As time goes on, I continue to think about my time in the Yukon Territory and Alaska. Though it was a short timespan, it was an experience that taught me many important lessons about veterinary medicine as well as outdoor survival skills. I thought I was quite outdoor savvy from my life in the rural Northeast US and Southern Africa, but the Yukon showed me a whole new realm of outdoor skills.
- The physical exam. Over the course of two weeks, my physical exam skills and flow changed dramatically. Assessing hydration status on hundreds of sled dogs at a checkpoint really fine-tuned my ability to evaluate how each dog was doing with regards to fluid balance. I feel like I have all the tools at my fingers to become a hydration evaluation master now, and assessing each patient’s hydration status is becoming second nature. The orthopedic exam also is becoming second nature, and the common orthopedic injuries that sled dogs can develop became easier and easier to recognize. I could see a dog with a slightly sore wrist from afar, and recognizing a dog with sore muscles over its entire body also became simple.
- Staying alive and keeping your finger/toes. It may seem odd to someone who has never been there, or someone who has lived there for their entire life, but surviving near the Arctic Circle is a different beast on its own. I couldn’t help but think about what we would do if our car broke down when we were traveling for 12+ hours on the lonely Alaska Highway when it was -40 degrees Fahrenheit outside, without the wind chill. How would we have stayed warm and survived? While proper equipment and clothing are essential, it is challenging to stay warm when doing veterinary work with sled dogs that require your best dexterity (meaning without gloves!). Maybe I just needed more time to get accustomed to the temperature, but it was really challenging for me to maintain warmth and blood flow to my fingers when we were working without gloves.