January 24, 2010

Of mice and men

I haven't put anything here in a very long time. This is for George.

It is 3 am on a Saturday morning. I’m betting most people my age are getting to bed, finishing up that one night stand, or coming home alone, just sober enough to feel alone. I, on the other hand, am standing in a stall at the teaching hospital with George.

Let’s be clear: I don’t like horses. They’re too big to be as scared of life as they are. They have crappy digestive systems, and limbs that are just waiting to break. You get cats that freak out on you, but most won’t actually be able to kill you. Horses on the other hand… As it is I’ve already lost a toenail to George when he stepped back while I was grooming him one day.

George isn’t his “real” name. All these horses have crazy long names- Concert Master, Lucky’s Roll, crap like that. One of the things I learned this year is that on top of the crazy name they have a barn name. George is his barn name, his real one is long and complicated and indicates that he’s an important breeding stallion. Once again the equine world succeeds in confusing the rest f us. We refer to him by both names, which occasionally causes problems. Not anymore though, George has been here too long. Everyone knows him.

He had colic about 3.5 months ago. And everything that could go wrong did go wrong. His incision didn’t heal right, it got infected, he broke with diarrhea and had to be put in isolation, and one of his testicles is now swollen with the same fluid that has settled around his incision site. And all of that happened in the month I was his student. The testicle thing is the real problem. If George can’t breed, well there’s no longer a need to keep George around.

I don’t like horses. But I like George (don’t tell anyone, okay?). He’s got these crazy eyes, and he’s a little stupid sometimes. I would walk him around the ward 3 times a day. Every time we passed the big black scale in the middle of the hall I had to coax him around it. That’s horses for you, scared of everything, no matter how many times they walk around it. But I’d never let anyone else walk him. I liked doing it. It scared me a little, holding a 1000lb stallion on a lead rope. One day when I walked him out of his stall he walked the wrong way. He went over to the barn door and stared out the windows. I didn’t have the heart to turn him around. It had been 2 months at that point since he’d seen the outdoors. So we stood and looked, until someone came to remind us it was time for his treatment. I asked if we could get him a friend after that. I wanted to get him a cat named Lenny. Very few people got the joke, and I was told we couldn’t just have cats running around the hospital.

I remember the day we first took fluid off of his belly. The results were horrifying. The fluid was about as bad as it could get. But George acted okay. I didn’t know what it meant. We started the day with everything being fine and suddenly I was standing holding his lead rope while the clinicians looked more and more concerned. No one would tell me he was going to be okay anymore. Stupid horses. I walked him back to his stall while they talked and I brushed him while trying not to cry. Someone told me I’d make a bad vet because I cry for everything that dies. I told them that was why I was doing lab animal medicine. I knew why things died, and I saw that their sacrifices weren’t in vain. That’s what we call it in lab animal, it’s not euthanizing an animal, it’s sacrificing them. I stood there and I coulnd’t understand why George was getting sicker.

George didn’t know he was getting sicker. As far as we could figure the fluid was walled off from his actual abdomen and only by his incision.

That was almost 2 months ago. I haven’t been George’s student for since then, but I check on him. This was my last shift on large animal ICU. I don’t mind the late night shifts sometimes, it’s nice and quiet in the hospital. Last weekend they weren’t sure he’d make it to this weekend. The owners were finally considering euthanasia. He’s been here for 3 months, they’ve sunk more than 20.000 into this horse. But he made it through the week. So I stood, fed him carrots, brushed him, and talked to him.

I told him that I’d passed my national board exam. I was so relieved to not have to take it again. Only 5-6 people in my class won’t pass, and I didn’t need the shame of being one of them. I told him I wasn’t sure about next year. If I should take the residency in Missouri, wait till UIC makes an offer, or screw both and go on my way. I promised I’d go back to Minnesota once I finished vet school. I want to go back, but it isn’t what’s best for my career right now. Yeah, I have a career. I don’t want to start over again. I don’t want to move to another new town, another quiet apartment. It gets harder to make new friends every time. I’m just so tired of starting over. But I’ll take the offer for the highly regarded residency in Missouri because that’s what’s best for me, right? Dr Ostdiek, the best lab animal vet I can be. Or I could move back to MN, find some clinic to work at, probably one of the big chains, and spend the rest of my life giving vaccines to bratty puppies. But that’s not me. I’ll sacrifice my personal life for the professional. I’ll make a difference in research, be one of those people who writes chapters in textbooks. I’ll take care of the mice that find the cure for cancer. And it’s very likely I’ll be alone while doing it.

George is a good listener, especially when its 3 am and all of your fears are wandering about in your head. I don’t know what will happen to George. He may not make it through another week. I don’t know what will happen to me. I’ll find out in the next week. Sometimes at 3am its best just to eat your carrots, and realize you can’t control everything.

Posted by allison at 10:36 PM | Comments (2)