You’ve probably heard that pigs are intelligent animals. They are. They are clean, easy to train and can be taught to do tricks. Pigs are considered to be as intelligent as a 3 year old child. In intensive pig farming situations, lack of enrichment in their environment will cause them stress. When this lack of enrichment (or boredom) combines with less than satisfactory management conditions (feeding, environment…) pigs start to show vices. They bully each other and bite at each other’s tails and ears. Multiple pigs may gang up on another pig and traumatise it. When pigs become uncomfortable, they get (for lack of better word) grumpy. When this grumpiness leads to the manifestation of vices, pigs are considered just past their tipping point.
I never expected to relate so much to an animal that makes an occasional appearance on my breakfast plate. But, learning about pigs reaching their tipping point struck a chord with me. Its easy to ignore how much stress I put on myself as a vet student: pressure to excel in my work, to be a good friend, a patient pet owner, to be financially responsible – these all sound like normal every day human being pressures. But, throw in variable factors, such as impending exams, a difficult social situation, a bank account balance that only decreases and that oh-so-dangerous pre-menstrual mixture of hormones and you have the perfect ingredients for a tipping point.
I won’t bite off anyone’s tail, but I can’t honestly say my tipping point is any less gruesome in its own way. Allow me to take you on a journey through the past few days so that you too can watch me bubble over like a kettle. The journey is awkward and infused with hilarity. But, actually reaching my tipping point is where the fun stopped.
Saturday: The Day I Kick A Friend Out Of My Kitchen For Making Too Many Potatoes
Saturday night was a “Friendsgiving” party for all of us homesick Americans and a few Canadians who came along for the turkey and pie. I don’t know if its the comfort food, or the closeness of so many differing personalities, but I always leave huge family style gatherings missing home a little less. Really, the only thing that was absent from our holiday celebration was the pitcher of margaritas I tend to fixate on during the massive political debate between my siblings and grandparents.
My contribution was a Pecan Pie. It’s a quick and easy pie to make and allowed me to show off my fancy-flaky pie crust making skills. As I was hosting a little group study at my flat before the party, I offered my kitchen up to my friends to put together their contributions to the family-style dinner.
One of my friends was going to make potatoes. And here we find the critical point of failure: Expectation Misalignment.
My way of making potatoes is vastly different than his way. Still, I don’t tell people how to cook in their kitchen (even if it’s *technically* my kitchen), so I let him do his thing and stayed out in the living room….until I heard glass shatter. See, his delicious potatoes are very labour and resource intensive. Having all the burners on the stove going at full blast caused a glass picture in my kitchen to shatter. Coming into my kitchen felt like entering the set of The Walking Dead. I tried to plaster a Martha Stewart style smile on my face and, in the name of hospitality, offer to clean up all the glass and make some more room with my limited counter space for him to continue.
However, my smile was more like a grimace and the words that came out of my mouth were less hospitable and more like, “I just need to be the only one in here- I just need to get everything under control – I just need a minute. Just a minute.” Except those words sound nice (albeit awkward). I was awkward, but I wasn’t nice. Not even a little nice. I think I must have looked ready to projectile vomit pea soup whilst my head spun around 360 degrees a la The Exorcist.
I prepared my kitchen the best I could for “Operation boil 10 kg of potatoes whilst simultaneously frying up 3 kg of bacon and sausages” and sheepishly exited. I finished my mimosa. I made my pie. I apologized. But it wasn’t easy for me. It’s hard to admit you are wrong – especially when you’re the one being a snot about how to make potatoes.
Monday: The Day I Yell At A Stranger For The First Time in My Life
I had received an e-mail from the financial aid office that had me a little bit on edge. Ok, a lot on edge. I was talking to a friend in the meadows, essentially throwing a bit of a pity party for myself. I also may have not been entirely over how silly I had acted about the potato situation.
Huckleberry was running around the meadows, sniffing used condoms and hunting down stale chips (french fries) left out for the birds. I really live in a classy part of town. I looked over my shoulder and saw a woman approaching with a dog on the leash. If we were in closer proximity, I would have offered to leash my dog, but he was off sniffing and never really bothers with other dogs, so I didn’t give it a second thought.
Well, for the first time in 6 years, Huckleberry charged up to that woman and her dog, stopped about 5 feet away and let out his best beagle bay: ARRRROOOOOOOOOOO! I rushed over and apologized, “I”m so sorry! He’s never done that before!” As I was fumbling with his harness to leash him, she replied, “Yeah, that’s what they all say.” Taken aback by her tone, I aplogized again, “No really, he hasn’t ever run up and barked like that – I’m so sorry if he startled you.” She rolled her eyes at me and mumbled something.
Walking back to my friend with Huck at a close heel, I say, “What a b*tch.” (Because if someone upsets you, you should call them names until you feel better. Obviously.)
The woman hears me, stops and says, “Excuse me?”
And (ironically, for the first time in my life, because I never do this either) I have a ready comeback.
I say loudly, clearly (and thankfully without stuttering or losing my ability to say the letter R), “I was just saying how NICE it must be to have a perfect dog that has never embarrassed you in public. THANKS for so graciously accepting my apology.”
As you can imagine, when I said, “THANKS for so graciously accepting my apology,” it was clear I didn’t sincerely mean “Thank you.”
Tuesday: The Day I See The Stranger And Her Dog In The Meadows Again
I hid behind a post.
I’m actually terrible at confrontations.
Wednesday: Tipping Point – The Day I Cry Because People Were Nice To Me
I volunteer at a local vet clinic on Wednesdays. Not just any veterinary surgery, but possibly the one staffed with the nicest and most compassionate team of professionals on the planet. I love going there for so many reasons, partly because I feel like I can help (if only keeping the kennels clean or washing instruments) but mostly because I like being around the staff. They help me remember why I am in vet school and inspire me to push through some of the less glamorous hoops vet students have to jump through.
Today, I arrived and was put to work right away taking a blood glucose reading from a diabetic dog. After getting the reading, I was to flush her catheter. Straightforward. Within my skill set. I can do this.
Well, getting the blood from her ear wasn’t easy. Whist there are many ways to poke a needle into a dog’s ear to get a drop of blood, none of them seem particularly painless. The poor dog yelped and I felt like a monster and dropped the glucose strip and then that happened again because after the first time my confidence was as shaky as my hands.
Then, I asked for help because there were only so many times I was willing to poke the dog before identifying the need for professional assistance. After getting the reading, I grabbed the needle and bag of saline from the dog’s kennel and flushed the catheter. As I was putting them back, I took a closer look at the bag. In bright green bold sharpie, I saw the words, “Drugs Added” written on the bag of saline. My heart rate escalated and I could hear the blood rushing in my ears. I ran into the prep room and grabbed a nurse and told her what I had done.
I couldn’t believe I had made such a mistake. My hands were shaking, even as she assured me it was fine, the saline contained very dilute glucose. It was the drip the dog had been on the previous day. She assured me that my mistake wasn’t going to do anything to hurt the dog or mess anything up. She just told me to reflush with the correct saline and that it would be fine. She was kind. She was understanding. She appreciated me immediately owning my mistake and seeking help. She said I had done the right thing. She even made a joke about how the poor pup probably enjoyed a wee bit of extra glucose.
I reflushed the catheter with the appropriate saline solution and decided I would clean a few kennels and wash some dishes. I felt like I needed to take a break from medical chores for a bit. I demoted myself. I felt like I needed to be punished. I couldn’t let go of the fact that I had made an enormous mistake: I injected something into an animal without verifying what it was. At the time, it didn’t matter to me that it was a harmless solution. It didn’t even matter to me that the dog was safe. I still felt absolutely terrible. I couldn’t let go of the feeling that I could kill an animal doing that. The tears started and I couldn’t get them to stop. I had reached my tipping point.
The whole team I work with were kind and encouraging. They offered up their own stories of mistakes they made that could have been disastrous and the lessons they learned. They shared their imperfections and vulnerabilities. They reminded me that we are all human. No one said a harsh word to me. No one felt the need to remind me of the repercussions such a mistake might have in the future. I think we all realized that this was the first and only time I would make this mistake because I would never forget the feeling I had holding that bag of glucose and saline.
I hid in the bathroom and cried. I cried until my eye makeup was no longer salvageable.
I washed my face with cold water and made about 3 good starts out of the bathroom, but each time I broke down again as soon as someone saw my tell tale red blotchy face and asked me if I was ok. I tried slathering lavender hand cream on my face to tone down the redness. It didn’t help. When the nurse realized that I was at my tipping point, she told me to take the night off and relax. She thanked me for all the work I do at the clinic. She told me they trust me and that’s why they let me do things and owning up to my error was just another reason for them to keep trusting me. She told me I was appreciated.
Tipping points can be fickle, funny things. You lose your cool over something small. Too many potatoes. A snotty dog owner. The beagle being a beagle instead of a perfectly trained little robot dog. You boil over. You cry. YOU CRY A LOT. You phone a friend. You phone all your friends. You drink a glass of wine….and then maybe just half of another. You eat a piece of baking chocolate (because that’s all you have). You go for a long walk. And then, you go to bed and know when you wake up, you have a fresh start. Your emotional kettle is empty again. And the stresses can come and go and you can roll with them. They won’t tip you. Well, not so soon. You’ll tip again. Maybe over a stubbed toe or missing a bus. Or maybe you tip because you are professionally and personally embarrassed by a poor judgment call. I think tipping points must be how we cope. We have to get all that stress out before it actually leaves us shattered.
But isn’t that the key? To tip and tip and tip over again, but not let anything sink us?