You might be a vet student if ...
You give directions with anatomical terminology ("My house is just caudal to the little grocery store and medial to the blue house on the corner.")
The 3 o'clock hungries hit in the middle of anatomy lab and the thought of food still seems appealing.
The smell of formalin clings to you like a fine Parisian perfume.
You start rationing clean underwear because you know you won't have time for laundry until exams are over.
Your keyboard is encrusted with various food residues from joint dinner-study sessions.
Home is nothing but a place with a mattress where you spend a couple hours a night (and maybe occasionally find the time to shower).
On a more serious note, my first night working in the lab at the veterinary hospital was last night. Basically, everything that could have gone wrong did, but I was anticipating disaster. What I did not foresee was my hands shaking and my knees going weak as I tried to distinguish good red blood cell clumping from bad clumping. Anyone with animal pathology experience knows that's no simple task when the blood in question belongs to a horse, whose blood normally clumps. No big deal, right? Except for the fact that this test determines which blood donor is compatible with the patient. If an incompatible donor is used, the patient's body will attack the blood, and it will essentially coagulate in its veins, resulting in almost certain misery and death. No pressure, Megan. I stared into the scope, looking at each of the thousands of tiny cells on the slide, thinking, "I can't do this. Who the hell expects me to make a judgment call that could kill an animal?" I paused for a second, realizing that I do, and so will the owners of every patient I treat for the rest of my life. This would not be an isolated incident - this was just a foretaste of more to come. I chose this profession, this pressure, this responsibility.
What an idiot.
I got through the test and the rest of the night (and several more disasters) without crying. In the morning, I felt great. I woke up feeling confident and proud that I pushed myself through what seemed like an impossible task (and very glad that I hadn't gotten called in for any stat samples in the middle of the night). Then I opened my e-mail: I had been called in, but apparently didn't pick up. Another tech had to cover for my pathetic ass. Frantically, I checked my phone for missed calls and voicemails. Nothing. I thought back over the entire night, how the anxiety that I would miss a call had plagued my brain and chased away all hope of any rest or sound sleep. Almost every hour, I had turned over and checked my phone - no missed calls, full reception, volume on high - in anticipation of having to leap from slumber and go to work. But nothing came.
So I sobbed for a while, felt like a failure, panicked at what other people would think of the new girl who royally screwed everything on just her first night. Sleep-deprived (from 6 exams in 10 days and 1 more to take online this weekend), emotionally wrought, disappointed in myself, befuddled as to what had happened, and all at once overwhelmed by all the feelings that had been pushed aside in favor of the trapezius muscles, embryonic coelom formation, mucous-secreting epithelial cells, and clumpy horse blood, I broke down and wanted nothing more than my Mom and Dad. I tried to sleep, without much luck, crying into my pillow as six kittens licked my salty face and chewed at my toes.
My ipod's shuffle function must have known just what I needed, because it played the one song that seems to pop up at these moments which is surprisingly inspirational and so true to life: Billy's Joel's "You're Only Human." Listen to the lyrics, and you'll see what I mean. Bright sunshine, a call about people interested in adopting some of the kittens, a trip to the farmer's market, and another 20 pounds of gorgeous squash later, and I felt better. Don't forget your second wind, wait in your corner until that breeze blows in ...
My e-mail held another welcome sight - an explanation for the telephone mishap. They had the correct number, my cell phone had full reception, and they got through just fine ... to my parents' house in New Hampshire. Don't ask me how or why they got that number. In retrospect, it might be a good thing someone else had to cover for me. I don't think I would have had the mental capacity to make any more judgment calls last night (or early this morning). So, as much as I hate to admit it, the old cliche may hold true after all: it all works out in the end (unless more unpleasant surprises await me - like finding out on Monday that I was wrong in my results).
Since this is one of those "serious, self-discovery" posts, I should probably wrap up with a significant and poignant observation about what this experience taught me, like a high school reflection paper. Here's what I learned: in my mini (truth be told, it was major) breakdown this morning, I kept thinking about how I could get out of this job, plead incompetence and inability to free myself from the stress and anxiety and responsibility. Then I realized I didn't really want that. As a vet, I'm going to have stress, anxiety, and responsibility, and I'm not going to shirk any of that. I decided to embrace it, to learn from it, and never to forget my second wind.