Friday, June 24, 2011

Why Vet Med?

Someone asked me the other day when I decided I wanted to be a vet. I started thinking about the whens and whys of going to vet school and realized that I'm not really like most vet students. Veterinary medicine was never my life's dream. Sure, I wanted to "be an animal doctor" when I was a kid, but then I liked the idea of being an architect (I like to draw, but I'm terrible), and for a little while I considered pediatric oncology (which must be the most depressing career in the world) because my friend's little sister has cancer and I wanted to save little kid's lives.

I think I always knew that I loved science and would eventually have some sort of science or medical related career, but I never knew what. Once I started undergrad, I started aiming toward ecology and environmental science. I took a tutorial on marine mammal conservation because I thought I'd like to become a marine biologist... but there aren't a whole lot of those around the midwest. I eventually got interested in aquaculture and thought for a minute that I could save world hunger by building stable, healthy fish farms and feeding the world. I'm not entirely sure what the turning point was, but sometime during Junior year I decided that I didn't want to graduate. It was only my third year at Lawrence, but fourth of college and I could have graduated on time... but I kind of didn't want to leave... and since I got a scholarship that would pay for my fourth year at Lawrence, I talked to my advisor and convinced her it was a great idea for me to stay and that I was going to apply to vet school.

She nicely told me there was no way I would get in with my grades.

My response was f*ck this, no one is telling me that I can't do something. Unfortunately this ridiculously self involved mindset has gotten me into quite a lot of trouble and pain over the years (my recent marathon, the broken finger... the list goes on...). I ended up rearranging my schedule for the second and third trimesters of junior year and tearfully telling my favorite professor that I could no longer go on marine term (trip to cayman islands for research - the trimester revolves around the 2 week trip). I then registered for organic chem 1 and 2 and a handful of equally exciting classes. Talk about a huge let down to follow my new life dream.

It all ended up fine. I got to stay at school for another year and enjoy the undergrad life before going out into the big scary world. I took the following year off and took my last vet school prereq (biochem) while working full time for an animal hospital and living the high life with my parents. My parents are awesome, but having no friends around really sucked, so I took a lot of trips up north to Minnesota to visit the boyfriend and the friends that lived in the twin cities. Good thing I worked full time because that got expensive... but hey, I was really freaking lonely.

I applied to 7 schools that summer after undergrad and ended up with 4 interviews. They were all quite the experience, but my favorite was my first interview - Iowa state. If you live in northern Illinois or Iowa, maybe you'll remember the crazy ice storm from January 2008. It. Was. Horrible. Dad and I left super early in the morning to get there four hours before my interview to participate in all the fun stuff like tours of the school and learning about computers. I'm sort of happy I missed that part, but getting there 30 minutes before the interview was stressful. Especially when I still needed panty hose and an umbrella so my pretty new business suit didn't get soaked. The normally 5 hour trip took 8+ hours and Dad took away my driving privileged because I apparently don't do well driving on 200 miles of black ice. I knew it was getting bad when I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw a pickup swerving EVERYWHERE across the road. I pointed at the mirror in shock, but Dad thought I was pointing at the sky and that got super confusing... Anyway. We saw more than 30 semi trucks flipped over on the side of the road and some moving vans with some poor families belonging strewn over the road and shoulder. I'm surprised we didn't die.

Interview went fine, but when I was talking fingerprint-unlocking-computer-hardware with a student (yea, its super cool, don't judge), I saw my dad on the phone looking concerned. Apparently my new beagle pup was allergic to metal. She chewed her tag off of her collar and blew up like a balloon, so Mom had to take care of that since Dad and I still had to trek back home. At that point, the first snow of 2008 began when we walked out of the school, so the trip home was as equally fun as the trip to Iowa.

Ohio State was fun too because we forgot about the time change. We successfully made it going 85 mph with 15 minutes to spare. That was my suckiest interview because one of the interviewers was terrible! He asked about my going to school near Door County and asked what was significant about Door County. I don't even know what I said to that ridiculously open ended question. When I asked what he was looking for he said, "I wanted you to say that there were a lot of cows." Word for word, dead serious, that is how he answered my question. The rest of the interview was similar to that question.

I got wait listed.

As fate would have it, at symposium at OSU during my first year, I went to a lecture and the guy that walked in was my interviewer. He ended up being pretty funny, but funny in the pompous asshole sort of way.

I ended up getting into Kansas State and Illinois, so for money's sake, I chose Illinois. I sort of regret that decision based on the downward spiral my school has taken in the past few years, but at this point I just want my degree and D.V.M. after my name!

I guess that is the story of how I became a vet student... but not why.

Simply put, I love animals. Who doesn't? But, more importantly, I believe in the strength of the human-animal bond. I believe that we coexist in this world to enrich each others lives. I hope I'll make a good doctor. My bleeding heart wants to save them all, but my science mind knows I can't and as I've progressed through the years, I hope that combination will make me good at my job.

I lost my very first patient recently. Her name was Lillian and she was the most beautiful chocolate lab I have ever seen, 2 years old, FS. Gorgeous, caramel eyes and a happy, happy tail. She presented with a history of massive right hindlimb swelling, but was also cachexic. She was taken in by a sweet older couple the week before and the swelling had been minimal. They were told she had been "kicked by a horse" the day before they picked her up. With that history in mind, we leaned toward hematoma. We ended up doing a CT, which showed 2 soft tissue masses. We also lanced the medial aspect of the thigh, and only clotted venous congested blood was seen. Two days later, the biopsy results indicated aggressive hemangiosarcoma.

I was incredibly upset, but only let myself cry for a minute alone. Life is cruel, but until the very end, she wagged her tail and ate her treats. I spoiled her with turkey baby food and peanut butter that last day and she went peacefully that afternoon. I learned that I like the effect of using propofol before fatal plus, especially on a young, active dog like herself, it lets them go very peacefully and gives owners peace of mind. Lillian taught me that it is okay to get attached to your patients and okay to be sad when they die. Because of Lillian and all the other animals out there waiting for me in the future, I'm getting excited to graduate and get out into the world be a veterinarian. It may not have been my life's dream originally, but I'm so happy to be doing something I love.

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