Animal rehab and American comforts


Life continues to fly by here in Madrid and I’m riding the train wondering if it could stop for a bit, or at least slow down?

John Mayer worded it well in his song “Stop This Train”

So scared of getting older
I’m only good at being young
So I play the numbers game
To find a way to say that life has just begun

As I’m sitting here writing this, thinking of all that’s happened in the past month, at least I can say that it was time well spent.

My year started off with a trip to Costco–yeah I couldn’t believe that there was a Costco here in Madrid either. And my American Costco card is accepted there!

Costco Madrid in all its glory

There is a surprising amount of both imported American made things, as well as local Spanish fruits, veggies, and meats. They had the classic giant containers of maple syrup, Costco muffins (took everything in me to resist buying them), granola bars, cosmetics, and even car tires. They even had Reese’s (hard to find here) for 14.49 euros, which I suppose isn’t bad for how much you get (another resisted temptation).

Right next to Kinder Bueno, the more popular candy here 

My favorite part of our trip there was eating the Costco pizza at the cafe. They have a very similar menu, including the hot dog and soda combo and the chicken bake. For the few minutes that I was eating the fresh Costco pizza, I was back in the US. The ice cream was good too, except that the “very berry” part of it in Spain is super fake (think cough syrup flavor) so that was disappointing.

Back in the animal world, I spent one week at a local zoo doing practicals with the veterinarian there, and then another week at a local animal rehabilitation center that mostly works with birds.

Although I am not a veterinarian, it’s been useful to me to learn how they work and some basic veterinary knowledge so that I can assist them. I got to learn some typical medical problems and meet animals that I’ve never worked with before, including a penguin, ocelot, and tamandua.


Sorry about the hand–doing an ultrasound on a penguin!
Rockhopper penguin pre-surgery

The next week, I started working at an animal rehabilitation center, which is a lot different from working in a zoo. The animals that come in are injured or sick, wild and not used to human interaction, and need to be treated as if they will be returned to the wild once they’re well enough. I had never handled a wild bird before, so when they told me to go for it with a sick seagull, I was a bit lost. It’s amazing though how much having a blanket or towel will help you. Basically you quickly place that over their body and then go for the grab. The way you grab the bird will determine your ultimate success with handling and restraining, so you’ve got to grab the head fast and then the feet. You wrap them up well, making sure to cover the eyes and not get bit. It’s amazing how, with many different species, covering the eyes helps to reduce stress and the urge to flee.

With any kind of wildlife rehab, you see a lot of loss because many of the animals that are brought in are either already close to death, or are so stressed by human interaction that it pushes them over the edge. However, it is remarkable how much effort and expertise is put into each animal to ensure that they’re given the best chance of survival possible. I got to observe the surgery of a bird with a broken wing, and the endoscopy and ultrasound of a vulture. I learned how to do x-rays with birds in varying positions. This place also has a special area dedicated to reptiles and amphibians, full of mostly turtles with shell problems or infections.

Surgical tool names in Spanish

In class, we learned about bird anatomy and physiology, common pathologies and treatments, handling, and housing. I was sick that week, so I sat through class with my mouth open because I couldn’t breathe through my nose. I guess I looked SUPER interested (and I was most of the time) but my classmates thought it was pretty funny. It still is really weird being the only native English speaker in the class, but now that everyone knows me and knows what to expect (my accent and word fumbling sometimes) it feels more comfortable. We have rotating professors come in, so it’s actually the professor that gets a surprise when I ask or answer a question. There have been a few times recently where the professor asked the class something and after a pause of no one else answering, I decide to go for it and everyone’s like


haha but seriously my classmates are awesome and very supportive of me when I throw myself out there. And even though sometimes I feel really lost, I know I’m learning a lot because I’ve given my share of correct answers (even if later I may not be able to describe it in English)!

Last week I got to try Papa John’s pizza in Spain to see how it compares to the US, and I can happily report that it is the same if not better. Okay so maybe it just tastes better because it’s a taste of home. But OMG they even had the classic garlic dip that’s so good to dip the crust in!


Speaking of American comforts, my friend Chelsea sent me a package full of Apple Jacks cereal and a “homesick” candle that has scents from Southern California (no not weed)! I’m sooo lucky and thankful because I love Apple Jacks!!

I may love cereal more than your average person

To finish off the month of January, I finally got my Spanish driver’s license (and can report that it is in fact difficult, expensive, and takes forever). Then we took a day trip to go skiing near Madrid, and last but not least, we went to Granada for a friend’s surprise birthday party (I’ll put that in another post).

Heading up the bunny slope since I only go skiing once every 3 years
Beautiful mountain views

Since I only go skiing once in a great while, it seemed more difficult than it was last time and I felt almost like a beginner again. Luckily I only fell once…oh wait, twice…the first time when I tried to improve my ski technique in a curve (fail) and the second time when I tried out a new type of ski lift that pulled me into a faceplant in the snow. Some onlookers got a good laugh as I mustered up more courage to try again. I made it up the second time! I think the most surprising thing for me about this ski experience was how cheap it was. A lift ticket was 37 euros a person and the rentals were roughly 20 euros a person. I tried out a couple blue slopes, but never dared to go to the red ones (their version of black diamond). A friend helped me out with my technique and apparently has a video of it, but I don’t think I want to see it or share it!

Until next time…make every day count.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Laura Ambrose says:

    You write so well, Heidi! I love your stories and illustrations. I miss you, my love!


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