My STEP Signature Project was a service-learning trip to Costa Rica through Vida Volunteer. The goal of the trip was to provide low-cost spay and neuter surgeries, as well as general physical exams, to animals in low-income areas of the country. We worked in two different locations, Turrialba and Los Chiles, where our team of volunteers gave patients physical exams, prepared patients for surgery, assisted in surgery, monitored vitals while the patient was under anesthesia, monitored patients in recovery, and prepared prescriptions for the owners to take home with their pets. We had six clinic days in total, and during rest days we had a chance to see different cities in Costa Rica such as La Fortuna, and participate in fun activities such as rappelling down waterfalls and zip lining.
This project changed my life. This was the first hands-on medical experience I had with animals, and I was worried before I left about how I would perform. I worried that I would be grossed out during surgery, and that I wouldn’t be able to give injections to animals because I have a fear of needles. But I surprised myself very much. I gave subcutaneous and intramuscular injections to so many different dogs and cats that it became easy and routine, something I never thought possible. I was fascinated by surgery, and was over the moon when I was allowed to practice my sutures. I placed my first catheter, and then my second and then my third without blinking an eye. Even through the hard parts, when all I wanted was to go home and curl up in bed, I persevered. As a result of this trip, I gained confidence in myself and I made myself proud.
In general, I am an introvert. I’m not usually comfortable in high-energy situations with lots of people. But during this trip I embraced the chaotic and colorful atmosphere of the clinic days, with vet students and veterinarians in multi-colored scrubs running from one area of the clinic to another, with dogs barking and cats hissing and clients chatting outside in Spanish. It was a whole new social climate for me, and before I went on this trip I would have never believed that I would enjoy such an experience. But I got swept up in the energy, and although every night I fell into bed exhausted, I was completely happy.
Before this trip, I was also worried about whether or not I wanted to actually be a veterinarian. As I mentioned before, this trip was my first hands-on experience in the field. Not only that, but I have had a fear of needles since I was a young child. So while I was excited about the idea of being a veterinarian, I wasn’t confident that I had what it takes to face the situations that veterinarians have to face daily. After this trip, I am confident that I want to be a veterinarian. I enjoyed working with the animals so much, even when they were trying to bite me or scratch me, or when they were so covered in fleas that the tiny insects were jumping around my hands as I held the animals tightly. Even in the hot and humid conditions of the country, with hot little bodies pressed to mine and sweat dripping down my back, I enjoyed every moment of what I was doing. And because I made it through this experience, I know that no matter what I will be happy as long as I am helping animals throughout the rest of my life.
Many aspects of Costa Rica surprised me. First, I was amazed by the variety that was represented between different towns. San Jose was a huge city compared to Turrialba, a mountain village. And our patients in Los Chiles were in much worse condition physically than in Turrialba because of the difference of accessible veterinary care in these two places. In La Fortuna, a tourist hot spot, there were many more hotels and restaurants that served a wide variety of food including pizza and hot dogs, while in the smaller towns the few restaurants mainly served traditional casado. Casado consists of rice and beans with meat and a salad, and we were served casado nearly every night (and sometimes morning) of our stay in Costa Rica. Another way I was surprised was by the landscape. Geography is not my strongest subject, and so I was surprised and amazed by the beautiful mountains and lush tropical forests that blanketed the ground in Costa Rica. The view from the bus as it transported us between cities literally took my breath away a few times.
Because of my time in Costa Rica, I have developed so much more confidence in myself and in my desire to be a veterinarian. I have learned quite a lot about a country that I could hardly locate on a map last year, and I have learned so much about veterinary medicine techniques that will assist me throughout my quest to become a veterinarian. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, because what I gained from this trip will help me throughout my entire life. I can’t wait to go back!
If you want to read about my trip more in depth (or see more pictures!), please my blog that I updated every day while I was in the country: visit https://megansteelecostarica.wordpress.com/
For more information about Vida Volunteer, visit their website: http://www.vidavolunteer.org/