In the olden days, people used to turn to carnival medicine men or the back pages of Look Magazine for the latest way to solve all of their problems. People don’t change, just the technology. Now we have the internet to turn to. If the web is to be believed, and it always is for some reason, there is a new cure for all the world’s ills. That cure is coconut oil.
It’s good for your hair, your skin, your GI tract, your dog, your mental health, and your aura. It’s anti-inflammation and pro-synergy. You can rub it on your scalp, then scrape it off and use it to cook, or sit on the leather couch and make it more supple. I don’t think there is a single malady out there that someone has not suggested coconut oil can fix:
Dry skin? Coconut oil.
Dry face? Coconut oil.
Yeast infection? You guessed it.
Alzheimer’s? Eat up.
Athlete’s foot, acne, depression, hemorrhoids, anxiety, UTI, weight loss, heartburn, autism. I guess what I’m saying is you could nuke your local CVS and be just fine as long as there was a Whole Foods next door, because coconut oil’s got you covered.
I’ve done a Whole 30 challenge, which is a no-processed food crossed with a tinge of Paleo, so I’m no stranger to coconut oil. I’ve cooked brussels sprouts in it, stirred it in my coffee, used it to make paleo pancakes. They were good.
Sadly, at the end of a jar I have to say my life has not substantially changed. Everything broken in me before is still broken. Coconut oil, while delicious and no doubt healthier than, say, margarine, has not eliminated my need for my allergy inhaler. I asked my doctor if I could try shoving coconut oil up my nose instead, just for a little while. It’s way cheaper than Dymista. She didn’t think much of the idea. When I told her I was just joking, then she sighed and said, “I get that question a lot.”
While coconut oil is unsurprisingly gaining steam in veterinary medicine, we have an equivalent that already enjoys legendary status in the home remedy category: pumpkin.
Long treated as the pet pepto-bismol, pumpkin is the go-to far various GI maladies spanning the range from constipation to diarrhea. It’s a great thing for the colon. It’s a great source of fiber and most pets will eat it. Pumpkin is Metamucil in a more holistic package.
What pumpkin is not is everything else, like an anti-emetic or anti-inflammatory or something that will teach your dog to talk. Like, it’s no coconut oil or anything.
On a friend’s Facebook page, she recently asked if it was possible for a pet to develop an allergic reaction to a food they’ve been eating for years.
10 people chimed in (correctly) that yes, this happens. Then someone said, “Why do you ask?”
“Because my dog’s been throwing up every time he eats all of a sudden.”
As a veterinarian, my mind immediately collates a list of the differentials when I hear something like this. 3 year old pit bull, history of being a destructive chewer, clearly the problem is “pumpkin deficiency.”
Which is exactly where the comment thread went.
“OMG! You need to give your dog some pumpkin.”
“Seriously! My dog loves it.”
“Pumpkin cured my dog’s farts.”
“Pumpkin is a great source of electrolytes.” And so on and so forth.
Don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin. As far as advice on the internet goes, it’s one of the more benign things I’ve read and unlikely to cause harm. My only concern is that people recommend this in lieu of something that might actually work, such as starting with a correct diagnosis. Fortunately this person has multiple veterinary professionals on the thread, and somewhere in between pumpkin recommendations she got some solid advice.
A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor came over with her adorable 6 month old Golden Retriever. She hopped back and forth on her toes before asking me if I had any thoughts about her dog’s diarrhea.
“How long has it been going on?” I asked.
“Go to the vet.”
“We’re going tomorrow,” she said, “but in the meantime……do you have any pumpkin I can borrow?”
I did. It’s on the shelf next to the coconut oil. Hope springs eternal.
PS The dog improved dramatically … once the vet diagnosed Giardia and started Flagyl.
I am training for a half marathon.
I thought about training for a full marathon, but then the reality what that was like the last time I attempted it kicked in and I remembered that oh yeah, I don’t like to run. I think you can do a full marathon once when you don’t like to run, just to say you did (Rock n Roll 2001 for me), but after than there’s really nothing to prove other than, “oh yeah, this hurts.”
A half marathon though, is doable. Still not fun, but manageable. I have decided, along with my friend from the gym who I kind of hate because she keeps inviting me to things such as “Summer Boot Camp!” and “Half marathon! It’ll be fun!” and I keep saying yes, that should we complete this without killing ourselves, maybe, just maybe, we will try and tackle a triathlon before our 40th birthdays.
Do they let people leisurely triathlon these days? All my competitiveness gets used up in my professional life so I have none left over for this.
Anyway, the point is I am doing this and it’s a grind, but I keep remembering that health is a gift and blah blah blah; I’m training with a group because it’s the only way I will drag myself out of bed at 6 am for the long Saturday runs.
Brody doesn’t come with me on those. He can manage shorter distances, but he’s made it clear he’s not yet ready for anything over 3 miles, tops, despite his summer cut. I appreciate that.
This Saturday I ran (‘ran’?) 9 miles, which sounds alternatively fantastic and psssshaw depending on where on the running spectrum you fall. To me, this is the longest distance I’ve done in a single day since I staggered off Mt Meru a few years ago, and that was because I had to since there was no oxygen up at the top.
I’m hunched over because I couldn’t straighten up, not because I voluntarily felt like standing that way. Teri is hanging on for dear life.
So after 9 miles, at the end of which I realized my entire body was numb from the waist down, I came home and sat on the floor to stretch. Soon enough I was laying on the floor, like one of those crime scene outlines.
020 0120 7141 023 0123 7173 Small is Beautiful Floor Black Still Life, by Steve James on Flicker
I began to appreciate why dogs do this, this splat sort of positioning. The wood was cool. Soon I melted and became one with the floor. Why don’t I do this more often? I wondered, and when my daughter asked me why I was doing that I realized it was not really possible for me to make it onto the couch at that particular moment.
Brody was excited I was in his domain, plopping down nose to nose and looking at me like, “Hey! What are you doing here?” He stared at me for a while, and then I decided I needed to stretch if I ever was to have hope of standing up again.
It went about as well as you’d expect.
Dogs don’t understand why we would come into their territory for any purposes other than play, and Brody was having none of it. He laid on my foot, licked me in downward dog, and dumped a soggy tennis ball on my stomach when I tried to stretch out my hip. It’s clear I’m not alone in this.
Dogs are awesome at many things, but sitting quietly by while you sit on the floor and bend into weird shapes is not one of them. If you’re going to goof off, they figure, might as well let me in on the fun.
Anyone else have a dog who simply won’t let you on the floor by yourself?
When I took my son in for his first routine eye exam, I had no idea he needed glasses. Neither did he. He seemed fine, wasn’t running into things, was reading fine in school, but nonetheless the optometrist suggested glasses. OK, I said, let’s give it a shot.
One week later, his glasses arrived and we went into the office to pick them up. He picked them up dubiously, slid them over the bridge of his nose, and stood there for a moment, blinking as the refracted light hit his retina in new and improved ways.
He spun, slowly, taking it all in. His lips twitched, burbling with something important. When he could no longer hold it in, he opened his mouth and shouted, “I CAN SEEEEEE!!!!”
Boy did I feel like a horrible mom as the assorted clients turned to see this blind boy get his sight back.
Later that week I was sharing this story with a friend. As we were talking, her daughter picked up my kid’s glasses and put them on just for fun to see how weird things looked.
She came over and tugged on her mom’s sleeves. “Hey mom. Things look pretty good with these things on. I think I can’t see too well.” Then I felt less bad. It happens to us all.
We thought things were fine, my kid thought things were fine, and then someone with tools I didn’t have access to and the ability to evaluate things said, “Actually, life can be even better.” And it was.
I think of this all the time when people say, “Oh, Buster’s doing fine, he doesn’t need an exam or meds or anything.” To a client’s eye, he is fine. His gait is the same it’s always been. But I can pick up things they don’t, that slight crunchy feeling in the knee, a stiffness when I extend the leg. It took some doing, but we convinced that lab’s owner to try some Rimadyl.
Or the dachshund who came in for a routine dental. “He’s fine,” the owner reported. “He eats kind of slow but he’s been that way since we adopted him two years ago.” When we opened his mouth, the fetid odor of eight rotting teeth hit my nostrils, teeth held in by tartar more than by tissue at that point. It took some doing, but we convinced the owner to let us remove them.
In both cases, we got a call about a week later to marvel about this new dog in the house. “He’s like a puppy again! I can’t believe his energy! Who IS this dog?” Like my son spinning around in the optometrist office, they had a problem they didn’t even realize existed lifted from their shoulders, and got to experience something better for the first time.
In the year since their last eye exam, both kids seem to be perfectly fine, but I took them in dutifully anyway. Both of them need new prescriptions. This time, I don’t feel so bad. Big things we notice- small ones? Not always.
It isn’t my job to evaluate such things in my kids, or to be able to recognize the more subtle signs of something needing help. All I need to do is get them to someone who can, on a regular basis. Next stop: orthodontist. Lord help us all.
Just a little reminder to everyone that there is a reason we recommend yearly (twice yearly, for older pets) checkups at the vet. We’ll probably find things you weren’t aware of, and that’s OK. That’s what we’re here for! Every pet deserves the revelation of improved health.
One thing I’ve learned about going on vacation, is that I don’t like to relax.
How can I, when there’s so much to do and so little time! I want to see ALL THE THINGS!
And most of the time I vacation with my husband he responds with a blank stare and a “why would you want to do all of that?” So this time around we went to Turks and Caicos, a small island chain in the Bahamas whose island upon which we landed is only 38 square miles, so I think he assumed he would have me boxed in by water and I’d have no choice but to chill out.
He was wrong, of course. Shortly after arriving, I spotted the telltale signs of what I knew to be an island without an animal control program: stray dogs darting across the street, hiding from the midday heat and humidity in whatever shade they could find. In the Bahamas, these distinctive stray dogs are called potcakes, after the congealed rice and pea mixture scraped up from the bottom of the pot that was traditionally fed to the dogs. Scrappers from the start, these sturdy little guys.
With no official animal control and a population subject to the elements, starvation, parvo, and heartworm, one of the ways to deal with them was through poisoning (a very common and unfortunate way to cope when there is no program in place to help the animals.) Potcake Place is a rescue located on the island, 100% volunteer run and donation based, that exists to help bridge that gap and give these dogs a chance. Visitors are welcome to come in and meet the pups, so of course within 24 hours I mapped the place out and planned a trip.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to find, but I sure wasn’t expecting this:
What they have managed to make out of so little is truly heroic. Enjoy the pictures of these healthy little pups. I guarantee you, before these rescue volunteers took them in they were not this happy and healthy.
The facility is cheery, tidy, and full of happy. It makes people WANT to go in, as evidenced by the steady flow of tourists into the building to play, learn, and offer to courier the dogs back to the States. As the bulletin board shows, they’ve been successful in that as well.
(aside- one in Hawaii?? That’s hardcore.)
Best souvenir ever, right? These people all seem to think so.
Knowing this was ABSOLUTELY NO NO NO out of the question that we would be able to take a dog home, I settled for the next best thing: Potcake Place allows you to be a ‘foster for a day’, taking a dog out and about to give them socialization, exercise, and an opportunity to show off for more tourists on the street.
Who’s available? I asked.
They said, Bran, Rickon, and Arya. Was this meant to be or what? So we borrowed, of course, Arya.
Come on. This is totally relaxing.
So anyway, we spirited Arya back to our little stretch of beach and told her all about the world. How people are pretty cool, if you trust them. How she should enjoy this water while she could because rumor had it she was on her way to Boston on Saturday. She took it all in stride.
Did I mention Arya is extremely photogenic? I hope she goes to someone with a blog. Almost as much as I hope she goes to a Game of Thrones fan.
And she’s great with kids. Seriously, she was awesome.
So awesome, in fact, that when I saw her in the airport departure lounge on her way to a no kill shelter in Boston I seriously considered changing her out with my neck pillow- they’d never know until it was too late. Cooler heads prevailed, of course, and I decided I would instead focus my efforts on trying to convince them to put in an application for a World Vets team to come and help with a large scale spay/neuter effort.
I know just the right vet to help out.
To learn more about Potcake Place, visit their website or Facebook page. They adopt to people all over the United States, even those who have never been to the island; you put in an application, and once you are approved you wait until someone from your area goes there on vacation and volunteers to courier the pup back to you. Isn’t that a great system?
I once worked in a very stressful place. It was an emergency hospital, always about 3 staff members short of a full crew and 25 people piled in the lobby waiting for treatment. It was a large staff of doctors, about 10 at the time, and as how things tend to happen in nutso environments the staff would get nutso a little bit as well. Stress does that to people.
You never sat still at that hospital; it was run run run, a dog bleeding out in room 1, a dyspneic cat gasping in room 2, five clients wanting updates on the phone. We didn’t catch up on things there so much as run as fast as you can so as not to fall further behind. The whole place had a surreal Through the Looking Glass feel to it, now that I think about it.
In the midst of this chaos, one or two of the more enlightened veterinarians managed to float above it all. Dr. Naidus was one of them. Needles would be flying and people screaming and papers falling to the floor, and he would be solemnly nibbling on some healthy snack or another, surveying the scene with an amused glance before going back to whatever it was he was doing.
The interns and newer veterinarians such as myself were drawn to him like an acolyte to a guru, trying to figure out the secret of his zen-ness. He’d laugh and tell us when we were old we’d be too tired to get worked up over the small stuff too. (He was right.)
Clients loved him as much as we did. Every Christmas, when I considered myself lucky to get a hand soap from the rare client who could remember my name, baskets would start showing up in the treatment area with his name on it. Baskets and baskets and baskets. He always shared.
Dr. Naidus got more gifts than the rest of us put together, including the owner and the boarded surgeon, and when we tried to figure out the secret of people loving him as much as they did it was simple: he gave them what they wanted. Treatment, or palliation if they didn’t want to pursue heroic measures. We were in an economically depressed area and people spent a lot of time confronted with estimates they couldn’t realistically afford.
He was always kind and understanding and worked with them based on what they could do. It wasn’t, as he kept reassuring us, rocket science. Be kind. Laugh, for goodness sake, it’s not that bad.
He took the same approach with the terrified interns, who were performing under a great deal of pressure without a lot of knowledge under their belts. We’d come up to him, all of us including him up to our eyeballs in paperwork, for advice or a ‘can you take a peek’ or ‘HELP!’ and he always did, with nary an eyeroll or a sigh or a ‘in a few minutes.’ In a place where people routinely lost their sanity trying to stay afloat, I never saw the guy lose his cool, like, ever. He surrounded himself with a bubble of laughter impervious to the anxiety around him. It rubbed off.
I worked with him only briefly, but have heard news of him through my friends who remained and considered him a dear friend. I knew he had been battling illness for a while, and had dealt with it with his characteristic humor. He did well for a very long time and went on to charm many more clients in the years since we sat side by side in that chaotic treatment area, watching the world swirl by.
In Through the Looking Glass, Alice happens upon the Red King, napping beneath a tree.
“He’s dreaming now,” said Tweedledee: “and what do you think he’s dreaming about?”
Alice said, “Nobody can guess that.”
“Why, about you!” Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. “And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?”
“Where I am now, of course,” said Alice.
“Not you!” Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. “You’d be nowhere.”
Dr. Naidus was very much this type of quiet force in many lives. I am sure he was greeted today by many pets he has helped over his long career, as they welcome him home. Perhaps he and Kevin are sharing a brew; it’s been a long journey. Life, what is it but a dream?
Rest well, my friend. Thank you for being you.
PS This is not the hospital I wrote about in this post. ;)
In the depth of my despair when Apollo was dying, the medical resident at the specialty hospital made a comment I will never forget.
He was dying of a blood clot, a sequelae of hyperthyroidism and heart disease. I was in shambles, having come home from the gym to find him immobile on the couch, and rushed in straightaway, sweaty and spandex-y. I scribbled his medical history as quickly as I could, which the resident pored over with her intern as I sat in the room planning to say goodbye. I knew at that point it was coming, I was just waiting for confirmation of the diagnosis.
I had checked ‘yes’ to allergies, in the interest of being thorough.
“What allergies?” the resident asked.
“Food allergies,” I said. “Chicken.”
She paused, and shared a knowing glance with the intern. “And how do you know this?”
I blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“How do you know he has food allergies? Did you just assume, or did you actually test him?”
“I….I did an elimination diet, 10 weeks…not the full 12…. but it was obvious by that point,” I stammered, though what I really wanted to say is “WHAT THE HECK (ok maybe another word) DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH THE PROBLEM AT HAND?? WHO CARES HOW HE WAS DIAGNOSED WITH AN UNRELATED MANAGED CHRONIC CONDITION A DECADE AGO??”
But you know, I just sat there because what are you going to do.
OK sure, let’s talk more about Hills z/d and then can you please get this cat some morphine?
Now, I understand that a teaching hospital is going to teach, but from the patient perspective I suppose I would appreciate the teaching being limited to the issue at hand instead of using an emergency cardiac event to make a point on dermatology. I don’t know if it was that, or the way she asked the question as if she were sure I was going to give the wrong answer, that rubbed me the wrong way. I also had to tell her not once but twice that I didn’t want to hospitalize him on the off chance his clot might dissolve enough to give us another month at home. We didn’t hit it off.
Fortunately I didn’t see her after that and was turned over to the lovely cardiologist who looked and talked like Oberyn Martell and understood when I said, “Please confirm my suspicion so I can give him a peaceful goodbye at home”, but it really reminded me, from the other side of the table, how hard it is to be a patient advocate for our pets. I knew what I was doing and I still had to push a little. It was a lonely experience.
It’s even worse in human medicine, as this ER physician who was hit by a car will attest to. Without someone who knows what’s going on to oversee the process and keep the focus on the overall wellbeing of the patient, things fall through the cracks. Flustered and underinformed family members get confused. Specialists focus on this problem or that problem and not the patient. How can we do better?
Um, no, actually.
In human medicine, many hospitals now have designated patient advocates who serve as an invaluable liaison between a family and a healthcare provider. In veterinary medicine, it’s not something I’ve ever heard of, so we’re stuck with ourselves, the vet clinic, or the internet to help us make sense of complicated issues, to understand why the vet wants to do this or that and to empower clients to make informed decisions, including “No.” It’s not the ideal system, clearly.
I wonder if people would benefit from a neutral third party patient advocate group in veterinary medicine. I think things are only going to get more complicated from here on out, and as both a patient and a vet I think that sort of thing could only help. Food for thought.
Have you ever felt confused and not sure how to proceed with your pet? Would it have been helpful to have a pet care advocate to serve as a liaison?
The look on the doctor’s face was more bemused than annoyed as he tried to explain what happened to the centrifuge we were supposed to be bringing to Nicaragua for the clinic. The valuable piece of medical equipment had been confiscated by a leery customs official the day before, and the shifty eyed official wouldn’t release it to us without running it by his boss. Who would be in tomorrow.
Mañana, the official said. Come back mañana.
So a local veterinarian, who understands the language and the local culture, was dispatched the following day to the airport to convince the customs officials that there was nothing untoward about a centrifuge and to please give it back to us. He met with a different and no more accommodating Nicaraguan official, who thought about it for a while before saying, No, you can’t have it.
Well, the vet asked, when can I have it?
Mañana, he said, come back mañana. I never really got how this worked until this experience. The days stretching into the infinite, equipment locked up in an office to lord knows what end, mañana becoming less of a day and more of a concept.Sometime, just not now, and maybe not ever. It’s not so much tomorrow, it’s the idea of tomorrow perhaps being more conducive to our goals.
Frustrating as the experience was for all involved, it’s not a foreign concept to any human. We are experts at procrastination, at remembering things a day after the deadline, of holding onto that bottle of champagne for a *really* special occasion that never materializes, of planning that special trip in our heads if not on our calendars and only committing to it after the chance has gone by.
Anyone who has lived with animals, seen a life arc before you in all too short a time, knows how this works. It doesn’t matter. We still continue to do this to ourselves:
We spend our childhood dreaming of things we can’t do, because we’re too young.
Then we spend our adult lives dreaming of things we won’t do, because of work and kids and life. Mañana, we’ll do these grand things mañana.
And at some point, they again become things we can’t do, because now we’re too old.
(I know I wasn’t the only one cursing out Pixar through my ugly cry when Paradise Falls never materialized for Ellie.)
Somewhere in the middle, if we’re lucky, we can shake ourselves out of our certainty of tomorrow long enough to make mañana today. I’ve been doing this a lot more in the last few years, which I suppose is the natural progression of someone beyond the reckless optimism of youth and not quite ready to acknowledge that old is lurking right there in the wings.
It started with travel. It’s why I signed up for two weeks in Peru one year and another two weeks in Africa the next over the befuddled protests of my husband who wanted to know where I was going (somewhere interesting), with who (strangers that are now friends), and why (Why not?) Because at some point, I’ll know that I can’t.
It’s never the wrong time to go somewhere new and make a new friend.
And while I can’t commit to globetrotting nearly as often as I’d like to, on a smaller scale I’ve decided to take on one mañana a year. Back in 2008, I attempted to train for a marathon and dutifully attended every group run, but my knees gave out at the 18 mile training run and I had to drop out. I can still do a half marathon, I told myself. Later this year, I said.
That was six years ago. A friend from the gym who is at the same point in her life asked me last week if I wanted to join a running club with her to train for a half marathon in August, which seemed like a good goal but maybe for later this year. I’ll think about it, I said, and later that afternoon read this story. If ever there is a sign from the universe to get off your butt and go do something, it’s a 91 year old cancer survivor running a marathon in your backyard while you lament feeling old at a little more than half a century younger.
So I signed up.
We never did get that centrifuge. I learned this in a dusty Central American airport back room: mañana never comes. Today’s it, so do that 5K or learn to make real macarons or take opera lessons or whatever it is you’re sitting on for later. What’s your mañana?
It is one of the sad ironies of being a veterinarian in clinical practice that most of your clients are majorly unhappy to see you. (Retrievers don’t count, they’re always happy to see you.)
The reasons are obvious: vet clinics mean temperature taking, and shots, and cold tables. Trust me, I don’t much enjoy heading off to my doctor’s office either, nice as the staff is. Those awful half length hospital gowns they give you (ladies, you know the ones I’m referring to)- cold and humiliating. I’m here for something I’m not going to like.
While we vets are working on it through incorporating Fear Free Practice ideas into practice- thanks Dr. Becker!- we still have a long ways to go. Which brings me to today.
One of the most common things I hear from clients at a home euthanasia appointment is, “I just couldn’t bear to do this at the clinic. My last dog was shaking like a leaf when we went in for the appointment and I felt so terribly guilty afterwards.” And who can blame them for feeling guilty? Who wants their last memory of their dog or cat to be them cowering in a corner? How awful.
Not all pets feel this way about the vet, of course, but for those that do, it just adds another layer of emotional trauma to an already challenging time. Is this the pet signaling they don’t want to die? No. As pain management expert Dr. Robin Downing says, “Pets don’t fear death. They fear pain.” They are telling us they don’t like the vet, but of course we are only human and it’s hard not to extrapolate that to a bigger message that isn’t there.
So what happens in the absence of the clinic and the coat, when a pet meets me outside the office? A pleasant hello, usually. Even when I am there to help them transition. Especially when I am there to help them transition. I will be honest, I wasn’t expecting that.
I was reminded today of a lovely Golden I met last year, who was winding down a battle with cancer. When I came to the family home, their sweet girl was almost nonresponsive. As I knelt down by her side, she opened her beautiful brown eyes and gave me a huge, enthusiastic wag. We all stood there in shock, as she had not been able to do much of anything in the hours leading up to that moment. She did not fear death, or me.
In the absence of a preconceived assumption of vaccines and thermometers, pets are free to judge me based on whatever it is they perceive I am there to do. I cannot tell you the number of kisses, licks, wags, head bumps I get from pets who by all rights should be past caring who is sitting next to them. It means something.
It’s not, “Oh boy! THE DOCTOR IS HERE!”
It’s not, “That blond lady sure does smell good, like bacon.”
It’s simply this: I see you.
I know what a birdsong is.
And I am ready to hear it.
A few years ago I ran away from my job.
At least, that’s what I called it at the time, that is how I framed it in my head. I couldn’t hack it, I was a failure as a vet. My mind was wrecked, my physical health was wrecked, and my stomach curled up into knots every time I pulled into the parking lot. It wasn’t only me who suffered; I knew my heart was not where it needed to be for my patients. They deserved for me to want to be there. It was a bad place to be in.
With the gift of perspective, I know now I was dealing with some pretty significant burnout. I didn’t know that was what it was at the time; after all, don’t you have to be in it at least a couple of decades for that to kick in? Or be a practice owner? This is how it works, I was told. No one really talked about it, or it was code for ‘bad vet’, not for a defined type of stress reaction. Old Doc Johnson who treats everything with pen G and steroids needs to get put out to pasture, he’s old and burned out.
No matter the reason, I knew I needed to leave and take a breather. I am very fortunate that my husband was supportive of the decision, even without knowing how it would play out, or when I would be back. Although I saw it as a failure on my part at the time it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I have learned to let go of a lot of destructive ideas in the past few years:
- that taking care of yourself is an indulgence;
- that saying ‘no, I can’t’ means you are a slacker;
- that being a veterinarian means you put your work above all other things.
I had to practice those sentences a couple years before I really truly believed them, but I do now. I listened to a wonderful VetGirl webinar today on the topic of veterinarians, depression and suicide and was kind of taken by surprise when our wonderful presenter said, “self care is an ethical obligation- to yourself and to your clients.” She’s right.
If you recall, one week ago today this happened in my neck of the woods:
A few days after the smoke had cleared, I had a girls’ weekend getaway that we had been planning for almost half a year. Girls weekends aren’t really something I’ve done much of- too busy, other priorities- but we randomly decided at a Christmas party that we should plan one. I didn’t know how much I would be needing it at the time, but man, I’m so glad it happened the way it did.
I flew far, far away from my blackened streets and up to the land of one of the world’s finest philosophers: Santa Rosa, home of Charles Schulz.
We ate, all weekend. Really, really good food.
We tasted some wine. Really, really good wine. Our personal favorite was a wine by Ehlers Estate, which was founded by a man with a deep philanthropic interest and is now owned by a trust that funnels all its profits into cardiovascular research. (I tell you this not to try and sell their wine, though if you ever get a chance you should absolutely try it, but because it ties into the rest of this story.)
The wine we sampled is called “One Twenty Over Eighty,” in honor of an ideal blood pressure. We liked it, so we bought a bottle to share that evening.
We all came on this journey with our own piles of stresses and stuff going on, and one of those things involved a friend taking a spot check blood pressure monitor, just to kind of keep an eye on things.
“I feel really relaxed,” she said later in the afternoon. “I’m going to check my blood pressure, just to see how it went today.”
She took it, looked at the numbers, shook her arm a little, and held up the monitor.
“One Twenty…Over Eighty.” OK, maybe closer to 125/82, but nonetheless, it was pretty darn good. Magic, almost.
On the last morning before we left, we bumped into Kenny G in a bistro. All I have for proof is a surreptitiously snapped picture of the back of his gloriously curled head, but it was confirmed that yes, we lunched with the G himself. Seriously, if ever you were waiting for a sign from the universe that you needed to kind of chill out for a few, there are few signs more blatant than running into the king of smooth jazz. This may top the time I ran into Weird Al at Disneyland (story for another time).
Good friends, laughter that makes you snort in the most unfeminine of ways, and maybe a sip of an exceptional wine if that’s your thing. It may not replace all the medicines in life you might need, but a little self care now and then does wonders, it really does.
Here’s to your One Twenty Over Eighty, whatever that might be. Cheers.
There are many things I could be upset about today. The fact that authorities suspect arson in the vast majority of wildfires that devastated San Diego this week, for example. That’s a good place to start.
Or the trolls whose only response to the news was, “That’s what you get for living in a dry place, morons, burn” as though there were a place on Earth immune to Mother Nature in some form or another.
But I’m too grateful to worry myself with fools and psychotics at the moment. There is too much gratitude to the many to allow myself to be angry with the few right now.
I am grateful to my friend K, who texted me to see if I was OK when she saw on the news that my neighborhood was being evacuated. This was at the start of this whole mess, and when I got her text I had no idea it was even happening. Her warning came ahead of the official notification, and gave me lead time to get back to the house to evacuate Brody and Penelope before the roads were barricaded.
I am grateful I heeded my own warning and had all the pet supplies quickly accessible so I could get in and out in 5 minutes. It is an eerie feeling to be alone in an empty neighborhood with a wall of smoke bearing down. Corollary: also grateful to the cat for not hiding under the bed.
I am grateful to my childrens’ teachers and the district who evacuated them from their school before it became an emergency. When you turn on the news and see your little ones’ faces disappearing into the smoke, your heart skips a few beats for them, even when they are already out and safe by your side. They had no idea why I was crying when I found them at the 2 separate sites they were evacuated to, though they will some day. I credit the teachers with keeping them all calm in a stressful situation.
I am grateful to the first responders from Cal Fire, the police, and sheriffs who were on the scene quickly and efficiently. 1500 acres and not one home lost in the Bernardo Fire, despite a full head-on assault towards hundreds of home.
These crews left their families behind, from different counties and even different states, to fight for our neighborhoods as if they were their own. That’s a debt one can’t repay.
I am grateful to the many who heeded the evacuation warnings and let these men and women do their jobs, and to those who assisted with animal evacuations- especially with donating their trailers for the large animals who are disproportionately affected in these circumstances.
I am grateful to this community, who I know will help those who lost their homes. I have family here to take us in, but even had I not, so many friends offered their hospitality to us. Today, I turned on the TV and saw my friend’s dad on the news helping a member of his church hose down his property. We will pitch in, because that is what we do here in San Diego.
After writing a blog for half a decade now, you’d think that the transition from blog to book would be effortless; and if not that, at least somewhat intuitive. You’d be wrong. It’s kind of like saying, hey, I walk my dog every day, I’m totally up for a triathlon.
Some of you have asked how it’s going or what it’s like. It’s not easy, but really, what good things in life are? I’m enjoying the process immensely. I’m Ralph Macchio currently getting edited by my very own Pat Morita. We are on our way! The first draft of (who knows how many versions of) All Dogs Go to Kevin is complete, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.
How to write a blog:
1. Get a WordPress account.
2. Write something.
3. Edit (optional)
5. Repeat for 5 years or so.
How to write a book (Option 1):
1. Adopt a funny looking animal.
2. Join reddit.
How to write a book (Option 2):
1. Write a blog (optional but strongly recommended)
2. Write some stuff. Show it to an agent.
3. Trash what you wrote in Step 2. Repeat step 2 and 3, eight times.
4. Take a break and wallow in despair at your crummy writing skills.
5. Write some better stuff. Now you have a proposal. Agent shows it to a publisher.
6. Don’t forget to blog about steps 1-5
7. Publisher gives you a contract longer than your actual proposal, plus a deadline for an actual book consisting of a whole lot more words than you’ve ever strung together in your life.
8. Write some stuff. Show it to no one.
9. Write some more stuff. Panic a little. Read, a lot.
10. Attempt to edit, get paralyzed with inability to see beyond current sentence. Decide entire thing is a steaming pile of garbage but now it’s too late to turn back and all you have is a deadline and some roadkill.
11. Hand manuscript to editor with the same apologetic smile you use when you give a dirty diaper to the flight attendant.
12. Wait, breathlessly. Blog a little. Wallow some more in the certitude you are no Maya Angelou, no Stephen King, no Harper Lee.
13. Pick up 50 Shades of Grey and Snooki’s latest book, then feel better about Number 12. Maybe it’s doable after all.
14. Open up envelope with your first draft manuscript, neatly evaluated by an editor kind enough to use a pencil and not a big red crayon for the comments. You’re the before scene in an 80′s teen flick. All you need is some tough love and a montage to get into shape!
15. ??? That’s as far as I made it as of today. I’ve got one year to fill in the rest and then we can all pretend it was an effortless endeavor.
Check back in a month for coffee rings, notes written in my own blood and perhaps some tooth marks from a neglected dog.
All that being said, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t deliriously happy. I love every moment of the process.
I am a horrible horticulturist. Dogs I got. Cats I can do. Plants? Fuggitaboutit.
Nonetheless, hope springs eternal, and every year an unfortunate crop of plants are sent to their doom as they peer out in horror from the back of my car on their way to purgatory from the relative safety of the nursery.
This year, I decided I would bring the kids into the fold and have them start a few seedlings. Maybe they have better juju than I, I reasoned. Perhaps they inherited their father’s talent for keeping plants alive instead of my less impressive genetic spread.
And they threw themselves into it the way only kids can, with gusto and passion. They planted the seeds as directed. They watered them religiously.
And then this morning, just as the first couple of eager sprouts were optimistically poking their tiny little sprout heads out of the soil, disaster.
Brody found the crime scene first.
I’m so sorry ma’am, the killer was in and out before there was anything we could do. What’s that? No, there were no survivors.
You may want to avert your eyes. It’s pretty bad out on the grass. Yes, they got the squash seedlings too. The whole crew, just like that.
Ma’am, I can say with certainty this was not the work of rabbits or coyotes. These were lifted right off the window ledge by a crow. I tried to tell you this morning when you were making coffee, remember?
Please accept my condolences. Oh, wait, you’re that vet, right? What were you doing with plants in the first place? Haven’t you learned by now? *sigh*
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