Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April's no fool

At age seven I made a decision, a decision that would shape the rest of my life. I decided to become a veterinarian. I also decided to move to New Zealand, this has yet to happen but at this point I’m not discounting the idea. At seven I knew very little about the realities of a veterinary career. But I did know I loved and adored animals. I assumed all other people felt the same.

My first pet was a Great Pyrenees named Pepi. Pepi was a puppy when I was born and we grew up together. He was gentle soul - a creature you could cuddle up to and confide in, someone to provide unconditional love whenever the rest of the world was persona non grata. Pepi was a complete and total part of our family. Every Christmas card contained photographs of me, my sister and our furry brother. I never considered the possibility of life without a dog.

Then one morning, when I was ten, he didn’t come when we called. Did he run away? Where was he? We found him, lying in the yard, very very still. He was dead. Though never before experiencing death I understood. I knew he was gone. And yet - what if they, the adults, were wrong? I got a milk bone. I put it in front of his nose just in case. He did not move. He was stationary for the entire day. And, finally, animal control arrived to take him away - he was too big for my parents to reasonably bury. Pepi’s death solidified it. I had to be a vet. I wanted to save animals.

My parents were very indulgent and permitted us children many other pets growing up. As a consequence I experienced a lot of death - guinea pigs, rabbits, cockatiels, tortoises, goldfish. Each pet’s passing left an indelible impression that remains with me like old pictures and reel-to-reel movies flashing through my mind. With each of these moments my helplessness increased as did my desire to pursue a veterinary career. I wanted to make a difference.

I studied biology in college and, upon graduation, took a job at as a wastewater management technician. It quickly became clear this was not the career for me (it takes a special person to spend their days with the effluent from another’s toilet). I decided once and for all to apply to veterinary school.

I took a job, and a pay cut, as a veterinary assistant and applied for admission. My grades were good, as were my GRE scores, but I was not immediately accepted. I was put on a waiting list. I didn’t make it that year and applied the next. I also got married and became pregnant (in that order thank you very much).

I was six-months-pregnant when I had my second school interview. My pantsuit disguised my condition and I did not tell them I was expecting. I was accepted. To make a long story short my son was born three-months before I started school and my middle daughter was born three-months before I completed school. I graduated with honors.

Initially, I hoped to pursue an internship and residency - thus becoming a veterinary specialist. But, family obligations prevailed and with my student loan debt we were in dire need of a steady income. I chose emergency medicine because it scared me. I figured if I could learn emergency medicine I could handle any aspect of veterinary practice.

And here I am eight-years and one more child later. I am burning out. It turns out not everyone loves their pets as much as I. And some love them too much, beyond reason, unwilling to let go. I am there to help. I fight a good fight. But I am not God. Death will always prevail. This job, these people are wearing me down. I am tired. I am helpless.

And I wonder, why did I choose this career path? But I know; I know why. I believe in, I strongly ascribe to, the human-animal bond. It’s the decrease in blood pressure when a kitty sits in my lap. It’s my daughter resting on the couch, her arms wrapped around a dog, sleepily watching a “baby show”. It’s knowing my children have the same unconditional love I had as a child. And, it’s knowing my children understand death.

I need to find a way back. To find a way to work with people who feel as I do. To help people who love their pets and to help the people who love their pets also let them go. What will I do? I don’t know. But I know I need to get there.


Midlife has hit me with a hammer. It’s not what I expected. I’m exhausted. My health is suffering. I’m bloated and sore and palpitating and hot. I’m only 36.

I made an appointment with a naturopathic physician for an annual exam and hormonal evaluation. I may indeed be in perimenopause (what a grody word).

Why a naturopath? Two reasons. First, she was recommended by a good friend. Second, the sign at the local market told me to do it. The sign said, “the mind is like a parachute, it only functions when open.”

I’m looking to the universe for signs and the market responded. It’s one stop shopping - worldly advice and a gallon of milk.

I’m going to keep looking for signs.


When twins are in the womb and one of them is born - Sara remembered hearing once - the twin who remains behind watches his sole companion vanish and suffers an agony almost too devastating to bear. Only a moment later, he will understand that his twin has not died, but quite the opposite, that his vanished friend is closer to him than he can know. This, according to a story Sara once heard, is also the way of real death and the world to come.

From The World to Come by Dara Horn


Anonymous said...

Here's a sign: Take a break. A day off, a weekend away. Nature's best medicine. And consider this: you also save animals by not saving them, not reversing the outcome, but my meeting them, seeing them in their hour of need. Tending to distress and death teaches this over and over, right? Just to be present.

The doctor, the healer, the saint, is not an outcome manager. Just a witness. xo

Shalet said...

Karen - I appreciate your words and kindness. It is all too easy to see death as a failure. But who am I to know what rests on the other side. It may indeed be a glorious place this world to come.

Honorary Indian said...

Well, based on what we went through a couple weeks ago...I thank God there are vets out there who care. Who love our animals almost as much as their owners. Who are compassionate. And, who take the utmost pride in their work...as draining as it can be. So, thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

Side note: the worldy advice and gallon of milk comment cracked me up. And, not much has made me laugh recently.

So, thanks again.

Take care of yourself. The world needs vets and moms and PEOPLE like you sharing yourself like you do.

Anonymous said...

I found you on Jen Lemen's site. I loved your list of foolishness. I'm a dog lover as well and wanted to become a vet, ended up as a nurse. I enjoyed your writing.

AscenderRisesAbove said...

your photography and the way in which you write your blog is a real treat!
my youngest is in college to be a vet, hoping to begin graduate school next year $$.