Friday, June 3, 2011

Vet school is not the only thing I do.

I am always rewarded for bringing my sailing gear with me when I travel between school and home. Maybe that's why I continue to add it to my packing pile, even when I am only going to be home for a few short weeks.

I was rewarded yet again this week, when I got the usual text message: "Can you sail tomorrow night?" After working out a few kinks in my schedule, I sent back my favorite reply: "I'll be there!"

I am at the sweet point where I don't need to ask who, what, when, or where. It's Mr. Rich's J/24, 5:30 PM, at the yacht club. Who else? That question has a different answer every week, which is part of the fun. This week, Mr. Rich represented the upper end of the crew's age range, and 3 of the 4 other crew members were within a year of my age. At other times, I've been the youngest by far. It's always fun, and I always learn something, no matter who I sail with.

I've sailed on boats where I get to do a little more than I do on this particular boat, but sailing is not always about pushing the limits of my ability. Sometimes it's about enjoying my comfort zone.

Last night was a particularly good night. There was the fact that I wasn't sure if I could go, and then the surprise when it turned out I could make it. Then there was the fact that  Thursday dawned about ten degrees cooler than Wednesday had, not to mention about 10 knots breezier and 10 units of haziness less hazy. That breeze stuck around all day, putting ideas into my head about how it might, just might, stick around for evening racing. Those ideas strengthened as I drove over the Bay Bridge and saw the white-capped water and felt my car buffeted by the still-steady wind. It looked windy enough to plant that little seed of anxiety in my head. Or is it stomach? Wherever it is exactly that it gets planted, it makes me that much happier when I go sailing anyway and have a great time anyway.

What else? A warm welcome from friends I haven't seen in many months. Just warm enough sun and just cool enough breeze. The overpowering scent of Water Babies sunscreen. Getting a face-full of spray and thinking, Good thing I brought dry clothes to drive home in, rather than, I knew I should have brought dry clothes to drive home in. Hearing my friend say to me, under her breath, "You know, I'm more of a 10-12 knot kind of girl," rather than, "I love it when it blows 20 knots!" Because when I say "Me, too," I can mean it wholeheartedly rather than halfheartedly. Funny how the first statement squelches that seed of anxiety, while the second doesn't do anything for it either way.

Finally, the cherry on top: We're two-thirds, or maybe even three-quarters up the last beat of the second race. There's one boat to leeward of us. They tack, and we lee-bow them. I feel like I can reach out and touch their jib, we're so close. I am sitting on the rail between two friends, all three of us hiking as hard as we can, thinking heavy thoughts, but that boat is eating shoreline on us. Those heavy thoughts start to feel like they really are making my toes heavier, and then we are even, and then we are pulling ahead, and then we are bow-out and shutting the door on them. We put the bow down and we're in the groove, and we cross the line in first.

We do one more race, and then we sail back to the basin. This is the kind of sailing where re-action is sufficient, unlike racing, which demands pro-action. Back on shore, I'm to another sweet point; I hardly ever have to ask What next? Where does this go? or Is this the way?

The boat put away, our boating party breaks up. I walk to my car with the best memento I can take home from Thursday night sailboat racing: an invitation to come sailing again next week. 

Spring at last!

What month does that photo look like to you?

March? Maybe April?

I took that photo on May 12.

I believe I was already writing wishfully about spring back in February, but it really took until May for spring to really, truly be here. Look, even in that photo there are only a few trees that are green. There were dairy farms that, as of May 25, had not planted corn yet, because it hasn't been dry enough to get tractors into fields. 

To be fair, our Northern Spring has a lot to overcome. The same old principles of inertia and momentum still apply: an object at rest tends to stay at rest; an object in motion tends to stay in motion. In this case, a season at rest tends to stay at rest.  Spring must overcome the inertia of a winter that has been peacefully at rest in the region for at least four and a half months. The sun must warm a ground that has been frozen. It must coax plants into growth that have been living efficiently on stored energy. "Why should we photosynthesize?" they must grumble, "We have plenty of sap."

But grow they do, to the relief of everyone.

Cows included.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Things Winston eats

One of my housemates returned to school last August with a canine companion named Winston. He's a miniature Schnauzer, and is now about 10 months old. Even at such a tender age, he has already compiled a long list of "dietary indiscretions," also known as "stuff he shouldn't have eaten." This list is just to get us going. I fully expect this to become a regularly-appearing topic.

Chocolate (including Hershey kisses, a raspberry-filled Gertrude Hawk dark chocolate bar from the box I'm supposed to be selling for a fundraiser, mini Reese's cups, M&Ms, and peanut M&Ms)
Jolly Ranchers
An entire, unopened pack of chewing gum
Used tissues, straight from the trashcan
An entire bag of kitty treats
Ibuprofen (more than once)
A tube of hydrocortisone anti-itch cream
PPA, a drug used to treat canine urinary incontinence
So much dry cat food in one sitting that he vomited intact cat food kibbles overnight, and was pooping intact cat food kibbles the next morning. Basically his entire GI tract was full of cat food.
The tasty treats the cats hide in their litter know what I mean.

So, that's all I can think of off the top of my head.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to vaccinate 100 llamas in one day

Send in 20 vet students!

A few weeks ago, this email appeared in my inbox:

Seeing as how I have zero experience working with llamas, naturally, I signed up.

It turned out that most of the llamas were geldings, so we knew ahead of time that we probably weren't going to be doing any preg checks, but that was just about all we knew going into the day. When we arrived at the farm, the owner showed us around, and then explained his plan: one by one, send each llama into a squeeze chute, vaccinate it, scan it for a microchip (just like the ones to reunite lost pets with their owners), and take its photo for his website.

A low hum, similar to the sound made by a swarm of angry hornets, filled the barn: twenty vet students, who had just driven 2 and a half hours to get some hands-on llama wrangling experience, did the math, and immediately figured that 3 vaccines, a photo, and scanning for a microchip meant approximately 5 people would be occupied at any given moment, while the rest of us stood around and watched.

A few tentative hands went up, and with them, a few tactful inquiries were made.
"Dr. Smith, is there anything we can do with the llamas while they are still in the pen, before they go to the chute?"
"It seems like putting each llama through the chute might take a very long time."
"Maybe we can put the first one in the chute, just to demonstrate everything we're going to be doing."

After the first llama was secured in the chute, vaccinated, scanned, and photographed, the farm owner had a brilliant idea: "Maybe," he mused aloud, "if the students work in teams....they'll be able to do the vaccines in the pens, and we'll use the chute just for photos and microchip scanning."

So, that is what we did. There was a big open pen toward the back of the barn, and four or five smaller pens or stalls near the front. Other volunteers (local llama enthusiasts) sent groups of llamas out of the big pen, and we herded them into the stalls. Then we got to work. A pair of students started drawing up vaccines, and I joined up with some of my friends to start wrestling llamas.

It was harder than we suspected. Llamas are not huge creatures, not compared to horses and dairy cows, but they are strong. They fling their necks around, rear up, and strike with their hind legs. They are also agile--on more than one occasion, a llama, standing at the gate to a pen that was at least at their eye-level, would get the notion that life outside the pen looked a lot more promising than life inside the pen, where it's brethren were systematically being chased around, poked, and prodded. So it would do what any llama would do: take a deep breath, and attempt to jump straight up and over the gate. Many were successful; including one that jumped over the gate I was guarding to prevent just such an occurrence.

Two of the vaccines we were giving could go right into the muscle; but the third had to go subcutaneously--under the skin. The llamas' extensive fleeces, and thick, tight skin make sub-Q injections a challenge at best. Luckily, whoever designed the llama gave it a bare patch of skin, right in its armpit, just perfect for giving injections. You still have to move the fleece out of the way to find that little bare patch, and you still have to get that needle through the tough skin, but it's a heck of a lot easier than trying anywhere else.

After about two solid hours of vaccinating, we seemed to be about half way through, and took a break to eat lunch. The owner provided us with pizza, and lots of desserts, including several different kinds of brownies and cookies, and chocolate cupcakes. Someone must have informed him that vet students will do just about any task if there's a free meal involved. After lunch, everyone was re-energized, and the second half of the llamas were vaccinated in what seemed like half the time it took to do the first half. Then, the real fun began!

Although the llamas were supposed to have all been females or geldings, we ended up with six that were intact males. (Did I mention that one of our tasks was to cop a feel of every llama we vaccinated to determine that exact fact?) Six times two is twelve; twelve students would have the chance to perform half of the castration procedure. After watching the first one, and calculating the odds that they would actually get to do the procedure, and realizing what time it would be when they arrived back at school, a couple of carloads of students left, vastly increasing the chance that I, myself, would get to castrate a llama. Once Dr. Sprout had guided students through the first 2 llamas, she said, "You guys get the drill now, right? Can you take it from here?" And we did. Those who had already gone coached the ones who hadn't, and those who were waiting held tails out of the way, sat on unruly llamas, passed instruments, or documented each other's achievement of another vet school milestone: First Surgury on a Llama. First Surgury Without a Clinician Watching. First Surgury in the Field. For most of us, First Surgury would suffice.

Monday, February 21, 2011

On a Northern Spring.

Spring is definitely coming: a statement of the obvious? Perhaps; the earth is still orbiting the sun, last time I checked. Scientifically, spring is inevitable. But obvious? Not around here. I cleared 6 inches of snow off my car this morning and the thermometer is currently reading 14 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are looking for storybook, fairytale, Disney signs of spring, you won't find them. If, however, you dig a little deeper and read between the lines, so to speak, it's apparent: winter's vise grip has been loosened.

When I brush Badger these days, little clouds of hair come up with every pass of the brush. Shedding season has arrived! It's not much to start with, but in another week or two, I'll no longer be able to run to the grocery store straight from the least not without a measure of embarrassment for the extra coat of fur I've acquired. Two weeks ago, we had a day that was sunny, and quite breezy, and really not all that warm (probably around 35°F). There was just a quality to the air that felt different, gentler, maybe with a breath of humidity, reflecting the rainy spring days to come. Then, last Thursday and Friday, we had a real taste: two sunny, melty, balmy days in a row! On Thursday, someone spotted a turkey vulture--I hadn't realized they went elsewhere for the winter, but the man said it was the first one of the season, Friday I believe it even hit 60°F.  The ice on the creek broke up, and Milo and I went to look at the ice jams--a sure sign of spring.

Naturally, around here, weather like that doesn't gain a sure foothold until well into May, and we had 6 inches of snow on Saturday and Sunday in addition to the 6 that fell last night. They are predicting single digits for the low tonight, and sub-zero temps for tomorrow night. But Spring has gained the upper hand--I saw a pair of bluebirds yesterday.

At the beginning of the semester, I encountered a piece of Percy Bysshe Shelley verse that perfectly portrays the mindset necessary for surviving a Northern winter:
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
The answer is, soundly, No.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Block 4 re-cap, or why I haven't posted anything in 4 months.

It's hard to know what to say about an experience like Block 4. Even more so than Block 1, the first, ten-week anatomy course, Block 4 felt like what hazing must be like, except that I think there is supposed to be at least a superficial element of fun in hazing. I wish I had written during the block, because now, looking back, it's all blurry and vague, like when you wake up from a bad dream with only the sense of unrest to tell you you've had a nightmare. Reading what I've just written, I realize how dramatic and exaggerated it sounds. But really, there's nothing funny about memorizing all the bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites that can infect dogs, cats, horses, cows and chickens.

Some highlights:

I was color coding my flashcards depending on whether they were bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. I used up my green "bacteria pen." Twice.

One of our labs involved running an ELISA (a test that can detect antibodies) on serum from our own animals, to determine if they were allergic to anything. I got to draw blood from my own dog, which was pretty cool.

Pathogen Bowl: Supposed to make learning pathogens fun, what it actually did was force us all to watch one person with a photographic memory answer every question almost before it was finished being asked. Not fun.

The cells of the immune system make great Halloween costumes: meet the Sexy B-Cell.

Puppy pile: the best way to de-stress from Block 4. 

So, with Block 4 safely out of the way and successfully repressed in my memory, I hope to write more this semester!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to be a scientist

These words came out of my mouth in class last Friday: "Use your imagination and have a little faith...that's what science is all about!"

My original intent was quite literal, and it was only upon hearing the words outloud as I spoke them that they sounded funny and ironic. So often, we use science to trump imagination and faith, but you really can't do science without imagination and faith! Science has hard facts, science has proof, science always tells the truth...but there would be no elegant experiments without imagination, and many a researcher has succeeded only because they had faith in their science when others didn't.

Medicine, too, benefits from imagination and faith. When confronted with a list of signs and symptoms, it often takes some imagination to figure out how they fit together. Medicine is not all miraculous cures and grateful patients, either, and a little faith that in the end, it does matter that one is a doctor, can make the daily grind more bearable.

Finally, education. What use are imagination and faith in education, especially education at the professional level? I often qualify my level of comprehension with the words, "I can imagine how X would interact with Y to produce effect Z." I mean that I am not confident X and Y do interact, but based on the knowledge I am confident in, effect Z would follow logically, if, indeed X and Y interact. Faith's role is in saying outloud what it is I imagine. I have faith in some prorportion of my knowledge on any given topic, I have faith that my logic is correct, I have faith that even if I am wrong next time, in the future I may be right, and, most importantly, I have faith that saying something that is wrong outloud is okay.

Many of my peers seem reluctant to hazard guesses when asked questions that probe the outermost extent of our current knowledge. I don't know if it's because they don't use their imaginations to arrive at a possible answer, or if they don't have faith that guessing wrong is okay. I'm sure in some cases, it's both.