I have known Dr. Saria ever since I came to her as a fresh faced intern during the summer of 2010 working at her previous hospital in Waterbury. After spending last summer running around the rainforests in Belize, Central America treating a variety of wildlife from barn owls to crocodiles, I felt it was important to spend my last summer before the dreaded veterinary school application cycle returning to my roots in order to gain more experience in the small animal field. Besides being a talented doctor and surgeon whom I had worked with in the past, Dr. Saria also offered something that others could not: the opportunity to take medicine on the road with her mobile practice. Over the course of my summer working with the Gold Coast team, I have picked up two valuable skills that will not only help me as I pursue my dream of becoming a veterinarian, but also help me as I continue to walk along the road of life.
Lesson 1: Open Your Ears
An impulsive person by nature, my dad often calls me “the whirlwind” because I am in a constant state of movement and unrest, always looking forward to the next task and trying to do too much at once. Over our four months together, Dr. Saria would constantly encourage me to wait and listen, not only to the things she said, but to everything owners say as well. A dog can’t tell you exactly where it hurts, but the owner will always give valuable information that can become crucial to your eventual diagnosis.
One advantage of performing home visits is the ability to see the environment the animal lives in. Not only are the animals more comfortable, but owners are often more at ease as well. For example, while visiting a home with a twelve year old male tabby cat, I listened as the owner explained her cat’s fondness for eating bananas while the doctor performed her physical exam. After returning to the van to run blood work, we were shocked when the cat’s potassium levels were extremely elevated. As in coma-inducing, life-threatening levels of elevation. These results were baffling considering the cat appeared perfectly healthy and alert (he tried to bite us and everything). As we ran through ideas of further tests to run as well as the potential diagnosis and treatment options, something that the owner had said hit me. Bananas. Cats are strict carnivores by nature and would never eat something like a banana in the wild. Considering we had never come across a banana loving cat before, perhaps the fruit that is known for containing high levels of potassium could be the culprit of the elevated blood test readings. Sure enough after running a urine analysis to check for the possible formation of stones that could block the urethral tract, the results came back clean. A perfectly healthy cat. This case made it clear that hearing what others have to say (no matter how seemingly trivial the detail) is essential to not only medicine, but also life.
Lesson 2: Pay it Forward
I would not call myself a selfish person. I volunteered at an animal shelter for over four years, I tutored kids at the local elementary school, and I’m an organ donor. However, for all the good things I think I’ve done, it has became clear to me that my acts of charity pale in comparison to the things that Dr. Saria does. I have accompanied her on various trips to local humane societies and shelters where we’ve spent close to an entire day performing health checks, spays, neuters, and various other services at a reduced price. Non-profit shelters run entirely on donations often making vet care an additional costly expense. Knowing this, Dr. Saria goes out of her way to ensure that these shelters are able to provide the highest quality care to their animals, while being able to keep their heads above water financially.
In my opinion, some of the most important work that we do happens the first Tuesday of every month at the PT Barnum housing projects in Bridgeport. While there we provide free physical exams and vaccinations to the pets of the local residents. What comes as a small price for us makes a big difference in the lives of those less fortunate. Experiencing the charity work that Gold Coast partakes in has helped me realize that some of the greatest rewards in life come when we stop worrying about ourselves and start to help others instead.
As I move on with my life, I only hope that one day I can continue to expand upon the foundations I have learned working with Gold Coast and remember to always listen to others while doing my own part to reach out to the community. I have many more years of learning and studying, along with a multitude of dog bites and cat scratches to endure, but I know I will always carry the memories of a special summer where I was able to partake in the ultimate road trip in a surgical van traveling the state ready to assist the pets-and the people-who need our help.