Saturday, July 30, 2011

Are we done yet?

So far our first day has included:  A jungle hike to the zipline.  Ziplining and hiking quickly back to catch our boat to work.  Learning how to set up a mobile hospital and spaying/neutering 19 animals.  Shopping in a village shop for souvenirs.  Repacking all of our equipment and loading back into the boat to go back to the lodge to relax.  Well, that's what we thought!  After a beautiful boat ride along the river, we arrive at the lodge.

Kendall and I enjoying the boat ride back to the lodge.

A tranquil setting.

The dock at the lodge.

Everyone helps to unload the boat and now it's time to clean instruments and surgery drapes so they will be ready for us to use tomorrow morning.  Of course the Amazon Cares staff, being polite, tell us they can do the cleaning and we can rest.  Nice try, but they aren't getting rid of us that easily.  So once again, we want to help. But where is the washing machine and where is the sink for washing instruments?  We all grab some of the stuff and start following our coworkers.  Wait a minute, we are going back to the river.  Here we get in a small canoe 2 at a time and paddle to a little dock.  It was just about 20 feet away, but I somehow managed to paddle us into some bushes.  Needless to say, my paddling privilages were revoked.

The hut in the background is the laundry.

Once on the dock, which has a thatch roof over half of it, I realize that we are in the lodges laundromat.  You have the open air side to wash the clothes and the covered side to keep the clothes dry from the almost daily rains.  We find large tubs and fill them with river water and Harri pours in some powder detergent.  And I do mean alot of detergent!  Debby and I put the surgery drapes in to start soaking.  A few minutes later, we put our hands in to start the scrubbing process and are surprised to find that the soap has actually heated up the water.  Maybe our detergent does that too.....I can't say I've done much hand washing in the past.....50 years.  As we all get comfortable sitting on the dock, we have some people washing instruments, some washing drapes and some hanging things up to dry.

The entire team cleaning instruments and drapes.

The social hour - doing laundry in the river.

 You must be thinking how awful this sounds after a long, hot day of hard work.  I agree!!  It doesn't sound like fun.  But, picture this;  sitting on a dock with a beautiful river view while trying to communicate with your new spanish speaking friends.  Fish are jumping out of the water.  Parrots and other beautiful birds are flying overhead.  Local people , who are always quick to give the gringos a wave of greeting, are out fishing in their canoes.  And a few wet drapes thrown at each other just to keep everyone on their toes.  I don't know about you, but suddenly my washing machine seems very plain and boring.  Now we are finally done!!


Local people out in their canoe.

 Oh wait, we still aren't done.  Someone has to pack the surgery packs for the next day.  Okay, so back to work for just a little longer.  We paddle back to shore (they still wouldn't give me back the paddle) and head to the lodge.  There we find a small table that can be used for wrapping packs.  Not much room for all of us to help, so the ones that know what they are doing start wrapping and I took photos of them working.  (It's almost like helping!).  Now we are finally done!!!

Packing the surgery instruments.

 And just in time for dinner.  We all sit together at a table and enjoy the food.  Now still very hot and tired, I can't tell you how good a cold beer tasted.  I am not a beer drinker, but beer is about the only drink that is actually served really cold.  And really cold tastes awfully good when your really hot.  Dinner consists of much food, much laughter and looking at photos that we have taken of each other throughout the day.  Strange to actually talk with someone while eating dinner instead of watching the TV.  We enjoy a nice leisurely meal and then our guide Christian is back with us. 

Chatting around the dinner table.

It seems that it is time to go on a night hike and see what we can find out in the jungle.  So, off to find some rubber boots to fit each of us.  In addition to wearing the rubber boots, he reminds us that long pants, and long sleeves are a good idea because of the mosquitos.  No problem, we are prepared and ready to go.  Most of us have a headlamp or a flashlight to help us see along the way.  As we slowly walk through the forest, there is life all around us.  The variety of insects and spiders is amazing.  Our guide stops and tells about each thing we find and lets us take photos of these strange looking creatures.

It is a beautiful night for a long stroll through the Amazon Rainforest......but what is this, a few little drops of rain?  No big deal, we can handle a little sprinkle.  And then suddenly, the sky opens and buckets of rain are falling on us.  And when I say buckets, I don't mean those little buckets we use around the house.  I'm talking about 55 gallon barrels of water being dumped over your head one after another.  Quickly we trying to get our cameras under our shirts for some protection.  We are soon soaked and there is nowhere to escape the rain as we are already under the canopy of the forest. On the positive side, we are no longer hot, sweaty and sticky, now we are a little chilly and soaked to the skin. So, we begin the hike back to the lodge at a slightly quicker pace.  There is nothing we can do except laugh and try and push each other into streams of water running off of leaves as large as a person.  Of course, the funniest part was that not one of us was smart enough to take a rain jacket into the rainforest.  Including our guide!  We arrive back at the lodge and this adventure has led to another wonderful photo opportunity.  And the end of our first day as a volunteer with Amazon Cares.  We are finally done!
Note to self:  Next time you go into the rainforest, take a raincoat.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Work Day 1 with Amazon Cares

We arrived back at the lodge from our early morning hike and zip line adventure.  It was 8:30 am and our coworkers were waiting for us.  The boat was loaded with all of the equipment that we would need for our first day of work in the jungle.

Our boat loaded and headed to a village for work.

 We arrived at a small village called "El Chino".  We unloaded all of the equipment and the portable cages and carryed them to a pavilion in the village.  This was our hospital for the day.  The wonderful news was that we were working under a shade and there were no walls, so we also got an occassional little breeze.  The crew from Peru started setting up and arranging the "hospital"  as we stood there wondering what we should be doing.  We felt pretty useless and we were all wishing that we could communicate more effectively with our spanish speaking coworkers.  Eventually everything was set up and ready to go.

Harri, Betty and Luis start unpacking and setting things up.
School children came to watch us set up.

Kendall watching the hospital being put together.

Quickly, the people started arriving.  Some people were just interested in watching us, but others were bringing their pets with them.  As each pet arrived, we had to get some information from the owners and determine if the pet was having surgery or receiving treatments.  Each pet then received a temporary paper collar.

Bruno checking people in to the clinic.
Betty began doing treatments on the pets that were not having surgery.  She did an examination and treated each pet for internal and external parasites.  Some pets also required other minor treatments such as cleaning wounds. 

Betty (on the far right) treating a dog.
The first dog needing surgery arrived.  Harri and Luis got to work prepping while our technicians watched and learned the techniques that they would be using in our mobile hospital.  Each pet was preanesthetized and then a catheter was placed and the syringe of anesthesia inserted and taped into place.  An endotracheal tube was placed in each dog and held in place by leashes (that we thankfully brought with us).  The abdomen (or flank in some cases) was then soaped and shaved with a straight razor.  Needless to say, the straight razor was initially very intimidating to our technicians who were used to using cordless clippers. Once prepared for surgery, the animal was carried to the surgery table and given a final scrub before surgery.

Luis and Harri inserting a catheter.
Inserting the trach tube.
Using the straight razor.

The final scrub

Finally time for the surgery to begin.  The surgery table was a short wooden table covered in plastic.  There were no v-trays but we improvised with rocks wrapped in trash bags.  And no electonic monitoring equipment, but our technicians were well prepared with stethoscopes and wrist watches. 

Luis neutering a cat

Kendall spaying a dog.
Kendall's first surgery was a huge frustration for him.  The surgery took much longer than his normal spay would take (which after 20+ years of experience wasn't very long).  There were many different things to get used to there in the jungle.  First the improvised surgery table that were very low and did not tilt.  After one surgery, his back was already killing him.  Then learning how to properly administer the injectible anesthesia took a little trial and error.  Oh yes, and they didn't use (or have) scalpel handles.  They just held the blade with their fingers and started cutting.  The lighting was terrible with the only light  provided by your headlamp. Most of their equipment was old and no longer functioned as well as what we were used to using.  All of these difficulties combined made for a long and frustrating first surgery for our team.  Once our first surgery was finished, it was time to make some changes.  First change:  fix the surgery table.  This meant finding some way to raise and tilt the table.  

A much better surgery table.
   Okay, that problem was easily fixed.  Although the other doctors were amazed that he was going to do surgery on this table.  Now things suddenly seemed so much more familiar and started to move along in a much better fashion.  After a few surgeries our technicians and our doctor had the hang of the anesthesia and they were getting used to the equipment.  Now we were working!! We hesitated for a moment to admire the view from our surgery window.  We had a beautiful view of the river.  And in a tree just across the river we were being watched by a sloth.  What an amazing place. 

The surgeries were getting done and it was time to start recovering them.  After surgery, each animal was brought into the recovery area.  As soon as they could swallow, the trach tube was removed.  When they started to wake from the anesthesia, they were treated for external parasites.  This was done before they were completely awake for our safety in handling them. They continued to be monitored until they were sternal and able to swallow a medication to treat them for internal  parasites.  Then they were put back into one of the cages until completely awake.  We only had four portable cages, so there were alot of dogs in each cage together.  This was another strange concept for us.  In our hospital in Idaho, dogs were never allowed to be in contact with each other for health and safety reasons.  Amazingly there were very few incidents with the dogs not getting along.  The cats were recovered in much the same way however; they recovered much more slowly.

Dogs recovering from surgery.  There is a cat recovering in the blue crate.

One of our guides from the lodge helped to recover the cats.
Interesting to note:  She was wearing jeans and jacket and she was not sweating.
 We were dripping in sweat in shorts and scrub shirts.
Waiting for the cats to wake up.
Awake enough to go back into a cage.

I don't know what time it was when Bruno told us to go eat lunch, but we could not seem to find a good time to stop working.  We decided to wait and eat lunch when we were finished for the day.  On our first day, we did 19 surgeries (5 cats, 14 dogs).  I don't know how many treatments Betty did, but she had a line of people at her table all day.  We were hot and we were tired!  We cleaned up part of our mess and then took a break to finally have lunch.  And after lunch, the women of the village gathered  together to show us some of the crafts that they had made.  Needless to say, we left with more stuff and less money than when we came that morning.  

Always plenty to eat.

Even the guys did some shopping.

We were well fed and had enjoyed spending a little money in the craft shop.  Time to return and get everything packed and back in the boat.  Our work day was coming to an end.  After everything was packed, we took a few minutes to share some whistles that we had brought with us.  One of the wonderful things was watching not just the children, but even the adults be so intrigued with something as simple as a whistle. 

Everyone wanted a whistle.

Catching food for the family and enjoying his whistle.

We walked back to the boat and started back to the lodge. As we pulled out into the river, we left the village to the sound of whistles being blown.  A nice relaxing boat ride and our first day was coming to an end.  It was ending so much better than it had started.

The stairs that went from the river to the village were quite a challenge.

Happy to be headed back to the lodge.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Volunteering for Amazon Cares.

We spent a quiet night at the Tahuayo Jungle Lodge in preparation for our first day of work.  Day 1 started very early, 5:30 am and we were off hiking through the jungle to get to the zipline. 

Yes, it is a work day, but we got up early, so we could play before work.  And, play we did.  After getting on our harnesses, we had the choice of using ascendors to pull ourselves up to the platform or letting the guides pull us up.  Needless to say, I took the easy way up. Which really wasn't that easy for me, as I have a terrible fear of heights.
(That's me taking the easy way up)

(Justin and Shannon chose the ascendors)

As we get to the top platform setting 100 feet up in the canopy, our wonderful guide Christian smiles and says " I hope no one is afraid of heights".  I meekly smile and say "well, yes I am terrified of them", but I can do this.  His response is "no worries, just trust me and trust the equipment".  Yes, he seems very confident and comfortable up here.  I am certain that everything will be fine.  The view is mystical as we look through the early morning haze. 

(We all make it to the top)
(A quick hug for my son, just in case I don't survive)

One by one we go to the edge of the platform and are securely attached to the zipline by a carabiner.  The first couple of people make it successfully to the next platform.  No screaming, no bodies dangling from the zipline....all good things for me.  As I sit on the edge (not looking down), Christian again speaks to me in that comforting way of his. He gently reminds me that he will count to three and I just need to slide off the platform and the zipline will do the rest.  And, if I don't go on the count of three- no worries- he will just give me a shove.  This was just what I needed to hear to make me laugh and to decide that I would rather gently slide off the platform on my own.  I closed my eyes, said a short prayer and leaning forward went zooming across the zipline. 
(Yes, it's me and I didn't even scream)
I opened my eyes and on the platform waiting for me were my friends and my son.  Looking ahead and around (but never down), I was taken with the view and the beauty of the moment and forgot all about how high up I was in the canopy.  Next  platform, no problem just watch me go.

(Justin waiting at the platform)

  (Anthony on the zipline with our kind guide Christian behind him)
Back on the ground, we hiked very quickly back to the lodge.  The boat was already loaded and waiting for us as we were 30 minutes late returning.  Luckily for us, we were in South America where 30 minutes late really isn't late at all.  So, after an exciting start to the day, we were finally off to work.