Sarah Harmon, after completing a neuter surgery
at the free clinic in Ometepe, Nicaragua.
The IVSA’s annual service trip to Nicaragua kicked Sarah Harmon’s butt. Her initial blog post about the trip reads, “First day of clinics was hard, hot, rewarding and sad.” But she still wants to go back.
Although Ometepe is a tropical jewel in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, it is largely undeveloped and very poor. The people there rely on their animals for food, work and transportation, yet there is no veterinary hospital on the island and many of the domestic animals suffer from disease and malnutrition.
That’s why, every fall for eight years in a row, a dedicated group of volunteers from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, with assistance from the International Veterinary Student Association, have set up a free clinic on Ometepe.
With no major town on the island, people live in small, scattered villages. In one of those villages, down a cratered, dirt road, the OSU team set up a makeshift clinic on the cracked concrete floor of an old industrial building. “We called it the barn,” says Harmon, “but it really wasn’t a barn. It looked like they built boats there. It had a lot of cranes and lifts.”
The hard, physical labor of setting up a clinic began with unloading surgery tables stored by the IVSA from previous visits. The team repurposed old, rickety picnic tables left in the barn as intake desks and microscope stations. Then equipment and supplies were unloaded, and they started getting organized. “We set up stations based on how the animals would move through the clinic: diagnostics was followed by induction, and then by surgery and recovery so they moved in a circle,” says Harmon. Almost immediately, the patients start arriving. “The clinic is advertised through word of mouth. The people were so happy we were there.”
Because there were fewer volunteers this year than in the past, many clients had a long wait for treatment. “The majority of the people were poor farmers working their land, and they sat there for hours, from morning until night,” says Harmon. “It was amazing.”
This year the clinic treated a lot of horses and pigs. One of Harmon’s biggest challenges was understanding and accepting the local attitude toward these animals. “We had this young pig that had a broken leg. The cost of that pig to the family was huge, it’s their food. We had to stabilize him, give him meds, and send him home. That was hard for me; here in America we would have euthanized him. But you have to accept that they need these animals to survive.”
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