Night Cobras

“Would you like to float down the river?” Well, yeah. That sounded like a great idea. River tubing in Thailand? Sign me up! However, their definition of ‘float’ was much different than mine. I kept saying ‘tubing’ and while they were saying ‘floating’. Another English difference I though. When will I learn?

We piled into the back of a truck, they grabbed a suspicious amount of lifejackets, and we were off. I assumed the tubes were already wherever we were going, and was rather confused when we stopped at a random point in the river. I watched the two young Mahouts who joined us grab a few of the lifejackets and start attaching them to their bodies in odd ways. Oh.

The Thai volunteer who was acting as the guide handed me a lifejacket and they headed into the river. When they said ‘floating’ they really meant it. The activity was waiting until the river was at it’s highest after the dam was opened upstream, and strapping lifejackets to you and essentially letting the river wash you away. I trusted them and fashioned myself a lifejacket seat and joined them on the riverside.

Now, I must explain that I am not afraid of snakes in normal situations. In Canada there is very little hiding in the grass that can hurt me and I take that for granted. In Thailand there are many species of large snakes, some of which are deadly. This includes king cobras and pit vipers, as well as large pythons. The entire trip has been spent avoiding tall grass and making cobra jokes. Which are not as funny when walking near the woods at night. We decided there were many varieties of cobras to be concerned about. Shoe cobras, tree cobras, night cobras, and wall cobras (which I will come back to) to name a few.

When I was standing at the river’s edge looking hesitantly at the fast moving water, ‘river cobras’ or pythons in particular came to mind. My new friend noticed my hesitation, and I informed him I was trying to be cautious about snakes since the edge had vegetation that obstructed my view. To which he responded, “There are no sna… okay that’s a lie. But there are none in the middle of the river.”

Splash. In I went.

The strength of the river surprised me. I was curious how we were going to get out, but for the time being I enjoyed bobbing along the river in my makeshift seat. It was a relaxing experience for the most part, except when fleeting thoughts of pythons came to mind.

We journeyed down the river for a while until we arrived back on the property of the sanctuary. They told me to grab the branches of the tree near the ‘beach’ area where we had bathed the elephants the day before. Although there was one problem with that. We had arrived at elephant bathing time.

There were about six or more elephants in the water. I grabbed the branch as instructed and had to aim myself at the beach and plan my route to avoid the elephants. The Mahouts were with the elephants in the water, so I felt relatively safe. It was just not a predicament I ever thought that I would be in. After some wrestling with the branches, I managed to make my way to shore, and successfully avoided colliding with an elephant. Though we did see what we are pretty confident was a python in the river the next day. Great.

The second snake encounter happened the very next day. We were finishing up with one of the elephants visiting the clinic when someone shouted, “Snake!”. I turned to watch an almost meter long skinny green pit viper slither around the dogs food bowl and maneuver itself into the bamboo wall of the clinic building. Which also happens to be the building where my room is. Oh no.

I was not initially afraid, I was far enough away from it (15 feet or so), that I did not feel like I was in danger. However, I then thought about the many places that snake could go. This snake appeared to be an expert in psychological warfare. I immediately remembered the people who live below me in the building talking about how just a few days ago they had another green snake poke it’s head out from the wall, flail around a little bit, then disappear. This was not a reality I was ready to be faced with.

The next two nights were spent with snakes on the mind, and eyes darting around in the dark. Luckily there were no further encounters. We were lucky and made it out alive. Though that may be a bit dramatic. Admittedly the thought of snakes in the walls or unexpected places stuck with me for a little while. Thankfully I am back in Canada now.

Even with some occasional danger, I had an incredible journey and will take what I learned with me as I continue both my career and my adventures throughout the world. Next stop? London, England for the year. I can’t wait.

 

The Elephant Keepers

A palace was the last stop before venturing to the elephant place. It was an extremely scenic spot, with a large water monitor cruising through the river like a crocodile guarding a castle. The area was full of history about the progression of Thailand, but the heat was unbearable. Apparently knees are too scandalous, so we had to rent floor length wrap skirts to cover ourselves. We later found out that they were not rentals and we purchased the heavy, brightly coloured wraps. Oh good.

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After packing and one last sleep in air conditioned glory, we were off. The university managed to set us up with an elephant retirement home. It uses visitor fees from people who want to come watch the elephants eat and frolic in the water to pay for their care. When we first arrived, we were told that the people who work and volunteer there were responsible for making sure all the elephants had to do was eat, sleep, and shit. Sounds like a decent life. They have to put up with people gawking at them for a portion of the day, but the majority of them had been removed from terrible logging work, or tourist camps where they were treated poorly. They work closely with the vet school, to treat the elephants when needed, and send them to the hospital for long term care.

People from all over the world come to see the elephants, or spend a month volunteering here to teach those who visit.

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The elephants are magnificent creatures, who are gentle for their size. Though, they are not always that way. When working with large animals you have to constantly be aware of what they are capable of. Elephants have complex social relationships, an amazing memory, and are the only other creature known to suffer from PTSD. Traumatic experiences can harm them psychologically, as with many other creatures. The elephants here that are more dangerous are marked with a red rope around their neck. There is one elephant here that pulled the arm off someone at the logging camp she was at before she was rescued. Never underestimate them.

There are signs here not to take selfies. Not for social shaming, but to ensure unsuspecting tourists don’t turn their back to them for long periods of time. Sure, they appear gentle, and they can move so silently you forget how much power they have behind those enchanting eyes. I am all for appreciating their beauty, but don’t expect them to want to cuddle. You have to approach them respectfully and slowly. Even then, you have to remain vigilant.

The park here does what they can to ensure people act appropriately around them, and they have rules in place to create distance between them. However, when treating them, you have to be up close and personal with theses massive creatures. I have a new-found respect for elephant vets.

Some of the activities here involve watching them frolic in a mud bathing area, which I really enjoy. The elephants just get to do what they want. Watching the youngest one play around in the water always makes me smile. The other activities involve feeding the elephants, which they seem to enjoy as well, and bathing them in the river. After their mud bath, the Mahouts or ‘elephant keepers’ take them to the river to scrub them clean. Sure, they can douse themselves in water, but it doesn’t quite do the same job and a good old scrub brush and bucket. It is quite fun. I always enjoy having a spa date with those beautiful ladies. They flap their ears and make their t-rex like grumbles to let their people know they enjoy it too.

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We are here in a weird in-between context. We aren’t tourist, but we aren’t tour guide volunteers either. We get to enjoy the activities that the visitors do, but in our own time and also spend time learning about elephant care and what treatments the university has arranged. We help out by organizing the clinic area, discussing different aspects of medicine, assisting with the daily work of the clinic and care of the elephants. So basically, I love it here.

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Down By The River

I look forward to the day where I walk outside and don’t instantly start melting. The harsh sun illuminates my pale skin in a way that could take you off guard, and not in a good way. More like it could damage your retinas. You would think that I would start to develop a tan at some point, but the SPF 60 I require so I don’t burn to a crisp, does not allow it. After a man wanted to take a photo with me, I asked my friend why, and she replied, ‘swy’. When pronounced in Thai it sounds like ‘so white’, which is what I thought she said. I figured that was pretty fair. When translated to English it means beautiful. Thanks stranger?

Luckily for Wednesday and Thursday I was safe from the sun in the lab. My lab skills are a little rusty, but it was good to get back into it with a little leptospirosis testing. We spent the evenings watching Netflix and adventuring for food. One such adventure lead us in the direction of pizza after having our fill of rice in the previous days. Google maps said one thing, and the street said another. After over an hour of evening cardio in the overwhelming humidity, we finally managed to just get it delivered. The things westerners will do for pizza.

Friday we ventured to a floating market. Which is something I’ve always wanted to do. There was a part near the water that we explored first, that was a giant maze of odd food and trinkets. We were periodically almost run down by motorcycles that were for some reason allowed to venture through the winding isles.

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We had lunch by the water, while vendors in small boats passed us by offering their goods. Brett bought some limes from one lady just for fun. I loved watching the large fish come near the surface waiting for something to be dropped for them. They quite enjoyed the scrapes from our meal, except for the cucumber that is.

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After lunch, for us and the fishes, we went on a boat tour of the river. It was beautiful as always. There were many lovely homes, old and new. There were water crops being grown by some. It was a relaxing way to spend part of the afternoon. I love being on the water. The pictures really do not do the area justice.

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After the tour it was back to the classroom for a lecture on wildlife tracking as it related to highly pathogenic avian influenza. A rather interesting topic. Then we were able to watch a demonstration on how to put a transmitter on a crocodile. Which was kind of amazing. Though we were told about last minute and got some odd looks from people attending the ‘crocodile meeting’ that clearly had no idea who we were. I don’t think they liked my polka dot shorts.

And there you have it. The two week program is over. Just a day of wandering before heading to the elephant sanctuary. It’s been a wonderful experience, where I got to learn a lot and participate in some fascinating projects. I may be showing my dorky side here, but there is always more to learn and I look forward to doing a lot more of that in the future. For now? Elephant husbandry awaits.

Footprints In The Sand

English is a funny language. I always feel bad for those trying to navigate something I was lucky to be taught as a child. But even I make mistakes. Especially while abroad.

We have a schedule that lays out what we are doing each day while we are here, kind of. It is very basic and I am used to having to figure things out in confusing English while traveling. Monday and Tuesday were listed as “Investigate Fishing Cat Footprint”.  So I thought oh, we are investigating the ecological footprint of the catfish industry. Ah good. Since I have an interest in aquaculture I was looking forward to it. I spent the entire first week believing that was what we were doing, especially since it was mentioned that we were going to the sea.

Monday morning we prepared for our adventure. Our driver was an interesting guy. He blatantly took a selfie of himself with me in the background in the car. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to smile, so I just ended up making a very awkward face. Which, to be fair, is how I look most of the time. I was very curious what he would caption it as on Facebook.

After a dose of awkward, we started the journey with a quick stop for soft serve along the way. During this stop I learned that a “fishing cat” was exactly that. A wild cat who eats a lot of fish. What? Look it up, they are adorable. So then I realized that I should not have doubted the schedule. It was “fishing cat conservation” after all. Whoops. I swear I am a doctor..

After a few hours we arrived at the national park, and popular summer area on the beach. It was beautiful. I love the sound of crashing waves and the smell of salty air. For an Atlantic Canadian, the ocean always feels like home. But there was no time for beach fun, there was science to do.

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We gathered traps and went off to try and trap a fishing cat. We were going to help with a project looking at disease transmission between local cats/dogs to and from the fishing cats due to close contact. They use live traps, and release them after sample collection.

After the traps were set, our work was done for the night. We had to wait until the early hours of the morning to see if we were successful. We went back to the beach to get settled for the night, and have a ‘seafood party’. Which sounded great.

I wasn’t exactly sure what that would involve, but was not disappointed. We sat on the back of a pick-up watching fish cook over the fire with a cold beer in hand. It just happened to be Brett’s birthday as well. Not a bad way to start a new year if you ask me. The fish was delicious, and the view wasn’t bad either. Squid fishing boats lit up the horizon with powerful lights to attract their prey. Some of my favourite nights have been spent around a crackling fire. The 80s music playing in the background added a certain something to the atmosphere.

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The accommodations were minimal, but all we needed. It was a short night, as we had to get up early and check our traps. We were unsuccessful in our trapping efforts. But we spent some time walking around looking for any signs of fishing cats. Or.. INVESTIGATING FISHING CAT FOOTPRINTS. The schedule didn’t lie. I have to admit that I was impressed.

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After a quick breakfast, we gathered our things and starting making our way back to the campus. I’ll admit to falling asleep on the ride back. I enjoy travelling this way. From one adventure to the next; always full of surprises. It can be exhausting at times, but a little whimsy never hurt anyone.

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Winding roads and poor suspension are starting to become the norm on these excursions. After putting my stomach to the test, and some questionable soup, we finally arrived at the village in question. We chatted with the chief regarding local pollution from an old mine upstream (a common theme), and the previous testing/interventions. A plan was made. We set off to collect our samples to ensure that the water the villagers use on a daily basis remains safe. It was an interesting project, and I am anxious to see the results.

One of our stops involved collecting water samples from a small school. I managed to scare some children, who stared at me with wide eyes. On occasion I have been the first westerner that people have seen, so I always try to keep that in mind when I am in rural areas. I try to appear as friendly as possible. While I do not normally think of myself as an intimidating person, I have terrified a few children in my day. I waved at a few of the braver ones who peered at me from behind a door. They quickly ducked back inside. We managed to make a game of this. They would stare at me when I wasn’t looking, and then give a smile and timid wave in response to mine, before ducking back inside again. They were adorable.

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After sample collection was complete, we made the long trek back to campus.

Saturday was a tourist day. We planned to visit a waterfall, which I was pretty excited about in the heat. While we were on the way, they casually pointed out some elephants. To which the only appropriate response is “UGHHAHAHHH”. Our reaction was so immediate and loud that they decided they should probably stop and let us see them. It was a camp for tourists to go to spend time with elephants. Our new friends are the veterinarians that treat the magnificent creatures who live there. Normally I wouldn’t support a tourist endeavour like that, but they assured us that the elephants there are treated humanely and always seek veterinary care when needed. We said hi to some wonderful elephants, and even one baby.

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After the excitement, we did head over to the waterfall. It was beautiful, but involved venturing through the forest a little ways. In flip flops. There were many little fish in the water who want to nibble your toes, which I did not appreciate. And some very large fish that I was hoping would not try. While moving from one area of the waterfall to another, I suddenly noticed a large creature also taking a relaxing dip. A large water monitor appeared moving masterfully through the water. I asked if it was dangerous, but they are just scavengers who don’t pay that much attention to people.

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We moved to a different area of the waterfall, with more people and I went for a swim. Or, was pushed into the water I should say and made the best of it. I tried to stand up near the waterfall, but mischievous little fishes kept biting my toes. Nope. A whole lot of nope. I kept swimming for a little to ward them off but decided I should probably just get out of the water. I was impressed with those willing to frolic with the little creatures.

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After hanging out near the water for a while, and having some random guy asking to take a photo with me, we set off for a late lunch. This is my “Brett pushed me in the water” face.

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When we returned to the campus we were taken on a tour of the wildlife rehab centre. It was interesting to see the animals staying there, and make some new friends. A sun bear cub was particularly interested in us, and kept trying to lick us through the fence.

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Earlier in the week we had heard about two pangolins who were staying in the hospital. I had never seen one up close before, and truthfully do not know much about them other than that they can carry leprosy.  Though, we were told that these two in particular were leprosy free. Excellent. They are nocturnal, so I did not get a good photo, but they were wonderful little sleepy coats of armour.

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It was a sad goodbye to our new friends at the rural campus as we left to go back to the main campus. But it is a new week with new adventures. With the beloved Mr. X once again at the helm, I can’t wait to see what we get up to next.

The Border To Nowhere

Spoiler alert: Thailand is very hot. Which makes hiking probably not the best idea. But that didn’t stop our research team from stumbling through the jungle for samples. We followed our guide who would hack our way through, and had a gun on his back ‘just in case’. In case of what, I am unsure. But I didn’t want to find out. And yes, I will say it. All in the name of science. The jungle was beautiful, but I was being slow roasted. Which meant that in about eight hours I would be nice and tender. Which is not how I planned on spending the rest of my day. Though somehow I survived, with a new appreciation of saunas.

After that project was complete and we had a night to recover, we were whisked off to a far off land. By that I mean we went to the border of Thailand and Myanmar.

We attempted to cross the border, but were told ‘foreigners aren’t allowed’ by some officials. Which was rather disappointing, but we sauntered through the border market instead. Some clay was put on my face in a pattern that from what I understand makes your skin soft? Most of the local women around had this as well, so I felt pretty cool.

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After making some touristy purchases, and visiting a local restaurant where you sat on the floor, they told us we were going on a boat ride. I did not realize how tiny the boat would be, but it was quite the experience. We darted through the river, around half sunken trees and fellow boaters. We traveled over the remains of an old town, now flooded as a result of a dam. Parts can only been seen in the dry season. It was very beautiful. We saw temples overpowered by nature, and even an old hospital that was definitely haunted.

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We found a vendor selling small fish and turtles to be released by people who want to collect good karma. However, apparently they just go catch them and sell the opportunity to some other passerby. On our way out with the boat we noticed a child doing exactly that.

The boat tour was a great way to see the area; which was wonderful, and the people were very friendly.

After some further discussion about the next case, and a few village-wide power outages, we went to bed. But only for a short time, as there was much work to be done. We had an early morning adventure to give offerings of food to monks. I had heard of these practices, and was very excited to take part for myself. We were dressed in traditional clothes, and I had the same clay put on my face. The monks walked down the hill and collected offerings from everyone in a very systematic manner. giving it to men with baskets to carry. This is done every morning and afternoon.

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I watched a lot of documentaries as a child, and continue to do so now. Sometimes I get to go to the amazing places, and do the amazing things that I watched as a kid. This was one of those moments. I am truly grateful for all that I have experienced in life, even if it occasionally involves hiking up the side of a mountain in 40 degree weather. I get to work with my passions and live my dreams. What else could you ask for?

The Jungle Never Sleeps

I never imagined myself camping in a jungle before. And even if I did, I’m sure it would not have been an accurate depiction of what it’s like.

We started off by meeting some vets and travelling to the rural campus for the university. We stopped at the bridge over the river Kwai along the way, and the related prisoner of war cemetery. Which is quite a somber story for those who are unfamiliar with it.

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Upon arrival at the campus we had some evening discussions on ecohealth and the troubles of a local mining area. The local vets are hoping to have the old mining area classified as a protected area for wildlife, but a study has to be conducted first on if the area is actually safe for the animals to use. We worked with the local vets to design a study to test for known contaminants of the mining activity.

That all sounds great, but the study involved us going to the mining area for one night, which ended up being an eight hour adventure through the jungle, periodically stopping to wield machetes at whatever the elephants had knocked into our path during the previous nights. Yes, elephants.

During one particular machete event, I was helping to move a log out of the path when I was pulled back as one of the vets yelled “Scorpion!”. Oh good. Once we were back in the poorly suspended pick-up truck I asked her if they were dangerous. She replied, “If you don’t touch them, they are not dangerous.” Well, she has a point.

We finally arrived at our destination. An old Buddhist camp. They set up small tents for us in the structure and we proceeded to make dinner.

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In Canada that would have consisted of hot dogs and smores. Not in Thailand. We started cooking a full meal of rice, pork and egg tofu soup, and fish over a propane stove. But wait, SOMEONE FORGOT THE RICE. We noticed some of our jungle compatriots were gone part way through cooking, and it turns out they had gone back for the rice. I knew that it would not be the full eight hours since the place we got supplies was an hour in and the jungle road was now clear of elephant shenanigans; however, I did not believe their hour and a half estimation.

It was four hours.

Meanwhile, showering facilities at this camp did not exist. There was a small pond nearby, but I was a bit suspicious that it also contained contaminants from the mine. Even though it was disgustingly hot, that did not seem appealing. All during camp preparations we could hear thunder in the distance, teasing us with the possibility of rain. During our four hour wait for the rice the rain finally came. It is monsoon season after all. We saw an opportunity, and we took it. We grabbed our bathing suits and had a lovely shower thanks to mother nature. It was cold, but refreshing and contributed to the little sleep that I did manage to get.

During that four hours it was not conceivable that we should eat the meal without rice. However, we did have some snacks and see a lovely firefly display while waiting, which was rather adorable. This improved with shots of whiskey as we finally watched the long awaited rice cook over the fire.

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As for the sleeping part, I woke up many times with thoughts of leopards, elephants, monkeys, snakes and other creatures that roam the jungle. But the intense blackness of absolutely zero light pollution cloaked whatever happened to investigate us. I was able to remove them from my mind with the false sense of security the tent walls gave me. I was grateful to be inclosed as we were originally told we would be sleeping in hammocks. I couldn’t help but imagine myself as a tasty soft shell taco hanging from the trees for whatever curious creature that happened to saunter by. Knowing that was the alternative, I was quite content in my little tent.

It was an interesting camping experience to say the least. One I probably will never have again. Though if I do, next time I will make sure we have the rice.

The Mysterious Mr. X

*Poof* just like that graduation is over and now the ‘real world’ begins. It was a magical weekend filled with family, friends, wine, and the occasional public sobbing. It is hard to say goodbye to a life built with amazing people; but the next adventure is just around the corner. Or in my case, it has already begun.

Casual update: I am in Thailand. It is somewhat appropriate that Thailand was my first international experience as a vet student, and now as veterinarian. Gosh. How time flies. I was asked to come here for two weeks where I am taking part in a new ‘Ecosystem Health’ exchange program to enjoy it for my own benefit, and to assist with the research and adapting it to become an annual event. I am travelling with a final year vet student. After the scheduled two weeks, we are going to volunteer at an elephant rescue for a week. Because why the heck not?

The travel was surprisingly hassle free, and I basically woke up on the other side of the world with the occasional wake-up by strangers who fed me. I can’t really complain. All this travel has made me really good at falling asleep in strange places. A skill I relish. Though it did make arriving at 1:00am rather difficult, and I spent a good portion of the night staring at the ceiling and listening to the raging thunderstorm that was going on outside.

As for the accommodations for the first night, well.. let’s just say it started off with a mildly sketchy appearance and ended with us being shown the smallest of rooms with one bed no larger than a double. Um. Oh boy. We eventually got it sorted out, but my travel companion and I confused the manager who didn’t understand why a male and female would request separate beds. I am not sure ‘just friends’ translated appropriately.

Our ride to the university campus arrived promptly at 11:00am with a driver who did not speak but handed us a letter. It was from one of our hosts who could not be there to greet us but informed the driver where to take us and how to show us to our rooms on campus. Sure, why not. Though in the letter he was referred to as Mr. X and I still have the urge to know his origin story.

The drive was wonderfully familiar. Bangkok is a strange mix of extravagant buildings, decaying apartment complexes, and road-side stands, with a few religious statues scattered in between.

Once Mr. X brought us to the campus, we were given key cards and led to dorm rooms. Though strangely mine has three beds and Brett’s just has two mattresses on the floor. There was also a lovely welcome basket waiting for us with odd looking snacks and seaweed flavoured chips. Adorable.

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After we settled in we were taken out for lunch by one of the veterinarians we will be working with, who I met back in September back on PEI, and one of the people who had been corresponding with us from the administrative side. They are very kind and tried to feed us as much food as humanly possible. I am not sure I will ever be hungry again. Though just in case, they made us stock up on many snacks for our upcoming trip to the rural campus. While shopping we noticed a pig carcass being butchered in the middle of the produce section. No one else seemed alarmed by this.

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Tomorrow we have a ‘toxicology lecture/lab’ of some sort and will be travelling to the rural campus. Perhaps Mr. X will once again grace us with his presence.

According to the schedule, while at the rural campus we are going to, “prepare field equipment and personal belongings to stay overnight in the forest”. Oh good. I was worried I would have a bed the whole time. While camping in Thailand was not really on my list of things to do, I remain hopeful that it is some form of cabin.. maybe? I guess we will find out. Adventure is out there! Right?

Limbo: An awkward game, and an even more awkward phase

Well, I am no longer a veterinary student. But I am not quite a vet either. I am in that weird phase between completion and graduation. The impostor syndrome is strong, and I will probably not feel comfortable introducing myself as “Doctor” for quite some time.

In other news I was accepted in my program to London, England and now I am about to spend the next year of my life adventuring through Europe and perusing my dream career in OneHealth. I consider myself pretty lucky. In honour of no longer being a “vet student” I would like to share some of the unexpected things that I have learned along the way.  I am sure that my classmates would agree that this experience was not so much an educational program, as it was an immersive experience that did not let us experience much else. Shall I begin?

  1. Many people do not have an understanding of what veterinary medicine actually is. “Animals get that disease too?” “Oh, you call them patients?” “Wait, it’s almost like you are in medical school”. Only a few of the comments I have received over the years. Yes, we do medicine. Yes, it involves diagnostics tests and a breadth of knowledge and training to know both which ones to conduct and how to interpret them. Every species is different and we have to learn about them all. And before you even ask, yes we have ALL been shoulder deep in a cow’s ass. Yes, it was warm, and a surprisingly useful diagnostic procedure. No, we do not make a whole bunch of money off treating your animals, but we do all have scars from the sassy ones.
  2. Hospital workers are strangely superstitious. I believe this goes for human and animal medicine alike. Never underestimate the power of a full moon or nonchalantly muttering the words “quiet” or “slow”. Do not tempt a vein by talking about how great it looks, or by refusing to grab that second needle ‘just in case’. We all have our tricks not to tempt fate while being on call, though they rarely work. And don’t even get me started on patients who are birthday gifts for adorable children, or anyone named ‘Lucky’.
  3. Every animal comes with a human attached (unfortunately). If you are like me, dealing with people can be awkward and exhausting. Navigating the social constructs of an appointment and instilling confidence in an owner when you look like a “little girl doctor” as I have once been called, is tricky. Owners can range from the kind that hug you and make you want to cry with their kindness, to the kind that get upset with you for something you have no control over. They can make you love the profession and make you reconsider why you wanted it so badly in the first place. They can break you heart with their tears and heartfelt stories as they watch their best friend pass, and show you true evil in cases of neglect. The animals I can handle. It’s the people I am cautious about.
  4. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. Ask anyone in the profession and they will tell you about the messages they have received from people they barely know seeking advice, or endless questions at parties. For the most part, we do not mind, but if you seek advice please listen to it. That seems to be a collective pet peeve (note the animal related pun). Long hours are an understatement for anyone working in an internship or experiencing high volume patient care scenarios. I just finished a three week experience in small animal medicine where I was in the hospital late each day, and either scheduled to be in hospital, or called in during the nights. I hardly survived three weeks and people agree to that for a year, or more depending on their specialty. I have an immense amount of respect for these people. We live and breath animal health. Yes, it is exhausting, but it is what we choose to do.
  5. A support system is key. Last, but definitely not least. In any stressful situation, having people to rely on can make all the difference. I am very lucky to have people who look after me, and I would do the same for them. Asking someone how they are, offering to bring coffee, or even just a hug can be a welcome act of kindness in a crazy day. We see a lot of sad cases, and sometimes just need to vent. It is impossible not to take work home when you have those adorable little faces relying on you. Even if we have trouble asking for help, there are times when we all need it. I will be forever grateful for my support system as I know that I would not have come as far without them.

In closing, we are all a little crazy to agree to do this forever, but here we are waiting for that coveted white coat in a few weeks time. I am very honoured to join this profession, and even though I struggled though parts of it I would not change my vet school experience for anything.

What’s next you may ask? First, London. Then? The world ;).

A Classic Origin Story

“You did it, you got in.” my mother whispered into the phone amidst tears. I sat in silence and disbelief. She had received my veterinary school acceptance letter since I was busy living in a rather tiny log cabin for two month in Newfoundland working with bat social behaviour.

“They want me.” I confirmed to myself. In that moment all my work had been worth it. The endless volunteering and studying to make myself the ideal candidate. Spending three months in China to make myself stand out. For years all I wanted was to hear those words. “Once I get in, things will be easier. ” I thought. “I will just be so excited to learn about everything that it won’t even feel like work.” Well, I lied.

First year hit me like a brick wall.

In my rush to get accepted, I never stopped to think about being ‘ready’. While much of the first year was review for many of my classmates, I was bombarded with an insurmountable quantity of information, to the likes of which my 21-year-old self had never imagined. I fought, hard. After dealing with some serious ‘impostor syndrome’; somehow I survived.

If you asked me what I wanted to end up doing when I first arrived, I would have told you that I wanted to practice mixed animal medicine. I quickly realized that was not for me. What am I supposed to do if I don’t like clinical medicine? I worked so hard for this, what if I don’t like it? At first I didn’t know what to do. “Just keep going.” I told myself. I thought there was no other option, if I wasn’t a vet, what else would I even do?

At first I felt very alone in this confusion. I was watching my classmates get very excited about things I had no desire to do. Maybe it will get better. I shook it off and persisted.

In January of that year I attended a conference that for lack of a better expression, ‘rocked my world’. I attended a lecture on “Bioterrorism: A New Frontier in Veterinary Medicine” . I sat in awe as a man explained how human, animal and environmental health is all connected, and in order to have one be sustained, you must consider all. He spoke of disease outbreaks and how teams worked to stop them, or even prevent them. My mind was blown.

After the talk I approached him like a nervous child getting ready to ask the mall Santa for their deepest desires. He could be a creepy guy with a fake beard and dismiss me, or he could be the real deal and help me do what I decided in the past hour was my life goal. Luckily, he was willing to talk and actually ended up helping me get a job the summer after second year. Thanks Santa.

After that talk I have been somewhat forcefully involving myself in the fabulous field of ‘OneHealth’. Some people realize their calling early on, and others, like myself, realize it in a creaky conference hall.

What have I learned from all this? If you are unhappy, change something. Which can cover many aspects of life, and of course comes with limitations. Don’t feel trapped because of previous decisions. Desires can change like the tide, slowly and peacefully as to leave beach goers undisturbed, or like a rapid tidal bore that tourists will pay to ride. Don’t fear it. Maybe it will take you somewhere great.

As for me? It has taken me to apply for a MSc of OneHealth following graduation from vet school. After that? Who knows. Will I even get in? Stay tuned!