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.