Doctor — Chapter 2

IMG_0216The summer before, I had been living in my hometown. One of my best friends was living there as well as all of the people that I knew in town. I was dating a guy and my sister still lived there. I was close to many of the people that I worked in the restaurant with. They all knew that I was awaiting my letter from the veterinary college.

I had envisioned a great celebration and proudly walking around telling everyone that I had gotten into veterinary medicine. There was some debate in the restaurant about whether or not I would ever actually be accepted. The feeling was that a waitress could not become a doctor. This is peculiar. With the exception of royalty, no one really knows what they will do as an adult. Everyone must be young before they are old and that would often include doing various minimum wage jobs.

I was confident that I would prove them all wrong when my acceptance arrived. Being an athlete, I was always chosen for sports teams including the city softball team and the elite swim team in town. As a gifted student, I always won the scholarships and entrance exams. Many of my friends, that applied, did not even get accepted into university. It was just a matter of having patience and waiting for my letter to arrive.

Receiving the rejection letter was sobering and surreal. It forced me to face the fact that I might not ever get into veterinary medicine. Could the cook at the restaurant be right? It was one of the first times that I had not been chosen for something. To be faced with the possibility that my dream of becoming a veterinarian might not come true was quite a blow to my self-esteem.

When my acceptance letter did arrive, during my stay at the veterinarian’s farm up north, it was anticlimactic. I had already travelled to my hometown that summer to realize that there was no one there anymore. I did not feel particularly close to anyone that I was living with and it is understandable that there was a certain amount of tension between the women in the house.

I had gone down the lane to get the mail that day and I had found the letter in the mailbox. I stood at the end of the lane and read it right away. You don’t need to open these letters to know what they say inside. If they do not admit you, all they send is a form letter written on a single piece of paper in an eleven inch envelope.

On the other hand, when you get accepted, an entire package comes. You need to make decisions about accommodations, choose courses, be familiar with outlines and you need to reply accepting the offer, which requires another envelope to be included inside. When the package was huge—especially relative to the summer before—I knew that I had been accepted but I wanted to read it anyhow.

With full knowledge that I had been accepted, I walked back to the house. It was almost mealtime so I carted all of the mail up to the kitchen and put it on a side table. I took the envelope up to my room and put it with my things. I did not tell anyone. I did not want to share this news with people I barely knew and didn’t really like. I had just received life altering news and I had no one to share it with.

At this point, I had already completed two years of a bachelor of science, or B.Sc., and it was possible to complete the courses that I needed to get a general B.Sc. as well as do my pre-vet year. The other option was to go to school part time and work the rest of the time. I chose the former. There was some benefit to having a B.Sc. as well as a doctor of veterinary medicine, or D.V.M., but honestly, at this stage of my life the B.Sc. was more of a label marking me as someone that was not successful during her first attempt to get into veterinary medicine. I’ve gotten over that now.

So I settled into third year in my two-bedroom apartment with the commuter roommate and focused on my studies. All of the pressure to get really high marks had been eliminated. They used to kid around in class and say, “Do you know what they call the person that graduates at the bottom of the class?” Wait for it…..

Doctor.

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Admission — Chapter 2

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The only thing that still remained unresolved was my application for veterinary medicine. In order to apply to veterinary medicine there were several things that you had to complete. First, you had to fill out the paperwork and sign a release saying that they could access your marks. Then, you had to write an essay explaining why you wanted to be a veterinarian and finally you were interviewed by a panel of professors that would evaluate your suitability as an applicant.

The essay that I had to write was a disaster. I wrote it while I was still working on the dairy farm. I was not given time off or allowed to leave the farm, before I quit the job, so I had to make due with what they had on hand. What they had on hand was an old typewriter that was in need of repair.

When you insert paper into a typewriter, the paper goes down the back of a barrel that is slightly longer than the paper is wide and it is guided to go around this barrel and come up at the front of the machine. The paper is held snug against the barrel as you type. The typing mechanism moves to the right the distance of one letter each time you hit a key stroke. At the end of each line a bell rings to let you know that you have five spaces left before the end. When you reach the end, you use a return paddle to move the paper up one line and move the typing mechanism back to the left so that you can continue.

This particular typewriter had something loose inside. As I typed the page would shift down giving it a droopy appearance. The essay had to be typed, that was stipulated in the application, and I had no other typewriter that I could use so I would type a bit and then try to pull the paper up to where it was supposed to be. It is painful now to think about this.

I likely could have used a typewriter at a local library or hired someone to do the typing for me, but I did not know this at the time. Even though the farmer’s wife was a teacher, she did not offer any insights into how to improve the appearance of the essay. It brings into focus how much of a disadvantage students are at if their parents did not get any higher education. So, my essay was probably a frightful mess.

The interview went OK, but I have learned that unless you know what they are looking for there is no way to tell if you have given them what they want. They asked me some specific questions about the Pre Vet Club. I had been elected to its board, but I had never done any work. I did not know what I was supposed to do and the other people on the board never let me know.

In general, my marks were all good except for two courses. During grade 12, I had made the mistake of taking grade 13 biology. The high school I was attending went on strike the year that I was in grade 12 and we missed several weeks of classes. Many of the people that I was in grade 12 with never did graduate, or did not graduate that year, because the teachers were on strike so long that the students got full time jobs and then it didn’t make sense to go back to school.

The drawback for me was that the instructors for first year Zoology assumed that you had learned the material in grade 13 biology. I had not. I had been given the credit, so it would appear as though I knew the stuff, but I hadn’t even seen most of it before. The course amounted to a huge amount of anatomy of various creatures and it required a lot of memorization. I am explaining this in a great amount of detail because Zoology was my lowest mark, by far.

The other course that I got a poor mark in was an accident. It turns out that this particular professor was the father of a woman that would later become one of my best friends, but I did not know her at the time. There was a mistake in recording my mark. When I calculated how poorly I would have had to have done on the final exam to get my final mark, I would have had to have received less than zero. I knew it was an error. I went in to see the professor and he acknowledged that it must have just been an error and assured me that he would change the mark. He never did.

So, I waitressed for the remainder of the summer and eagerly anticipated a reply to my veterinary application. I knew that I was going back to university regardless of whether or not I got accepted. I did not get accepted.

The letter that came with my rejection said that I could go in to the office of the veterinary college and find out why I did not get in. So, I decided that I would do this. In those days, computer paper was about 20 inches wide and had edges that were separated from the main paper by perforations. These edges had holes in them. The holes fit over the mechanism that moved the paper through the printer. Computer paper was not similar to regular paper in shape or texture. When I went in to see why I had not been accepted, the man explaining it to me pulled out this long piece of computer paper that was probably three or four feet long.

Each line of the paper had a name followed by the overall average that the person had on the test scores. This was followed by the mark given for the essay, the average mark from their course work and the mark that they received for their interview. The most important mark was the overall average and the list had been organized with the highest average at the top and decreasing averages below in order.

Some very talented individual had taken the time to highlight a large block of names in pink. So, when he held the paper up, there were a bunch of names at the top, followed by a huge area of pink and then the vast majority of the names were below the pink area. He explained to me that the people in the pink area all had the same overall average. About one third of the way down the pink area was a bold blue line that had been drawn in to mark the bottom of the list of accepted applicants. I was in the pink, just below the line.

Being that close is a strange feeling. I was just as good as a group of students that were accepted that year (based on the way that they were evaluated). Unfortunately for me, my last name was not ‘Abbot’ or ‘Burns’. Several things could have put me above that pink patch: taking grade 13 biology in grade 13; having the professor actually correct my grade; and having a decent typewriter to do my essay on. Any one of these things could have given me a fraction of a point advantage and I would have been accepted. I did not know if I would ever be accepted. It felt like there were a few fail-safes to make sure that I did not get in that year.

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Second Class Citizen — Chapter 2

IMG_0103After first year there was no thought given to returning to my home town. I had some friends there, but no place to stay. I needed to get a job that would help me get into veterinary medicine. Let me introduce the Farm Labour Pool.

The Farm Labour Pool was a loosely arranged group that was based on the mutual need of the farmers to have summer help and the university students to get practical on-farm experience. Veterinary students were not the only ones that needed this experience. There was also an Agricultural Program on campus, affectionately called the “Aggies” or the veterinary wanabees and a Diploma in Agriculture which, was a two year course to give farmers a broader perspective after highschool, before they returned to the family farm. These fellas, and yes they were all fellas as far as I know, were called the Dippers.

All three groups needed on-farm experience and the Farm Labour Pool was the link between the students and the farms. I went to my interview, which as I remember it was for any of the farm jobs and I was told that the farmers that wanted help actually wanted someone that was already in the veterinary program.

Perspective has a way of changing the understanding of a situation. In hindsight, I now know, that this may have been on the farmer’s wish list, but in reality, you could make more money waiting tables. Why you would choose to work on a farm and do 10-14 hour days, six days a week, instead of living in the city and making more money and having a social life? It did make me feel like they were ‘doing me a favour’ by getting me a job on a dairy farm though.

The reality of this job was another matter. I had never experienced what it meant to be a second class citizen before. The first day that I arrived at this job I was told that they had company staying with them and that I could not move into my room yet.

The room that they offered me was a closet. No window, but it did have a light suspended from the ceiling by a long electrical cord. It was equipped with a chain that you could pull to turn the light off and on. It also had a cot that just fit along the one side of the room with the foot against one wall and the head of it against the other wall. To be fair, I was not in this room for very long.

If I had already been accepted into veterinary medicine I would have been quicker to say, “Wow! Sorry! I didn’t mean to arrive before you were ready for me. When will my room be open?” As it was, I was once again traveling with my car full of all of my belongings and I had no where else to go, so I stayed.

I have learned over the years that when you are confronted with the same problem over and over again you should recognize that you must have gotten it wrong the last time. We are given multiple opportunities to make the right decision, take the right action and see the truth that is right in front of us. When we don’t make this connection, we get another opportunity to make a different choice, again and again. It is humbling to write this now, but this summer was not the last time that this happened to me.

I would again be treated poorly and instead of taking immediate action to stop it, I would become introspective, re-evaluate my expectations, justifying inaction and generally let it go on way too long.

I had to move off of my lounge chair and over to the patio table with the umbrella. It is so hot out here that I was sweating profusely and not only was it uncomfortable, but I was starting to worry about getting water into my computer. So, I am now in the shade. The app on my cell phone tells me that it “feels like” 95 F, with the humidex and all.

The humidex is the same concept as the wind chill factor. In the winter it feels colder if there is more wind so it may be 40 F out, but it feels much colder because of the wind. The humidex recognizes that when it is really humid it feels hotter than it is. It is not even noon yet.

I mentioned that I was treated like a second class citizen. The closet is not how this ended. In a traditional farmhouse, the men did the outside work and the women did the inside work. Now, all women also worked outside but only after the inside work was done.

I was hired to help with the milking of the cows. The cows liked me. I heard that the amount of milk that they were producing actually went up when I started to milk them. The farmer’s wife mentioned this during one of our meals and her husband was quick to down play it and say that any change will cause them to produce more milk. I have no way of knowing if that is true or not. I didn’t stay long enough to see if the novelty of having someone else milk them would wear off.

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University — Chapter 2

IMG_1090University was my first experience with “salad days”, which denote happy, fun filled days with lots of salads. I always think of BBQ’s where you are asked to bring a salad and there is cole slaw, potato salad, and macaroni salad—all of the ones that are implicated in food outbreaks. I worked hard in university. The classes and labs themselves were a full time job without the study and homework that was required in addition, but I felt like I had purpose and that my time was in my own control.

As I try to write this there is a black bird cawing away in the distance. This is my totem animal. As soon as I wrote that it stopped calling to me, so it must have wanted to be mentioned. I often get “messages” or rather stories that apply to my life from these birds. I don’t know if they are crows or ravens, but I have never known, so there is no advantage to knowing now. Don’t worry, they have never told me to kill anyone, the messages are usually more like, you are supported, or things will work out.

I am sitting on my back deck and it is hot and humid, very hot and humid for 10 a.m. on a Saturday in September, but we’ve experienced hotter than average weather all summer. I have to remember to appreciate this weather this time of year because it will be gone all too soon and it will be too cold to sit out here at all.

My focus in university was on getting into veterinary medicine. I stopped telling people this very early in frosh week, because everyone that I met was trying to get into that program and it became too embarrassing. I just told them that I was in biology, which was true.

I also swam on the varsity team and made a lot of friends. The women in my suite in residence were all very academic and so we seldom went out as a group. I did, however, go out with them a couple of times. As a group of girls will do when they are all living together, we would all cycle together and there would be times when the energy was so strong in our residence we could not help but all go out.

I have read stories about all of the girls in a boarding school getting pregnant on the same night, and although this is likely an exaggeration, it is supported by biology. We would all have the desire to go out at the same time because we influenced each other’s hormonal cycles. Interesting actually.

In second year, I shared a house with three other women. One of them had been in the same suite as me in first year and she had made all of the arrangements with the woman that had rented the place. We all lived together that year but did not get to know each other very well. I had chosen the room in the basement. Initially, the one woman said that she would take it and pay less than everyone else. I jumped at that. I would pay the full one quarter of the rent and stay in the basement. It was perfect for me. I had the basement, my bedroom and a small bathroom with a shower all to myself. I was essentially alone again and it was a great year.

By third year I had a two bedroom apartment that was the main floor of a house on the “good” side of the tracks near downtown. I rented it with a woman that I met at off campus housing. We were both looking for a place and we hit it off. She turned out to be a pretty good roommate. She was taking humanities and did not attend classes on Monday or Friday. She would travel home on Thursday night to work as a waitress in her hometown and would not come back until Tuesday after class. This apartment was about a half hour walk from the school, which turns out to be a perfect amount of exercise for me.

Finances had forced me to get rid of my car after first year. When I calculated how much I would reasonably spend returning home, which was occurring less frequently, buying groceries and going places, it did not make sense to keep insurance on the car. I know that I left the car at my cousin’s place but I do not remember if I sold it to her or if I just gave it to her. It was not worth very much at the time.

So, I walked everywhere, which suited me just fine. The university town was a moderate size and you could walk to the three essential areas: downtown, the mall and the university, in under an hour so there was never any reason to take a bus. I did rent a taxi a few times after doing a large grocery. I could walk there with a roommate and split the cost of a taxi for us and all of our groceries on the way home. That just left buying perishable food occasionally, which was not a big deal to carry home.

I stayed in the two bedroom apartment for over three years and it represented one of the longest times that I had stayed anywhere since I was 15 years of age, but I am getting ahead of myself.

My focus was on getting into veterinary medicine and so my goal in the summer was to get the experience I needed to get accepted. They needed large animal vets. “Large animal vets” are vets that work with farm animals intended for food. So yes, a chicken is considered a large animal and surprisingly, a horse is not. So, they were selecting students bases on their “large animal” experience. After first year, I took a job on a dairy farm.

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The Best Defense is a Good Offence — Chapter 4

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It is so dark outside that I closed the blinds in my office. Otherwise, I would feel like everyone could see me and I couldn’t see them. It is early in the morning and this time of year the sun does not make any appreciable impact on the day until about seven a.m.

I was still at home with my two preschoolers, but soon, the money from the government was set to run out. My youngest daughter was getting older and the pressure to be doing something worthwhile was mounting, so I started to apply for jobs.

There was a sense of surrealism to this part of my life because I was aware that Bob was telling people that I didn’t have to work and that he was supporting me financially. He made a habit of tailoring his message to his audience to maximize their opinion of him. This put me in the position of looking like I was lying, or at least contradicting Bob.

He would tell people one thing in public and me another thing at home. The needing/wanting to work argument got played through this scenario. Mutual friends and neighbours were probably confused by my insistence that I did not want to go back to work and Bob’s statements that I did not need to go back to work and the fact that I was applying to jobs.

This dysfunction played in every issue in our marriage. Bob had a secret fear that he would be figured out. I attributed it to a deep-seated insecurity, but the truth was that he probably spent an inordinate amount of effort dissembling the truth and trying to keep it all straight in his mind.

When I caught him in a lie, he went on the attack. ‘The best defense is a good offense,’ could have been his mantra. Like the night that I saw him kissing the teenager that he later went to live with, he accused me of being insane and of having an over active imagination.

I remember applying to several large animal practices and not even getting an interview. It was well known, at the time, that women were not suited to large animal practise. The argument went something like this. “A woman is not strong enough to deal with the large animals.” Let me tell you fellas, a man isn’t either if he is trying to use brute force to get a horse or cow to do something for him. It was simply difficult for male vets that thought of their profession as masculine, to envision a woman doing their jobs.

Now that a majority of veterinary students are women, these same men are finding that they can’t retire because there is no one that can take over their practices. This shortage of large animal veterinarians is becoming a problem for the farming community, but I digress. I did my best to become a large animal veterinarian and there were no takers.

I ended up working in a small animal emergency clinic for a short while. In Canada, we have our health care paid for. We do not purchase insurance individually and most of our full time jobs have additional insurance that covers other health benefits like dental, chiropractic care and eye glasses. What all of this means is that we have no way of knowing what health care costs. We never see anyone losing their homes because they had to pay for medical care.

This creates a certain amount of unpleasantness in small animal veterinary practice, especially the emergency type. When you are a general practitioner, you develop a clientele. These are the people that bring in their pets for regular vaccinations and other routine appointments. In emergency medicine you get the people that are forced to seek immediate health care for their animals, whether they can afford it or not. I spent more evenings than I care to remember explaining the cost of the services to the people that were in desperate need of veterinary care for their animals.

One night, about three in the morning, a woman brought in her elderly golden lab. This dog was her heart. The reason that she had brought in her pet was that the dog was dying. The dog could no longer sit up, she had not eaten all day and the woman did not want the dog to suffer to death and felt that the humane thing to do was to have her put to sleep.

While I was explaining the costs involved, and I must add here that this had already been explained over the phone when she called to say that she was bringing her dog in, the woman lost her temper at me and said, “I thought that people became vets because they loved animals?”

I understood her pain and her fear. She was losing an animal that meant the world to her, but she did have a point. Making money off of someone else’s pain and suffering does put a bad taste in your mouth. Feeding off of the desperation seemed, well, cruel. On the other hand, veterinary medicine is a profession and as the world is today, no one is going to bother doing veterinary medicine if they cannot charge for it. Anyhow, it hit a nerve. Was I actually helping people or was I just taking advantage of their desperation?

I did not stay at the veterinary clinic very long. Being at the clinic for fourteen-hour nights was not working out well with being awake all day to take care of the girls, even though Bob thought it was great! that I could do both by working at night. Much to Bob’s disappointment I found myself, once again, unemployed. He let me know how much I had let them down.

He liked to say things like, “It always feels like you are going to be making a lot of money, but you never stay long enough at your jobs.” Don’t forget, I left my other job just after getting back together with Bob, so he did have a point.

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No Leg to Stand On — Chapter 3

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What was initially a great job with a lot of accomplishments and room for me to contribute positively to how the calves were raised and their general care had disintegrated into a political battle with a pseudo-veterinarian. This man had been masquerading as the go-to man with health care issues even though he did not have any formal training. I can hear half of the audience sighing.

Our popular media often glorifies the people that have learned by experience, that have hit the ground running and know so much more than the ‘educated’ people. This may apply in some instances but definitively did not apply to this individual. He saw me as a threat and often contradicted my advice to people.

There was one particularly unfortunate calf that bore the brunt of our disharmony. The calf had caught it’s leg while jumping out of a pen and had tore the nerves that served the leg. Nerves are important. Not only do they allow the animal to flex the muscles of the leg, a requirement of standing, but they are also there to help protect the leg. If an animal cannot feel pain in one of its limbs it will not take care of it.

I was called in early when the calf was discovered. I did a simple test to see if the nerves were intact. They were not. The calf could not feel anything in the leg. I recommended to the farmer that the calf be immediately sent to slaughter. There would be some loss because of bruising, but once you treat an animal with any kind of drug a withdrawal time must be respected before the animal can go to slaughter so it was best to do it right away.

The other fella pressured the farmer to keep the animal alive arguing that the animal was worth a fraction of what it would be worth when it was fully grown. The farmer followed the advice of the other guy and kept the calf alive. As the calf grew larger and larger it became apparent that it could not get up on its own. The farmer had to get into the pen and lift the animal up so that it could reach its food. It would lie on its leg and not recognize that it was cutting off all of the blood flow. Sores began to develop which meant that the calf needed to be put on antibiotics. While on antibiotics the calf cannot go to slaughter. The meat would get thrown out if it did. The calf never did go to slaughter and died a few weeks later from infections that began in the sores of its leg.

Watching this calf suffer, when I was there with the intention of making sure that these animals were well cared for and treated properly, was heartbreaking for me. This was only one example, but it did show that I had no power in this job and that made it unpleasant for me.

I had been actively applying to other jobs. On one particular day I got a call from a human resources person to set up a job interview. My daughter was in her crib upstairs when the call came in and Bob was in the house. During this conversation about the job and when I could set up an appointment to go in for an interview my daughter started to cry. Bob brought her down and stood right next to the phone so that the person that was booking the appointment was being drowned out by the crying.

Bob explained that he did not know how to calm her down and was holding her there to let me know that I needed to hurry up and get off of the phone. There is no question in my mind at all that “has a young baby” was written on my application. The truth was that this was the second time that he had purposely tried to interfere with my success. Let’s not forget that he left before I was able to finish veterinary medicine. Individually they both seemed unrelated but they became part of a pattern.

So, when my second pregnancy was difficult and my doctor said that if I did not take time off from work he was going to hospitalize me, I did not hesitate to quit my job. I was eligible for money from the government if I left because I was pregnant and I wanted to take some time to stay at home with this baby. I had learned the hard way with my first daughter that going right back to having a full time obligation was not ideal.

Did I mention that I got pregnant right away?

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To Be Single, or Not To Be Single — Chapter 3

20131018-152334.jpgBeing a single mom when I graduated restricted the jobs that I could take. It was almost impossible for me to take a regular veterinary job because you were required to be on call. How could I possibly leave in the middle of the night when I had a baby in the house and no one to take care of her? I looked into sales jobs, research jobs and veterinary practices that had an emergency clinic in town, meaning that there was no on-call required.

As it turned out, I ended up getting a great job as the staff veterinarian for a feed company that also raised its own calves, thousands of them. I bought a house and moved with my daughter to a city not that far from the university town. Bob had gotten a job at a local daily newspaper over an hour away and had moved there with his girlfriend.

I hit a low point here. I was a twenty-six year old single mom that was already on my way to a divorce. I was living in a city where I knew no one except for the people that I worked with. I only saw those people at work. I was terribly alone and I was not sure what to do with myself.

I remember doing groceries with a blinding headache, my daughter in the shopping cart not in such a great mood herself, and just feeling like I had hit bottom. Bob would often say that he was coming to get his daughter and then he would simply not show up. Or, when he did take her she would come back on Sunday and have milk diarrhea for a day or so and a diaper rash.

For those people that have not raised a baby, when all you feed your child is milk, they get soft, greyish white poos that are not normally formed. This was neglect. As far as I could tell, he would just give her a bottle of milk every time that she was hungry or upset and that would be all that he would feed her. She was over a year of age by now and basically could eat anything that he was eating, assuming that he was eating. His girlfriend would have been about 18 by then so she was not all that equipped to deal with having a toddler around either and the diaper rash that my daughter had when she came home was a testament to that fact.

Then a strange thing happened. A good friend of mine, who also had a daughter, separated from her husband and came to stay with me. Things were great. We had the same level of responsibility but we also had the same understanding of what needed to be done. When you are living with someone that already knows how to manage a home, it actually splits the work in half.

We had meals together, played with our daughters together, had ample time to talk and discuss our failed marriages and our lives. She was only there a short while. I’m guessing a couple of weeks, but it set me up. When she moved out there was a gaping hole in my life.

I had more or less adjusted to living on my own and now I had to readjust to being by myself. I had experienced how nice it was to have someone there. The loneliness that followed her stay was bottomless.

Then Bob stepped in. He explained that he had panicked when our daughter had been born. He was scared and acted inappropriately. He was sorry for what he had done and he had learned his lesson the hard way by being separated from his family. He wanted to be married. He wanted to be a family. He had realized that he had acted inappropriately and regretted his mistake.

Looking back now, I’m almost certain that he had fought with his girlfriend and she had thrown him out. I recognize that the lines were probably lifted, if not word for word, at least the theme of them, from a romantic comedy, but I hadn’t been watching a lot of movies. He had brought a wedding band with him and presented it to me. He wanted to get back together; the question was, did I?

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Doctor — Chapter 2

IMG_0216The summer before, I had been living in my hometown. One of my best friends was living there as well as all of the people that I knew in town. I was dating a guy and my sister still lived there. I was close to many of the people that I worked in the restaurant with. They all knew that I was awaiting my letter from the veterinary college.

I had envisioned a great celebration and proudly walking around telling everyone that I had gotten into veterinary medicine. There was some debate in the restaurant about whether or not I would ever actually be accepted. The feeling was that a waitress could not become a doctor. This is peculiar. With the exception of royalty, no one really knows what they will do as an adult. Everyone must be young before they are old and that would often include doing various minimum wage jobs.

I was confident that I would prove them all wrong when my acceptance arrived. Being an athlete, I was always chosen for sports teams including the city softball team and the elite swim team in town. As a gifted student, I always won the scholarships and entrance exams. Many of my friends, that applied, did not even get accepted into university. It was just a matter of having patience and waiting for my letter to arrive.

Receiving the rejection letter was sobering and surreal. It forced me to face the fact that I might not ever get into veterinary medicine. Could the cook at the restaurant be right? It was one of the first times that I had not been chosen for something. To be faced with the possibility that my dream of becoming a veterinarian might not come true was quite a blow to my self-esteem.

When my acceptance letter did arrive, during my stay at the veterinarian’s farm up north, it was anticlimactic. I had already travelled to my hometown that summer to realize that there was no one there anymore. I did not feel particularly close to anyone that I was living with and it is understandable that there was a certain amount of tension between the women in the house.

I had gone down the lane to get the mail that day and I had found the letter in the mailbox. I stood at the end of the lane and read it right away. You don’t need to open these letters to know what they say inside. If they do not admit you, all they send is a form letter written on a single piece of paper in an eleven inch envelope.

On the other hand, when you get accepted, an entire package comes. You need to make decisions about accommodations, choose courses, be familiar with outlines and you need to reply accepting the offer, which requires another envelope to be included inside. When the package was huge—especially relative to the summer before—I knew that I had been accepted but I wanted to read it anyhow.

With full knowledge that I had been accepted, I walked back to the house. It was almost mealtime so I carted all of the mail up to the kitchen and put it on a side table. I took the envelope up to my room and put it with my things. I did not tell anyone. I did not want to share this news with people I barely knew and didn’t really like. I had just received life altering news and I had no one to share it with.

At this point, I had already completed two years of a bachelor of science, or B.Sc., and it was possible to complete the courses that I needed to get a general B.Sc. as well as do my pre-vet year. The other option was to go to school part time and work the rest of the time. I chose the former. There was some benefit to having a B.Sc. as well as a doctor of veterinary medicine, or D.V.M., but honestly, at this stage of my life the B.Sc. was more of a label marking me as someone that was not successful during her first attempt to get into veterinary medicine. I’ve gotten over that now.

So I settled into third year in my two-bedroom apartment with the commuter roommate and focused on my studies. All of the pressure to get really high marks had been eliminated. They used to kid around in class and say, “Do you know what they call the person that graduates at the bottom of the class?” Wait for it…..

Doctor.

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Admission — Chapter 2

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The only thing that still remained unresolved was my application for veterinary medicine. In order to apply to veterinary medicine there were several things that you had to complete. First, you had to fill out the paperwork and sign a release saying that they could access your marks. Then, you had to write an essay explaining why you wanted to be a veterinarian and finally you were interviewed by a panel of professors that would evaluate your suitability as an applicant.

The essay that I had to write was a disaster. I wrote it while I was still working on the dairy farm. I was not given time off or allowed to leave the farm, before I quit the job, so I had to make due with what they had on hand. What they had on hand was an old typewriter that was in need of repair.

When you insert paper into a typewriter, the paper goes down the back of a barrel that is slightly longer than the paper is wide and it is guided to go around this barrel and come up at the front of the machine. The paper is held snug against the barrel as you type. The typing mechanism moves to the right the distance of one letter each time you hit a key stroke. At the end of each line a bell rings to let you know that you have five spaces left before the end. When you reach the end, you use a return paddle to move the paper up one line and move the typing mechanism back to the left so that you can continue.

This particular typewriter had something loose inside. As I typed the page would shift down giving it a droopy appearance. The essay had to be typed, that was stipulated in the application, and I had no other typewriter that I could use so I would type a bit and then try to pull the paper up to where it was supposed to be. It is painful now to think about this.

I likely could have used a typewriter at a local library or hired someone to do the typing for me, but I did not know this at the time. Even though the farmer’s wife was a teacher, she did not offer any insights into how to improve the appearance of the essay. It brings into focus how much of a disadvantage students are at if their parents did not get any higher education. So, my essay was probably a frightful mess.

The interview went OK, but I have learned that unless you know what they are looking for there is no way to tell if you have given them what they want. They asked me some specific questions about the Pre Vet Club. I had been elected to its board, but I had never done any work. I did not know what I was supposed to do and the other people on the board never let me know.

In general, my marks were all good except for two courses. During grade 12, I had made the mistake of taking grade 13 biology. The high school I was attending went on strike the year that I was in grade 12 and we missed several weeks of classes. Many of the people that I was in grade 12 with never did graduate, or did not graduate that year, because the teachers were on strike so long that the students got full time jobs and then it didn’t make sense to go back to school.

The drawback for me was that the instructors for first year Zoology assumed that you had learned the material in grade 13 biology. I had not. I had been given the credit, so it would appear as though I knew the stuff, but I hadn’t even seen most of it before. The course amounted to a huge amount of anatomy of various creatures and it required a lot of memorization. I am explaining this in a great amount of detail because Zoology was my lowest mark, by far.

The other course that I got a poor mark in was an accident. It turns out that this particular professor was the father of a woman that would later become one of my best friends, but I did not know her at the time. There was a mistake in recording my mark. When I calculated how poorly I would have had to have done on the final exam to get my final mark, I would have had to have received less than zero. I knew it was an error. I went in to see the professor and he acknowledged that it must have just been an error and assured me that he would change the mark. He never did.

So, I waitressed for the remainder of the summer and eagerly anticipated a reply to my veterinary application. I knew that I was going back to university regardless of whether or not I got accepted. I did not get accepted.

The letter that came with my rejection said that I could go in to the office of the veterinary college and find out why I did not get in. So, I decided that I would do this. In those days, computer paper was about 20 inches wide and had edges that were separated from the main paper by perforations. These edges had holes in them. The holes fit over the mechanism that moved the paper through the printer. Computer paper was not similar to regular paper in shape or texture. When I went in to see why I had not been accepted, the man explaining it to me pulled out this long piece of computer paper that was probably three or four feet long.

Each line of the paper had a name followed by the overall average that the person had on the test scores. This was followed by the mark given for the essay, the average mark from their course work and the mark that they received for their interview. The most important mark was the overall average and the list had been organized with the highest average at the top and decreasing averages below in order.

Some very talented individual had taken the time to highlight a large block of names in pink. So, when he held the paper up, there were a bunch of names at the top, followed by a huge area of pink and then the vast majority of the names were below the pink area. He explained to me that the people in the pink area all had the same overall average. About one third of the way down the pink area was a bold blue line that had been drawn in to mark the bottom of the list of accepted applicants. I was in the pink, just below the line.

Being that close is a strange feeling. I was just as good as a group of students that were accepted that year (based on the way that they were evaluated). Unfortunately for me, my last name was not ‘Abbot’ or ‘Burns’. Several things could have put me above that pink patch: taking grade 13 biology in grade 13; having the professor actually correct my grade; and having a decent typewriter to do my essay on. Any one of these things could have given me a fraction of a point advantage and I would have been accepted. I did not know if I would ever be accepted. It felt like there were a few fail-safes to make sure that I did not get in that year.

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Second Class Citizen — Chapter 2

IMG_0103After first year there was no thought given to returning to my home town. I had some friends there, but no place to stay. I needed to get a job that would help me get into veterinary medicine. Let me introduce the Farm Labour Pool.

The Farm Labour Pool was a loosely arranged group that was based on the mutual need of the farmers to have summer help and the university students to get practical on-farm experience. Veterinary students were not the only ones that needed this experience. There was also an Agricultural Program on campus, affectionately called the “Aggies” or the veterinary wanabees and a Diploma in Agriculture which, was a two year course to give farmers a broader perspective after highschool, before they returned to the family farm. These fellas, and yes they were all fellas as far as I know, were called the Dippers.

All three groups needed on-farm experience and the Farm Labour Pool was the link between the students and the farms. I went to my interview, which as I remember it was for any of the farm jobs and I was told that the farmers that wanted help actually wanted someone that was already in the veterinary program.

Perspective has a way of changing the understanding of a situation. In hindsight, I now know, that this may have been on the farmer’s wish list, but in reality, you could make more money waiting tables. Why you would choose to work on a farm and do 10-14 hour days, six days a week, instead of living in the city and making more money and having a social life? It did make me feel like they were ‘doing me a favour’ by getting me a job on a dairy farm though.

The reality of this job was another matter. I had never experienced what it meant to be a second class citizen before. The first day that I arrived at this job I was told that they had company staying with them and that I could not move into my room yet.

The room that they offered me was a closet. No window, but it did have a light suspended from the ceiling by a long electrical cord. It was equipped with a chain that you could pull to turn the light off and on. It also had a cot that just fit along the one side of the room with the foot against one wall and the head of it against the other wall. To be fair, I was not in this room for very long.

If I had already been accepted into veterinary medicine I would have been quicker to say, “Wow! Sorry! I didn’t mean to arrive before you were ready for me. When will my room be open?” As it was, I was once again traveling with my car full of all of my belongings and I had no where else to go, so I stayed.

I have learned over the years that when you are confronted with the same problem over and over again you should recognize that you must have gotten it wrong the last time. We are given multiple opportunities to make the right decision, take the right action and see the truth that is right in front of us. When we don’t make this connection, we get another opportunity to make a different choice, again and again. It is humbling to write this now, but this summer was not the last time that this happened to me.

I would again be treated poorly and instead of taking immediate action to stop it, I would become introspective, re-evaluate my expectations, justifying inaction and generally let it go on way too long.

I had to move off of my lounge chair and over to the patio table with the umbrella. It is so hot out here that I was sweating profusely and not only was it uncomfortable, but I was starting to worry about getting water into my computer. So, I am now in the shade. The app on my cell phone tells me that it “feels like” 95 F, with the humidex and all.

The humidex is the same concept as the wind chill factor. In the winter it feels colder if there is more wind so it may be 40 F out, but it feels much colder because of the wind. The humidex recognizes that when it is really humid it feels hotter than it is. It is not even noon yet.

I mentioned that I was treated like a second class citizen. The closet is not how this ended. In a traditional farmhouse, the men did the outside work and the women did the inside work. Now, all women also worked outside but only after the inside work was done.

I was hired to help with the milking of the cows. The cows liked me. I heard that the amount of milk that they were producing actually went up when I started to milk them. The farmer’s wife mentioned this during one of our meals and her husband was quick to down play it and say that any change will cause them to produce more milk. I have no way of knowing if that is true or not. I didn’t stay long enough to see if the novelty of having someone else milk them would wear off.

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