Friday, December 31, 2010

Maybe not so paradise, after all.

So in the last twenty four hours I have:

- Woke up at 3am after getting roughly two hours of awful sleep in order to board a redeye flight out of Chicago at 5:30am.

- Made a connecting flight at 10:55am from Miami to St. Kitts. So far, so good. All of my flights are on time and going as smoothly as multi-hour coach flights can.

- Was informed by the pilot that St. Kitts is currently experiencing "light rain" that makes it impossible for us to land due to a slick runway. I was suspicious because it's a tropical freaking island, you'd think they would have that covered by now. We reroute to St. Maarten and refuel and wait 30 minutes before making another attempt to fly out to St. Kitts.

- Nope, still too wet! We reroute to St. Maarten again and stop for about an hour, during which time we're actually allowed to get off the plane and eat something. All of the restaurants are closed, though, so we're all snatching cold ham and cheese sandwiches out of the refrigerator of a cafe kiosk like rabid coyotes.

- We make one last attempt at St. Kitts, are unsuccessful, and reroute to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The airline hooks us up with a free hotel room in a really nice hotel, meal vouchers, free taxi service, the works. Unfortunately it took over two hours to make it through customs and get everyone situated, and the airline lost one of my bags. It's in Miami and will be flown to St. Kitts tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'm without a change of clothes other that my pajamas and clean underwear.

- All of this is on top of the fact that the pilot during three take offs and landings was a complete novice. We bounced, we skidded, we shook. It was pretty terrifying, actually. At one point the wing tips nearly brushed the ground on a landing, and he barely cleared a mountain peak during one of our take offs. This is very likely the real reason we couldn't land in St. Kitts.

So, short a great deal of sleep and one bag which may or may not make it to St. Kitts tomorrow, I'm going to call it a night. I have a wake up call in 6 hours. But before I go, I'll leave you with some stunning pictures I took during the flight from Miami to St. Kitts (the first time).

Bye bye, U.S! That's the tip of Florida behind us.

We rarely knew exactly which islands we were flying over, just that they were very pretty.

This, however, was St. Maarten. You can see it was getting a little nasty out by then.

Monday, December 27, 2010

60 hours left.

Less than three full days until I leave the country. My suitcases are packed and weighed. My husband and I are clinging to each other like lichen. Oddly enough, I'm not nervous in the least, just feeling sort of bittersweet about leaving.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

T-minus eleven days.

Today has been an interesting Benny-Hillesque running gag of packing, unpacking, repacking and weighing my suitcases. I can't say enough about how useful those vacuum storage bags are for moving an entire closet of clothes, pillows, bed linens and towels across an ocean.

As I've been doing a lot lately, while packing I was reminiscing about everything that's brought me to this point, this time about all of my accumulated animal experience. I'd crack a smile or laugh out loud as I remembered a particular patient or foster. Everything from malnourished rats diving into their first, real meal in who knows how long to giving a very disgruntled two-toed sloth a bath.

Vet schools require a certain amount of animal-related experience from a potential applicant. Usually that means vet-related experience, working in a clinic environment or at the very least under a vet in some capacity. The reason for this is very simple and necessary; they want to make sure you've got the cajones to do the job. Education can only go so far. You could have the best book knowledge and technical skills in your class, but that doesn't mean you're not going to faint during your first major rodenticide bleed out, or hurl on your shoes when an overenthusiastic Parvo puppy slops mucusy, liquid diarrhea down the front of your shirt. It also doesn't train you to handle clients, easily the most challenging part of being a veterinarian. You wouldn't believe how many people claim to have gotten into vet med because they "hate people." Well then, darling, you're in the wrong profession. We not only have to deal with people, we get to see them at their very lowest. We see them irate and screaming in our face as they protest their latest bill. We also see them hunched over, racked with sobs as they mourn the loss of a constant companion over the last 13 years.

Demanding clinical experience in a vet student helps ensure that they can handle all of the above. As I mentioned in earlier entries, when I first started out I had no animal experience. None. And I was going up against freshman - kids! - with five years of vet assistant work under their belt. I had to catch up, and fast. I was fortunately blessed with a mixture of good luck and absolutely ruthless determination. Animal-related jobs are hard to come by in a college town with a vet school. Every position has dozens of eager, green applicants vying for the spot. Over a period of six years I overextended myself, working 1-2 jobs, going to school part time for 8-9 hours per semester (I quickly learned full time coursework was not possible, and dragged down my GPA), and maintaining 2-3 volunteer positions at the same time. In the end, though, it was worth it. My resume now is pretty damn impressive, and I've had more than one interview where my potential future employer's eyebrows shot up into their hairline. Not many vet students have accumulated the sheer amount and variety of animal experience that I have.

- Vet assistant in a four doctor, small animal clinical practice.
 * This is pretty typical for a vet school applicant, and usually the full extent of their animal related experience.

- Kennel assistant at a Humane Society animal shelter.
 * Primarily the person in charge of cat euthanasia and blood draws/vaccines. Yeah, that sucked. I still have the scars.

- Observer/assistant at a 24 hour emergency vet clinic.
 * The coolest thing I did here was stick my hand into a sheltie's vaginal canal and gently pull out a rottweiler puppy that was too large to pass naturally and had gotten stuck. Then I spent the next fifteen minutes resuscitating the little guy. Best feeling in the world when they draw that first breath and squall angrily at you.

- Volunteer at my local zoo for over three years.
 * Let's face it, there's no way this isn't awesome. I was one of the older, more experienced volunteers, so I was afforded a certain amount of leeway. They would assign me tasks, but more often than not I could also do my own thing and come and go as I pleased. I ended up reorganizing and training their volunteers in food prep, buying a food grater out of pocket when I noticed them chopping vegetables too large for some of the herps, and donating an old rat cage of mine that they still use to this day because I didn't approve of the 20 gallon aquarium that their four rats were overcrowded into and sweltering in the 90+ degree summer heat in an unairconditioned room.

- Exotic animal rescue volunteer and foster.
  * This was easily my most satisfying position. Exotic pets are booming, but unfortunately the amount and quality of care information available to the general public is lacking. As a result our rescue frequently took in animals that unintentionally or not were left in a very bad state. I fostered sick/malnourished/neglected animals and restored them to full health before seeing them off to great new homes. It was incredibly fulfilling work that I will miss very much while in vet school.

- Lab animal care technician.
* This job is really where the meat and potatoes of my animal care experience lies. I worked as a caretaker for Purdue's research animals for three years. The list of species I personally cared for while working there is pretty extensive: mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, dogs, cats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep, horses and cows. Purdue granted me some much needed large and farm animal experience. It also helped me learn to value and appreciate animal research and researchers.

- Lab animal care technician group leader
 * This has been my only supervisory role to date, and even though the position only lasted two and a half months (resigned upon my leaving the U.S.) it has been invaluable in a number of ways. Most applicably, in how to handle a position of authority. In my position as group leader I was directly senior to 5 technicians who cared for animals in the two rooms to which I was assigned, and indirectly senior to close to two dozen techs who had their own group leaders but to whom I could assign responsibilities or take disciplinary action against. It taught me a lot about how people react to someone in a position of authority over them, regardless of how friendly and accommodating you try to be, and how to balance being pleasant and approachable but to still inspire respect as a supervisor.

So, that's the extent of my animal-related experience. There are few species you can name that I haven't worked with in some way. It's been a wild ride, but I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had and I think in the end having sampled a little from every plate of what vet med has to offer - small animal, large animal, exotic, zoo and research - I'll be a more well-rounded and confident practitioner.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Caribbean doctorate.

I've titled this blog "My DVM Vacation" because that's what the majority of my friends and family seem to think I'm doing. "Oh, you're so lucky! I'm so jealous!" They seem to have forgotten that at the end of this little tropical retreat I'll be coming back with much more than a tan. I will also be walking away with a professional degree and people will call me doctor.

But I am lucky. I'm being given a chance to obtain a goal of mine that a year ago seemed impossible due to grades that were nearly a decade old preventing me from pursuing my education stateside. Imagine finding out that after seven years of hard work - going back to community college at twenty to drag my GPA out of the gutter after failing out of my first college attempt when I was eighteen, starting all over again from a liberal arts major to animal science and biology, and taking every job no matter how disgusting, exhausting or emotionally draining in order to catch up to my peers in terms of animal experience - that at nearly thirty I was being held responsible for the academic folly of my 18-year-old self.

I spent some time weltering in my own personal cocktail of self-pity and bitterness, and then I began looking at other options; among them the Caribbean vet schools. These were the schools that as an undergrad you always heard referred to in hushed tones. "Oh, those schools." It was generally understood that only people who weren't good enough to get into the "right" vet schools went to those schools. Well damn it, I had worked hard to earn my chance to study for my DVM, a chance that was now being denied to me by the "right" schools because of an unfair and extremely pretentious technicality.

Many people tried to warn me away from pursuing this option.

"It's too dangerous! Stay in white, American suburbia where you're safe!"

"It's too expensive! You'll cripple yourself with debt!"

I researched for months, reading through university websites, talking to students and alumni, browsing online forums, attending information seminars and even reading through the police blotters for the area. In the end, I was convinced. Not only was the academic program rigorous and very promising, but the cost was on par with attending any college in the U.S. as an out-of-state student. The crime issue appeared to be exaggerated with the most common offense against foreign students being theft of their iPods.

My mind was made up. I applied to Ross University on the island of St. Kitts in February of 2010. I had my interview in May of that same year and was granted admission in July. Now it's December, and my last three months stateside have been a whirlwind of vaccinations, health checks, and obtaining a criminal history background check, passport and other documents necessary for my student visa. On December 30th I'll leave my friends, family and husband to study for the next two and a half years on an island where the annual temperature rarely drops below 80 degrees, the ocean is a stone's throw from campus and monkeys sit at the bar with you to share your daiquiri.

Hey, it could be worse.