Friday 15th - Saturday 16th:
The start to the trip didn't begin smoothly, and as it transpired my fortunes weren't to change immediately. I was to be leaving immediately after my Zoo EMS, midway through a camel post-mortem the vet with me asks, with a smirk, whether I was planning to shower before heading off to the airport. The answer was no, as I was going to be in quite a rush to catch my train on time.
He kindly suggested I left a little bit earlier than planned. Faced with a mirror in the changing room, I realised why. My face was spattered with so much blood I looked as though I had starred as an 'extra' in Texas Chainsaw Massacre (slight exaggeration..). Thankfully – I had just enough time to shower before a member of the public could report a murder.
My train to Manchester airport was cancelled, consequently I had to dash through stations to make my 3, barely squeezing myself and 3 bags onto the final leg!
Myself and Dave, a new graduate from the RVC, travelled together to Dubai where we were to meet the rest of our motley crew! Olivia (organiser and nominated 'mother' of the group), Steve (zoo vet and partner of IZVG) and Millie and Pam, two of Henry Sheins most wonderful employees! We weren't to know then, but we were the dream team!
Our flight to Lusaka (Zambia) was delayed, in the vain attempt at making out connecting flight, myself and Dave were swept up immediately off the plane and as we ran across the airport, our passports and visa money whisked from our hands . Safe to say, we were refused at the gate; Dave was without passport and we had lost the rest of the group. After retrieving Dave's passport and our luggage, being reunited with our group and after numerous phone calls, we found ourselves en route to a lovely hotel. We couldn't complain, the rooms were immense and after a shower and dip in the pool, we had an incredibly entertaining night eating fried caterpillars, thanks Emirates!
Early the next morning, we began our journey to Livingstone... via Johannesburg. If you aren't hot on the geography of Lusaka, Johannesburg and Livingstone, trust me when I say it is NOT en route! 20 hours later than originally scheduled, we arrived in Livingstone to meet our driver, who would take us to the Zimbabwean border.
Tourist entry into both Zambia and Zimbabwe requires a visa, usually this can be bought as a combination, but both countries had ran out of 'stickers'. You cannot imagine the dilemma this caused.. Two hours in immigration at the Zimbabwean border. It was like two hours stuck on a London tube at rush hour with the heating on. In my irritatingly excitable state, I couldn't care much about the inconvenience (I was in Africa!!!) but, when we found out there were still 19 Japanese tourists still in front.. I did despair a little!
Finally Norbet, our driver, collected our sweaty, thirsty and hungry team and whisked us on our way... It wouldn't be Africa if a journey went smoothly, so we had a few pit stops first!
We check out Victoria Falls, which were spectacular, despite being the height of the dry season, then rapidly pressed on to visit a research vet based in Victoria Falls National Park, Dr. Chris Foggis. Here we were able to discuss some of his current research, briefly float some of WVI's future research plans past him and get some useful information on actually conducting research in Zimbabwe if you aren't local! We also go to meet ‘Judge’ the resident white backed vulture, who following an old wing injury cannot soar and lives at the centre. She only likes men.. I found out.
At 22:00 on sunday night, we finally made it to PDC, and thankfully food awaited us! Another vet, Gemma, arrived as part of a spontaneous trip, which soon became a week of volunteering instead. Now, it really is a small world afterall, as I had already met this vet. Last year she had given a talk at university about volunteering with her company, Worldwide Vets, something which I was desperate to do!
(Find out more about the placements Gemma offers on the Worldwide Vets website - all of them will be an excellent learning experience! Plus... they count for UK EMS!)
Childishly excited, but tinged with anxiety, we got ready to go. To cover the maximum of communities we decided to divide and conquer: Gemma, Olivia and I were ‘the Girls’ and the other team were rather inaccurately named ‘the Boys’ included Steve, Dave, Millie and Pam and the local government vet, Dr Dobie.
Since we arrived so late the night before, it was a little bit of a slow start but with a little help from Foggy, a lovely lady who has previously worked for PDC, the blue print or our clinic was formulated: one vaccinating and parasite treatment table, two operating tables together, and a bowl for prepping animals for surgery.
Although primarily here for neutering operations we saw ear infections, wounds, TVTs, fractures and mange. After midday we moved to our second site, on the side of a road lined by nosey baboon and another expectant queue. We were still pushing to get through the operations when I realised the light was dimming, reminding me that near the equator, the sun sets fast! So thankfully at this moment the Calvary arrived and we continued to operate by torch light (check out the slideshow above)!
Today was truly hectic. Non stop, unrelenting, never ending queues! Just travelling here was crazy - in the middle of nowhere, we travelled in the safari vehicle and genuinely at times I worried I might fly out of the open sides because the bumps and ditches threw me around so violently!
We even saw a young bull elephant along the roadside, so today was destined to be good!
Since we were a smaller team and efficiency was essential, I helped Olivia as anaesthetic and prep nurse. We made sure that catheters, premed, antibiotics, pain relief, shaving prep, instruments were cleaned such that poor Gemma didn't get a moments rest from operating! Luckily the boys had had quite the opposite day and came to help us by the early afternoon – invaluable help to start powering through numbers! We really began to feel we had a rhythm going and it was such good fun!
The entire school came today – maybe nearly a hundred students all peering over our shoulders, outlining the tables and then they sang and danced and played - which was lovely to watch, even if I was feeling the pressure to work fast! It was a shame we were so busy as it would have been nice to have given more time to them!
The girls teams fortunes change – today we had a steady trickle of patients, we got time to sit down, we actually drank a reasonable amount of water and this time when Peter (director of PDC) came to see how we were getting along, we were actually able to sit and speak with him rather than being hands deep in abdomen! We were so quiet that by 15:30 we called it a day and went on a tour of the rehabilitation centre, visitor centre and a cheeky game drive complete with sundowners (consisting of 1 can of lilt and some spare cheese and crackers!) in the African bush followed by cocktails at the nearby safari lodge! On the drive we saw a large hard of buffalo (50+), some zebra, lilac breasted roller, impala and a large troop of baboon playing along the watering hole! It was the most beautiful time of day, the African sunset was everything I ever hoped it could be!
The final day had arrived, and I felt a melting pot of emotions: pride, sadness, relief and exhaustion. It had been the most incredible experience of my life, but equally the constant barrage of people and operating (particularly as a student) in the bush with a huge audience was most definitely out of my comfort zone, but equally, it had been so uplifting to meet so many amazing individuals and see how much they care for their animals!
As apparently is PDC tradition, the farewell feast to visitors is a BBQ and a mighty good one it was! Thursday night turned to Friday with a few celebratory glasses of wine.. which swiftly became a few bottles, at 0230 I was defeated and left the final three stragglers (Steve, Gemma and Millie) to continue the frivolities!
0500 came around far too quickly, but in my still semi-drunk state, I leapt out of bed to get ready for my long awaited game drive! I had been banging on about going on a drive all week, so I think everyone else was looking forward to me shutting up about it. How wrong they were… instead I just went on about how wonderful it was! Gemma thought it very entertaining how easily pleased I was to see any amount of wildlife - before we arrived at the park, we saw a herd of elephant along the roadside hidden in deep bush, a troop of baboon, a common duiker and some vervet monkey - it was almost like a teaser trailer for a great movie!
Game drive over - back on the road for the long, long, journey home!