Life as a Veterinarian, Life Lessons

The Making of a Veterinarian

*So I actually wrote this month’s ago but with the hussle of summer it just sat and the blog was forgotten. So this is my jump back onto the blog.

 

The days rush by without much thought given to what got me to this place…this profession… this life. I remember the first day of orientation at vet school with around 100 other persons that too “had wanted to be a veterinarian when they grew up”.  Some had applied and failed to become accepted to veterinary school multiple times yet kept trying and now finally realized their dream.  Some had a father or relative that was a veterinarian. Others had a clear idea of just the type of veterinarian they would become… a pathologist or researcher maybe.

Gentle Doctor

Iowa State University’s Gentle Doctor

Here stood over one hundred people that had been asked and answered “Why do you want to be a veterinarian?”. For most it wasn’t just a job or something to do to make some money as an adult. “Why do you want to BE a veterinarian?” To be… to make this education and skill part of your being, part of yourself.

“It was a calling.”

That is what many of my colleagues say when they discuss why they became a veterinarian. “Something called me to this profession.”

 

When did you decide you wanted to become a veterinarian

Here stood a diverse group of people… some from cities, some from the smallest rural towns. Some wore stylish skirts and designer shoes, others Wrangler jeans and dusty, worn cowboy boots. Some had barely touched a cow while some lived in a barn as a child. Some wanted to do research…to study disease and help society. Some wanted to work in zoos, or with just cats, or just horses. The thing that united us…we wanted to be veterinarians.

I had always had a love of animals and like most kids had declared “I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up.” I would visit the book mobile that made regular trips to our small town. The bus-like mini-library would park just in front of the bank, close enough to walk to in our small town. I would search thru the shelves for books especially about animals and caring for them. The librarian quickly learned my interests and would take my requests and bring books just for me, little but mighty gifts, all mine for the month.

In third grade, I found the book “The Making of a Woman Vet”. I remember laying in bed reading this thick, hard covered book with the clear protective jacket. On the cover was a smiling confident young lady, with her doctorly white lab coat and stethoscope around her neck. She had a bird perched on her shoulder and her arm around a dog, a sure sign of her love for all animals. I couldn’t really read all the words but that book lit the flame of career exploration. I wanted to become a veterinarian.

making of a woman vet

I studied hard and got good grades. I became involved in clubs and organizations.  I went to college and then the opportunity to attend graduate school came about. There came a fork in the road… follow the path to that original childhood dream or continue in the area of research.  I took the vet path, applying to vet school and starting in the fall of 2006.

me 1st c-section
After my 1st c-section. I remember having felt so elated and strong afterwards.
me graduation
Graduation Day

In 2012,  I returned to western North Dakota, to my home community, to practice veterinary medicine.  It wasn’t too long after I had started when I opened the exam room to find a friendly, familiar face. On the exam table between us was a portly stray cat she had taken in and brought to me for veterinary care.

As we spoke, her eyes lit up and she asked me, “Are you that little blond girl that used to come to the book mobile and always got animal books?”  With a recognition that came with context I said “Yes”. So began a discussion as she recognized the little blond girl now grown and living her dream of being a veterinarian. That librarian had since retired but a joy came as she spoke about how glad she was to have helped shape my learning and passion.

I was touched to have met again and been able to tell her how her small, kind gestures and attention to my interests had helped fan the flame and fueled a passion. If she had only known, all those years ago, when she stamped that due-return-by date for the book with the confident young woman veterinarian on its cover, how influential she would be.

 

“In my element-living the dream”

Despite long years in school with the potential for massive student loan debt, there is still that calling for many young people to serve the animals entrusted to us and the people that love and/or care for them. While the days can be long, the stress great, and the hurts upon my heart scarring this really is my calling. Every day brings new challenges, excitements, smiles and sometimes tears.

Jessie vet photo

“There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It is why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.”

~Oprah

 

Life as a Veterinarian, Pet Care, Ranch Life

A “Tail” of Two Dogs

It was serendipitous…almost seemingly meant to be.  He had been this little fluffy puppy that came for his puppy vaccine series and socialization classes at the clinic. All the staff would alert me when he came thru the door so I could find him and dote on him… I even took some photos (all blurry because he was running like a maniac) when he was just a little puppy.

When his picture and rehoming ad come up on a local Facebook page my phone blew up with tags, messages, and calls. I couldn’t deny all these people that seemed to think we would be a good match so I went to meet the big brown furry guy. He ran to me and I cried.  My heart was full and there was no doubt he needed to come home with me…. and so we added a 1 year old Newfoundland, that the kids renamed Finn (his former name was great but it just didn’t flow for the boys, so we started fresh).

IMG_6840

I had lost my soul dog over a year ago, my Newf Roscoe, who I had  acquired as a return to breeder at around the exact same age as Finn. Though I hadn’t planned it this way, Finn seems to be Roscoe reincarnate! Though I know my house would be significantly cleaner without 100 pounds of slobber and hair,  I just adore Newfoundlands and feel complete to have one in our family again.

IMG_8489

We have always maintained a pack of dogs and fairly peacefully. We went from a pack of geriatrics to adding these two boisterous teenagers with very different quirks and issues. It has been a time of adjusting. We had also lost Shep, our senior former ranch dog, last year (rough year for losses). We got Ripp as a puppy to learn the ways of the ranch and essentially take Shep’s place as a working dog. I have heard some ranchers say a good working dog is worth 10 hired men. Plus they never show up late and their pay is pretty cheap. Though we wanted dogs to fill the voids left by our two former dogs, we hadn’t intended to re-create their near identical likenesses as we seemingly have.

IMG_9471

Ripp, our Aussie, is a more challenging dog.  All the qualities that will make him a great cattle dog make him a bit hard to live with some times.  He’s a bit sensitive and reactive, a bit hot-headed…he has more gas than break. My Hubby adores Ripp and Ripp adores my Hubby. If the rancher is King, his cow dog is the Prince, his right-hand “man” and top adviser. The ranch belongs to the Ranch Dog. He is bred to assist the rancher, to herd the stock, watch the gaits, break up fighting bulls, and tell that bossy cow just what the plan is going to be. It seems to the ranch dog that all other dogs are just a little “slow”, maybe better left to lounge on the deck and guard the yard from intruders and varmint.

As an Aussie, Ripp is intense, always willing and waiting for a job. He has two speeds…Sit or Run Like a Maniac.  Simply walking requires mental effort and impulse control on his part. Since a puppy he came in cocky and in charge and the other dogs in our pack deferred to the new Prince of the Ranch. So adding another dog didn’t seem like it would be that much of a change.

Finn’s initial introduction was great; Ripp had a great new playmate. But Finn wasn’t so sure about his new Prince and didn’t just back-down to Ripp’s instructions as the Prince. Turns out Newfoundlands have their own quirks and ideas on life. If Ripp is “always ready and waiting for a job”,  Finn is more the type to say “Hey, I will be over here sniffing. Try not to bother me”.  I adore the goofiness, slobber, and gentle but often stubborn soul of a Newfie. My Hubby not so much. He adores the tenaciouness, work-ethic, and intelligence of a Aussie. Myself not always so much.

These two pals so opposite in their temperaments start out like two guys sitting at the bar…one big in stature, seemingly friendly but not always on par socially, saying and doing some questionable things and the other guy, small but smart and witty and what he lacks in size he makes up for in tenacity. They have a great ol’ time until the big dim one commits some social faux pau like bumping the little one. The little guy is a bit shorter tempered and puffs his chest “Hey buddy, did you just bump me”. Being a bit socially ackward the big guy just sort of stands there taken aback but willing to stand his ground. But instead of the typical bar scene, we have these two running a ranch.

So here we sit with our new soul dogs, clearly in love with the quirks that make them so. Our pack is restructuring, adjusting and requiring us to step it up to ensure peace and harmony. We have quite an assortment of critters and we adore each and everyone for their unique attributes but they each bring their own quirks and challenges. We are just a week in and we are all learning and adjusting.

When clients bring me pets with behavioral consults, I list the to-dos, things to avoid, tips and tricks…it is easy to tell someone what to do but often the reality of implementing structure and guidance isn’t easy. There isn’t really a magic solution…though we all wish there were. Rarely is a pet or person for that matter, perfect right out of the box. It takes time and patience to become our best selves and change our way of thinking.

Welcome Finn to our Funny Farm!

 

*Update: I wrote this weeks after we acquired Finn and wanted to update everyone on their progress. We joke that our dogs, Finn and Ripp, have a psychologist! We did a consult with a boarded veterinary behaviorist and have started them on medications in combination with behavioral modification.  Ripp is learning tolerance and less reactivity and Finn is working on his impulsivity and perceived poor manners (body slamming, jumping on the other dogs, etc). We are seeing improvement and going slow to maintain peace in the pack. There was question regarding if this is the right path for them and our family and the consult certainly helped with that. They each have their “quirks” to work thru and we remain committed to helping them become the most emotionally stable dogs they can be.

Life as a Veterinarian, Motherhood, Ranch Life

Little Lamb…Big Prayers

The winter storm warnings started days ago… rain, ice, inches of snow. Warnings to be prepared, especially when newborn livestock lives are at stake. Warnings like this have come before, some living up to their hype and other just enticing worry for nothing.  The lambing boom we have had over the last 48 hours suggest something is in the air.

The ewe lambs (yearlings and first time mothers) have started lambing and there is no “What to Expect When You Are Expecting” manuals for sheep so they require a bit of extra TLC and guidance from us humans to figure out this new motherhood role. It is important for the ewe and lambs to bond and ensure they are nursing well in the smaller jug pens before moving out amongst the other ewes and lambs. But when lambs keep coming the inn fills up quickly.

So the morning was spent processing lambs, ensuring the couple of lambs that had become chilled and hungry thru the night were back on track. One little lamb born a twin to a yearling ewe mother, was adopted to a more mature mother after he became weak and cold (twins seemed just too much for his young mother).

IMG_1552lamb
Our little lamb warmer/cuddler

My little guy and I had gone out to check lambs this afternoon and found two new mothers. He ran to me with elation at his findings and we quickly scrambled to figure out who would move out of the lambing room to make room. I called my father-in-law as back-up (my hubby was sleeping after a exhaustive shepherding night and for the sake of his cognitive ability was taking a much needed nap).

It became apparent that one of the yearlings had another lamb yet to deliver and hadn’t yet done so successfully, signaling trouble. I slipped my hands into the ewe to investigate the origin of the single leg that was emerging from the warm and cozy womb. My little guy came running with his exam gloves on ready to help. We worked together to reposition the little lamb, turning his neck back around and freeing his other leg. My son and I pulled the little legs and held our breaths waiting for lamb to become free of the womb he had known for the past five months.

We waited for that sign of life, a gasp of air, a shake of the head but found none. I asked my little guy to grab a towel to wipe him, as if I might rub the life back into him. Perhaps he was really still alive but I had just missed the signs. As he ran back, my mind raced with all the “what-ifs”, “if-only”, and regrets.

He was declared dead, perfectly formed and ready for the world, only to be taken too soon. The big tears fell down my little guy’s chubby cheeks and he wailed for this dead lamb. My little guy took the lamb wrapped in the towel and cried over him while our attentions turned to the living lambs.

My little guy cried all the way to the house and ran inside to tell his Dad. He hugged his Dad and told the story of the lamb that came dead and his sadness. He said “I even prayed over him.” The decision was made to return the barn as a family to say our good-byes and have a little “service” for the lamb that died when he came out, the saddest way to die according to our 5 year old.

So the limp, cold lambs still wet with “birth” was laid on the rectangular burlap bale filled with wool, as if a lamb on the alter. My little guy stood over the lamb with his hands gently placed on his lifeless body as our family looked on. With sadness in his voice, he prayed…

“Bless us our Lord, and these thy gifts. For which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen”

Turns out there aren’t really any known prayers for the departed lambs, no funeral rites prepared for lambs who never drew a breath. He said the best prayer he knew after his earlier prayers for the lamb to come alive and breath had failed.

The tears dried and the little lamb that died when he was coming out was remembered amongst the others we have lost. Our little guys cheeks were stained with salty tears and barn dirt, as he climbed the wire panel and set off to catch a lamb among the living.

Life as a Veterinarian, Photography, Ranch Life

Lambing has started.

We have been not so patiently waiting for lambing to start! The official start date was February 7 and I can assure you if we hadn’t been ready they would have started February 4. So we sat and waited and waited.

lamb 3

I soon decided perhaps nature was smarter than us to wait until the subzero temperatures subsided and unseasonable warmth came. We have been checking often when the weather is cold like this to ensure mom and baby are moved to a jug (think warm, cozy straw filled maternity suite) and out of the cold. Every year the plan is to lamb before the heifers and cows start delivering later in the spring but in doing so we deal with cold.

The lambs are actually very cold tolerant as long as they stay dry and have full tummies. The wet and muddy spring weather can actually be harder on our lambs and calves than the cold of winter.

lamb

lamb 4

Within a few hours of birth, it is critical for the lamb to nurse the literally life-saving colostrum from its mother. Colostrum not only provides much needed energy and calories but also contains very important antibodies. Without these antibodies delivered to the lamb’s waiting gastrointestinal tract in that first day of life, the lamb will be at much greater risk of developing serious and potentially fatal disease due to pathogens.

Nature and all of its inner workings and complexities amazes me. Nature has a plan in place to help ensure lamb survival in addition to a doting mother with colostrum waiting. Lambs are born with brown fat (adipose) tissue. Brown fat is nature’s little miracle to assist survival of these newborn ruminants. This specialized fat, when burned shortly after birth, not only provides energy but heat.

We have been rolling right along with lambing. Most are delivering mid-day attended with waves of a few moms delivering than a lull. My hubby and I are awaiting the big wave…which often occurs with a change in weather. So stay tuned for plenty of adorable baby lamb photos coming your way!

lamb5

Life as a Veterinarian, Life Lessons

So striking…so stunning the transformation

It is always with deep consideration what I decide to share outside the walls of the exam room. I fully realize I am invited into an often very personal relationship with sensitive topics, emotions, and sharing. If you see yourself in my stories or writing, please know that you, your pet, and/or our experience together affected me such that I desired to reflect and share. So it was with hesitation that I share this, but I was so touched, so taken and found such tragic beauty in this experience I felt it was worth sharing.

The call came, a very sick young Chameleon needed medical attention. My experience with Chameleons is limited but thankfully though true exotic veterinarians are more rare than plentiful, most are very helpful in sharing their knowledge.

I found a frail, faded young Chameleon with a young boy and his mother behind the exam room door. The Chameleon was young, a faded tan with stripes of muted green with hints of gray. Chameleons are well know for “changing” their skin color but in fact have four layers of skin with different pigmentations. It is the blending of these layers that create their color. Her entire body fit in the palm of a hand. She was so small and light, the wash cloth she was wrapped in provided the only real substance registered when she was held. Their concern for this little creature was great but she was clearly very sick.

After diagnostics and discussions of treatment options and prognosis.  The prognosis looked so poor and so the boy stoically agreed with his mother by his side and tears streaming down his cheeks to say goodbye to his little friend.

Admittedly, I have never euthanized a Chameleon before. I gave the sedation to make her sleep with the smallest gauge needle into her tiny muscle. The green and tan were replaced by a deep muddy brown, as if a flower wilted and died so suddenly before my eyes in such a profound transformation. While this is known to occur, I was so taken by this transformation I had to fight the tears. I finished her goodbye and handed this frail, wilted dead flower of a creature back to her grieving boy.

It was such a profound change, so beautiful yet so tragic. That outward bodily change to physically darken was so encompassing of the grief in that moment. When our hearts feel the darkness of grief and sadness, how awe-inspiring is nature to allow this little Chameleon to transform, for Nature to choose her color of death. Where once there was vibrance, now lie the physical picture of darkness in death and grief.

IMG_8967 dead flower.JPG

 

“The dance between darkness and light will always remain— the stars and the moon will always need the darkness to be seen, the darkness will just not be worth having without the moon and the stars.”
C. JoyBell C.

 

Life as a Veterinarian

Gratitude

Gratitude. Appreciation. Thanks. Recognition.

As a veterinarian, there are times when you seemingly pour your entire heart and focus into a patient. The reality is often clients have no idea how much time and expertise went into their pet’s care or just how close their pet was to a disastrous outcome. Those cases we bookmark for our inner feel-goods, aware that we did our best work and nature cooperated for a favorable outcome

Then there are those cases were we gave our best effort and it just wasn’t enough….nature didn’t follow the book… the disease was too progressed… the resources or funds were limited…the list goes on. I have two file folders in my mind… I can remember those heart-warming feel goods but also those heart-breaks.

I remember a case from years ago; Chiquita, a little Chihuahua that presented in a Chiquita banana box. Her eyes somber and her distress and discomfort apparent as I looked into the worn brown cardboard box with a cheery bunch of bananas across its side.  The irony of Chiquita the Chihuahua in a Chiquita banana box had not been lost.

She had been in labor for days and had a puppy stuck in her birth canal, necessitating an emergency C-section. She was quiet and sweet but her owners had little to no money. We worked with what little funds we had but really she needed a C-section 3 days earlier and had this point needed intensive emergency stabilization. We did what we could and worked with what was available. A catheter had been placed in her vein and the milky anesthetic solution, Propofol, was slowly injected. Her eyes relaxed and she took a breath and just like that her struggle was over. She was the one I had lost at induction. Though the odds were against her and I was angered we couldn’t have saved her I knew she had peace and her pain was gone. But I remember that little Chihuahua, Chiquita, in a Chiquita banana box.

That case was added to the heartbreak mental folder. 

The owners may have since moved on and probably don’t think about the vet that tried to help them. Or they do but feel anger and disappointment. Though all our heart and being can be put into a case, the sad outcome may have brought those feelings of denial and anger that comes with grief. The anger often needs to be directed somewhere and the veterinarian or veterinary hospital may be the target of choice. Those situations hurt…they just plain hurt.

I don’t expect thanks for every ear infection I treat or spay I perform. To work for acknowledgement of others robs us of our own joy and peace in our life’s work. But sometimes when the days get long and the battle hard-fought the appearance of a thank you card in the mail or plate of cookies from clients in the break room brighten my mood and makes the struggle just a little easier.

thank you card.jpg

I received the most “thank yous” during my days as an emergency veterinarian. The lobby of the emergency entrance was dated with orange linoleum and brown paneling yet clean and warm. The walls had large bulletin boards plastered with photos, cards, and letters, mostly honestly not from owners of pets saved but from owners of those pets we had helped them say goodbye to.

I always supposed it was because we were a stranger giving a service of kindness and gentleness, present during one of their most vulnerable times of need. Many of the letters served to introduce us to their lost pets, to tell us of their antics and better days. We had only known these pets at the end and at their worst so these photos and letters brought a sense of what this pet meant to their family, of the love and bond shared.

So today when a card came in the mail with kind words and photos, my heart was touched. The struggles of patients not improving, hard good-byes, and the general struggle of working with humankind and their nuances and challenges was made a little lighter because of someone’s kind words and appreciation.

So today think of someone that could use some appreciations, some words to show that their presence and work in this life matters. Send a thank-you, a text message, a phone call to a family member or friend. Say thank you to that server or cashier. I know I need more awareness of gratitude and appreciation.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

 

 

 

 

 

Community, Life as a Veterinarian, Life Lessons, Ranch Life

Windshield Wiper Installation for Dummies

I had politely suggested to my hubby that my rear windshield wiper needed to be replaced. After a number of “suggestions” I decided surely I could handle purchasing and installing a wiper. So I stopped at the local parts store and walked to the counter declaring my needs…. then they asked if I would like help with installation.

Dummies

I wanted to DIY this and show my self-reliance but thoughts of  the possible complications that could arise…looking like a defeated fool if I should fail at this, breaking the wiper right off the vehicle, or worse yet flipping the wiper switch while driving down the road only to watch it fly off, hit a passing car, and result in an epic interstate collision. So I said, “Sure” like of course I know how to put a simple little wiper on but why not utilize such a convenience service, hiding my fear and insecurity.

Here’s the thing… I am not a DIYer unless I have been properly educated and received the necessary instructions, certifications, etc. to declare myself “trained”!

Blame it on my decades of life in the educational system. I can remove the ovaries and uterus of a two pound living, breathing creature with ease but replacing my wiper without proper training…well that just seemed dangerous and complicated!

My hubby on the other hand is a very confident DIYer and to suggest we hire someone to roof our house or change our oil is an insult at the core of his manhood. About the only thing he admittedly refused to DIY was the birth of our kids, though he had plenty of experience as a ruminant midwife.

I remember as excited new homeowners we had decided to put up crown molding in the dining room our 1890 “corn crib” of an Iowa home. I was frantically reading the how-to books in the aisle of the Lowes determining what supplies we needed and how this project should be done “properly” while my hubby was randomly throwing supplies onto the flatbed cart.

He is definitely a “Learn by Doing” and I am a “Learn then Do”. 

He even laughs at our veterinary “cook books” he calls them, with detailed pictures and guidance for surgeries and procedures. Turns out the living body is pretty complicated and while you could probably just dive right into a adrenalectomy there could be some serious complications without the correct game plan and knowledge base prior. Many hours are spent “learning and training” with mentorship prior to being set free as a full fledged veterinarian. Of course there is plenty of learn by doing but it rides on the back of a pretty solid education in physiology, anatomy, and pharmacology.

IMG_4441 surgerybook
My favorite “cookbook” as my hubby calls them!

So I carefully watched the parts store woman put my wiper blade on and thought about asking for detailed how-to instructions but settled for the mental how-to. I even thought about lying to my husband, declaring “I did this all by myself!” but he knows me too well and would see right thru the lie. Now if the purchase of “How to Install a Rear Windshield Wiper in a 2010 Ford Expedition…for Dummies” book showed up on our debit card statement he might….

 

DIY