Monday, October 26, 2015

Diary of a First-Year Vet Student

Week 5. I'm not sure I'd call it exam fatigue, but when I finished our second big exam of the term, in gross anatomy, I high-fived a couple of my peers then high-tailed it home to spend an hour in the thin autumn sunshine with my pups and a glass of wine by my side. Ahh.

I did not make a perfect score on that anatomy exam--I know this because I left one question entirely blank. I know that you are supposed to throw something down no matter what, hoping for a partial point, but I had nothing to throw down. Total blank. I had spent 1.5 hours in the anatomy lab with the cadavers, then another 1.5 hours in the classroom with multiple choice and short answer questions. I happily left that question blank and moved on. On another question, I had no clue as to the instructor's intention--the question was so vaguely worded that any number of things could have possibly made some sense. For that one, I threw in some terms that may have gotten me half of that possible point. Maybe not. By that time, I was done. So very done with that exam. Not perfect, but I am pretty sure I did okay.

But there's no rest for the weary or wicked. While I was pretending to lounge on the porch in the sun, I read a chapter of physiology. I then vacuumed the house and swabbed out the toilet. (For some reason, my shower swabbing, bathroom sink swabbing, and toilet swabbing are on different schedules.) I have to catch up on micro-anatomy and take an online quiz tonight. And I plan to eat real, cooked food for dinner. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Diary of a First-Year Vet Student: Palpation of a Live Animal

End of week 4, facing down week 5. Our second big exam is on Monday. Gross anatomy: bones, muscles (origin, insertion, and action of all of them), nerves, and blood vessels of the neck, shoulder, and forearm of the dog and cat (there are some big differences between those two species). We've had two pretty simple quizzes but this exam will be the real deal. It will have the usual written component. However, there will be a lot more to this particular exam. The instructors will pull out all of our dissected dogs and cats and use them to test us on identification. We will also have to palpate a live dog and identify specific structures.

Palpation just means feeling or manipulating something with your fingers. We have a two-page list of structures that we need to be able to identify by palpation.

Fortunately, I have the most unbelievably perfect palpation specimen right in my own home: Azza. Her limbs are exaggerated in their length and her coat is short and tight to her skin. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that in low light falling at an oblique angle on her forelimbs, I could see the individual muscles and tendons. It's amazing. The deltoid tuberosity on her humerus bone is enormous. She has no body fat so I can feel individual vertebrae, all of the borders of the scapula, even individual bones in her sternum. I just spent 15 minutes checking off items on the palpation list: styloid process of radius bone, brachial artery, origin of sternocephalicus muscle, acromion of the scapula bone, etc.

Anticipating my need to use them for this purpose, I've been slowly working up to palpation as massage for both Azza and HellBeast. It's basic operant conditioning: hold still and I pet you, and maybe I sort of squeeze this part of your forelimb or shoulder for a second or two. Since the cat is a bit more reactive to being touched, I gently palpate his forelimb and shoulder when he's relaxed and mostly asleep in bed at night. The suprahamate process on his scapula bone is lovely.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Experiments in Immunology: Don't Try This At Home

So I wrote the earlier post about 3 hours after I got the rabies shot. By the time I got back to campus (t plus 4 hours), I was going down like a sick cow. Fever, shivering from chills, stiffness in my neck and both arms and legs, sore lymph nodes in my neck and armpits, dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, and most strange of all, the hair on my arms and neck were completely raised up. All of this within hours of getting that shot. I managed to make it through lecture (t plus 5 hours) then asked some of my peers for help.

I was not having an allergic reaction to the rabies vaccine. Do not mistake my symptoms for any kind of histamine response. I was having a full-out immunological response to it. My body was throwing the entire fucking immunological arsenal at those killed virus proteins. Danger, Will Robinson! Intruder alert! Faster, pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Upon reflection, using myself as a lab rat, getting the flu shot on Tuesday then the rabies shot today, was probably not such a good idea. My immune system was primed and ready from the first shot, and it went just a teensy bit overboard when the second one arrived 48 hours later.

My peers recommended ibuprofen. I resisted at first because I simply didn't want to put anything else into me, but I finally gave in and took 400 mg (I always carry ibuprofen with me). And it really helped. Within half an hour (t plus 6 hours by then), the ibuprofen kicked in and started tamping down some of the more severe symptoms. It didn't eliminate them, it just made them less uncomfortable. But the hairs on my neck and arms remain raised. So very weird. I was at least able to stay and complete nearly all of the microanatomy lab.

I am now at home looking forward to a night of doing nothing at all except cooking a decent meal, playing with my dogs, and going to bed early. Oh, did I mention how vet school forces you to evaluate how many hours of sleep you really need versus how many you think you need? I've shaved nearly 1.5 hours off my normal sleep schedule--that translates into valuable study time.

To be clear, most people who have to get multiple vaccinations do not have this kind of reaction. And to also be clear, the vaccines themselves are not the problem: not the adjuvant, not the killed virus proteins. The problem lies entirely in how my delicate-flower immune system responded.  I did not give myself autism. I am not sick--I don't have the flu or rabies. My immune system is just rather flamboyant in its response to all of these new antigens. A good night's sleep and I'll be just fine tomorrow.

Diary of a First-Year Vet Student

Week 4. We had our first big exam today, a physiology midterm. It took me just over 2 hours to complete it. I felt pretty good about my answers. Not a perfect score, but a respectable showing. Better than "just enough to pass". I find it quite irritating when I hear people say "I only need to pass." What happened to excel?

After I handed my exam in, I rushed home for some puppy love. The dogs are gratefully stretched out in the flowerbeds soaking up the increasingly thin sunshine, making some vitamin D and turning their ears nice and pink inside.

The second-years colluded in a most fabulous fashion, and starting about half an hour before the exam began, they began traipsing into our classroom (there are dedicated first-, second-, and third-year classrooms) to deposit food on a table at the front of the class. Everything from fruit to chocolate to homemade cookies showed up. Someone made a quiche. Another one brought in tiny little corn muffins. Someone else brought in half a dozen jugs of juice of all kinds. Thoughtful people brought in cups, plates, napkins, plastic forks. There were dinosaur fruit jelly things and bananas and granola bars and strawberries. There were cookies with Halloween-themed frosting. There was even a bag of chips! It all made an enormous mound. Sure, a display of excess too, but it was quite a show of support--those second years, they were telling us, they've been through this, they survived, and we can survive it too. I wondered aloud to a couple of my peers if we would remember to be this generous when it was our turn next year. They all assured me yes, absolutely. I'm still a bit resistant to the kumbaya mentality but it's the vet school way. Plus treats. Who doesn't like getting treats?

On Tuesday, I did my part for herd immunity (and my personal health) and got my flu shot. Right arm because I'm left-handed. Oops...because I forgot that I was going to get my first of three rabies vaccinations this morning. Had to be in the left arm then. I'm feeling a bit light-headed now--and I can't tell if it is from all the sugar I ate instead of a healthy breakfast at home (my tiny portion of quiche hardly counted as carb input), or because the two vaccinations are now turning my immune system into a war zone.

Bizarrely, I have no problems poking animals, or even you, with sharp things. Not hesitation at all. But I am completely unable to watch myself being poked with a needle. Even watching the nurse prepare the needle makes me nauseous. I'm such a delicate flower.

No rest for the first-year vet student, weary or wicked as we might be. Our next big midterm in coming up on Monday (gross anatomy): bones, muscles, nerves, and veins/arteries of the thoracic trunk (neck and shoulder) and forelimb.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Diary of a First-Year Vet Student

Week 3. Four years minus three weeks.

Over the past few months, my dogs have become rather bored of the smell of dogs, cats, chickens, sheep, and cows on my clothes when I arrive home. Spots of blood, pee, vomit, and poop are another matter entirely: body fluids for the win. Today I came home reeking of male goat and sheep lanolin. I expected the dogs to fall on the ground in paroxysms of joy. Nope, nothing. But on Tuesday when I came home with tangible tendrils of swine barn funk waving off my hair, skin, and clothes, well, that certainly got their attention. What could possibly be the source of that fantastic odor?

Our nascent class band, tentatively named The Lacunae, has already decided to call their first hit "Speak Softly and Touch the Pig." One of the band members plays the bagpipes.

Our first big exam is next week; there will be a big exam every week after that until Thanksgiving. Some of my peers are having trouble adjusting to the pace and volume of information. From my tiny little window of class time so far, I think that the classes are not too different in the level of detail of information and expectation of performance than any other specialized STEM grad class. The real difference is that we are taking four or five of those classes each term, not one or two as we might in grad school.

I'm still trying to find a rhythm to studying and not studying. It seems like I have to make a new plan every day. But the dogs and I muddle through. As I write this, Mimi is methodically emptying the toy boxes in an effort to find the perfect toy that will drag me away from the study table. Time for a break!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Diary of a First-Year Vet Student

Day 3. We have each been assigned boxes that contain the disarticulated (loose) bones of a dog. We were told that we could take them home but that we must keep them away from our own dogs. Fucking cannibals. 

Day 4. Today I made a cow pee. On purpose.  

Day 5. We were told that as veterinarians, we need to have respect for all species, especially one species in particular. The speaker said, “Which one would that be?” then paused…and a girl said tentatively “…spiders?” Everyone broke into laughter. The speaker hesitated then said, “well, sure, spiders, but I was referring specifically to humans.” Everyone laughed again.

Day 6. Someone tried to start a signup sheet for Thursday Snack day. Nobody brought any snacks today. However, one girl brought apples, oranges, and bananas. That was far better than snacks. We fell on the fruit like wolves bringing down a deer.

Day 7. Hallway discussions during breaks revolve around itemized lists of all the things we are no longer doing when we aren't in class. All we do now is study.

Day 10. My gross anatomy partner and I are dissecting a male cat. (Side note: all of the cadaver dogs are pit pulls or pit mixes.) We are not the fastest partners in class by a long stretch. We spend a lot of time talking about what to do before we dive in and start doing it. But we are persistent. Today, when all but one other team had already bagged up their animals, lugged them to the freezers, and cleaned up their tables, we were reviewing the flexor muscles of the forelimb of our cat with the instructor. When we finished identifying them all, he said to us, pointing to the forelimb, “that’s a very nice dissection, by the way.” Never mind that the pectorals looked like they had been chewed off—our forelimb flexors were “very nice”!