anne’s worried face as he backed out of the hotel parking lot and she stood behind the van snapping pictures of the license plate, so they would have something to go on when we were kidnapped.
Honestly, when you take a step back from the situation, it still gives me a chuckle. There we were, three young American women, jumping in a van with an unknown driver, taking off across Nicaragua, to meet up with a man I have never met, carrying cash with us to pick up and pay for anesthetics and drugs. Ah, memories. Luckily, the random driver man was honest, and after a fun-filled jaunt through the Nicaraguan countryside, we arrived in Granada and met Dr Jasson. We successfully loaded all of our supplies and drugs, and made it back to the hotel in one piece – much to Anne’s enormous relief.
The final leg of the journey was a flight from Managua to Big Corn Island on a tiny little plane that seats about 40 people through La Costena airlines. As we checked in, it was definitely a challenge of my Spanglish skills to explain what all of these random bottles and pills and instruments were for. ‘Doctora de veterinaria!’ ‘Por los perros y gatos – inferma!’ ‘Surgeria!’ With some fantastic miming of dogs and cats vomiting and having diarrhea, they got the idea and agreed to let us board with our supplies. As we landed, it was a great sense of relief that we were finally there!
The first day of our first clinic on BCI was a memorable one and I don’t think I can talk about this trip without talking about Scooby Doo. We arrived to our clinic the next morning and unloaded all of our stuff and got to work getting it organized and setting up make shift surgical tables and planning out how the clinic would flow that next day. Sometime around mid-morning a man popped his head in the front door and asked if we were seeing patients yet? We explained not yet, but he asked if there was any way we could help today? You see, there was a little dog who had been struck in the leg by a machete a few days before, and was not doing well. I immediately went into ‘save lives’ mode and started firing off a million questions about what happened and how it looked. The man didn’t know too many details, but exclaimed ‘I can take you too him if that would be easier?’ With an emphatic yes, I grabbed my stethoscope and jumped on the back of his scooter and off into the bush we went. Again, leaving Anne convinced that I was going to be kidnapped and she would have to explain to Tom how they let me ride off into the woods on the back of a scooter with a strange man!
Shawn was true to his word, and he took me to the house where Scooby Doo lived. We wandered through the house and out back until we found his owner, who escorted us to a small shed where he pointed inside. I hunched over and walked into the tiny, dark shed, and could just make out a small, brown dog huddled in a ball in the back corner under a work table. I got down onto my hands and knees to crawl towards him on the dirt floor, and he raised his head to look at me. ‘Hey buddy,’ I said softly, and he gave me one, sad wag of his tail. As I got close enough to see, this poor little guy had a wound so severe, that his right hind leg was dangling on by only a small amount of muscle and skin.
Out of the shed I flew, giving instructions to the owner to meet me at the clinic in one hour with Scooby, and we would fix his leg. I had no idea HOW I would fix it – being as it was a horrible, old, infected wound and I definitely did not have the supplies to amputate a leg….but yes, we had to fix it. Back at the clinic I launched into a description and we all agreed we had to help. It was as good a time as any to try out injectable only anesthesia for the first time, and to break in all of our supplies. I won’t go into too much detail here, as I don’t want to gross anyone out – but let’s just say that after about 2 hours, a lot of stress, the atypical use of nail clippers to cut bone, and just a few tears….Scooby Doo woke up less part of a leg, but also a whole lot more comfortable. Scooby’s family brought him back EVERY SINGLE DAY of the clinic so we could change his bandages and check on his wound. We received excellent follow ups on him too from our friends on the island, and he made a full recovery! His family also has come back to the clinic every single year with all of their pets, and it has been wonderful to see them each year and know that we convinced them vet care is necessary for their furry pets.
That first year was tough. We cried – a lot. It’s hard to see how different animals are cared for and treated there as compared to the United States. But we also touched a lot of lives, and started something that has meant a world of change for how those animals are treated on BCI – and we can see how our impact expands each year we go back. There is so much more to tell, but I’ll leave you with this - that first year in 4 days, our tiny team spayed/neutered 80 dogs and cats, and vaccinated or treated over 300 through our clinic. Not too bad for people who had never done something like this before.