The Hazards of a Travelling Vet

Once the cat is out of the bag so to speak I (Wendy – MD of Unicorn Trails) am often asked for veterinary advice while abroad. Often in very remote places where it is often impossible to find a vet and sometimes on very strange subjects (and we won’t even go into the human health subjects I am seen as being qualified to advise on!)

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Through the ears of a Marwari in India

The first time I can remember was when I was backpacking through India as a new graduate. At a small market near Jodhpur, Rajasthan I was browsing some bracelets and shawls when the owner struck up a conversation and, one hearing I was a vet, offered to give me goods in exchange for advice on his flock of chickens which had been sickening. I was horrified, well conscious of the fact I had only scraped by on avian health and avoided seeing chickens in favour of horses throughout my time at vet school. However my companion pointed out that my worst knowledge was probably light years ahead of anything else available to the stall holder and I had soon reached a tentative diagnosis of red mite infestation and dispensed some advice in exchange for a rather nice shawl.

Removing a tumor in Mozambique
Removing a tumor in Mozambique

Since then I have graduated to extracting dog teeth in Mexico, lancing abscesses on horses in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, a full general anaesthetic and eye operation on a horse in Mozambique (with telephone assistance from a UK horse specialist at a mobile phone cost of £324!) and the more common wound management/shoeing advice in many places. All with few drugs, a lot of enthusiastic but clueless assistance and no option to refuse as the alternative would be unthinkable. One farmer said he would operate himself on the horse himself if I did not as it would die if we did nothing, harsh but the truth. It is always humbling to reflect on how lucky we really are at home as pet and livestock owners to have easy access to veterinary advice and, as vets, to have access to the best drugs, in date and stored correctly so they don’t lose potency. I’ve realised that the little I do is valued far more highly when delivered in a remote place and where there is no other choice. It is real “bush practice”, a bit nerve wracking but extremely rewarding. And no-one ever complains about waiting 10 minutes!


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