Friday, November 24, 2006
It's been almost 15 years since I went for therapy, and that is still a powerful memory. Such a positive one, and yet I find it really hard to type about revisiting therapy, even though the point was to make a leaping off point for a blog about spiritual practice. Hmmph. I guess I'll just figure that squirming is better than silent embarrassment, especially when I can't quite figure out why it should be embarrassing in the first place.
So, is it too late to ask the original question "what the heck is spiritual practice anyway? Does blogging count?" These are mostly rhetorical questions, because I suspect that spiritual practice is whatever you want it to be. For me, blogging isn't it, not really. My spiritual practice involves me without an audience, and it may involve more than one activity, and I definitely don't do it often enough. In fact, my spiritual practice may often involve four feet, a tail and a saddle. What strikes me as odd about this is how easily things that are sometimes spiritual practice are also often not spiritual at all, like the days where I really don't know if I want to go the barn, or the days when I'm frustrated and my horse is being a blinking idiot because he didn't get any turnout and the wind is up his tail wheeee! So how is this spiritual practice? I have often gotten the feeling that people think of intention when they talk about this issue. So if you intend it, and are aware of it, and work on this awareness in a consistent manner, you're doing it. And that makes a certain amount of sense, at least, you've got the practice part down. But maybe the truth is even more depressing; it's really HARD to have a spiritual practice. Hell, it's hard for me to consistently floss, much less schedule time for spirituality. And us non-organized religion types I think get a little nervous about ritual, and kind of hope spirituality is this independent spontaneous type that should just drop in when the mood is right, because it's more genuine, I mean, look, it came for a visit without asking, right? But what if the days that I get all pissed off because my horse is resisting the bit or falling in is also my spiritual practice? And then you wonder: is this bad practice? Like practicing the same mistake over and over in a piano piece? Or, if this is spiritual practice, than what in the world is not spiritual practice? Because I may not be able to draw clear lines, but I'll tell you right now flossing my teeth, in my world, is NOT spiritual practice. Here I think organized religion maybe has one up on us: there's this framework for you, if you so choose to use it (shhh! don't tell them I said that). But no, there I go being all difficult and sarcastic and rejecting that whole pre-made thing, so I've gotta just make this crap up as I go along (Attention, this is sarcasm. Sorry to suggest it's easy--honestly I think despite the organized part, we all still have a heap of trouble trying to figure this kind of stuff out).
I do see this longing in our world for it to be easy, for the struggle to be over. This kind of yoga, that kind of diet, it'll all make sense if I just take Wednesday off for meditation or horseback riding or teeth flossing. And I'm definitely here on the bed with the rest of you, kicking my heels and whining while begrudgingly admitting that I'm not gonna just magically become centered and balanced, or suddenly begin seeing the truth in all things.
You do have to start somewhere, though. I can't just throw up my hands and say to heck with it now. I suspect my true spiritual practice is gonna suck hard sometimes, and involve things that are really hard for me, like being nicer to myself when I screw up, or being good enough rather than the best. I'm not really looking forward to that part of my spiritual practice. Sure, there's still horses in there, and the woods; some poetry and art and good friends, but if it was that easy I'd wouldn't be talking to a therapist, or feeling overwhelmed at work, or writing this blog entry.
I also meant to talk about Thanksgiving, seeing as how it's about focusing on the positive, the things you ARE happy about, and this is something I feel I've been lacking a lot of lately. Despite the fact that I always sort of thought of this holiday as some smarmy day where we say what we're grateful for but then run off and buy crap for Christmas. Poor Thanksgiving--I used to feel sort of patronizing towards you, some stupid holiday that celebrates the sweetness before the massacre of the natives or the mass marketing frenzy--but now it's just sad. The fricking holiday songs were playing before you ever happened. It was Halloweenmas this year. I find myself wanting to resurrect you, and play along with your however brief gratefulness, and be glad of things. So instead of thinking about work tomorrow night, I'm trying to think of gratefulness. I'm grateful for my bed, which will receive me in a few minutes, and for my dear old ferret who is just hanging in there, naked tail and all, and for the boy in the bed who will snuggle up, and the goofy dogs, and the fact that I do get to ride now after 4 long years of horse drought, and for pciking up the drawing charcoal again (I attended my first life drawing session in over 10 years last week), and for therapy and crying and for hot showers and clean socks and good food (sometimes it happens) and good books and for being six months into the internship which means six months to go, and even for painful life lessons that are knocking at my door (I guess). A toast. And happy Thanksgiving.
Friday, September 22, 2006
I want to whine about evening news programs, which I have to admit I watch rarely (and by that I mean maybe once every six months? Every eight?), but tonight I was trying the bad TV method to start off the hopeful insomnia fest. And hey, if you don't watch I guess you can't complain, so now I can just go right ahead. I mean, what is the deal with some couple's private infertility troubles headlining the news? Now I'm usually the first to complain about all the depressing murder/gunshot/car crash/reads like a combination of an episode of "COPS" and some made for TV detective movie crap they like to show (nowhere is life so depressing as when one considers the possible truth in demographics revealed by ratings), but I'm sorry, I really don't want to know about some poor couple's fertility issues, no matter whether there's a putative legal issue that somehow catapults this into the "public" forum. Aren't you folks suspicious when the first story is just interviews between the TV news people and the newspaper journalists who are also making this the headline news of tomorrow's local newspaper? Oh, and THEN on to the body parts and mayhem. And the only news of Iraq is another local man killed, and some local peace protesters arrested, without any true commentary. Needless to say, I turned off the TV before I became some cynical private version of MST3K in my one living room. (Newscaster: "Tell us, oh expert psychology witness, what could it mean that the victim was chopped into pieces before he was thrown into the river?" Expert: "Well, it could be that it was a professional job--purely business--or perhaps the victim and the killer had some kind of relationship [my emphasis]." Me: "Of course there was some kind of relationship, you idiot! It's awfully difficult to chop your own self up and throw yourself in the river!")
And then I look over on the couch where Foo Foo is sleeping the contented sleep of the well-fed dog allowed on the furniture, head on a pillow and one foot dangling off the sofa, and I think, a little guiltily, about my ranting post of a few weeks ago. And while the rant is still very true in some sense, it, of course, is a rant. Something to blow off frustration, and to hide the other parts of self-doubt and exhaustion, and something that is only one sliver of a complicated whole. I don't want to be sorry, because I'm sorry too often anyway, and I feel the need to claim my own anger and frustrations that come with dealing with stressed (or drunk, or angry, or manipulative) people in any people service job. (Talk to your friends who wait tables, if you have them--they'll tell you.) And while it's medicine, people, it is ALSO a service job.
But tonight I'm thinking about other aspects of what I do. And I'm thinking about my own dogs, who have to put up with things normal dogs don't (I guess sort of a twisted kind of analogy to kids whose parents make them endure profession related embarrassment, like coming to their school to teach sex ed, or something--sorry, it's late, my analogies are growing weak). My dogs have a mother who palpates their abdomens for practice, or lends them to the cardiology department to try out their new ultrasound machine, or gives them a wacky hair cut so that she can try out her ultrasound skills. And I look at my dogs and tell them fiercely that they are NOT allowed to get old, they are NOT allowed to get sick and die. The thought just wrecks me.
This is the crux of tonight: this post is for the ones I couldn't save. You know, I don't have any time to stop and absorb things during a shift, especially when receiving emergencies. So I often feel like I'm handling things fine. But truly, these days catch up with you when you are sitting up, trying to stay awake, watching trashy TV. And you find yourself weeping over the overplayed drama because you need to, you need to cry about something, evening if it's something else. Now I realize that this is what they're talking about when they bring up the danger of "compassion fatigue" in the medical profession. It's only three months in, people, and I have seen so much death. I'm not talking about any deep ethical debate on euthanasia in this moment. I'm just simply thinking of the ones that were broken, that were not saved, for whatever reason. This is not about judgement.
This is about the terrible balance between a heart that has trouble pumping and a potentially lethal threat to the kidneys. This is for the 13 years you spent with him, and the car that ended it. This is for all you foolish ones who ate what you weren't supposed to, who got old, who never had a chance, who were loved, who were never loved.
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I could not save you, that I could not fix everything, that I never had a chance to even start. I never walked into this expecting to be able to heal everyone; I expected death as an inevitable companion. And yet, I am still sorry.
This poem has always been an amulet, an instruction manual; a way to encompass grief.
In Blackwater Woods
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
all our lives dreamdogs, dreamcats have lived
with us, rising up when we lie down
to prowl the house that we presume to own.
no nightbird sings for them, but they survive
those hours of the absence of our eye
by sniffing at the hem of the nightgown
you've kicked the covers off or listening to the moan
i make, beside you. the world they improvise
out of the random buzz and clatter of our sleep's
the world we wake to: paw prints on the sills,
fur balls in the corners, echoes of nails
clicking across oak floors, hisses and growls
of the busy demiurge that our dreams keep
up all night licking our days into shape.
Now. To preface. I am working in an ER, not a day practice. We are the ones open 24 hours so that other vets can get some sleep. It's a different kettle of fish, mostly. Yes, vets are vets to some extent. But those of us who choose to work in ER did so to get away from the management of skin and ears and vaccinations. So.
ADVICE TO ER CLIENTS:
1. Your dog's ears ARE NOT AN EMERGENCY. Sorry. If your pup's been shaking his head for two weeks, why in all that's holy was today (a Sunday) the day that you decided he should come in?
2. This also follows for your dog's rash, dental disease, or overgrown toenails. I will give you the benefit of the doubt for a nasty hot spot.
3. Skin mass? NOT AN EMERGENCY.
4. Please understand that if you bring your animal to me, that sometimes I will not know what's wrong just by looking at it. The power of the physical exam is pretty awesome sometimes, but when your budgie is sick I may have to do some other tests. If you did not come prepared to deal with this, why did you come? If only I had holy healing hands I would be set.
5. Money sucks. Believe me, I have been poor for most of my adult life, and I have shelled out a few pretty pennies for my ferrets (hence their unofficial title, solid gold weasels). And it sucks that pet health insurance is not really a great deal yet. (Although I would never ever want animal health insurance to resemble people insurance in many regards, but that's another story.) However, have you ever stopped to think what you would have to pay for your ER visit if you had no insurance? A pretty penny, my friend. I have all the training and most of the tools they have at human hospital. And everyone at the hospital has to get paid so they can eat and live like the rest of us. And the equipment will need care--oh you get the idea. It's expensive, but I cannot give free care out of my innate caring heart. (Newsflash to those who think that loving animals is the sole reason to be a vet. Sorry. Loving animals is great--get a pet, love it, care for it. Most of us in this profession love animals, but we also love people--despite our rants--and we love medicine and science).
6. Science sometimes sucks. It is our greatest ally and has many shortcomings. There are NO blood tests for cancer. Wouldn't that rock if there was? The only cancer you see in the bloodstream is leukemia. Most others are a lot harder to find, and more common. Sometimes I do not know what is going on with a patient. Believe me, I wish I always did. But the body is often a mystery, despite our greatest desire to know its secrets.
7. Sometimes you have to wait to see a doctor. I hate that too. Believe me, I am not in the back picking my nose or playing cards with the techs. I am sorry your pet is scared/hurting/vomiting, etc. But your dog's bum leg is not going to kill him in 5 minutes, or probably ever. As opposed to the cat or dog that was rushed in 5 minutes ago hit by a car. Your pet is your best friend, or your baby, or your life and you are freaking out. I get that. But I am one person and cannot be everywhere at once. Being rude to me is not helpful.
8. Birds and ferrets, etc. deserve regular medical attention too. Why do you bring me your exotic pet when it has never seen a vet before and expect me to fix it now that it's at the end of its lifespan? A pet is a pet. They need yearly physicals just like your kids.
'Nuff said. I just get annoyed sometimes. It's not fun to be bitched at, or have to remove a skin mass at the end of a 12 hour day when you have at least 3 more hours of paperwork ahead of you. Be gentle, people.
Too late, it's just too late to avoid the image: Clara Blandick, crotchety and hairbunned, no-nonsense, trying to keep that girl Dorothy in line-- a dear girl , but foolish like all young people are. Since I can never free myself, I have embraced it. Hmmm. I'm not sure where we'll put the pigs, though. Come to find, I'm excited to be an auntie. I get the good bits--the presents, the holiday visits. And you never know, maybe there will be cousins for her to play with, down the road. Funny what babies do to otherwise sane people--I've already sent her my favorite book from when I was small, and she's not even learned about focusing her eyes yet! I am often pessimistic about the future of humankind, and yet I cannot regret anywhere in my heart that she has been born. Welcome to you, niecekin. Come up and visit sometime--I'll let you slop the hogs and feed the chickens. Just watch out for that Toto dog--he likes to run off!
My niece. Pretty disgusting, eh? I'm smitten.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
It may also be hard to write without a) boring the pants off anyone who actually looks at this site, and b) compromising patient confidentiality. I hate to say it, but my life is filled with good old veterinary stuff, which gets old really fast to most people. Just try going to a vet school party. You'll see what I mean. I even dream about it, a fact that I'm really hoping will go away soon. Even I have my limits. And also, I really can't talk about cases on the internet--do doctors publish stuff about you online? Nope. Maybe it's a good thing--a place to make an effort to find the other, non-doctorly parts of myself. But I suspect it will be hard this year to focus on those bits. I'm still in the throes of the newness of being a doctor at long last, and learning all the stuff that goes with it. I've actually been surprised--I haven't had nearly the trouble I expected talking to clients about difficult things, like money, or death. Lots of stuff is hard, but that part has gone better than expected. But hoo boy is there a whole lot of paperwork!
Anyway. On the job front, I have euthanized my first pet without owners present (I cried) and with owners present (I didn't cry). I have seen a bunch of interesting stuff so far, and I guess I'm developing my spiel for various and sundry diseases (it's hard to be organized when you explain things to people, so a general spiel is a good thing). All my internmates are awesome, although we barely see one another out of work, since we're all on different schedules. AND I got my first paycheck. Believe me, I may be making diddlysquat--but it's a vast improvement on making nothing.
On the life front, it's so good to be back in Portland I can barely stand it. Mass seems like a distant bad dream I barely remember. Sorry you guys I left behind--I miss you, but NOT living there. This is the best place ever. In these last three? weeks or so I have been to Powell's twice, eaten mud pie at Montage, flaming bananas foster at The Pied Cow, had breakfast at Fat City, shopped at Food Front and seen movies all around in cool old theaters with beer and pizza. Worcester, you can send me hate mail if you want, but you cannot even begin to compare. We have a local dog park that is full of mellow folks and mellow dogs, and the Foo and the Fluffy get to go most every day. Today we went for a two hour hike in Oneonta Gorge out in the Columbia River Gorge, and yesterday I went back to my old barn and rode a horse for the first time in two years. And I have a NEW car. Yup, can't complain.
So, coming soon are photos from the trip (have to wrangle them from the boy, who is the keeper of the digital camera). Maybe pics of the apartment? Don't get too excited. We do actually fit (sort of) in the apartment. It's nothing fancy, and it's full of icky carpet, but it's big, cool in the summer, and CHEAP. Very good. Come visit--the couch is long enough for a 7 foot man. So, the rain falls again in blog land. Admit it--you missed me.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Forgive me Father (? Do you suppose that would be the proper form of address?) for I have sinned. First of all, I feel silly starting off like this in the first place, and secondly, I guess I'm not sure that in the scheme of things, difficulties in dog training would really count as "sins" in my world, and even more truthfully, as a secular humanist, I'm pretty uncomfortable with the liturgical language and the word "sin" itself. Let's just say I'm feeling guilty and leave it at that. I feel guilty, and angry, and like a big frustrated failure. Oh, right--you need to know why.
All right. We have two lovely dogs, let's call them Foo Foo and Fluffy (the names have been changed to protect the guilty--or the innocent, as the case may be). Foo Foo has been with us for two years, and is altogether a bit mellower and less pushy than Fluffy. He has his moments, though. These moments consist of either jumping our fence, or his problem with other dogs while on leash. Lest you think Foo Foo is a big hideous meany, let me explain: Foo Foo gets so excited by other dogs that he gets what dog folks call "aroused." Although perhaps the word is unfortunate (especially if you consider the possible key search words for this post on Google), it means simply that his energy levels go way up. Dogs in this state are much more likely to tip towards other high energy states, such as fear or aggression. We've figured out that Foo Foo is afraid while on leash. Perhaps this comes from some deep seated pychological incident--but he's not telling. And neither of us can think of any such incidents. But essentially we figure he's decided that he's both genuinely excited to see the other dog and he also thinks he has to take care of the situation because nobody else will, and this involves getting big and giving warning signs. We know it's not true aggression, because he's damned friendly off leash, and has never attacked a strange dog for any reason. It also is telling that this started off as simply getting excited and barking on leash, which is often how he tries to play with other dogs. HOWEVER. Can I tell you how embarrassing it is to have your otherwise sweet tempered dog start barking and growling and lunging at other dogs? It's like saying you're a Republican at an enviromentalist rally. You get nasty looks--judging looks--looks that say: "I can't believe you walk such an aggressive vicious beast in public." If you say he's afraid, you get the look that says "yeah, buddy, pull the other one." Our dog is sending mixed signals, and this sucks for eveyone involved, including the other dog, who eyes him with some distrust. It would be like if a stranger came up to you and hit you hard on the arm and said, "hey, wanna play with me, m*therf#@!!?"
Fluffy is a different ball of wax. We've only had her about 4 months. She was a shelter dog, and came to us as almost an adult. She's got a heart of gold (well, so does Foo Foo), but her heart of gold is hidden by a very busy brain and a pushy nature. We can speculate that either her doggie momma didn't teach her no manners, or her first human parents let her get away with murder. It doesn't really help her that she's at least part Border Collie, so her tenaciousness tends show itself in inconvenient moments, such as those where the toy is taken away but she really still wants it! She has improved greatly, but her basic desire is to push. If Fluffy could talk, we would have these kinds of conversations:
Me: "Fluffy, leave it (referring to the good smelling thing on the counter)."
Fluffy: "Are you sure? Cause it smells really good. Can't I have just a teensy bite?"
Fluffy "Well, I mean, OK, but if you change your mind, I'll be right over here."
Her modus operandi with other dogs is to run and jump on them bodily, because surely, that must be endearing and will entice them to play with her.
So. We have been going to dog classes. Both dogs have passed Basic Obedience with flying colors. And diplomas. Really. They are both very smart, eager to learn, and know both verbal and hand signal commands for sit, down, stay, wait, leave it, paw (and lately they have been learning "knock it off" and other less polite commands. It has been an impatient week). What we have discovered is that they are excellent--BUT--only when there are no to very few distractions. Like other strange dogs. So the first couple of classes can be a little wearying, but after that, the classmates are no longer strange dogs. Foo Foo is in an intermediate class, which we then take home and apply to both dogs. And we have been having the trainer out for both dogs one hour a week. So we have been working on how not to pull on a leash. At first, it was amazing. Both dogs walk by our sides beautifully. But walking both dogs at once and encountering such exciting things as other dogs? Or dare I mention C-A-T-S? Even other people are distracting, since they would both like to be petted. And hence, my sorry tale.
I took both dogs for a nice walk tonight. At first, we were doing great. A few people distractions, doin' pretty well. A barking dog, not too bad. So I said, with the naivete of the optimistic, boy, we need a bigger challenge. Let's cross the street and go to the other neighborhood. So Foo Foo's lagging a little, like ususal, and Fluffy is trying to get ahead of me every other step, a thing that seems to be much harder to control when I have both dogs. And I'm getting a little annoyed at her. And then: the OTHER DOG on a leash (thank goodness) must walk by. And instead of the calm controlled I'm - in - charge - let's - keep - walking - nothing - to - see - here - move - along mode, I can't get either dog behind me; they're both out in front, pulling my arms off, trying to leap off the leash. I make them both sit. It works, sort of. And I am so livid at this point I could kick both of them (OK, now that I write this, it seems sort of more trivial. But people, I can't believe that I can't even walk my own dogs properly!) and am convinced that 1) I am doing something completely wrong for them to be so obnoxious. 2) I am failure as a dog trainer and should simply get some cats. Or fish. 3) I am a bad person and a bad owner because I am so angry at these two creatures I can't even communicate with them properly, and I'm sure, knowing just enough to be dangerous, that I am confusing the hell out of them, ruining their training, their trust in me, and our future relationship.
What's worse is that this happens A LOT. So maybe that's why it's so upsetting. And the thought that we are about to move to a city, and they really will have to behave on leash. And of course, in my true perfectionist fashion, I envision my dogs as eventually beautifully well-behaved creatures who never jump on others or fail to come when they're called. And I can't stand bad manners in any creature; I can't just say "oh, dogs are just like that" because they can be beautifully well-behaved. It just takes WORK. I didn't know this for many years, and many people just figure Fido should hit the end of the leash and keep on pulling; chew the carpet; leave footprints on your new pants. I'm sorry, y'all, I have been converted. I cannot look at that kind of dog without comparing it to some sort of three-year old run rampant. Would you let your toddler run into the living room full of guests and leap onto people without invitation? Or eat whatever he or she wanted? All I see is my badly behaved dogs, and I'm embarrassed. Now, most of our friends tell us what well-behaved dogs we have, and--another confession--I often wonder what non-jumping, non-pushy, non-obnoxious animals they are referring to. So I am all wrapped with guilt and shame, because sometimes I don't love my dogs. Sometimes I want to come home to an empty house and not have to worry about the walk, the pushing, the training. Is it because I spend most days lavishing care on animals, most of whom are either too sick to behave badly, or behave far worse than my own, to have patience with my own dogs? I sure hope not, or it's gonna be a sucky lifetime for all concerned. Is it OK to want to throttle your dog when they give you that "hey mom, f- you look?" (If you've ever had a dog disobey the come command, you know the look I mean.) You read far too much drivvle about the sweet dopiness of dogs; the slobber, the oops-I'm-sorry-about-the-carpet-mistake-but-aren't-I-cute personality, the unconditional love. It makes them seem like over-sized pillows with an appetite. My dogs are good dogs, fundamentally. I wouldn't give them up for the world, and they ARE making progress. But sometimes they are bad dogs, and they make me really mad. And intellectually I figure this is OK. But the guilt about feeling angry is huge and boomerangs into a sense of failure. It's probably magnified by my profession, which paints me as a caring animal lover that would never consider bodily harm to an animal, right? And therein lies my desire for expiation.
I guess it's nice it'd be nice to hear from you, Mr. Dog Priest/Bishop/Cardinal thingy. But really, we all know who really needs to hand out the forgiveness here. The trouble is, she's got such high standards she has to post about it on her blog in order to recognize who has to be the true absolver in this story. Damn. I'm awfully hard on myself, aren't I. Busted.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Well folks, it's the end of an era. Today was the last official day of veterinary school for me. Now it's all fun and games and wondering where the money is coming from until my internship starts in late June. Strangely enough, we are given these next three weeks to do nothing (in my case, this means try to make money) until the official graduation on the 21st. What's the unwinding to stress time ratio, do you think? Is three weeks long enough to let go of four years of adrenal hyperplasia and overstimulation (for those of you not in the physiology know, just think stress)? I can barely handle the fact that yesterday all I did in the afternoon was work on a creative project AND DID NOT FEEL ANY GUILT. It (the unwinding) must be working, at least a little. I don't think I get to use my new title until the official diploma lands in my hot little hands, but there's not much now that would stop that day from coming. Doctor me. Doktah! Weird. But fun to say!
There is a weird time slip that hits in about fourth year. Before that, school seems like it was over in a blink of an eye. Now it feels like that first year was a hazy eternity ago. Mind you, when you're still in the middle, it can feel like being stuck in a painful slow-motion sequence.
For those of you who wonder what veterinary school is like, well, I can't tell you. But I can give you my take on these last four years, as best I can. If you're thinking about applying, good for you. But you can't take me as a representative sample. At least, in my own unofficial comparative research between peers, I'm an anomaly.
Let me outline the four years for you quickly.
Year 1: Basics. This is to teach you "normal" and how it works. Anatomy (includes many smelly hours dissecting dogs, horses, cows, goats and llama, to name a few), physiology, physiologic chemistry, developmental biology, etc.
Year 2: Pathophysiology: or What Went Wrong. This year is taught by systems. Cardiology, renal physiology, neuromuscular physiology. Then there's the grind of microbiology and parasitology, where endless laundry lists of bad things are memorized. Pharmacology and so forth.
Year 3: a shorter version of the same stuff, rehashed to make it "clinical." Anesthesiology, small animal medicine, large animal medicine (my school does not "track," meaning everyone takes every class--you don't specialize in small animals--dogs and cats--versus large animals--cows and horses), ophthalmology...And you spay your first dog ever, which is more fun than class put together, unless you're a stress cadet and then I think you are miserable; at least that's how it looks on the outside.
Year 4: this year at my school actually starts in March of year 3. You are liberated, handed a white coat, and sent to the hospital. Everyone completes a set of core rotations: Small and Large Animal Medicine, Surgery, Radiology. Pathology, Anesthesia, Ambulatory (cows, mostly) and Wildlife. You learn how to examine an animal, or two, or five in the few hours stolen from sleep before morning rounds. You get to watch back surgery, or try to figure out why Mrs. Smith somehow never mentioned to you that Foo Foo had diarrhea, despite your acurate history taking skills, and yet manages to mention it to your attending doctor immediately, making you look like a fool. Again. No summer vacation, sometimes no weekends off, sometimes no sleep, and then at the end of a year and seven weeks, you think, oh crap! Now I'm in charge?
For most people, vet school seems to be a pyramid. First year sucks, second year sucks a little less, and then the slow ascent into clinics. For me, I loved first year-this makes me odd. Second year had some good parts, some bad, and there was a time in October of 3rd year where I would have cheerfully submitted to the lash to get out of one more *@@!!ing exam. That was my personal nadir. I simply can't handle sitting in a classroom from 8am to 5pm without deep despair. Fourth year was the best--in this I think at least I match with others' opinions.
Then there's studying, and grades. You may have been an A student in college. That means nothing. Part of this, I think, has to do with how college is designed. You're a bio major, say, and every semester you take one or two, maybe three science classes. But this is college; you're required to take a little of everything, and you have a lot of free time. I'm sorry if this offends any college students out there--when I was in your shoes I would have been offended too. But once you work full-time and then go to class at night (like I did before vet school), then you see how easy you had it. Or once you go to vet school, and realize you are taking seven science classes, at once, and if you drop them all to study for the next big exam, you have just screwed yourself for the exam after that. In college, you get used to a rhythm. Mid-terms, finals; big pushes with some slack in between. Vet school is pretty much all exams, all the time. Classes begin and end at odd times (one class ends before Thanksgiving. Another ends in the spring. One lasts only one month, etc.) You have mid-terms in many classes, it's just that mid-term for one class is three weeks after another class's mid-term. So it's no wonder you're not used to the kind of juggling you need to do. And, as someone who went to three undergraduate schools, there's also a wide variance in what you're used to having to do to pass (or get A's, if you're that kind of person. Most people come in the latter, and come out the former). I attended a liberal arts school back in the day, before I ever considered veterinary school. I never even took biology. However, classes at that school were as rigorous as all get out. You were there to learn: no one coddled you, or handed you anything. Didn't do the reading? Not your professor's fault. Yours. Want to major in Anthropology? Write a five page paper on a Saturday between 9 am and 5 pm, and then use it to petition the department to get in. Then there was a community college. good school, designed differently, not used to having really dedicated students, but not a cake-walk. Then another undergraduate university. These classes were huge in internal variety. Biochem? Hardest class I ever took, harder than any class in vet school. Genetics? Catered to the "general populace," of students, who could take it to get their science class requirements out of the way. And folks, I'll admit to being an intellectual snob, and also to thinking that being an intellectual snob is not a bad thing, but many well-respected schools (of which this was and is one) have a bunch of ignorant, lazy kids running around whining about how hard their classes are, and they are being listened to! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER! (I'm sad to say that I firmly believe the majority of the next generation of students is unfortunately full of entitled and ill-educated complainers.) Anyhow. You could see how a person might have done quite well in college and then get to vet school and Boom.
The worst part about this is that people who get into vet school are all cut from the same pretty ambitious cloth. They're used to doing well, andthey're used to being praised for it. And then they're in a room full of other smart people and wholly *@#, Batman, vet school is HARD, and there's nobody there to praise you. It's hard because it's busy, it's hard because it's 100 pages of reading every night, it's hard because you are studying for one exam while being in class all day and having to keep up with the other classes at the same time. Bad grades are like a blow to the head from a friend you could always rely on before. It can get nasty. Not nasty between students, but nasty in your own head. A lot of doing well on tests comes from confidence. And if you get knocked down in the beginning, it's a lot harder to get up again. And it happens to everyone at some point, even the ones who do well. So it's no wonder first year is hard, and it's mostly hard from getting your sea legs, as it were. I had and have compassion, guys, I really do. But this is something I've always felt I needed to say, and still feel strongly about: it was hard. It remains hard for those who are still in it, and we were all full of tension and self-doubt and struggle. But really, you whined incessantly, and I just have to say: SUCK IT UP!!!
Now I liked first year, and it's mainly a weird stroke of luck for me why. I had just finished an entire year of pre-requisites. It was all science, all the time, and it was fresh. And I had just taken physiology and biochemistry from very good professors. (Let me say now, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. You know who you are. Never imagine that what you do goes unappreciated.) And I LIKE anatomy, and physiology, and believe me, that makes me a weirdo by many standards, but it helped. And I read quickly, and test well. So I liked it. For me, the hardest part of veterinary school has not been the classes. (Believe me, there were days where the urge to violence was great, but they were not as many as one might believe.) For me it has been the lack of a social life, and the great difference I felt from my classmates. Partially, this is no one's fault. We are all, or were all, crazy studiers with too much to do. Partially this comes from being an older student, with a long-term partner, and with a very different backgound (liberal arts, remember? Me pre-vet = had attended crazy kooky undergraduate school, with intellectuals for parents, living with blue hair in Portland, OR. Most of the vet world comes from white middle class or upper middle class early twenty-somethings in GAP jeans). And while my classmates are fine students and warm people, for me the social aspects were slow to click (now don't start playing me a mournful tune, I made out OK eventually). This was frustrating, erosive to my confidence and embittering. I look back and I can't really tease out all the whys and the could have beens or should have dones. It just was. Now in my final year I can appreciate some of the good friends I have made, but in looking back, it was the worst part of the whole experience. And of course, there's the whole Massachussetts thing, but let's not get into that.
So now I'm doing my best to move on, and unwind. Slowly, the smaller wrinkles are softening. It's a gradual unfolding, one you are hardly aware of until days later. And you do look back, and you think. Wow. I did do that thing. And when you're in the middle of it, you are living in a different mental plane, wound up, with no idea how tight you are, because there's nothing to compare it to. So people, if you know someone in vet school, be kind. They know not what they do. Don't worry, eventually they will become normal again, once their adrenals short out entirely and they can no longer feel fear. Except for the veterinary jokes. You'll have to just endure those.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Flying Walking Stick, Robert J. Lang, 2006
...that would do justice as a title to this post. If you're like me, you remember origami. It's sort of a fond memory, and yet it brings with it a sense of failure. Because, if you are like me, you managed to find a limited repertoire of foldable shapes (the crane or the balloon--the latter was always a hit since you actually get to blow it up) until the diagrams in the helpful books simply began to look like abstract art. "These can't be right," you'd mutter. "How can this foldy bit over here become this other shapey bit?" All the colorful squares of paper included with the helpful book ended up as cranes, or as balloons. It's almost a relief now, seeing the work of Robert J. Lang. I can finally admit that I should leave origami to the big guys, who are far more creative with a single sheet of paper than I will ever be (let me reiterate: A SINGLE SHEET OF PAPER. Holy folding frenzy, Batman!). While you are strolling through the website (and I think the insects are my favorite), take a look at some of the crease patterns. I have no words. Thank you, Mr. Lang, for making my jaw drop in honest admiration. The origami weenies of the world salute you.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
1. The Wikepedia birthday meme, thanks to my old friend Matt. The rules are: go to Wikepedia, enter your birthday without the year, and list:
Three neat facts:
1014 - Battle of Kleidion: Byzantine emperor Basil II inflicts a decisive defeat on the Bulgarian army, but his subsequent savage treatment of 15,000 prisoners reportedly causes Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria to die of shock.
I like this one because a) Battle of Kleidion kind of sounds Star Trekky and yet was thousands of years before Shatner came up with intrepid jump-suit clad space traveling races who all somehow look suspiciously bipedal, b) the poor Tsar died due to shock over savage treatment of prisoners, which makes one ponder what would have happened if this particular affliction were to surface today.
1940 - Beginning of the Blitz air attack by Nazi Germany on Great Britain.
A little more ominous. Just because it is my birthday doesn't mean that bad things can't happen to good people. Although they shouldn't. I mean, it is my birthday.
2005 - Astronomers discover 10th planet.
This is just cool.
1805 - Alexis de Tocqueville, French historian and political scientist (d. 1859)
Dear old de Tocqueville, who wrote one of the first tourist guides to the US, although he left out the restaurant reviews and the hotel ratings. We read this book in my AP US History class, thanks to one of the best history teachers I know (thanks, Mr. Hierl) who managed to make me learn history in spite of my resistance.
1883 - Benito Mussolini, Italian dictator (d. 1945)
Hmmm. I'm sure this is pure coincidence. Right?
1890 - Vincent van Gogh, Dutch painter (b. 1853)
Is it wrong that I found the list of people who died more interesting than those who were born? What's the deal with the two (count 'em, two) Roman Emperors who were assassinated on the same day on the same year? Did the assassin have a quota to meet?
2. The personality DNA meme, discovered by random blog browsing.
This was by far, the fanciest version of a "who are you?" quiz out there. My favorite thing about this one was that you get a pretty sort of Mondrian-like painting for your blog. This is probably not the intent of the personal DNA people, but tough cookies. And, of course, who wouldn't like being called "A Benevolent Creator?" I mean, let's just cut the crap and just go ahead and build a little altar to me, with some candles, a few pretty mosiacs or statuettes or something, and please, unless you want my wrath, avoid the stinky incenses! Handmaidens, though, I might like a few handmaidens. Flattery will get you everywhere, my dears. I always think, let's see, if I take this quiz again next week, or standing on my head, or while whistling, I will probably get some other personality label, like "Bizarre Dictator." My former anthropologist roots are twitching, sensing some deep-seated cultural theme that would explain our fascination with self-diagnosis and reality TV shows. (Seriously, these things all share this idea that somehow our ordinary selves will be revealed as special, as the winner, as the best one. Which must be predicated on the idea that people are boring, drab, and ultimately so underconfident that money or TV will transform our lives--read inner selves--forever.)
3. Tarot Card quiz
|You Are The Chariot|
You represent a difficult battle, and a well-deserved victory.
You tend to struggle to get what you want, both internally and externally.
You excel at controlling opposing forces, getting down the same path.
In the end, you bring glory and success - using pure will to move forward.
There is great conflict in your life right now, either with yourself or others.
You must find a solution to this conflict, which is likely to be a "middle road" between the two forces.
You posses the skills to triumph over these struggles, as long as your will is strong.
You are transforming your inner self, building a better foundation for future successes.
Friday, March 24, 2006
My favorite place, Reynolda House. Originally designed to be a model estate, conceived by Katharine Reynolds after marrying R.J. Reynolds (of tobacco infamy), now an art museum dedicated to American art. Something I found even more surprising was the Reynolds's dedication to education of all tenants, irrespective of race or class. The grounds are free and open to the public, while the house itself has been recently renovated, with a new wing for traveling exhibits. It's a lot more museumy than it was when I was a child, and I am grateful for the times I had during its summer programs where we were allowed to run free in the basement, bowling and swimming and eating cookies in the mirrored bar.
My parents, meanwhile, have been busy with their usual hustle and bustle. In addition to their jobs, their social lives and their community outreach, I found they have been busy raising killer koi in our backyard (see example below). I couldn't give them up to the authorities, so be warned if you come to visit.
Anyway, it was the Irish time of the month of March where most people just go have a pint or two or seventeen. But in the newfound spirit of finding culture in Winston-Salem, my stepfather and I went to a poetry reading, complete with Irish poet, whistle and fiddle. And one of the poems especially spoke to this past six months and my battle with the fear of the unknown. While I cannot read it to you, and even if I possessed that much techno savvy, I could never imitate the beautiful brogue which recited it to me that night. So tough cookies.
Ciaran Carson (pronounced Kee air un, accent on the second syllable)
I fear the vast dimensions of eternity.
I fear the gap between the platform and the train.
I fear the onset of a murderous campaign.
I fear the palpitations caused by too much tea.
I fear the drawn pistol of a rapparee.
I fear the books will not survive the acid rain.
I fear the ruler and the blackboard and the cane.
I fear the Jabberwock, whatever it might be.
I fear the bad decisions of a referee.
I fear the only recourse is to plead insane.
I fear the implications of a lawyer's fee.
I fear the gremlins that have colonized my brain.
I fear to read the small print of the guarantee.
And what else do I fear? Let me begin again.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Well, and some of you already know, anyway. It's all resolved now. Looking back, the funniest part was the immediate 48 hours post Match day. So here's how it goes, this thing called THE MATCH. You decide for some unknown reason that you wish for another year (internship) or three (residency, usually done after the internship) of veterinary torture. This is not a required desire for all veterinarians, unlike in medical school. We could simply go out and start hawking our skills to practices who might wish to hire our scared selves. (I mean, we've had four years of school, but that in no way compensates for years of experience. I know that when people call me "Doctor" in a few months I'm going to be looking around in confusion. Yet, the only way to get experience...) So why do it? The lack of remuneration and all the glamour just call to you (just in case you weren't paying attention, this is called sarcasm, folks) . Or, I suppose you might really want to get some more advanced training, or specialize in something like surgery, or cardiology, or maybe you just like taking really hard tests and having extra letters after your name.
So, the Match. You send in stuff to a central agency that orchestrates most of these positions. This includes: a) your grades b) a little form thingy saying what position you are applying for c) a letter of intent which hopefully doesn't make you sound like an ass, and yet lovingly highlights your good qualities in a unique and eye-catching way (for those of you on these committees, my hat's off to you wading through that mulch) and d) three letters of reference, which again, hopefully highlight your good qualities without any veiled allusions to BAD THINGS, such as: "A very smart hardworking student, but can be difficult to work with," (This means, what a B*TCH!) or, "Shows great potential; needs to be pushed harder." (Meaning, she's lazy and picks her nose at rounds.) Again, hats off to the clinicians who write these umpteen letters for people they may have only known for a week. The ridiculous thing is the trepidation one feels for asking for these letters. When advised, you are told, only ask if the person feels that they can give you a good letter, implying that leaving out the word "good" somehow invalidates the contract, so they could just write you any old letter. Dear Blah Animal Hospital, they will say. I am free to say how I feel because that fool Jenny Joe Schmoe FORGOT to ask for a good letter. So, thinking about Jenny Joe Schmoe as an intern? HA! HA HA--Don't make me laugh too hard. Whatever you do, stay away from her. She actually didn't know the dose of Clavamox for a urinary tract infection! Can YOU IMAGINE? Love, Dr. Soandso. I doubt that doctors really write such things, but such advice over petty language makes you worry a little.
Anyway, once you send all that in, and pay the pretty scary people (it's like the Mafia, maybe?) you then get to rank all the programs to which you applied. And then the people offering the positions rank the candidates they are interested in. And then the magic begins...It reads a little like a complicated word problem: "If Johnny has 13 apples and he leaves his house at10:45 am walking west at 3 miles an hour, and he eats the apples at a rate of 1 apple per hour, how likely is he to die from indigestion before reaching his destination?"
An actual quote from the website:
Anyway, I only applied to two places, which between them had 6 positions. Knowing this, I was prepared, as much as I could be, not to match. The thing that really got me, though, was how I would say this to some well meaning person and they would reply, "Oh, I'm sure you'll match, you're ______." And the blank would be some nice compliment, etc. Now lest I seem ungrateful, let me explain my objection to this comment, and show you instead, that I am actually analytical and picky and--well, maybe ungrateful. This whole comment was of course designed to be innocuous and soothing, and was probably what they themselves also needed to hear. But to me it implied that if you match it was because you were _____, therefore, if you didn't match, that must somehow imply inferiority and not _____. I thought, hell, I may not match, it's statistics. Because I'd much rather blame the vagaries of the word problem than my worthiness as a candidate. I wasn't actually all that worried about my worthiness as a candidate truth be told. So you might see how the compliment failed to meet the mark, and that I can't take a compliment to save my life.
Now, there wouldn't be much of a story here if I had matched. So, no, I didn't match. And I found this out by logging on to the website and being politely told by the webpage, and it was all impersonal and sort of fine. My main problem was: WHAT DO I DO NOW? Do I think about getting a job next year (EECK!) or applying for open internship positions in potentially up-until- now unconsidered states (URK?) or do I crawl in bed and sing a little happy song until it all goes away? I'm not just making this decision for myself, y'all. I have a man and two dogs and two ferrets and a large tortoise (in a pear tree?) to consider, and the man especially has what you might call an ANTI-Desire to stay anywhere on the east coast or the midwest. He's an Oregon boy, born and bred, and it calls to him...Anyway, there is this long list of internship openings available because not all the places match either (it felt like a small justice, at the time).
By 11 am that morning I had gotten 6 phone calls and 8 emails from random people at random hospitals all over the country asking if I wanted to come be their Bitc..ahem..intern. At first it was a heady rush of power: ME, they want ME, HA HA HA...wait a minute, I have how long to decide if I want to come to your hospital in Podunk IL? The answer: "we'd really like to have the position filled by Wednesday." This was Monday, y'all. From no known future to consider moving to Florida? Sacramento? Virginia? But DECIDE RIGHT NOW. Hmm, now I've never been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type gal. But forgive me if I'm wrong, even without the boy and the dogs and the ferrets and the tortoise (in pear tree?) I'm not sure impulse shopping for an internship is such a good idea. People say, "it's only a year," in this casual offhand way as if we just drop a year here and there, no big deal, you can handle anything for a year. ANYTHING? I can think of a lot of things I wouldn't want to handle for a year. Isn't that what reality TV is based on? And the emails and the phone calls just.kept.coming. You see, they publish the list of all those folks who don't match, and then this 48 hour period is called The Scramble. Think of it as a giant country wide game of musical chairs, played with chairs you can't see and players you don't know; they may turn out to have beautiful chaise lounges to offer you, or you may end up being squashed into an old plastic cafeteria chair by Bertha, the 300lb human resources manager who forgot to mention that they 're suffering from a technician shortage and you'll be responsible for all evening treatments, at no extra cost to you (Disclaimer: there was no Bertha, and I'm sure people with that name are lovely at any size). You are expected to send them those original references (try tracking down three faculty members in 12 hours, I challenge you), maybe the application, and then wait.
So I called the only place left in the Northwest that had an open position. I know a few people who have worked there or work there still, and I got the skinny from them, and I said, well, it's about the only thing I can think of that would work right for everyone concerned and would not cause me to tear out my hair or be abandoned by my boyfriend or lead to madness. And right when I thought I might have to re-track down those three faculty members and apply for some position in San Diego (which I hear is a nice town, but it ain't Oregon), I was in. Phew! And you think it was a long story to read! It was a crazy 48 hour period, but I have learned. 1) Smile pretty and try to take the compliments, they don't mean anything by it. 2) There's no point in being frantic over the future, because it just comes right up behind you and kicks your butt anyway. 3) Don't make plans. If you are like me, you will continue to make plans anyway, but you can at least remember you once thought it would be a good rule. 4) Vet school is stupid sometimes and tries to convince you your life is ending. It is wrong. 5) I'm going to be in my favorite city next year and that makes everything seem good good good. Yippee!
Sunday, March 05, 2006
-grocery-choices-and-making-judgements-about-you feeling. And I'm sure it was partially the frustration that I couldn't afford to stock my kitchen with any of the very pretty vegetables or gourmet cheeses that made me want to scream: "YES I EAT MEAT AND SOMETIMES I EVEN BUY HARMFUL CHEMICALS; I'M WEARING LEATHER SHOES AND SOMETIMES I LEAVE THE LIGHTS ON!" I imagined a hush falling over the store; the cold stares; the muttering. (Now, be reasonable, you coo, nervously. Not everyone who shops at Whole Foods is anti-leather or anti-meat, and hey, what's wrong with the goal of non chemical healthy food? It's OK, I'm calm, I'm calm, I mean, I 'll be fine...) I've been under a lot of pressure lately, you know?
This is one way of saying, today is the day before tomorrow, and tomorrow is the day where important veterinary future things get decided, like: will you be toiling in some practice next year for some money (but there's still the evils of job hunting) or toiling in a veterinary school for no money in the hopes that you'll gain some crystallizing experience that tells you once and for all that you're a doctor now? And you see, I'm not thinking about this right now. I'm thinking around it. I'm thinking about how when you move someplace, your environment defines you in some intangible way, much like the way physicists talk about every action with its equal and opposite reaction. It may look like you're sitting on the table, but the table is also opposing your butt with equal and opposite force, otherwise it would be the floor, suddenly, opposing your now bruised posterior. You push on your environment, it pushes back. (Huh, you say? What does this have to do with tomorrow? Wait for it...) So now I'm thinking about next year, and moving back to the west coast, and how it will be like a tight sweater that used to fit. You put it on, and--huh, you say to yourself, how come I never noticed that squidgy way the sleeves hug my armpits? I'm not really the same exact person now after vet school. And you see, Whole Foods reminds me of Portland, a little, because the whole place is so much more populated by a liberal population generally willing to buy spices in bulk and high priced granola. And when it comes right down to it, I suffer from two basic emotions when I think about moving back. (Very basic, don't say you weren't warned, this is straight back to middle school, people.)
(Let me digress for a minute, at the risk of revealing too much and exaggerating my background to the point of pathos, which is not my intention. I was NOT a popular kid in middle school. Whether or not this should matter is a moot point. It did, and it still does somehow, because it was a defining moment to get to a college where all of a sudden I felt like I belonged. And whenever you move, there's that need to find someplace where you still belong. And when you don't it's slowly and quietly unsettling; it undermines you; it crops up when you are anxious about your abilities or your future. Like maybe how good a doctor you will be? Or where you will be next year? Get it?)
One is the disappointment you feel when you hoped or first belonged to a new self-identified group of people that you thought were so cool and then you discover THE.BIG.SECRET. You admire they way they dress, or talk, or opine, but inside they are just people. CRAP! They have hypocrisy and stupidity and egotism just like all the other people you didn't want to be like. This may make you philosophical and happily assume, yay, we're all more alike than we think! Or, like me, you may get a little bitter and lash out desperately in some public forum, like say...a blog, for instance. And maybe deeper down, or just mixed in is the other basic emotion. This is the ohmygod iwannabecoolihopetheystilllikeme/doistillbelong? emotion. Tricky. Which came first, the wanting or the rejecting? Or do they just keep happening over and over and all mixed up? Lest you think I'm a complete self doubting, self-hating noodle, I will say in my defense that tomorrow is scary and I've been trapped in my house in the frozen tundra of the north in the dark thinking about it for many many months. AND I don't get out much. I promise, soon I will try and remember how to talk and play well with others, and respect their opinions about organic produce and try to have well-reasoned and insightful conversations about the merits and demerits of factory farmed fish, but right now I want to say that for lunch I had factory produced beef from Stop N Shop, my shoes are leather, and my hair is undyed. The truth is, I'm still twelve, I'm wearing a dorky sweater and I don't know which bands are cool, thankyou very much. Here's to hoping you like me anyway, dear west coast, tainted as I may be, because no matter what happens tomorrow, internship or job, I'm coming home.
Monday, February 20, 2006
You can't move an inch, my dear Marcus Emilius,
without Aborigines sprouting up as if from the earth itself.
Your heel sticks fast amidst Rutulians.
You founder knee-deep in Sabines and Latins.
You're up to your waist, your neck, your nostrils,
in Aequians and Volscians, dear Lucius Fabius.
These irksome little nations, thick as flies.
It's enough to make you sick, dear Quintus Decius.
One town, then the next, then the hundred and seventieth.
The Fidenates' stubbornness. The Feliscan's ill will.
The short-sighted Ecetrans. The Capricious Antemnates.
The Laricanians and Pelignians, offensively aloof.
They drive us mild-mannered sorts to sterner measures
with every new mountain we cross, dear Gaius Cloelius.
If only they weren't always in the way, the Auruncians, the Marsians,
but they always do get in the way, dear Spurius Manlius.
Tarquinians where you'd least expect them, Etruscans on all sides.
If that weren't enough, Volsinians and Veientians.
The Aulertians, beyond all reason. And, of course,
the endlessly vexatious Sapinians, my dear Sextus Oppius.
Little nations do have little minds.
The circle of thick skulls expands around us.
Reprehensible customs. Backward laws.
Ineffectual gods, my dear Titus Vilius.
Heaps of Hernicians. Swarms of Murricinians.
Antlike multitudes of Vestians and Samnites.
The farther you go, the more there are, dear Servius Follius.
The little nations are pitiful indeed.
Their foolish ways require supervision
with every new river we ford, dear Aulus Iunius.
Every new horizon threatens me.
That's how I'd put it, my dear Hostius Melius.
To which I, Hostius Melius, would reply, my dear
Appius Papius: March on! The world has got to end somewhere.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
First, a little bit more about the trip. This trip is under the auspices of the MVMA (Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association) and goes twice a year to the Samana region of the Dominican Republic. This is the peninsula off the east side of the island. The trip has been in existence for 9 years, and by all reports has made a great deal of difference in the region. The vets donate time and many supplies, and offer low cost to free spaying and neutering of dogs and cats and castration of mules and horses. If you are a veterinary student in your fourth year (me, for example), you will be given plenty of practice in these surgical skills. I spayed two or three dogs and helped with other spays, neutered a few dogs and castrated or helped castrate many many horses and a few mules. Mules are the trickiest, being much smarter than horses and often more aggressive.
I flew into Santiago with two other people who were helping out on the trip. It was startling to realize that, at least at night, traffic signals are entirely optional. And there's nothing like being a tall white chick on the streets of Santiago to make you feel slightly out of place. The trip out to the peninsula was a pole-position video game made real. Luckily(?) for us, the male of the group had always apparently dreamed of living the game, and cackled gleefully as we catapulted down partially paved roads and passed as many people as possible. We never did figure out how many points you got for the double pass (you passing someone who's passing someone else). If you were hard up for a goat there were plenty of stands on the way out of Santiago to replenish your herd. We did watch some poor guy on a moped get whacked by the front bumper of a car trying to pull out. The guy was ok, but some strategic part of his bike did end up on the pavement.
I had a conversation with a visitor from Spain about the trip before I left. He was sort of betting that I would be shocked by the poverty on the island as compared to America. We were having this long conversation about how Americans view pets and how much money they spend on pets as compared to the rest of the world. (It is surprising to most--our new roommate has recently arrived from Beijing, and she was amazed at how much time I spent in the hospital during small animal surgery, and how many people would pay for surgery on their dogs.) And if you care, America, why is that in all these conversations do I feel obliged to defend you, shamefacedly, as if covering up for an alcoholic uncle who's just shown up drunk to a fancy party? I mean, I can happily admit you have a problem, but I just can't quite leave you in the cold.
I have to say my reactions to the poverty level were more mixed and complex. Shock seems like a worthless emotion. It seems an easy pitfall; another cliche; pampered American goes "oh, how horrid, or oh how sad." Both patronizing and soon forgotten. My first reaction was more one of "who am I to come in here and say such things? What use would you have for my pity or shock?" People around me seemed happy (will I be hung for my use of the word, for my subjective and outsider's brush?) and busy, living lives that could not be condemmed as sad or hollow simply for lack of STUFF. Where in America are your social gatherings after dark? Your entire community sitting outside, talking or listening to loud music? These things are SCHEDULED in our country, penciled in on calendars and arranged by soccer moms or the neighborhood association, because god forbid you see your neighbors at random, or leave the air conditioning or your internet. Arguably once the Dominicans have air conditioning or internet they too will stop putting chairs out by the road, but I hope not. On the other hand, you had to notice the lack of infrastructure; the trash on the streets and in the medians, even in little towns; the menace of the new hotel built with bribes and no built-in waste disposal, which threatens to eat up the water supply for the residents. No answers.
As for the trip, the local residents have found out over the years some of the usefulness of castrating their mules or deworming their dogs. It's still harder to get a man to cut off his dog's cojones than you would imagine, but the idea is gaining acceptance (and I gotta say, you do notice. I mean you're driving down the street and you see some dog and you think, holy ****, that dog has really huge testicles!). The dogs of Samana are smallish, mostly 20 to 30 pounders, and clearly someone's German Shepherd was once making free with some local mutt. There's the occasional terrier looking thing, and sometimes a Dalmation (!!?). They are mostly free of mange, and mostly fed enough, although never fat. The horses are small, maybe 14 hands, with plenty of Paso Fino thrown in. And I have to be amused thinking of the fancy dressage barns with their natural wood paneling and lack of turn-out, where coiffed and breeched ladies are horrified at the idea of leaving a lead rope on in the stall, and comparing this to the horses tied by the neck on the roadside, left there all day to graze. Do those horses go around breaking legs and running off? Not often. Now, they're not being asked to do upper level movements, either, and the dressage people do give their horses free access to water, but the horses on the island are also not considered useless if a little lame or ill-made. While I wish the one culture would recognize pain and husbandry issues, I have to ask the other to stop being so damned precious.
I'm not sure either place has it right. It's the same thing with the cars. Cars that someone in the US would have thrown to the junk yard were all driving along just fine. More dangerous? Probably in some cases. Due to inabililty to afford new cars rather than some sense of pride in reuse and recycle? Yup. And yet I still hate the hideous buy a new car and toss the old one that we can afford here at home more.
We also were the proud owners of three flat tires. Separately. And while the rental car did have a spare, it HAD NO JACK. That's what happens when you take a Honda CRV down an unpaved, unleveled and ungraded road. But that's when you provide amusement as silly gringos, as the entire community of young men try to outdo themselves looking for a jack. And then there's the guy with the roadside auto "store" who will drive you himself to your destination, drive back, fix your tire and then bring your rental car to you. Sure, he's making money, but who here trusts some guy they've never met to take their car and bring it back? You probably can trust strangers more often than not, but the point is, who would?
So we don't live on an island, and we mostly obey traffic signals and we don't usually carry propane tanks across our laps while driving 45 miles an hour on a moped, but sometimes I think we are lacking in a lot of other ways.