As you probably know, I have a bit of a complicated relationship with the PTA moms. Not moms in general, mind you, just the small subset of Pinterest loving, glue-gun wielding domestic lifestyle experts whose expectations I can never, despite my best efforts, seem to live up to. It doesn’t matter what school we’re at, it happens every time. First it was the art project/pooper scooper incident in kindergarten. Then it was the Have a Very Agro Valentine’s Day episode. And now it’s crudite, crudite that torments the soul.
It started simply enough: an email asking for volunteers to bring in food items for the teachers this conference week. I looked on the sign up sheet and put my name next to crudite: veggies and dip. Easy, I thought, a quick run to the grocery store for some carrot sticks and dip and done.
I forgot where I was.
(Not two weeks ago, I found myself in the midst of a malestrom for the fifth grade Halloween party when all the room moms got together and asked the parents to bring in food. I asked my class parents to bring in pretzels and fruit. The other moms showed up with cookies shaped like rotting fingers with almond nails and jelly blood, and eyeball eggs with veins hand-painted on with food dye. My pretzels were shoved under the table.)
So now, a few minutes after signing up for the veggie tray, I received an email instructing me to be creative! which is always concerning. To illustrate her point, the organizer included this helpful photo:
As to what our vegetables should aspire to be.
Now at this point a normal person would laugh and say, “OK, lady,” and bring in a tray from Costco, but unfortunately I still have the sin of pride to contend with on a regular basis, so I instead spent the afternoon standing in line at the grocery store watching YouTube videos of Martha Stewart blanching asparagus. Three hours of cursing later, with piles of peeled burnt chestnuts and carrot shavings dripping out of my hair like Jackson Pollock on a bender, I came up with this:
This is the dogged tenacity that makes people like me get through vet school even when all indicators point to the “why?” factor. We can’t explain it. We just have to.
I shared this with my friends, and they all got a good laugh out of how silly it was, and then later in the day my friend in Ohio sent me a link and said, “See? You’re not alone.” It was a photo of some artfully arranged food items a group of mothers had arranged for their teachers.
It was, upon further inspection, a photo from my very school from earlier in the day. It had already made the Pinterest rounds and ended up in Ohio, where my friend saw it and sent it to me as an example of Moms Gone Styled. I scrolled through it, looking for my contribution.
Notably lacking? The crudite. They were apparently so lackluster as to have not even rated a Facebook photo, and when I returned to pick up the dish I found they had been shoved in the corner in order to make way for some gluten free turkey wraps with hand-whisked dressings in, of course, Mason jars.
At this point, even a not quite normal person would just give up, which is theoretically what I should do, but it’s become clear to me I live in a parallel universe where I am destined to almost-quite get it, over and over and over, but not get it entirely. This is why I am a veterinarian, the almost-quites of the medical field.
So you know what? I’m embracing it. This afternoon I decided to go on a Pinterest binge and make a little Pinterest and dog-friendly crudite platter my way. Hope you enjoy it.
A bright autumn day, full of promise and gently whispered secrets amongst best of friends, calls for sustenance.
Lovingly hand-extruded kibble, with ingredients sourced from local artisans in an organic human-grade facility in Portland by men with bushy beards. In a Mason jar.
We end our afternoon in the garden of delights (it’s water friendly succulents! We’re eco friendly here in drought-parched SoCal) with hand-cut carrot bones from the local CSA, mint from the garden, words of wisdom from the dog sketched in canine-friendly peanut butter hand ground at Whole Foods. And of course, no pet garden of delights would be complete without the coup de grace:
nitrate free ham roses.
You saw it first here, folks. I’m waiting on sponsors for a YouTube tutorial but I think a ham bouquet is a lovely thing.
Can we talk about the fainting schnauzer video? We need to talk about it, because if there’s one thing I don’t get in this world, it’s the current trend for pets with a myriad of medical malfunctions or genetic issues becoming internet sensations.
You’ve seen the video, I imagine. A dog is surprised by the owner she hasn’t seen in a year or two, and after freaking out for a few seconds she loses consciousness briefly.
Attempting to head off criticism, Carson Daly helpfully interjects “CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH GUYS” into the video. No problem, dog is great, everyone can go home, right?
Syncope, Part 1
Now without knowing the dog or what went down at the veterinary clinic, I can’t really tell you what happened, but I can tell you in general that fainting episodes (what we term syncope) are not normal, no matter how excited a dog is. There is a pathology there, whether it’s cardiac or seizure activity or something, but “she just got the vapors” is not a diagnosis.
Let me share with you the general arc of a visit when a patient brings a dog like this- and I’m including both seizure activity and syncopal episodes here- to me. Because the episode itself is short lived, by the time the dog shows up to the clinic he or she often looks fine. After taking a history and keeping in mind things like the age and breed of the pet, we begin the examination.
“Well, the physical examination findings are normal,” I say.
We could end things right here, and you could read that as saying “The pet has a clean bill of health!” But that’s missing the fact that while physical examinations are wonderful tools, they are limited in what they can tell us. The causes of syncope are rarely evident based on physical examination alone.
Syncope, Part 2, 3, and 4
“If we want to figure out the underlying cause of the issue,” I will say, “We should begin with some bloodwork and a urinalysis.” The client may or may not agree, mentally calculating the cost.
“If that’s normal, and it often is, we could proceed next to a cardiac workup: an EKG/cardiac echo/24 hours on the Holter monitor and have a cardiologist review the results.” Now we’ve definitely ventured into “need to think about it” territory.
“If the heart is fine, and we’re more concerned about seizure activity being what’s going on here, a neurologist is your best bet. Unfortunately, diagnosis usually involves costly procedures like CSF taps or CT scans. Epilepsy? Well, we don’t have a definitive test for that at all, so we just have to make the diagnosis based on ruling everything else out first.”
Many owners, especially after a first time episode, go as far as the bloodwork and decide to wait and see if it gets worse before moving to the next step. I don’t blame them- it’s expensive, and you have no idea if the dog will have an event a day later or a year later- but I just want to emphasize that unless they actually performed all of those diagnostics I just listed, it’s hard to definitively say the pet truly has a clean bill of health.
There’s a reason “The dog’s fine!!” is in the Today show headline and Carson makes sure to tell you “the dog’s fine! Someone said so!” and that reason is, we all intuitively know things aren’t fine. Just because you haven’t found the problem doesn’t mean it’s not there. It just means you haven’t located it yet. And I imagine somewhere in that visit, between answering calls from the Today show and counting YouTube hits, the vet did say just that.
FTC Disclosure: featured products provided review product and/or compensation for inclusion in the Product Spotlight.
If you’ve ever been to a trade show, you know how easy it is to get overwhelmed. A pet show like SuperZoo is an utter cacophony of sounds, sights, and row after row of many things that all look the same after an hour: treats and collars, treats and collars, rinse, repeat.
It’s hard for products to stand out in a crowd like that, but when Dr. Andy Roark and I hit the convention floor the last couple of days that is exactly what we were looking for. Fortunately for us, we found it.
Like two wandering corporate souls in sensible shoes and dark suits, we crisscrossed the vast plains of the Mandalay Bay convention floor searching, talking to people, and petting booth dogs until we wound up with three fantastic standouts for the Inaugural Roark and Vogelsang SuperZoo Product Spotlight. Here they are:
Remember that moment in Up when Carl says to Dug, “I wish he could talk” and Dug’s collar says, “Hi there”? The idea of our dogs being able to speak has transfixed us humans for years with the possibilities of what they could tell us: Are you hurt? Are you hungry? Are you tired?
While the Voyce collar can’t actually make your dog talk, it is a huge leap forward in the ever growing market of wearable tech for dogs and so far, the closest thing we have to speaking their language. The Voyce collar’s technology and interface tracks and trends over time not only activity level and calories burned but heart rate and respiratory rate.
As someone vastly invested in the concept of providing better care for senior pets, one of the messages I keep trying to get across to pet owners is this: ‘he’s getting old and tired’ is only the tip of the iceberg. If your tired old man has a resting heart rate through the roof and pants 24/7, guess what- he may be in pain. This data, which up to now were only accessible by a person with a stethoscope, can be collected at home over time and accessible to both the owners and the vet.
To add value to the experience, Voyce teamed with education resource provider LifeLearn to ensure owners have access to a wide variety of educational resources to help understand the data and make all of us better pet owners through improved knowledge. The dashboard features not only your individual pet’s collected data but advice and articles from a large panel of animal experts.
There’s a reason it won the PC World/Tech Hive and Yahoo! Tech “Best of CES 2014″ at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. It’s nice to see the tech world finally going to the dogs.
The Voyce collar will be launching before the holidays- interested owners can sign up on the Voyce website to be notified when it is available for sale online. In the meantime you can join the ever growing community on Facebook of techie dogs waiting for their chance to have a Voyce. -JV
It always makes me feel good to watch a big man dance. That’s the same feeling I get when I watch a big, strong dog play wildly with a toy. I think that’s why I am such a fan of the Tuggo Dog Toy.
The toy is wonderfully simple in its design. It’s a large plastic ball with a rope through it. The ball can be filled with water to add weight and cause a “tugging” motion. Dogs grab the rope, pull the ball around, and toss the entire contraption into the air.
To appreciate what Tuggo is, you’ve just got to see dogs at play with it. Tuggo’s Facebook page is covered with videos of dogs enjoying the toy. Here’s the video that originally caught my attention:
I love large dogs, and one of the greatest struggles I see pet owners having with them is getting them enough exercise. While small dogs can often work out inside the house or in the back yard, large dogs may not have the space to adequately stretch their legs. If a product like Tuggo can get these big dogs out and moving and burning calories, then I’m all for it. And who doesn’t like watching big dogs frolic like puppies?
The ball is available in red, blue, and green colors, and in 10-inch diameter and 7-inch diameter sizes. Tuggo Toys can be purchased through their website and shipping is free. -AR
I asked founder Adam Harrington what inspired the Tuggo, and he told me “watching my dog play with a bowling ball.” All of you people asking me for a TOUGH toy? Here it is. -JV
As a busy mom, I have to tell you: things that make my life easier make me very happy. We eat on paper plates a lot around here. While I am tempted by the ease of doing the same for my pets, if you’ve ever watched a dog try to eat out of a paper bowl you know that just ends in upended bowls wedged under a chair and food embedded in the kitchen floor, so stainless steel it is.
Here’s the bad news: according to NSF International, pet bowls are the 4th germiest place in the house, teeming with E. coli, Salmonella, yeast, and mold. This is exactly what you would expect when you leave a bowl of meat products sitting around. People? We’re lazy and don’t wash the bowls nearly enough, and that is just how it is.
Here, in an elegant form, is the solution: the Kinn Kleanbowl, a stainless steel rim that sits on top of a sturdy, compostable bowl made from recyclable yet sturdy and waterproof (yes!!) sugar cane fiber. Yup, you can use it for water too, so you eliminate that algae-goo that builds up if your bowl doesn’t go in the dishwasher every day.
My cat eats a lot of wet food and Brody get rehydrated raw, so we know all too well how dirty and crusty bowls get. That being said, oily kibble residue isn’t much better. In addition for being a boon to time starved people like me, the Kleanbowl is a great solution for busy vet clinics who need their staff to spend less time scraping uneaten leftovers off in the trash and more time replacing the catheter the dog in cage 4 chewed out, yet again.
There is a small but persistent voice in my head that wants to know how this would also work with toddlers and spaghetti.
Clean. Convenient. Compostable. This is a bowl for the people. The Kleanbowl retails for $19.95 and 50 count refills are available for $14.95 at the Kleanbowl website. To keep up on all the innovative products from Kinn including what I believe to be the world’s finest pill splitter, check out the Kinn Facebook page. -JV
Any of these jump out to you as must-haves? Stay tuned. Andy and I are going to be running a giveaway very soon!
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?
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?
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.
We’re about one month away from colleges and universities turning new grads loose on the world, a day of joy and, if I recall correctly, complete, abject fear. 2014 is a rough year to graduate vet school. In my day (cue Dana Carvey Grumpy old man voice), back in the middle of the dotcom boom and a perceived ‘veterinary shortage’, the world was at our fingertips, a lush green forest ripe for the plucking.
Now new grads are being forced upon a Dune-like landscape filled with such ominous portents as 3x higher suicide rate than the general population, decreased consumer trust, massive student debt, not enough jobs, colleagues who look suspiciously at your abdomen for signs of possible uterine occupation before deciding whether or not to hire you. Here you are, fresh faced grads. Can we get a sad trombone?
Well that’s kind of bleak, isn’t it. Kind of like the veterinary profession itself, these are two snapshots of the same place- in this case, Hawaii- presenting two extremes of what is possible. Most of your time is spent existing somewhere in between. The key to success here is to remember that neither is the land in which you will likely live; do not fear that barren and bleak is forever, and accept those moments of plenty as a gift rather than a life expectation.
You are Bilbo Baggins. You are about to go on an amazing adventure, like it or not, and there will be trolls and spiders as well as angry humans and lots of long recitations of poetry. You will also find good things and good people along the way, and treasure at the end which will probably look nothing like what you envisioned it to be. I asked myself what 5 things I wish someone had said to me when I was spit out of Davis with a new labcoat and no clue, and this is what I came up with:
1. Don’t stress too much about finding the perfect first job.
It’s a starter job, like a starter car and your first apartment. If you get lucky and it’s the job of your dreams and you can see yourself staying there forever, great. If it’s a horrible job with a screaming boss and techs who walk around looking like they could kill you with mind bullets, take heart in the fact that you are still learning: learning what not to do. And you’ll have better party stories (trust me).
2. Accept that you are going to make some mistakes.
One of the smartest people I know quit the profession one year in because she couldn’t handle not being perfect. I get it, we’re perfectionists who like to map out every destination on Google maps complete with images of every turn. However, we live and function in an imperfect world, where it often feels like you’re driving in heavy fog with a linen blindfold and two people who are supposed to be navigating arguing in the backseat. You may drive off the road here and there. That is what being a new grad is like. Hopefully you will have a decent team to help you navigate, but if not- see point 1.
3. Be OK with the fact that a few people are going to hate your guts.
James Herriot ruined us all for this line of work, didn’t he? He taught us that even the grumpiest clients will eventually come around, and he taught clients that the barter system is still alive and well in this field. Neither are true. Some people are going to be nasty and mean and do their best to try and make you cry, quit, or vomit. Stop wasting your energy on trying to make them happy and focus instead on the many wonderful people you are going to come across, who will outnumber the horrible ones.
4. The Golden Rules never, ever go out of style.
Say please and thank you more than you think you need to, even to the grumpy people. Especially to the grumpy people. Don’t complain about work or clients at work. One, walls are thin and clients are often sitting in there with nothing to do. Two, it encourages everyone to go down that toxic drain and eventually the topic is going to be YOU. Third, the person you’re complaining about will most likely have what you said in confidence repeated to them verbatim. Expect it. Awk-ward. Be kind, even when your mind is screaming like Animal. P.S. This goes double for the internet. Repeat after me: There Is No Internet Anonymity. Again, trust your old Auntie V on this one.
5. Be selfish.
You’ve worked a really long time to get where you are, and now the expectations are going to get even more intense. When I say, “make time for yourself,” it’s not a feel-good sort of Oprahish platitude, it’s me grabbing you by the shoulders and saying “I beg of you to find a hobby and insist on indulging in it because you will go insane if you don’t.”
Conquering a mountain doesn’t have to be quite this literal a metaphor, but seriously- sometimes you just need to leave your life, your job, your little kids, your diabetic poodle behind for a couple days and go above the clouds. It works and it’s OKAY.
Whatever it is you give, it will never be enough for some people. Draw your own lines, make your own limits, and do not let others do it for you. We are in a profession that takes a lot of emotional energy out of you, and this time is vital to recharge. Travel, if you can. Remove yourself from that place where you feel like the world can’t go on without you to put out every fire because, honestly, it totally can. Human first, vet second.
“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” -Gandalf
March is Women’s History Month, if you didn’t know. I work in a strange profession, one that has changed quite solidly in demographics from its original incarnation to its current status, graduating classes of row after row of- well, men, mostly- now replaced, to an 80% extent, by women. I spend a lot of time talking about veterinary medicine, and I would say about 80% of the time I am talking about it with women (who’d have guessed?)
Does the changing demographic matter? Yes and no. I may be a little prejudiced here myself, but I think women are pretty badass and are doing a bangup job in veterinary medicine. Like their male counterparts, they’re practice owners, associates, specialists, leaders, and, you know, individual people with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Whenever I mention the idea of exploring that concept and what it had meant for the field, editors all run screaming. You can’t, they say. It’s too controversial. There have been some attempts, like this one from Dr. Don Smith at Cornell, but the conversation is by and large stagnant. Fortunately for me, I have no major sponsors to frighten here in my own little corner of the net, so let’s just go ahead and go there, shall we? It’s not like no one is talking about it, just not out loud.
So we’ve all heard of Lean In, right? Sheryl Sandberg’s go get ‘em tome extolling women to jump on in and take the bull by the horns? Yes, that was very nice, and excellent advice for a particular target group who want to be Sheryl Sandbergs. All you gunners out there- you know who you are- read and take note. And for the rest of us, who maybe want a break from running at full throttle at career advancement for a little while in order to live life?
Who said I hated her? I just have a different definition of success. Stop making us snipe at each other for goodness’ sake.
I’m here to tell you that it’ll be OK. And guess what I’m going to do? I’m going to use math, because I’m a woman who loves math AS WELL AS SHOES, and I also think more women should be saying out loud that you can like both. I write my own rules. You, by the way, should as well.
1. Logistical Growth Curve: Up, Up and Away
Let’s start with the typical career trajectory, as defined by the Sandbergs of the world, like a logistical growth curve:
Except instead of population growth, imagine perhaps income, or accolades, or whatever you want. Point is, you start slow, gain some momentum, then go out on top- ever moving upwards.
And in all the talk about women in the workplace, the one elephant in the room is always this: women sometimes choose to have babies. As do men, albeit in a less direct manner. And women sometimes want to take some time to stay home with their children. (Men do too, yes, but when we’re looking at a general trend here, I’m stretching to think of a single male veterinarian who left the field to be a stay at home dad.)
And in honor of Women’s History month, I am going to commit to words the experience I had, that my friends and I have all spoken about in hushed tones and felt we couldn’t discuss out loud because controversy and all. This was my experience. YMMV.
From the moment I set foot on campus, motherhood was presented in a subtle but unmistakable light as an either/or phenomenon when it came to veterinary medicine. Either you went all in or you went home. Women who took a year off to have a baby got eyebrow raises and sighs of “too bad she took the spot from someone who really wanted it,” as if pregnancy opened up a small but permanent hole in one’s brain through which all your knowledge dripped out, bit by bit, until all you were capable of is popping pacifiers in mouths and talking about Robeez. If you really wanted to be a vet, you would have not chosen to have a kid- especially in school.
This doesn’t end outside of school. I’ve been asked in interviews if I was pregnant (thanks for that, carb bloat I guess?) or planning to become pregnant, which is as illegal as you are thinking it is. I’m glad the guy asked it though, so that I knew where he stood on the topic. I’ve sat in meetings, 7 months pregnant and bloated from 12 hour emergency shifts, while the medical director’s best piece of advice to the interns was, “motherhood and medicine don’t mix. Mothers are terrible vets.” I’ve heard of a person who fired their veterinarian for having two maternity leaves, because she is ‘clearly not committed,’ because she wouldn’t give him her cell phone number while she was out on leave. The nerve.
So what’s the message here to women who want to have a family? If you want to be a good vet, you come back to work two weeks later and find a good nanny. By the way, I completely support any woman who wants to do this. The key word here, though, is “want.” What about the women who don’t want to do that? Get out. You don’t deserve to be here.
2. Extinction Curve: Down and Out
I’ll ask for a raise of hands- and I’ll be the first to put mine up: who has been told in an interview “I don’t like hiring young women because they always have babies,” as if all women inevitably do this, and those that do should be ashamed of their lack of commitment. Slacker.
Cue the sad trombone. You, my female friends, are now an extinction curve. Even the possibility that you might one day want to do something so egregious as reproduce is enough to keep you from getting hired in some places. I can see how that might make the women who choose not to have kids potentially a little irritated with the women who do. This is really, really counterproductive. But it happens.
The weight of a family is going to drag you right on out of there.
Being the troopers that they are, I’ve seen some amazing women fight tooth and nail to hold on to their professional commitments full bore despite the fact that it wasn’t exactly what they wanted to be doing at the moment, thinking that was their only option. Then they quit, never to be heard from again. They have been told that you are 100% in or you are a failure, and so they left.
And boy is that a shame. Wanting a personal life- whether that means kids, a hobby, a passion outside the field- is not only all right, it’s pretty darn important when it comes to retaining one’s sanity. I’m a big fan of that.
There is a reason we have one of the highest suicide and depression rates among professionals, and part of it is our own doing by having such distaste for those who strive to live a life outside the office. Martyr complexes only get you so far, and it’s become ingrained as part of the definition of what veterinarians do. I promise you this: I am so, so much better at what I do now than I was when I was stressed, overtaxed, and resentful. I am grateful once again to be a veterinarian.
3. Steady State: Fluctuating around a stable baseline
Now: let’s review what really happens out there in the world (no one will tell me my population biology course was a waste of time! Viva la diff eq!) Real life, messy, biological populations that are stable (though not necessarily stationary) enter what’s known as steady state, sometimes up, sometimes down, but maintaining height:
Who doesn’t want stability? Life- and the average vet- is tougher than we give it/her credit for. If populations can bounce back from plagues and droughts surely we can manage to have a kid, or vacation, or a marriage or divorce or whatever distraction that comes with being human without having to panic and toss away an entire career.
When I went back into general practice after two years of emergency medicine punctuated by two pregnancies, I hadn’t done a routine spay in a year and a half. I was freaking out. I was convinced it was as if I possessed virgin hands and somehow I would mess the entire thing up. I stood over the patient, my boss in the next room in case of mass emergency, and guess what? I did it as if I had been doing it just the day before. Muscle memory is an amazing thing, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
You tune out to take care of things and come back better than ever. This is how leaders are born. By cutting out a huge percentage of our field from believing they have what it takes to succeed long term because they want a breather, we’re killing off our future leadership.
When the increasing numbers of women in the human medical field pushed this same sort of reckoning, asking for flexibility and balance, the end result was happier doctors and both women and men who benefitted from it. Maybe you don’t want kids, maybe you want time to pursue hiking the Appalachian trail or to take care of an aging parent or further dominate your field. You deserve that too. The old timers tut-tutting the up and comers when I was in school a decade ago may still be hand wringing and bemoaning the fact that the new generation doesn’t want to work 80 hours with one day of vacation a year, and guess what? They’re right. Nothing wrong with that. Not everyone can or needs to be a Sandberg.
What made sense back then may no longer hold true.
When I was in school, one of my best friends was a woman named Carrie. She is awesome. Like me, we both decided halfway through that we weren’t all that interested in being small animal veterinary practice owners, and by junior year our colleagues were taking bets on who was going to leave the profession first.
We both did, in our own way. But we did it on our own terms, and we both came back, which is more than I can say for some of my really amazing classmates who opted out under the weight of unrealistic expectations. I am a writer, and now, in a strange twist I never anticipated, I’m exploring a new subcategory of medicine in hospice care. Dr. Carrie is- get this- travelling to the world’s hotspots as a public health consultant. She just got back from Peru, Indonesia and Thailand. THAT IS SO COOL.
Obviously trying to cover gender issues in one post is like trying to sum up War and Peace in a paragraph, but someone needs to start the conversation. Success in the veterinary profession the way we define it now stacks the deck against a whole lot of people. So let’s redefine what it means to be a successful veterinarian. Find a steady state. Your steady state.
To all you new grads and my old friends who are all emailing me saying they think they are ready to leave the field, I have this to say: leave if you need to. It’s OK. You can come back, you can. And if you don’t want to that’s ok too. If you want to single mindedly pursue dermatologic domination at an academic institution, you can do that too. This is a really, really cool field, and you are allowed to make your own path through it. You will always be a veterinarian no matter how you occupy your day, and don’t let anyone who chose a different path tell you otherwise.
14K feet up in Africa. Wouldn’t have happened without my DVM.
Stay. We need guides on all the paths up the hill.
Yesterday, I was working on a homework assignment for a course I am taking on pet loss and bereavement. I was reading about the guilt so much of us feel after losing a pet, and one of the exercises they recommend we do is imagine a conversation with our pet. I decided I would try this with Kekoa, as I struggled- like so many people do- with knowing if it was the right time to say goodbye to her last year as she dealt with bone cancer.
Me: Kekoa, I’m sorry.
Kekoa: I love you.
Me: I feel like maybe I let you go too soon.
Kekoa: I love you.
Me: Do you forgive me if I made the wrong choice?
Kekoa: I love you.
I kept waiting for her to say something else, but that was all she ever had to say. It’s been almost a year, which is hard to believe. February 10th. A Valentine’s Day with a massively broken heart.
But now, I can think of no better way to reflect on this anniversary than to be with all of you, my friends, who can all relate to the special sort of sorrow this kind of loss rains upon us. The first- and hopefully not last- online pet memorial candle lighting ceremony is tonight, February 5th, 6 pm PST. I will be joined by several wonderful friends and we are so honored to be sharing in this event together.
How to Participate:
This ceremony, and this hangout, is for you and all you find meaningful. I encourage you all to participate to whatever degree you wish.
If you like, you can watch the Hangout right here, no special account required.
(Crying along at home is fine, by the by. I wish we let ourselves do that more often.)
Share a memory: You can click on the Q & A button and write a memory of your pet.
Share a photo: You can post a picture of your pet by clicking on the camera icon next to the “say something” box. If all goes as planned, I can incorporate those into the ceremony too.
Tweet a memory: If you post on Twitter using the hashtag #petcandle, I should be able to incorporate those tweets into the ceremony as well.
Above all else I want people to feel included. This is a group-owned event. Feedback after the fact is welcome as well. If you’re not up to watching, we’ll be sending much love to you. And if you know of anyone who might want to watch, I would love it if you could share this with them.
Let’s face it, the game on Sunday ceased to be interesting about 15 minutes in so there was more interest than there normally is in the advertisements. There were some hideous ones. There were some OK ones. There were some great ones. Here, in no particular order, are some of the animal ads that graced the screen during our annual American paean to commercialism.
I was very concerned this ad was going to end up in some sort of abbatoir, or a rodeo, or any number of things we’d all get the sads from watching, so to see the bull go off to a life of studliness is a clean getaway, albeit a bit manipulative. And really, it’s just slight take on the typical “guy opens bud, ends up in pool with 500 supermodels” ad so I have to take some points off for originality. Grade: B-
Ian Up for Whatever
I would be thrilled to come across Don Cheadle and a llama in an elevator. I can think of few things that would entertain me more, except perhaps Bill Murray and an alpaca in an elevator. TAKE NOTE, BUD. Grade: B+
I just found this ad confusing. Were they in a pet store offering on demand breeding of designer breeds? Why is this Doberhuahua so angry? What dog show is going to let a non-recognized breed in? Why are their eyes so buggy and has anyone tested their intraocular pressure yet? Why is that one launching himself at a window? WHY IS HIS HEAD SO BIG?? I realize none of these things are relevant to the point of the ad, but I was so distracted by the million questions in my head I forgot to pay attention to what they are supposed to be advertising. Is there some horrible monster-tire bearing sports car hybrid Audi shoppers should be wary of? Is that the analogy? See, I’m still confused. Grade: C-
So close, yet so far away. I know I’m veering into “get a sense of humor” territory, but I really, really hated the kid riding the Mastiff. When you see someone like Steve-O doing something dumb on TV, there is an implicit understanding that most sane people would not do what he does. But riding dogs is the sort of thing undereducated parents encourage their kids to do EVERY day, with the results being something less than a bag of Doritos and something more like a trip to the ER and a euthanized dog. This commercial had plenty of material to work with without showing something so irresponsible. Grade: D
Budweiser Puppy Love
At least we can cleanse our palates with this one, puppy love at its finest. If I’m being honest, I usually despise this song, so kudos to Budweiser for making me get the warm fuzzies over a song I hate and a beer I don’t drink. That, my friends, is a good ad. Grade: A
Thank you to Annette at Biscuits By Lambchop for bringing up the end of this crazy train Treats for all tonight!
Speaking of that, for those of you who are still around, I do have another giveaway to bestow upon you:
For the Holiday Hound
I’m giving away two beautiful collars from 2 Hounds Design to keep your pooch stylin’ for the New Year. They are both size medium (13-18 inch) which is by the way the ONLY reason I am giving these away, because they are gorgeous. The blue one is a Martingale and the snowman is a standard collar.
To add to the fun I’m also sending two awesome toys, a Bottle Buddy for all your crinkly noise needs and a Tricky Treater puzzle ball because the dog needs something to do while you clean up all that wrapping paper, right? Approximate retail value of this set: $90.