How I Spent My Winter 2019 Pt.9 – Chiang Mai (WVS, Thailand)
Friday, I arrived at the WVS Centre rested and ready. The surgery suite was already abuzz. A local cat rescue group was notified in advance about the week being focused on cats, and they contacted other rescue groups as well, supplying us with many cats in need of sterilization.
Some were owned by people that couldn’t afford this surgery otherwise. Others were “community” cats that didn’t have an actual owner per se, but were looked after by a group of people in the neighborhood where the cat(s) spent most of its time. Others were simply non-owned street cats. Dr. Miglio’s team at the IFC had done this sterilization dance many times before, and they were functioning like a well-choreographed ballet, with technicians anesthetizing, shaving, prepping, assisting, and recovering the cats flawlessly. One of the technicians had hooked up his cellphone to a Bluetooth speaker, so this was all happening, bizarrely enough, to the strains of American country music. Before I knew it, I had spayed six female cats and neutered four males.
First, I neutered a cat. Then came some spays.
After spaying and neutering stray or feral cats, you have to notch the ear, to indicate that the cat has been sterilized. In the U.S., we usually snip off the tip of the ear. In Thailand, they use a cautery to make a little semi-circular notch in the ear, while the cat is asleep.
Before you knew it, the morning’s patients were all lined up in the recovery area, watched over by the team of technicians.
Lunch break was nice. Dr. Miglio asked if I had ever had the dish “khao soi”. I hadn’t. He and Ian said it was fabulous, and they said that they were going to take me to a local place. They didn’t have a four-wheeled vehicle available, however, so Dr. Miglio asked if I was okay riding on the back of his motorcycle. A motorcycle was my primary means of transportation when I was in veterinary school, so I was fine with it. Considering all that I had been through already on this trip, I figured it could only add to the adventure. I was loaned a helmet, and I hopped on the back of the bike. After a pleasant 10-minute ride through the local streets of Hang Dong, we arrived at a small corner cafe filled with locals, and I ordered a bowl of pork khao soi.
It’s a bowl of boiled egg noodles, along with the meat you’ve chosen, and topped with fried crispy egg noodles on top. This is all in a very tasty curry sauce flavored with coconut milk. A separate bowl with pickled mustard green, shallots, and cut pieces of lime accompanies the meal. You squeeze the lime into the soup, and then dump the shallots and greens into the bowl. It was terrific.
We then biked back to the Centre, and I prepared my continuing education presentation. I had agreed to give a talk to the doctors about some aspect of feline medicine.
I decided on a general topic, i.e. weight loss in senior cats. This allows me to briefly touch on some of the common causes for this, like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, allowing for a nice overview of four common feline conditions. I also prepared a second presentation: a collection of slides of interesting cases I’ve encountered over the years in practice. I only documented, with photographs, a small fraction of the cases I’ve seen in practice, but the cases that I photographed were all pretty dramatic and noteworthy. The first talk wasn’t very practical, I have to admit. The doctors here just don’t see cases like this in Chiang Mai. As I noted in the previous post, people here bring in their pets if they have something obviously visually wrong, like a terrible skin rash, or a large tumor, or a broken leg, etc. They don’t bring their cats in for things like excessive thirst or gradual weight loss. The types of cases I dealt with in an upscale Manhattan cat practice, and the cases they see here in a Thai community practice couldn’t be more different, and I realized after my first day here that my talk would have limited application for them. Plus, these were Thai doctors, and although they spoke English reasonably well, there was a bit of a language barrier, especially with some of the medical terms I was using. The slide presentation with the interesting, noteworthy cases went over much better. After the seminar, I went through the clinic once more, checking out some of the challenging cases they were dealing with, and then I met with Ian and Dr. Miglio once more before saying goodbye. I went back to the hotel, and although it was a Friday night and there was bound to be something exciting going on in Chiang Mai, I elected to take it very easy and just relax in my room. I had dinner sent to the room, and I packed leisurely. The next morning, I had a lovely final breakfast in the resort restaurant, munching on excellent home baked bread and a tasty omelet while watching the sun grow higher in the morning sky as it illuminated the vegetable and herb garden below.
My breakfast table, overlooking the vegetable garden
I went back to my villa and lay down on the cushions on the porch. All I could hear was a gentle breeze, birds singing and chirping, and off in the distance, some quiet chanting from a nearby Buddhist temple. It was mesmerizing and intensely peaceful, and it took all of my strength to arise and retrieve my things so that I could check out of the resort and transfer to my new hotel in the center of town.