Saturday, November 26, 2011

More life lessons from vet school: genital tract removal and the true nature of strength

You do some weird and borderline occult activities in vet school (and, even more disturbing than the activities themselves, grow to consider them perfectly quotidian). Just this week, I've cut a pony in half (not in the way of "watch in amazement, ladies and gentlemen, as I saw my lovely assistant in half, wave a sheet over her with a grand flourish, and reveal her whole once again!", more like "Move the colon to the left or the saw's going to fling preserved horse shit  all over!"), spent half an hour trying to remove a set of testicles and penis in a single unit (now there's a life skill), extracted teeth (don't worry, the patients didn't feel a thing ... mostly because their heads were no longer attached to their bodies), and discussed phosphorylation and cholesterol carriers over Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps the strangest off all is that I thoroughly enjoyed every reeking, grotesque, macabre, and downright absurd moment.
Just as absurd, yet infinitely less disturbing to those not initiated into the secret joys of the anatomy laboratory, is skyping with one's dogs. I tried video chat for the first time today. I saw my parents face-to-face (well, monitor to monitor) for the first time in months; it made me smile. I saw my dogs for the first time in just as long; Jason looked right at me and wagged his tail at my voice; it made me cry, damn near broke my heart. I could see him, he could hear me, but I couldn't reach out and touch him, and he couldn't understand why.
Over the past few months, as the hole left by my family's absence has gradually widened from a crack in the sidewalk to what at times is a gaping abyss of loneliness, I resolved to stay strong, not to break down, not to take measures to relieve the emotional pangs by begging Mom to come visit or getting a dog of my own. I thought that satisfying my heart's cravings would be weak, that holding out until it became absolutely unbearable was a mark of mental fortitude and strength of character. I used to play this game with physical hunger, seeing how long I could go, feeling like I had beaten some sort of game with every hour that ticked by that I withstood my body's demands. I would say to myself, "It's only a few more hours until the next meal. You'd be weak and pathetic not to survive until then." This time, it wasn't counting down until dinner, but until December, until I would fly home and reunite with everyone, clear-headed and dry-eyed, and impress them all with how stoic I'd been. I've learned that denying one's needs and desires is not strength; it proves only how stubborn you are, not how strong. True strength is admitting when you're hurting, when you need help (help meaning Mom and Dad, more often than not), and not being afraid to let people see you cry. I'm happy to report that I am now secure and confident enough to recognize that needs are not weaknesses, that oftentimes bellies should  be filled before the clock strikes exactly noon, and that sometimes the need for a family member cannot wait until the day of a flight back home. But I couldn't bring my family to me or me to them - what now? Make a new addition to the family. Sport has been occupying my couch, bed, and kitchen floor for two weeks now; he'll be occupying my heart for quite a few years to come.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Jumping the shark

All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. So what's playing at the St. Paul Theater today? A drama? Comedy? Murder mystery (more common at the Minneapolis Revue, from what I hear)? Lately, my personal storyline has stalled in the equivalent of a long-running sitcom's mid-season rut. My days and weeks are laid out in orderly fashion, each one resembling the last. The challenges of the past months (the season premiere, if you will) seem not so daunting any more. The tide of anxiety and self-doubt is making its exit. However, waiting in the wings to enter stage right lurks a new player, a member of the supporting cast beginning to break into the forefront of the action: loneliness.
Undoubtedly, St. Paul is now my home, and as Dorothy asserted, there's no place like it. However, there's no people like family and no substitute for a much-needed hug every now and again. I may not be homesick, but I am most definitely people-sick (not to mean that I'm sick of people, though that may often be the case, but for people).
As the star of this drama (or maybe director, at moments when I feel a bit more in control of my own destiny), I feel obligated to, like the real stars do, thank those people, my supporting cast, without whom my role in this adventure of a new life and vet school would never have happened. They're the ones who flesh out my story lines when I as a writer can't come up with decent material (it's amazing how entertaining one's parents become when they take up hobbies to alleviate the empty nest syndrome), who toil away behind the scenes to make sure everything is held together, who pray and call and send cards and give love from half a world away. Thank you and God bless you to everyone who helps me keep it together when my hold on my responsibilities, work load, and sanity is tenuous and I feel as if this grand production in which I star is about to "jump the shark."