Ultra Sound? More Like Ultra Fun!

I received a crash course in ultrasonography today.

It pretty much went like this:

“Here, take the probe. See that nobby-bit? Well, that aligns with the ‘M’ marker on the screen. So, you just move towards or away from the nobby-bit to move closer or further from the M mark. Give it a go. And try to find the bladder.”

I eventually found the dog’s bladder and centered on the questionable mass inside of it. Of course, to me, the whole picture just looked like the sonographs dominating my Facebook Newsfeed: shades of grey, black and white with a grainy amorphous blob in the middle. To my untrained eye, ultrasounds announcing the upcoming birth of a baby look almost identical to the inside of a dog’s bladder, especially if that bladder contains something like a polyp.

Just kidding, friends. Babies are way cuter than polyps.

I’m coming to the end of my second week of clinical EMS. I’ve really enjoyed being back in a clinic and Huckleberry has really enjoyed how interesting I smell when I get home. The days are long though, and I’m falling behind on life in general, so it will be nice to have a week off before school starts later this month. I have dishes to scrub, a growing pile of laundry to wash, and I desperately need to go grocery shopping. I had to get takeout tonight because I ate the entire contents of my refrigerator last night:

A plate of raw cabbage, hummus, olives, an avocado and two slices of cheddar cheese.

I have a mango, museli and some whisky left, but I’m saving those for an emergency. Or, perhaps, breakfast tomorrow.

Seriously. How did I ever work full time and take care of myself? I’m starting to feel like I need a mom to feed me and clean up after me and pack my lunch in the morning. It’s like I’ve completely forgotten how to be a grownup.

Still, it’s been a great experience seeing practice at the clinic. Aside from playing around with the ultrasound equipment, I’ve sat in on quite a few spays, neuters, a biopsy and a foreign body removal surgery. I’ve listened to mummers, arrhythmias and the bowels of rabbits.  I’ve learned how to provide nebulized antibiotics to a parakeet, give a chameleon an injection of vitamin B12, examine a snake, and euthanize a hamster.

But, so far, there is one patient who stands out as the highlight of my experience working in this clinic:

A little brown and white Guinea Pig. He was brought into the clinic with his brother Guinea Pig after they had gotten into a fight. The brown and white pig had a nasty bite wound on his stomach and his brother had a torn ear. While the torn ear wasn’t serious, the pig with the abdominal wound needed stitches.

Watching the vet suture this little Guinea Pig, I was so touched that the owners were taking such good care of him. It was nice to see this little guy hold so much intrinsic value, especially considering you can usually buy two Guinea Pigs for about 15 quid.

Handing him back after he’d recovered from the anesthesia, I looked at them cradling their little Guinea Pig and knew I was a witness to love. True love.

Thank you, Scotland. You beautiful country of pet lovers. Thank you for that.

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Posted in Animals, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crime Investigation Report: Missing Butter

28 August 2014 1036:

I walked in the door and said hi to Huckleberry. He was napping on the sofa and was gracious enough to sit up and thump his tale in greeting. I hung up my purse and entered the kitchen to wash my hands. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something seemed off.

Looking around around, I noticed a piece of blue foil on the ground. I’m no Sherlock, but it seemed obvious what had happened.

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Huckleberry had jumped up, grabbed the butter I left softening on the counter and ate it. There wasn’t another scrap of foil. I figured he must have eaten that too!

Huuuuuuck. You are such a fatty!

I looked at him, shaking my head, visions of his next few bowel movements sliding right out of his exceptionally well-greased GI tract flashing before my eyes.

Ugh. The one day I forget to close the kitchen door…Oh well, can’t cry over the dog’s consumption of a stick of partially-softened butter.

Turning my attention back to the kitchen, I threw away the foil scrap and walked over to the fridge to get an apple. I eat apples for snacks, not globs of butter. Obviously, I’m more concerned about arteriosclerosis than the beagle is. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a kitchen towel on the floor. Strange, I didn’t remember putting it there, nothing was leaking, and it’s not like me to leave any kind of wet towel on the floor. So gross.

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I picked up the towel to return it to it’s rightful home hanging from to the right of the fridge and underneath, I found:

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THE BUTTER!

He’d hadn’t eaten much of it, but pushed the whole block it as far under the fridge as he could. Then, he’d pulled the towel off the hanger and covered the evidence of his crime. He must have been hoping I wouldn’t notice and he could come back to his hidden treasure later.

I interrogated him, asking if this dastardly plan was, in fact, true.

2014-08-28 11.25.02Verdict: Guilty as charged.

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In his defense, being a vet student’s dog is stressful. I’m constantly poking him, prodding him and smelling his ears. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve raised his cephalic vein or extruded his third eyelid. He gets at least two dozen unofficial physical exams a year. And then, there’s his anal gland problem.

Huck can’t express his own anal glands. Every 6 weeks I have to give him a hand (er, um an index finger, technically). It’s a messy job, but someone’s gotta do it and I work cheaper than the professionals.

Just the other day, Huck scooted on the pavement in front of Tesco. The homeless man who is always out front yelled at me, “THAT DOG HAS WORMS!” People walking by stopped and looked, as if to make a mental note to avoid my wormy dog and judge me for being a neglectful owner.

I started to say, “Not likely, I’ve just had a finger up his rectum. I think he’s trying to wipe off the lube,” before realizing that I can’t say things like that to the general public and changed my response to, “Not likely, I’ve just…had him treated.”

Sometimes Huck eats the butter and sometimes he hides it. Sometimes I say inappropriate things in public, and sometimes I catch myself, just in time.

Posted in Animals, Apartment Living, My Dog Loves Me, Vet School | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Surprise! There is no Bitch Spay

Jaunting across town last night, I merrily swung a bag of popcorn back and forth. After a day of solid rain, the meadows were quiet and I savored the peaceful atmosphere in the midst of the wild Fringe festival. I was on my way to a surgery watching party, the brain child of one of my classmates. My friends and I are starting our vet school clinical studies in less than a month, and we can’t even contain our excitement!

Admittedly, there are times when my enthusiasm for vet school is borderline creepy, like when I trace a fingernail down Huckleberry’s stomach and maliciously whisper, “Here’s your linea alba. That’s where I’ll make my incision for your foreign body removal surgery if you keep eating tampons, you idiot!”

Don’t worry folks, it’s still quite some time before anyone is going to put a scalpel in my hand and point me in the direction of a living animal.

Still, I could imagine no better way of spending a Saturday night than curled up on the sofa next to my friends with a bowl of popcorn and several DVD recordings of various surgeries. No. I am not kidding.

Since it had been raining all day, I didn’t bother changing out of my sweat pants or brushing my hair. I briefly considered putting on clean socks, but I don’t always regard clean socks as a priority when, wherever I’m going, diarrhea in all of its glory is bound be a topic of conversation.

I got to E&P’s flat at 8:07. Almost on time! It was so quiet in the flat, I was certain I was the first one there and puffed my chest out with pride. Timeliness. I’m working on it. Kicking off my shoes, I shoved the bag of popcorn in her arms and walked into the living room, which promptly exploded with, “SURPRISE!”

Streamers hung on the wall, Happy 30th Birthday! My jaw dropped to the floor. I’ve never had a surprise party before and didn’t know what to say. Somehow, I blurted out, “You guys! I’m wearing sweat pants!” Pro tip: When in doubt, state the obvious.

It wasn’t long before I had a glass of wine in my hand and a pink tartan sash with a handmade medallion boasting “Birthday Lassie.” Somehow, I no longer cared a wit about my Asda sweatpants fashion faux pas.

I looked around at the smiling faces of my friends and those of two strangers, who were visiting from Canada (obviously, in town for my surprise party) and asked, “So, are we not watching any surgery videos, then?” You could visibly see a grimace on the non-vet student faces. E assured me that we’d watch the surgery videos later in the week, as tonight was an Outlander-themed Scottish birthday party for me, complete with a game of “Pin the Kilt on Jamie Frasier.” Just a little something my creative-genius friends invented.

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Jamie and his kilts. Le swoon!

I didn’t even come close to wining “pin the kilt on Jamie Fraser” but, that’s ok because next year, I challenge everyone to a round of “pull the kilt off Jamie Fraser!”

We snacked on a cheese dip fit for a Khaleesi, a French-American fusion quiche, and, quite possibly the Pièce de résistance, a layered chocolate pudding cake with a robot on it!

(NB. Apparently, the robot was actually a Scottie dog.)

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And even though we didn’t watch bloody surgery videos, all the non-vet students were still subject to graphic (and possibly disturbing) conversation revolving around fecal matter and all the literal ins and outs of reproduction spanning the animal kingdom. Vet student parties are not for the faint-hearted (or those who lack an iron stomach) as, at any given moment, someone is likely to shout something about a giraffe penis or imitate an alpaca mating noise in a public forum.

True, vet students are a unique bunch. We can have a full on conversation about pus over a pint or two, we’ll compare pasta to various types of intestinal parasites as we eat it, and we’ve certainly gotten some dirty looks for forgetting that normal people don’t discuss mucus at mealtimes.

Still, looking around the room last night, I saw my people. People who are always comfortable talking to a bird, but may not be the best conversationalists with their fellow primates. People who are smart and funny, if at times gross and socially unacceptable.  People who will diligently bottle feed a litter of kittens or cradle a turkey as gently as a newborn baby, but are itching to castrate something…anything!

In the dissection room, we tap dance the fine line between extreme animal lover and potential psychopath as we hack our way around the animal body, and in the real world, we lose our mind over a cute, fluffy baby animal and fill our instagram feeds with pictures of pets…our pets, other people’s pets…it doesn’t matter.

We’re as loyal as dogs, independent as cats and awkward as baby goats. We may not be normal by the socially agreed upon definition of the word, but trust me, you want us on your side.

Cheers, you guys! Slàinte!

Posted in Academia, Animals, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Short Notes on Turning 30

Before our first vet school exam, the teachers gave us some example questions to help direct our studies. One of the questions was, “Write short notes on the tongue.” I remember this exact question because I remember thinking, “Short notes? What the heck do they want from me?!” Unfortunately, that What the heck do they want from me… feeling has resurfaced during every exam this past year.

I expected turning 30 would be similar; as if the marking of a new decade would change the world’s expectations of me and my expectations of myself. I’m only a few days into my thirties, but from what I can tell, the only thing that’s changed is, I officially feel as if my opinion should matter more than it did when I was in my *scoff* twenties.

And so, I share with you my very opinionated (and illustrated!) short notes on some of those lessons I learned over the past ten years…maybe take notes. I’m old and wise now, remember? Some of these are pure gold.

My Short Notes:

1. Not caring what other people think gives you a rare and true freedom many will never understand. This freedom is be best kept relatively quiet, however, as most people don’t appreciate being told just how little their opinion matters…especially if they are your boss.

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2. Just because someone loves you, doesn’t mean they know what’s best for you. Your friends and family can give good advice from a place of deep love for you, but they can sometimes give really crap advice. Friends are great for telling you if a certain ruffled taffeta skirt isn’t flattering your derriere or if there’s a bit of salad left in your teeth. But if you’re really struggling and looking for guidance, it may be best to check with a professional.

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3. Anything worth doing is worth doing right (and with panache!) If you’re going to wake up early and make pancakes at the soup kitchen, best make really fantastic Frisbee-sized pancakes. If you’re not ready to be amazing, hit the snooze button again and roll over. The world deserves your best, and so do you. (NB: I am heartbroken that I no longer have that amazing Rainbow Brite hoodie!)

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4. Pack light. Wear layers. Travel Far.

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5. If you’re trying really, really hard to forge a romance with a potential partner, but things just are not happening, it is time to step away and redirect your energy to finding the right person, instead of trying to force a connection with the wrong person. This is difficult advice to follow because the world is full of so many charming, good looking wrong people.

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6. Try not to yell at your mom. She loves you so much, she can’t help driving you a little bit crazy. Besides, she was patient enough to teach you how to use a spoon and a toilet. You can be patient when she still feels it necessary to remind you to file your taxes on time and brush your teeth before you go to bed….even when you’re 30….

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7. Sleep when you can. Even if you are angry! That “never go to bed angry” advice is horse shit! I can’t tell you how many times I wish I had just gone to bed angry and woken up the next day a little less cranky with a little more perspective instead of spouting off a hot-headed remark in the heat of the moment.

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8. Fads don’t last. Thank goodness! So don’t take them too seriously. A small front braid with beads on the end?! Someone call 2005 and tell it just to stop.

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9. Wear sunscreen. Always wear sunscreen. UV rays break down the elastic fibers in your skin, giving you wrinkles. Plus, you should never get burned enough to appear lobster red under water. That’s just idiotic.

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10. Siblings are annoying. Undoubtedly. They’ll try to ruin your life. They steal your stuff, eat your candy (no matter how well you hide it), invade your privacy, and humiliate you in front of your friends. They tease, hit, and bite. Still, there is absolutely no substitute for siblings. Plus, you’ll never be rid of them, so best to strike a truce. Or, if you have more than one, form alliances against the others. And Emily, you still owe me a basket of Easter candy. I remember the Chocolate Egg Scandal of 94!

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11. Just because you’re smart, doesn’t mean you’re always right. You’re bound to make an ass out of yourself now and then. It’s inevitable. Learn to apologize with grace. Practice kindness and humility. And most importantly, keep a sense of humor about it. No one’s perfect.

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12. There are few moments in life when expectation matches reality. Have the camera ready.

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13. Take advantage of awesome opportunities. You don’t know how many times in life you’ll get to fly around in a helicopter. Relish unique experiences! And always wear a helmet.

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14. Read. Constantly. Books make you smarter. But don’t believe everything you read makes you any smarter than everyone else. That’s just tacky.

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15. Enjoy your hair. Cut it. Dye it. Express yourself. It will grow back and you can always change the colour. Even so, always think twice before getting bangs.

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16. Pay attention to your surroundings, especially if you are surrounded by animals with horns. No one wants to be an unfortunate statistic.1271128_554554137516_1379493186_o

17.  Technology changes fast (I’m still not exactly sure what a “tablet” is). Don’t let it scare you away though, especially if you are thinking of going back to school. You can teach an old dog new tricks. It just takes patience.

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18.Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own. You’d be surprised at how resilient your spirit is and how resourceful you can be if there isn’t anyone around to lean on.

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19. There is so much world to see and so little time we are given to see it. Walkabout.

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20. The concept of family extends far and wide It’s a quick hop-skip-jump from strangers to friends to finding an adopted family. It’s a special and a beautiful thing when people with whom you share no blood ties welcome you into their homes. Be grateful.  But most importantly, be a considerate house guest. Mind your P’s and Q’s; make your bed, clear your plate, and don’t leave wet towels on the bathroom floor.

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I had a fantastic time in my twenties. I quit school, moved to Mexico and worked with orphans. Then, I returned to school, graduated and was commissioned as an Ensign in the Coast Guard. I fell in love and fell out of love. I got a beagle puppy. I authored a dating column. I went to Japan and climbed (most of) Mt. Fuji. I went to Thailand to support an Asian elephant rescue. I shared an apartment with my best friend of 16 years, settling back into my life at home in Colorado. Then, I suddenly uprooted that life to move to Scotland, seizing the opportunity to make my dream of becoming a veterinarian come true. I made incredible friends, found valuable mentors and did a lot of yoga. I leave my twenties feeling very satisfied, but truly ready for the adventure of my thirties.

I still have a lot to learn. I’m still taking notes. But I think I’m on the right path.

Thanks for checking in.

X,

Erin

Posted in Adventure, Advice of the Solicited and Un Kind, Edinburgh, Hope Chest, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

From a Pig Sty to a Castle: Le Road Trip Francais

“And could we get a SAT NAV, please?”
“Sorrrrrry. Only available if you upgrade to a vehicle with a SAT NAV. You can go buy your own at a big Tesco.”
“Oh, well, do you have any maps?”
“No. Sorrrrry.”
“OK. We’ll figure it out.”

And thus began our own little Tour de France, you know, without bicycles and involving quite a bit more junk food.

Although Susan and I didn’t have the easiest time prying the car keys from the hands of the frigid anti-American rental agency, once we got on the road, we were happily rolling through the lovely English countryside, southbound to Dover.

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We arrived eight hours later and were somehow both surprised that Dover really did have the white cliffs Vera Lynn sang about in the 1940’s:

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After almost two hours on the ferry, we arrived in France, refreshed and excited! We drove three hours into Paris, where we parked our car in the smallest space of an underground dungeon-converted-parking garage and toasted to our successful driving on the right side of the car and effortlessly switching from driving on the left to driving on the right side of the road with a glass of vin rogue. Cheers to epic adaptability!

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The next morning, we met up with one of Susan’s friends, an ex-pat with a habit of finding and helping struggling American students in Parisian public transit hubs. We walked along the canal, ate delicious food and stopped in at a bakery for coffee and dessert.

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With bellies full of Parisian delights, we got in our car (again) and were off to GroinGroin, a sanctuary for pigs, just outside of Le Mans, France. We stayed at Groin Groin for the week, learning about pig husbandry by day and enjoying delicious (and cheap) French wine by night.

Groin Groin is home to 20 Vietnamese Pot-bellied pigs, 2 Kunekune pigs and 3 Large White pigs in addition to 1 goat, 1 donkey, 3 chickens, 1 turkey, 10 horses, 2 dogs, and 4 cats.  I loved them all.

Every morning, we fed the pigs and let the chickens and turkey out of their “château.” Not speaking any French, aside from the few words I’ve heard via various pop culture outlets, I didn’t know how to say “chicken roost,” so I called it “Château du Poulette” and the name stuck.

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We learned how to trim teeth and feet and give injections and oral medications. Trimming tusks is not a job for the faint of heart! One person holds the pig on it’s back with all of their strength and tries really hard not to drip sweat on the person who is sawing off the pig’s tusks with a wire. These pigs are strong! There may have been a moment in which the pig (on his back) lifted me ever so slightly off the ground and I screamed (just a little scream) as I felt myself plunging toward the one unsawed off tusk (images of the hogs attacking Old Yeller came to mind). Luckily for me and the two other people clustered around, I regained my composure and maintained positive control of the pig, who was squealing as loud as a fire engine about 20 inches away from my ear.

After my experience sawing off pig teeth, let’s just say, I find the “fire and brimstone” image of hell somewhat lacking. Holding down an angry hog in a hot confined space while he is squealing as loud as he can in your face – now, we’re talking!

This face may look cute, but it’s really saying, “Do NOT underestimate me!”

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Our last night at the sanctuary, we got to feed the pigs day old baguettes and croissants that were donated from a local bakery. True confession: I may have eaten one of the pains au chocolat myself, and day old or not, it was fantastic!

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just a bite

Our time at the pig sanctuary was wonderful! It really must be home to the happiest little pigs on earth!

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Susan and I joked about trying to take some of the animals back with us. We were wondering if we could get away with hiding a pig and some cats in the trunk and just claim “nothing to declare” when we went through customs. We abandoned this plan when I insisted that if we bring anyone back, it’s going to be my pal, the donkey!

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At the end of the week, we bid our little piggies au revoir and drove to Vendée, France to stay the night with family friends who live in a castle there. After staying at Château Clemenceau, I understood with a new appreciation the hilarity behind my choice of words for “Château du Poulette.castle castle2

me and castle

The castle was lovely! We walked in the gardens and ate fresh figs. The two youngest Clemenceau children gave us an in-depth tour of grounds, from their grand tree house to the enormous cedar tree marking the end of the estate. tree house

cedar treeWe chatted with more ex-pats, happily living in France. We drank more great wine and ate more delicious food and slept under the roof of a building that has been standing in its current state since the 16th century, but can be traced back to the days of the Roman Empire.

The next day, we started our trip back to Scotland. Six hours of driving to the ferry, two hours on the ferry and eight hours back to Edinburgh. We intended to detour to Stonehenge and see the stones under the light of the Super Moon, but apparently you have to book tickets in advance and they don’t let people wander around famous ancient pagan monuments at night. So, we drove through the night and pulled off to take a nap after Susan saw an alligator on the side of the road and I saw an Indian War Chief standing by a road sign sometime after 3 am. You just shouldn’t be driving if you’re hallucinating non-native peoples and animals.

We made it home safe and sound, where I was enthusiastically greeted by a beagle who was either very happy to see me, or very happy that I still smelled vaguely of pigs. This was my last extra mural studies placement for my first year of vet school and I can’t think of a better way for the year to have come to a close!

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Posted in Academia, Adventure, Animals, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

WARNING: Calves in Pictures are Larger than they Appear

This post is dedicated to my fellow vet students, or anyone who has ever had their butt kicked by a baby animal….

There is a special kind of wound to your pride when you are kicked around, bruised and battered by an animal whose umbilical cord is still hanging off it’s navel. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s go ahead and check, “get beat up by infant cow” off my bucket list.

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Killer.

Here’s the thing about newborn calves: they are like really big, super awkward lambs. If you remember, I worked with lambs for the first time in April. Even though I proved to be positively no help around a farm at lambing time and I killed half a dozen of them, I gained a real appreciation for the art of sheep farming.

My appreciation for cattle husbandry also grew over my time on the dairy farm, but came at the cost of numerous bruises, nettle burns, and a rash of light scratches on the delicate skin inside my forearms. Calves have heavily keratinized filiform papillae covering their tongue (or in human speak, “rough, stabby thingys”) which can really do some damage to those of us with sensitive skin…apparently.

These bovine babies and I got along…eventually…after a clearing up a few misunderstandings.

My first day, I worked with The Calf Whisperer in the morning, learning which calves to feed what, and was left to my own devices for the afternoon shift. Overall, it went well. Until, that is, it was time to feed the “calves in the field.” These calves are pretty much micro-cows. They are fully weaned. They don’t come up to you to suck your fingers or nuzzle you. And when you are nose to nose with one, you realize they are seriously big.

When I jumped off the quad bike with a bag of feed in hand, the field of calves rushed me like a pack of rugby players going after a post-game pint.

As a general rule, calves are not scarey. They don’t even have that many teeth. Still, I was aware that being knocked off my feet could result in some painful trampling, and tensed up slightly.

“BACK OFF.”

I wanted to sound stern. It worked. Even though I was wearing pink wellies, I commanded respect!

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I emptied two of the three bags into the troughs. As I was emptying the third bag, the calves were in a South African Shark Style feeding frenzy.

I turned around in time to see a young bullock trotting right at me. In my desire to alter his course to something that was less threatening to my MCL, I tried my stern “BACK OFF,”  but this time, I punctuated my words with a flap of the empty feed bag.

The bullock turned to face me directly and lowered his head. It really is quite a threatening posture…for a cow.

I waved the bag again, and it dawned on me; I was waving a white and orange feed bag in the same style matadors wave their red capes. I wondered if I was, in fact, challenging and enraging my young 200 kg friend.

Thoughts of awkward explanations filled my mind. How would I tell everyone that I was kicked out of vet school for being beat up by a juvenile dairy cow?! I stuffed the bag behind me and  making eye contact, growled at him, “BACK! AWAY! MY! FRIEND!” as I made my way back to the quad with as much dignity as I could muster under the circumstances.

Later in the week, I had mastered feeding all of the baby animals without fearing for my life and was presented with a new challenge: castration.

Young male calves are castrated by the application of a small rubber ring. There are two important aspects to castrating bullocks:

1. Both testicles need to be in the scrotum below the ring for it to work (this should be obvious)

2. Well, see point 1. That was really the whole idea of it.

I don’t care how awkward your job is. I can guarantee it is not massage a baby bull’s testicles to keep them from being sucked up and out of the scrotum awkward. And just as I felt the need to maintain a constant dialogue with mama ewe when I had my hand in her vagina, I couldn’t feel up a bull’s ball sack without saying something:

“Hey buddy, you got 2 of them in there? That’s a good boy. Ok hold still, don’t suck them up…don’t….awwwww c’mon man, you can’t keep one, I need both balls here, let’s make this quick, trust me, you’ll want it over as soon as possible.”

At one point, with a particularly difficult calf, I paused, my hand still gently holding his testicles, flipped my hair out of my eyes, and said to my instructor, “I think he might actually be enjoying this. He’s keeping a ball up on purpose!”

Yes. I realize that scenario is highly unlikely, neither the calf nor I were enjoying ourselves at that particular manure and milk covered moment.

I cupped his scrotum again, this time feeling both balls. This was it! In one swift movement, I opened the ring applicator, shoved it up between his legs and released *BAM*

D asked me if I got him.

Um no….actually, I just castrated my thumb….

Sure enough, there was a rubber ring around my thumb.

I’m sorry, I don’t know how I did that.

Good one, young bullock. Good one.

All and all, I wasn’t a total failure for the week, I actually have a knack for getting new calves to drink their milk. Spike was my tough little dairy bull. His first day, he was absolutely terrified of the bottle and didn’t drink much, which left me all the more motivated to feed him the next morning.

Since the heifers born on the same day as Spike were happily drinking from their milk bucketss on the second day, I hung one over his door too. Big mistake. Spike was afraid of the milk bucket. I reached over and tried to get him to suck my fingers. Big mistake. Spike was afraid of my hand reaching over the door. I opened the door and sat down with the bottle. Spike was afraid of the bottle.

I scratched the side of his face and talked to him. Eventually, Spike stopped being so afraid. I got him to suck my fingers and then tricked him into drinking from the bottle. He was still scared, but not paralyzed with fear. 2014-06-25 08.11.45By dinner, I was able to get him to drink from his feeder, as long as the door was open and I was standing with him….and we went through the whole touching/desensitizing process again.

The next day at breakfast, Spike still needed me to open his door and lead him to his feeder, but he drank all of his milk!

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Climbing the steep learning curve of working with dairy cows wasn’t easy, but castration faux pas and feed stampede aside, I wouldn’t say I’m totally hopeless. I might end up being a country vet after all…

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Posted in Academia, Adventure, Animals, Vet School | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tractor Driving and Lactation.

I drove a tractor today.

HEY YOU GUYS….

I DROVE A TRACTOR TODAY. Unsupervised. By myself. I drove a red chug-a-lug bona fide tractor today!

This should come as a surprise to you. I’m not exactly what you may consider a “tractor driving kinda girl.” But, after a crash course in which gears go forwards and which ones move back after you start the thing (why there are so many levers, I couldn’t tell you), I was happily putting along at a pace at which your grandmother could walk beside me, loudly singing “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” without even feeling winded.

It’s the end of my first full day of work on my dairy farm in Doddington, England.  And, like my past EMS experiences, I’m happily climbing a very steep learning curve.

If I had to identify one essential skill I’ve mastered in my EMS experiences to date, I’d say:

Horses – shoveling sh*t
Lambs – trying not to eat sh*t (both literally as well as trying not to slip and fall on placental remnants in soggy pastures)
Alpacas – peacefully, quietly, herding these gentle, beautiful creatures. I owe you an alpaca post. I know. I’m playing catch up.

Dairy could easily fall into one of the sh*t categories as there is a certain smell I can’t seem to get out of my hair, however, the theme that has dominated my first day here is
“heavy lifting.”

Bringing a full milk churn from Point A to hungry calves at Point B is not a task to be taken lightly. If my Google search served me correctly, these things are standardized after 1930 to hold 10 gallons. That’s around 90 pounds of milk! I believe it. I lifted with my legs and still could only get the thing to hover a few inches above the ground as I awkwardly waddled around with it. I think the only reason I can lift it onto the back of the tractor is because I know that the calves will DIE if they don’t get any MILK. That motherly “rescue the baby instinct” kicks in and I use strength from the stores of my “lifting the proverbial car off my child” reserve to heave a milk churn 15 feet to the back of the tractor.

Oh milk. That brings me to the second big thing I learned today. Milk spills. You can’t cry over it, but you will get sloshed by it, which, in turn, results in a stale, sour milk perfume cloud that surrounds you. After spending the day in my sour milk t-shirt and pants (yes, waterproof pants have lost their watertight integrity and my underthings got milky too!) I have officially decided that I am not keen on the idea of ever lactating. I don’t think there is enough “new baby smell” in the world that would help me get through milk smell. Of course, if I had a baby, I’d want to feed it yadda yadda yadda. But, right now, given the choice to lactate or not to lactate, I’m going to go with “No.”

Ew.

Don’t lecture me. I know my mom did it for me. But, sitting here, still catching a whiff of my balled up t-shirt in the corner of the room, muscles tired from the heavy lifting, I’m telling you, I don’t want to lactate. Ever. AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.

But, I’m glad cows lactate so much because, even if the smell of it makes my uterus constrict into a small unwelcoming void, milk gives us ice cream and cheese. And that, my friends, is what I look forward to most about my week on the dairy farm. They make ice cream and cheese on location and I’ve been promised tastes!

I’ll write a proper post with adorable pictures of baby cows trying to suck on my fingers and stick their tongues up my nose later. I obviously don’t let them lick anywhere near my face as calves are essentially adorable little transmitters of a bacterial circus, but I’ll snap a few shots of them trying. They are really stinking cute. Even when they have sour milk crusting on their faces.

For now, my friends. I rest.

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Adventures in a Clown Car

“Errr, ummm stay on the left! Your left! The other left! Left! Left! Left!

I shrieked in horror as I realized I’d entered a roundabout going the wrong way.

Upon accepting that it was to late to do anything but continue to drive around it, Katie burst into a fit of nervous giggles, abandoning her cries of, “Go left, left left!” for encouraging advice to just leave the roundabout and get to the left side of the road. Immediately.

I was so confused. My left hand grabbed the gear shift tightly and my right hand knocked the windshield wipers on to full speed. Wipe! Wipe! Wipe! Wipe! Wipe!

Nothing made sense. I couldn’t tell where I was supposed to go. I started on my second lap around the roundabout….still driving the wrong way.

That’s when I saw my escape: an empty lot near where I had entered the roundabout. I pulled off, put the car in neutral and pulled the e-break, letting the engine idle and the windshield wipers continue to scrape against the dry glass. I looked sheepishly at Katie, still trying to be positive and encouraging through the fits of giggles. I took a deep breath.

“Well, I’m sure glad to have gotten that out of my system. Don’t worry, buddy, I got this.”

As I re-entered the roundabout, staying on the proper side this time, an older gentleman with a horrified look on his face waved at us. Katie nodded to let him know that we were ok now, just shaking a few North American habits before our trip up to the Highlands.

Somehow, Katie and I navigated across the city of Edinburgh to pick up 3 more friends and pack them tightly into the back seat of our grey Peugeot (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either, I just called it our Griffin car).

Driving in the city itself was a bit nerve-wracking.  I didn’t have any problems entering roundabouts after the first debacle, but some of the roads are pretty narrow and I was never quite confident in knowing exactly how much room remained between the left side of my car and things like rocks, sidewalks, and parked cars. The defroster seemed to have two settings: “off” and “hurricane gale force winds.” Also, my battle with the windshield wipers was to wage on throughout the weekend. It was like the damn things had a mind of their own and generally preferred to stay in “full speed ahead” mode.

Leaving the city, I needed to turn left onto West Approach Road. I flicked my indicator and got into the left lane. Like a pro. All 5 of our voices chatted at once, excited to be taking a trip, intoxicated with the freedom of having a car for 2 days. Just as I was reaching for my water bottle, I thought in my out loud voice, “This is a really long light, isn’t it?” The girls nodded in agreement, it felt like we had been sitting there for 10 minutes. I looked ahead of the cars in front of me to see the light change green and humbly asked, “Um. Guys? Am I parked!?”

Uproars of laughter informed me that I was, indeed, parked. My car sat idling behind three empty taxi cabs. We’re just going to pretend like that never happened.

Driving up to the Highlands was relatively easy. I managed to get the windshield wipers under control and Katie somehow got the defroster to keep the windows clear without blowing us all away. Scotland is a beautiful country in the rain, with heavy clouds hanging low in the sky.

clouds

After lunch in Inverness, we drove out to Loch Ness and toured Urquhart Castle.

castle

Urquhart Castle overlooks the deepest part of Loch Ness. We decided if we saw Nessie, it would be best to not sell her out, even though I always knew I’d publish a photo of her in the interest of my own wealth and fame. Sorry girl.

nessie1

nessie2

That night, we hit Inverness as a force to be reckoned with. Our first stop was a pub called Hootananny. I sipped a G&T while listening to “old people playing old songs.” It was fantastic and if we had stayed there any longer, I might have worked up the courage to try a little jig myself.

After leaving Hootananny, our ears led us to more live music. A small, dark pub with a classic metal rock vibe. After his set, the singer was replaced by a truly talented bagpiper. At the end of her song, the bagpiper did the most awesome thing imaginable: she let us try to play her bagpipes! I feel like I was able to scratch something off my bucket list that I didn’t even know was on my bucket list!

bagpipesNow, I use the phrase “play the bagpipes” loosely here. See, playing bagpipes is hard. Almost impossible. I went first in the group, walking up to the instrument with the confidence of a girl who played saxophone in high school and was on the swim team. I had no reason to doubt my embouchure nor my lung capacity. With all the force I could muster, I produced a pitiful wail from the pipes and handed them back, defeated. Still, at least I blew into the mouthpiece instead of the first pipe like someone did….taking the hilarity of American girls playing bagpipes in Scotland to a whole new level.

In the morning, we drove out to Divach Falls and then to a stone circle, where, after spending time so near the falls, I had to pee. I discretely picked a spot behind a relatively large stone, but my friends were mortified. More by the fact that I was urinating in the presence of a 4,000 year old burial site (*Note, I did not pee ON the stones, I peed in the vicinity of the stones as respectfully as I could.) Jersey Fresh warned me against bad mojo, but no urinary tract infection yet, so I’m guessing the stones have seen enough of human nature in the past 4,000 years to know I meant no disrespect. When you gotta go, you gotta go.

2014-05-11 11.08.39

trees

After lunch, we explored the battlefield of Culloden.

The only way I can describe Culloden is “heavy.” The air is heavy. I felt the same way I did when I visited Gettysburg. It’s as if ground that has seen so much death and destruction never forgets it.

culloden 2014-05-11 15.28.34-1

Leaving Culloden, we detoured out to see one more set of standing stones.

(NOTE: At this point, if you’ve read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, you may be sensing the theme of the trip Jersey Fresh put together…)

outlander

Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get sucked into the stones and find myself in 18th century Scotland. But, there’s always next time, right?

 

 

 

 

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It Just Gets Different

Was it April 28th or April 29th?

I signed all the forms. I had the date carved in stone. Why can’t I remember? Who forgets the day their father died?

I woke up this morning thinking of my Dad, and how today marked 6 years since his passing. Yet, a tiny voice in the back of my head was telling me that I had the day wrong. I feared The Day was yesterday, the 28th, and  I had passed it without stopping to think of him.

I got out of bed and flipped through an old journal and realized I hadn’t missed the anniversary. I inhaled deeply. It was today. I hadn’t forgotten. I hadn’t messed it up.

Not like death anniversaries are the same as other anniversaries. I didn’t need to shave my legs or make dinner reservations. But, I did need to schedule time to be alone and time to not be alone like I do every year on April 29th. I schedule in time to feel sorry and to cry, knowing that tears for my dad come one day a year without fail. Scheduling is important, otherwise the tears come at awkward and inopportune times, like when I am in line at the grocery store or impatiently waiting for Huck to find the perfect spot to drop a deuce.

There are lots of philosophies about healing wounds. I subscribe to the idea of time healing (obviously, with the exception of cases involving gangrene or tetanus). Time has healed all of my past hurts, from broken hearts to broken nails. But, losing my dad isn’t the same type of wound. The best way I can describe it is time changes it, rather than heals it. Every year I miss him differently. There is no more or less. And I’d hesitate to say it is more painful to not have him around now as it was in the past, because when I miss him, when I am reminded that he isn’t here anymore, there is just that. And it’s the same feeling every time, but it’s also very different. Wanting to call him for a pep talk after a particularly rough day is different from wanting to call him and suggest he try Heartwood Whisky (an absolute delight, by the way).

Most times, I can play out a conversation with my Dad in my mind and hear what he would say as clearly as if he was standing next to me, carefully considering my questions and trying not to smirk in his responses as he tried to simultaneously guide me through rough waters and let me face the consequences of the difficult path I had chosen for myself. Dad was great at helping me through trouble without actually doing much to get me out of it. I always knew if I got arrested, I’d be spending the night in prison. He wouldn’t bail me out, but he might try to bring me a sandwich or something.

Still, as much as I can hear his heartfelt guidance during times of trouble and exasperated responses to some of my more trivial life issues, Dad never failed to surprise me once in awhile. I’ve come to realize, what I miss most of all, are all the things I don’t know he would say. I miss the unpredictable and surprising guidance.

I’ve had a lot of questions I wished I could have run past my Dad. Deep meaning of life questions, like, “Can I call a bomb threat into the car dealership that sold me a lemon!?” and, “Do I REALLY have to pay this stupid fine!?” He probably would have answered both questions with a simple, “No.”
Just last week, I wanted to ask my Dad if he really never filed the insurance claim for a car accident I was in back in 2006, as the State of Colorado garnished my state tax return and sent me a bill for the remaining $680 to pay for a dented guard rail on Highway 40. On one hand, it might be their clerical error. I’m pretty sure I took care of everything after the accident. On the other hand, since it was my Dad’s car and I was on his insurance policy, I wouldn’t be surprised if my dad opted out of paying the deductible, tossing  the letter from the Department of Transportation into the trash with a haughty, “Let’s see them come after me for a damn guard rail!” If the latter is the scenario that played out, Dad, we’re going to have a talk when I get to the hereafter…unless there is a 10 year statute of limitations on that crap, then, no worries, CO can keep my tax returns for the next two years with my blessing. Of course, not having a job, they won’t get any money from me either, so I win.

I also wish I could ask Dad what to do about the drunk man who urinates in my entryway almost every Saturday night. To get access into my apartment building, you have to buzz in. However, the buzzer is located inside a small hallway, allowing privacy for someone to open the outside door and piss in the corner where the buzzer is. The landlords know about this problem and are talking about moving the buzzer to the outside, so you have to buzz into the building from the sidewalk, effectively preventing access to the impromptu latrine. However, in the interim, I need to do something besides spray some bleach water and hold my breath as I walk past the slowly evaporating puddle of urine. It gets more concentrated and pungent every day until it’s completely dried up. I am assuming a full grown man with the bladder of a racehorse is the culprit. Human bodily fluids gross me out (hence why I am studying veterinary medicine), so I can’t bring myself to risk getting chlamydia or something by cleaning it myself. I’m considering buying a bucket and leaving it in the hall with a nice note requesting that the Phantom Pisser please use the bucket and empty it into the street when done. It’s a bit medieval, but “gardyloo” worked well for Edinburgh back in the day. Maybe I’ll put a little jar with potpourri in the corner too, just to be an accommodating hostess. No need to be barbaric, now.I’m also considering keeping the door open by tying it to the rail on the inside of the building, thereby eliminating the element of privacy. If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? If people walking down the sidewalk can see the Phantom Pisser doing his business, will he still urinate in my hallway?

Dad, I wish you were around to help me figure out what to do with the Phantom Pisser. I wish you’d knock me up the head and tell me not to use a dirty word like “pisser.” I wish you’d call the Department of Transportation and tell them to give me back my $21 tax return. But most of all, I wish you could tell me that you’re proud of me and I’m doing alright. I wish you’d nag me a bit to study harder and tell me to buck up or get out when I’m feeling sorry for myself. I wish you’d break down some of my problems to a million tiny little pieces that don’t even matter.On April 29th, I indulge in all of these wishes. And I cry. But it’s almost midnight. It’s almost April 30th and like Cinderella’s carriage turned into a pumpkin, my tears are about to fade and turn into happy reminiscing as I can almost hear my Dad say, “You can sit here and keep crying, or you can go set up a CCTV system in your entryway and catch that bastard with his pants down. Your choice.”

 

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I Award You No Points. Seriously. No Points.

There is a scene from Billy Madison that always comes to mind when I sit for an exam in vet school:

We’re in the midst of our Animal Husbandry Welfare and Food Safety Exams. If you’ve been following my adventures through the proverbial Vet School Looking Glass, you’ll know that horses and I don’t always get on so well. Usually, they make me look like a complete idiot. However, at the end of the day, I’ve still got my opposable thumbs and I’m not a giant prey animal who poops in my water dish and can die from a tummy ache, so I feel like I come out on top.

Well, today, my valiant equine opponent bested me once again….although, I can’t entirely blame her.

The exam was off to a good start. I was happily answering questions and smiling at my assigned horse Rita over the box. Her demeanor told me she wasn’t altogether against the idea of being my partner in showing off my equestrian panache… However, she wasn’t too keen on the idea, either. My hands trembled slightly applying her head collar, but I led her out of the stall with the confidence of someone who spent all Christmas break hand-walking Thoroughbreds. Rita was not so intimidating.

One of the first tasks I was asked to do for the grader was pick up Rita’s front and hind leg. I took a moment to remember if my hand should run along the inside or the outside of the leg and with confidence, smoothly lifted her front leg in one motion.

“Ummm are you sure you want to face that way?”

I looked up, right into the eyes of the instructor, her eyebrow cocked slightly.

I sheepishly put down the leg and said, “I should be facing her back end.”

The instructor nodded and told me I could give it another go. I turned 180 degrees and facing the horses hindquarters, lifted her leg again, this time with the blood pumping hot and loud in my ears.

I’m not sure if this one mistake cost me my pass on the handling exam or not. It certainly cost me my pride. I tried to find a picture online of a person picking up a horse leg while facing the front of the horse instead of the back of the horse, but I couldn’t find one. I guess I’m the only person on earth to ever do it….like in the history of horses.

Ah, nothing like a hot steamy mug of humility to keep your Tuesday morning in check.

The moral of the story: Parents, if your young daughters beg you for a pony, just get them a freaking pony! On the off chance they decide to go to vet school, they’ll really appreciate having some horse handling skills in their back pocket. Can you guess who asked for a pony when she was young and was told, “no,” over and over again? I’ll give you a hint, she’s all thumbs and absolute crap with horses.

horse

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