My ten year vet school reunion is coming up this weekend. I’m not going, not because I don’t want to, but because I just couldn’t manage to get the weekend away. It kind of stinks because I really did want to go and see what everyone has been up to over the last long decade.
I’ll admit I wrestled with feelings of inadequacy in the months leading up to this. I have friends in the CDC and friends heading prestigious academic departments at vet schools and friends running huge practices and me, well, despite what I was assured was a vast wellspring of potential, I didn’t actually do any of that impressive profession-advancing work. I made dog treats on YouTube. But amazingly, somehow, somewhere in the past few months, I’ve made my peace with my place in the world.
One of the most profound things in life that my dog has taught me- I’m being quite serious here- is that you really just have to go with the flow sometimes and trust that things will work themselves out. Dogs are great at that, aren’t they? They just kind of cruise along next to you, trusting that you know what you’re doing, even when you’re just careening down the road trying not to crash into stuff without any clear goal in mind, which is how my entire career seems to have gone.
I spent the first twenty years of my life planning to go to medical school, and then when I reconsidered and applied to veterinary school on a lark, I spent most of those four years mired in doubt as to whether or not that was the right thing to do. So committed was I, you see, that I hot glue gunned a Pet Doctor Barbie to my undergrad graduation cap before even knowing whether or not I was going to get in. I had no choice, at that point. I had rolled the die.
I stayed with it, mostly because I was there, despite the fact that my previous boss- the Beverly Hills erectile dysfunction specialist- spent months tormenting me about the money I was giving up by not going to medical school. By the time I started work for him, I had already decided to apply to vet school, and was just waiting to see whether or not I got in. He was relentless in his desire to turn me back to MD-dom, which was ironic considering that not a single doctor I had met in college thought it was a good career choice given the current state of healthcare (this was back in the late 90s.)
And boy, did he make a good case. The dude was rolling in it. He lived next door to Wolfgang Puck. He was dressed to the nines every day, rolling into the parking garage in his S class Mercedes, spending his lunch hour strolling down Rodeo Drive picking out jewelry for his wife. He never had on call emergencies. The year I worked for him, we were in the last stage of clinical trials for Viagra- a name no one yet knew- and he was a rock star, getting interviewed left and right, Dateline in one day, Today the next.
“Really,” he said to me one day over sushi, shortly after I found out I got into vet school. “You want to give this up to go roll around in hay? A ha ha ha ha ha!” He pushed his Gucci glasses up over his temples to wipe away his tears of mirth. And I sat there moribundly in the work clothes from Express that were the highest end I could afford, walked down to my old ’86 Toyota, and thought, well, I think so. But I don’t know.
And I did spend four years rolling around in hay, and sticking my hand up cows’ rear ends, and dodging horse kicks. Learning how to safely restrain large dogs and tiny cats and how to intubate rhesus monkeys. It was hard, but interesting. I kicked butt, not because I was particularly emotionally invested in the topics, because I’m too competitive not to. I wasn’t sure it was what I was really supposed to be doing, but I hadn’t really figured out any other alternatives, so I just kept going.
After graduation, I couldn’t dredge up the desire to do an internship. I took a few months off to get my head together, and, lacking any real clear idea of what I wanted to do, I went to work. I worked my butt off. I built a clientele from the ground up and, due to the lack of any real mentorship, taught myself by trial and error how to be a good practitioner, all by myself.
I did it because I was raised to always do my best, so I did, even though I still didn’t find myself in love with what I was doing. It’s hard to explain to someone why you aren’t in love with your job when, to all outside appearances, it’s going very well. I spent a lot of sleepless nights staring at the ceiling wondering if I really made the right decision all those years ago when I said, well, sure, I’ll go to vet school. Why not.
“You can still go to medical school if that’s what you want,” my husband said.
“Nah,” I replied. “That ship has sailed.” And really, I had no desire to go down that road either, not at that point in my life. That being said, I spent a lot of time wondering what my old boss was up to, and where I would have been had I taken his advice.
When I started my blog in 2009, I had already been practicing for quite some time. This was a side diversion, something my husband and his friend Kevin pushed me to do because they both knew I’d like doing it. I put my first post up, about a bulldog who pulled my shirt down in front of a surly new client, and hoped that enough friends would come by that I wouldn’t feel too alone and exposed out on the net. I never intended for this to be a formal, informative sort of site- it’s always been very personal, and in a lot of ways sort of contrary to what one would expect from a medical professional. It’s just….me. Writing about what I love. And writing, too, is something I love. And it worked.
In very incremental and gradual steps, it’s grown. I’ve gotten to meet people I would never have met, and gone places I never would have gone, without it. I’ve gone behind the scenes at pet food factories and met titans in the pet world and stood ringside at big time dog shows and done all sorts of crazy things, all in the name of getting to write about it for my site. Which back in the late 90s was not a valid career choice. It just kind of happened.
And now, here I am, putting together a talk for BarkWorld on life and love and health, and getting my gear together for another World Vets trip– this time back to Granada, where I’m going to get tied up in a harness and lowered into a volcanic lake to learn disaster response techniques. (Which, by the way, you all should sign up for and come with me, because it’s going to be amazing and I want more people to enjoy it with me.) I didn’t plan for any of this. I just arranged to be available when the opportunities presented themselves and managed not to annoy people enough so I got invited back. And I write, and write, and write some more.
I spent a good part of my career questioning my decision to go to vet school. I spent a good part of my career jealous of a man whose life consisted of measuring elderly men’s flaccid man-bits. And now, while he is no doubt doing the same, I finally realized that it’s been at least several years since I ever questioned my reasons for taking the path that I did. The universe knew to point me in this direction, even though I had no idea why for many long years.
My old boss had a vision for me: “You can become an expert in female frigidity!” he proclaimed. “We could go into practice together. It would be brilliant.” Now don’t get me wrong, I am sure this is an important field and I’m glad there are people out there to help those who need it, but in retrospect, I am quite certain I am not that person. I look at Brody, I look at the blogathons and the international work I’ve gotten to do and all the things I will one day get to do, and I feel it in my bones: all the sacrifices and uncertainty, all were worth it to bring me here.
And were I to go to the reunion, I’d be really proud to talk about the things I’ve accomplished, and the relationships I’ve built with so many incredible animal lovers the world over. I may not have invented a new robo dog for teaching CPR (thanks for overachieving as always, Dr. Dan!), but I’ve managed to show the world that we vets are really just animal loving people too, in a world that is trying really hard these days to prove otherwise. And that is good enough for me.
Though I would have loved to have said I invented a robo dog. Because that is just cool.