Waking up this morning, none of us were thinking about how this was our last time driving over to the turtle hospital. All that was on our minds was excitement for working with the talented Monday crew this Friday and saying good morning to our favorite reptile friends. As we arrived and checked in, we were ready to hop right into our daily tasks which we have been mastering this past week.
As we picked up our nets and brushes, began cleaning the turtle tanks, and scrubbed our beloved turtles, we all realized how bittersweet these moments have become. In this short week, we could not appreciate the progress that the sick turtles have made, but as we treated the turtles and scooped up their poop, we really valued how much of a difference we the volunteers make in their lives.
As always, when Tiffany, John, Ashley, and I (Melissa) entered Sick Bay, we were greeted by both old and new faces. I chose to follow under the wing of self-proclaimed and proven turtle-whisperer Susie. Like all of the volunteers, Susie puts all of her heart into caring for the turtles. She works personally with Valor, testing new ways that may allow her to dive in the water, uninhibited by the air bubble under her carapace. She also takes it upon herself to stay long after all of the chores are done in order to provide extra care to the turtles who need it. Today, I was lucky enough to stay behind with Susie and help her treat Piglet’s flipper, as her frostbite wound seems to have gotten worse in a matter of just two days. Jean watched over us as we did a second round of treatments. It was incredible how calm and patient Piglet was in the presence of these two amazing women. Even though she was clearly not feeling well, Jean’s soothing touch and Susie’s relaxing praises made her feel safe. When we finished with the treatments, we placed Piglet back in her clean tank and sat with her to make sure she was feeling well enough to eat. We left with Piglet swimming happily in her tub and finishing all of her greens. Susie and I thanked each other and parted ways but not before exchanging emails so she could keep me updated on Piglet’s condition. Luckily, Dr. Harms is scheduled to come in this Monday and check on all of the turtles. I’m sure special attention will be paid to Piglet.
As lunch time approached, we put our hunger aside and dove into the messiest, largest, toughest job we had to do at the hospital this whole week. We came together as a team to scrub, spray, and disinfect the messy trenches that run between the turtle tanks. The tiny people were unfortunate enough to fit below the tanks into the trenches, so Tiffany, Katie, and Chloe got the messiest but cleaned the most. After we were done, the hospital bay was glowing, and we were confident that the turtles sensed our pride and felt it too.
After lunch, we were honored by a lecture from Terri, the beach walking program coordinator and the second in command volunteer at the hospital. She adds humor to everything she does, and inspired us with her dedication over the decades to walking the beaches, rescuing turtles, and protecting the eggs that they lay in the sand.
Before we head out for the last time this week, we got a beautiful, inspiring talk from the head of the hospital, Jean Beasley. She explained that our place on this planet was that of a thread within the fabric that is life on Earth. She challenged us to live our lives to the fullest, find happiness, and become strong and true threads to hold the world together. As always, she blessed our visit with the best hugs in the world.
Hugged Jean → Life Fulfilled
In order to commemorate our time at the hospital, Jean let us all take pictures in pairs with Darth Vader. Once the doors of Turtle Bay opened, we flooded in to take pictures of all the turtles we possibly could. Valor was the photogenic favorite, stealing all of our attention and our hearts.
A panoramic view of the beautiful Turtle Bay
The friendliest turtle, Valor.
Valor has an air pocket trapped within his rear end, preventing him from diving completely underwater.
Lee is the sweetest Loggerhead, flaunting his lucky fin for the camera.
A very photogenic Fergus smiling for the camera.
A beautiful (and NOT albino) Lennie popping out to say goodbye to us.
A hasty photo taken of Cinco as we were corralled back into the teaching room.
Besides helping the turtles, our trip was also aimed at bring us closer together as a group. Through our daily reflections, we got to know and respect each other, BUT it was all put to the test when we made it back from the hospital with only an hour for all twelve us to de-grime, wash up, and attempt to make ourselves look presentable.
For dinner, we went to the wonderful Quartermaster's Restaurant & Tavern.
Quartermaster Ralph and his booty, Melissa.
Dinner with Jean that night was an extra special event for all of us. We treated Jean with hushpuppies, and she surprised us by ordering crab dip for the whole table. The food was delicious, and the company was fantastic. Jean told us stories about Mamma Kitty and the old turtle hospital location, and gave us all hugs once more.
We topped off the week with a cake as sweet as this experience. During tonight’s reflection, we wrote letters to ourselves that we will receive 6 months from now. Contained in those letters were our personal messages on how we should and will keep motivated to bring back what we learned to our communities.