Field Medicine in Belize

Monkeys & Chest Trauma

My work with the Placencia Humane Society in Belize was a remarkable experience. Accompanied by two other veterinarians and six well-trained technicians and assistants we came well equipped for field medicine thanks in large part to my readers. Donations included electric clippers, an otoscope, cash for vaccines, heartworm prevention, and antibiotics, plus a couple of suitcases to transport it all. Our hosts thanked us for volunteering in advance with a jungle hike and a trip down the Monkey River. Wild howler monkeys showed their appreciation by yelling at us. One particularly cranky primate bombed us with his own personal souvenir, leaving little doubt as to what he’d been howling. Fun and games behind us, we set to work on day two.

The majority of Belizeans live very different lives than we do but, like us, they love their pets. Scores of dogs and a few cats, led by their child owners, sometimes accompanied by parents, converged on our makeshift animal hospital. Most of our patients came for spaying or neutering but many brought the added challenges of mange, intestinal parasites, and most dangerous of all, tick fever. Better known as ehrlichiosis here, this tick-borne blood parasite causes anemia and poor blood clotting. With no lab facilities we assessed their surgical risks based on exam findings. Treatment for parasites of the blood, skin, and intestines was dispensed for nearly every pet.  It turns out that creepy crawlies of all kinds are abundant in the tropics.

With the bugs and the risk of hurricanes and floods the one-room wooden homes of most Belezians sit on stilts. One big dog, named Tequila, took a dive off her porch, landing chest down on a small stump. She was badly wounded and unable to stand thanks to multiple rib fractures and a sucking chest wound. Having no proper chest tube or Heimlich valve we improvised with an IV line and syringe. Following wound closure Tequila began her convalescence in my quarters. Antibiotics, IV fluids, pain management, and bandaging set her on the road to recovery. Late word from Placencia is that Tequila is doing fine.

Next week I’ll share another case, this one with a Belizean twist on canine aggression. I’ll tell you what-it’s a jungle out there.