Saturday, November 21, 2009

These are my people

As the summer wore away and I thought more and more about starting vet school, I was most looking forward to meeting people and making new friends.  This was in stark contrast to when I went off to undergrad: Back then, I was most worried about making friends and meeting people. I had known my best friend since kindergarten; I had known all my good friends at least since the 6th grade. I did not believe that four years of college would be enough time to make the same kind of relationships as those I had with my childhood friends. Naturally, I was completely wrong. It turns out that when you live with, eat with, learn with, practice with, and have fun with your peers, you get pretty close. Having realized this fundamental tenet of higher education, I was very excited to go back to school. I knew I was going to meet people I would be friends with for the rest of my life, but again, I was surprised. During orientation, we spent so much of the time sitting and listening to people talk, we hardly had any time to talk amongst ourselves. While we did have a team-building activity with our tutor groups, it was still a week before two of my groupmates and I all realized we hailed from the same state. The hardest part of my transition to life in vet school was that period when, while I was becoming acquainted with my classmates, I still didn't have any friends. We weren't sitting in lectures yet, we didn't have lab groups yet, and we were done at 5 in the afternoon. My mind was full of home, what my friends were doing, and the fact that I was in a new place with out any of them. When I was finally too busy with studying to worry about making friends, it happened. I didn't realize it all at once, but rather, noticed in little moments. Someone waved hello across the parking lot. Someone said good morning to me as I sat down in lecture. Someone offered to grab me a school paper to read during lunch. Someone invited me to pull up a chair in the cafeteria.  Someone wanted to be my partner during lab.   Someone smiled at me in the library. Someone wanted to study together over the weekend.

So, almost imperceptibly, I acquired friends, and they are just as wonderful as I knew they'd be. They are thoughtful, kind, interesting, worldly, well-read, funny, crafty, musical, athletic, good cooks, and so, so smart. I don't remember now exactly what the occasion was, but a few weeks ago, I was with my friends, and a thought made itself forcefully present in my mind: These are my people, this is my niche, here I am, where I belong. There is no more self-affirming thought that that.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Gauntlet

That's what they should call Anatomy, or at least the anatomy final. In addition to the comprehensive dissection of a dog, the course includes lectures on anatomy, histology, and embryology, histology and radiology dry labs, and a series of self-directed wet labs that cover the comparative aspects of the 4 major body regions. I came back from the mid-term motivated and ready to settle in and study as much as humanly possible, but the only way to study enough is to forgo eating a nutritionally sound diet, exercising every day, maintaining a socially acceptable level of personal hygiene, completing household chores, and walking the dog. Having written that list, it is glaringly obvious to me that neglecting all those activities is clearly a recipe for insanity, but it is all to easy to believe that studying enough is possible. The key to success in anatomy is not to spend all your time studying, but to spend some time not studying. I spent a few weeks after the mid-term trying to study enough, until I realized I was seeing my dog for an hour in the morning, during which time I was focused on getting ready and out the door, and for an hour or two between getting home from school and going to bed, during which time I was getting ready for the next day and for bed. When I had that realization, I made an effort to spend a few hours at home in the afternoons. I'll admit, I still didn't always walk the dog, but at least I wasn't thinking about anatomy.

During the weeks between the mid-term and final, I also made some new friends/study buddies. P–– and E–– live in a neighborhood just a couple of miles from my house, and it was a combination of factors that brought us together: E–– and I were in lab together, my car was on the fritz, and P–– and E––, and the rest of their housemates watch The Office together. Thinking back on all of that now, it literally is a blur. Our schedules were hardly the same one day to the next, but the pattern of going to school, studying in the library, eating dinner, and studying some more was still enough that the days and weeks run together. Even once my car was fixed and I was spending more time at home, the routine was still such that I felt buoyed along, caught up in the torrent.

And then, seemingly overnight, the final was just a few weeks away. Those last 2 weeks are what I imagine the last 2 miles of a marathon to be like: every muscle (brain cell?) hurts, but the end is almost within sight, and that's enough to keep going. I couldn't have done it alone, either. My friends and I studied together, and that was important, but we kept each other sane, too. P––'s brother J–– even bought us pizza one night. P––, E–– and I planned out our studying, and looked at our cadavers every day. I didn't walk the dog. The heap of dirty clothes grew, as did the stacks of papers on my desk. I ate cafeteria food for lunch and Ramen noodles for dinner. On Friday, I spent 15 hours at school. And finally, on Sunday, after studying all day, E–– and I took the afternoon off and cooked butternut squash soup. It was sooo good! I'm reminded of a quote I'm fond of (Brian Andreas is the author):
There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other's cooking & say it was good.
Vet school often doesn't make sense, and it certainly makes no money, but boy does it feel right.   

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Post-Game Analysis

We took our mid-term 2 weeks ago, and it was very much like playing the first game of the season. Going into the game, you are oscillating between confident and unsure. You think about how you've prepared, and it seems like you've practiced as hard as you can, but then again, maybe you could have practiced just a little bit more. As students, we deal with that roller coaster in different ways. I need a cushion of time between wrapping up studying and taking the exam, but some people only feel secure if they read as many pages of their notes as time allows.

My classmates seem to be a pretty grounded group, though. I've never been part of an academic setting in which students were competitive with each other, but I know many vet students experience that kind of atmosphere in their undergraduate programs. I love that no one seems to have brought that mentality with them. Everyone is supportive, and I get the sense that everyone knows how hard we all worked to get where we are, and that we want success for each other just as much as we want it for ourselves.

That being said, I knew before I finished taking the mid-term that I had not been putting 100% of my effort into studying. I was certainly doing enough to be prepared for class each day, but I really hadn't put the time into reviewing all along. The mid-term gave me a big push, and I've really been able to crank up the intensity of my studying. They've been telling us since we got here that this is professional school, that we should consider other students and faculty our colleagues, and that we should approach the whole endeavor like a job, but I hadn't given any of that much thought. I was studying last week, and actually enjoying myself, when I realized that was exactly what they meant. Our careers are not going to start in four years, after graduation. They have already started. Studying is no longer "homework." It is real work. Thinking about it that way helps me find the initiative to settle down and concentrate when I first sit down, and stamina to keep going when my focus starts to waver.

Ophtho Exams!

My favorite part of vet school is our practical lab that we have 2 or 3 times a week. This is the time when we get to polish our physical exam skills on real, live, warm, fuzzy animals. We usually have one small animal lab and one large animal lab every week, and everybody has to do everything. A few weeks ago, we were learning small animal eye exams. Everyone is used to seeing a direct fundic exam, where the doctor looks through an ophthalmoscope to see into the back of your eye (the fundus). There is also an indirect exam, where you use the tapetum (the part of the eye that causes animal eyes to glow in your headlights) to reflect an image of the retina back out of the eye and into a magnifying lens.

You hold the light source back by your face, and the lens right next to the eye. When you see the reflection of the tapetum, you move the lens between the light and the eye, and an image of the retina jumps into the lens. It is trick to position the light and the lens, and the dogs don't like having a bright light shone in their eyes anymore than we do, but when you get it to work, it's beautiful.

I also think the indirect exam is cool because it's simple, and kind of old-fashioned.

Monday, October 5, 2009

You know you're a vet student when... think the purpose of Fall Break is so you can spend all day in the library instead of all day in class.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I am capable of spending the entire weekend studying. Who knew? I think what made it possible was discovering that A– and I make great study partners. Her thoroughness is inspiring to me, and, she claims, my confidence is inspiring to her. We'll see how confident I am when that mid-term flops onto the desk in front of me. Still, I don't feel any real anxiety, although I expect the same adrenalin rush I used to experience when the stack of  organic chemistry exams made its way back to my desk.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What does it feel like to be living the dream?

Answer: A lot like having a fire hose of information aimed at you all day long. Not that that's a bad thing, but it is descriptive. After spending all day (Saturday, mind you) at school, reading, reviewing case studies, and studying our dissections, I began to realize that what I really need to do is be here (yes, here, as in the vet school library) every Saturday. Until Christmas. Not that I'm complaining.

If there's one thing vet students are unwilling to admit to, it's cynicism. Each of us knows we're here because someone else, or 2 or 3 someone else's received letters of regret. We all wander down the path of complaining about our workload, or why we didn't have a lecture on cranial nerves until we'd been studying them for a week, or how badly the larynxes in gross lab smell, but more often than not, someone at the pity party will say, "But I guess this is what we signed up for," or "At least we made it this far."

And that's what this blog is about: That tenuous balance between being in up to my neck in what I hope to be doing for the rest of my life, and being in over my head.