Friday, April 28, 2006


(I wonder if I'm dating myself--it sure seems like K-Marts are pretty much replaced by Wal-Marts and Targets at this point. Shall we shed a tear for the mythical Blue Light Special? Naah...)

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

Nothing rhymes with origami...

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

meme/quiz storm!

This is not because I have nothing else to say...This is because I'm sitting in a lecture hall for the first time in a year and a half and I'd forgotten the moral fiber and neurologic fortitude required to So I've been doing what all students do with the quintessential time-wasting-distraction device, the laptop: I've been playing solitaire, browsing the web, and exploring my inner self by taking random quizzes designed by strangers who have more or less experience at web design and random seeds which is directly correlated to their ability to sucker me into thinking: "hey they DO know me!" So here we go.

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.

Two births:
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?

One death:
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.

Your fortune:

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.
What Tarot Card Are You?

Well. My next-door neighbor in this lecture hall just asked if I would move over, as my large, swollen head is blocking her light and making it hard to take notes. That's gotta be why we do these things. All in the name of self-revalation and introspection. And by the way, I do accept personal checks as a form of prayer.