Sunday, November 20, 2011

A volunteers perspective - Dr. Alex Melrose (NZ)

4am. Up and go. Excitement tinged with apprehension provides a great counter to the call of sleep. Avoid the mirror, that’s why they call it a Red-eye flight.

It’s a quick flight, less than 3 hours, the temperature’s already hitting 25 when we hit the Tongan tarmac. Customs seem happy with our bulging suitcases. With 2 pairs of shorts and 3 t-shirts the remainder of the 25kg made up of copious donated supplies from Pfizer, Shoof and KahuVets. A declaration we are working with their ministry keeps them totally happy and we’re waved through to an enthusiastic, welcoming and overheating Karen.

Buy some water.

Into the rented Terrano and off we head, Dr Cathy and nurses Jo and Leanne complete the team. Lush fields, Taro and palms roll by. Roadside stalls sell fruit, veggies and fish every few hundred metres.
First stop, Kingdom Coffee, Jo and Vinnie Kupu. These guys are legends, a welcome local guiding light, nestled in the midst of their ultra-relaxing and amazing coffee plantation retreat.
Having someone on the ground that cares so deeply for animals and specifically to manage our SPAW clinics… Invaluable. 

The barbeques, the coffee, the smiles, the local contacts, the reception work and meet and greet at the clinic. Really oils the vet team machine.

Onto our digs. The green Lodge. Great location half way between where we will be working, and Nukualofa township. The place is massive, totally secure with security fencing and really clean and tidy. Way flasher than expected, 3 houses, 9 bedrooms, not fully used by this smaller team but perfect for future visits of vet and nurse teams. It was to be accompanied by its own special nightly concert of roosters, wildlife, dogs and church choirs. Decibels.

We unloaded some medicines, and 2 Minute noodles, set our snorkelling gear aside and headed back down the road towards the clinic.

We’d hired the empty doctor’s surgery at Glennis Marfys, again, a perfect setup, front-side parking, waiting room, reception, surgery room with observation window, and a consult room. 

The couple of hundred kg’s of supplies start to find their place on the shelves, and storerooms. We’re well stocked with all the basics thanks to our awesome sponsors. 

We take a group vote and speed off to the closest beach to cool down , a cliff-top café, coral swimming holes and mini blowholes await. Fan-bloody-tastic.

Back to Kingdom coffee for barbequed whole parrotfish, what a day! A couple of large bats zoom past. Day2. A quick breakfast and we speed over the potholes to kick off the clinic. Hand painted signs and radio ads have done their part and people start rocking up from 8am. 

Pico, a little puppy, short on height, but fully believing itself to be the alpha male, he bossed the other arriving patients around to his little heart’s content. Perhaps he thought we said he was to be tutored rather than neutered. We’ll help his owners later on with getting him to Australia upon their return.
A steady stream of locals and ex-pat kiwis and aussi’s swing on by. Some gut infections to be treated, fevers to be alleviated, pregnant cats to spey and lots of nervous dogs ready for their ops. We have an audience. Interested and super grateful. Man it’s hot. 

The ministry of Ag boss drops in to welcome us and wish us well and their small animal vet tech Nau joins the team. He’s one hell of a nice guy, skilled and a massive assist with communicating with local Tongans.
Cathy was taking the lead expertly, this being her second trip she knew all the routines that work best in this environment. When Dr Andy arrived the next day sharp as a tack it was my turn to pass down the routines. 

House call to a local home with 15 dogs were followed by visits to the Prison and School farms to check conditions for their very valuable pigs and chickens.

Throughout the week the antibiotics flowed, the scalpels whirred (in controlled fashion of course) , the suture packets emptied, and groggy pets were safely shipped back home. Somehow we managed to fit in swims, snorkels, a dive or two, great dinners and a huge supporters party at Jo and Vinnie’s Koffee Plantation and desex 180 dogs and see countless others for various ailments. Phew!

We left Andy and Jo to carry on the great work and sped to meet our flight literally from the beach to the airport. What an adventure. 

A unique experience. The hospitality on the island. The grateful owners. The daily challenges. The heat. The teamwork. The rescued pups. The community education. The glowing health of  animals treated on previous trips. Feels great.  

Alex .... (keen to get back to Tonga)

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