Sunday, January 25, 2015

Everybody poops. And pees.

It's the end of another exciting week! Here's the exciting highlights! They're exciting! And gross!

Week 2 Journal Entry: January 19-25, 2015

This week at my clinic was all about bodily fluids. I have long since accepted that my job will never make me rich or famous, it isn’t glamorous, and I often go home and my dog plays the, “what’s that smell?” game. In my last entry, I talked about discussing parasites with clients, namely heartworms. This week, I had ample opportunity to perfect my fecal flotation technique.
Sometimes it’s easy: a client suspects they see worms so they bring in a sample. Other times, it’s not so straightforward. A patient comes in with diarrhea and the doctors of course want a fecal sample to analyze. Of course, no one has advised the client to bring one in, so we have to get it ourselves. Enter the fecal loop. 

Bend over!

I enter the exam room or take the dog (or cat) back into treatment with the fecal loop, a tool about twelve inches long with a tapered end with keyholes in them, apply sterile lube, and insert it into the rectum. I twist the loop gently and pull it out hoping to have enough sample to run a test. If I do, I then take the sample to the lab and retrieve a Stat OvaTube. I put the sample in the tube and fill it halfway with Fecasol, stir it, add the topper, and fill all the way with the Fecasol. I then place the tube in the centrifuge for 5 minutes, twist down the topper, place a microscope coverslip on top, and set a timer for 3 minutes. I then examine the sample under the microscope for parasite eggs. When I first started working, I had to consult the staff or books to identify anything unusual, but now I can quickly identify roundworms, hookworms, and coccidia under the microscope and tapeworms in fecal samples.

You can't imagine how sad it is to examine unexciting poop.

I’m also learning what to look for in urinalysis. We collect urine in several ways: free catch, cystocentesis, or urinary catheter. I then take the urine to the lab area and grab the refractometer, a Stat Spin tube, and a urine dipstick. I put one drop onto the refractometer to find the specific gravity and a drop on each square of the test strip. I then put the rest in a tube and spin it in the centrifuge. I record the findings on a sticker noting the specific gravity, pH, and the presence of bilirubin, urobilinogen, nitrates, ketones, blood, glucose, leukocytes, and protein. After the urine is spun, I pour off the urine and put a drop of stain into the tube and mix it with the sediment before putting it on a microscope slide. The staff are teaching me what to look for in the urine, such as WBCs, rods, bacteria, and the other day I found crystals! 

Refractometer and dipsticks: if not for a physician in 1797 saying, "I need an easier, faster way to test urine," we might not have these tools today.

I’m very fortunate to work with doctors and staff that challenge me. The other day, the veterinarian gave me a pop quiz, which she often does.
“Hey, Mandy. I have a 25lb dog that comes in having trouble breathing. It’s turning blue, but it still has a pulse. What would you get for me?”
It’s a little scary being put on the spot, but I know she’s testing me not only to see what I know, but to educate me on what I don’t. My first response was that I would get her an ET tube and the oxygen machine. She agreed and then asked what drugs I would give her and where they were. I said I didn’t know. She didn’t either! (Note: she’s a newer doctor at the clinic). The technician showed us the Crash Kit in the surgery room and the doctor explained the drugs inside and when and how I should give them. It was a great learning experience and it gave me confidence if I was ever in a situation where the doctor had an emergency and I was the only one available to help. It was applicable because we had a patient in the hospital having trouble breathing, and I just learned about a medication I had never filled before that was a bronchodilator.

As always, I was reminded this week that no matter what happens, don’t forget to have fun. A dog that was very dear to a staff member was brought in to be euthanized and the mood was somewhat bleak. Then a shaggy border collie came in that had some mats that needed to be brushed out and shaved. The technician shaved off a big mat off the dog’s tail, and she observed that it looked like a troll doll. She ended up dressing it up and turning it into the clinic mascot. If I can end every day at my job with a good laugh, I believe I can do this job forever!

I think we ended up naming it Troll Michaels. 



Sunday, January 18, 2015

It's gross and it's wonderful.

My life, that is! Oh, man, I'm not even sure where to start. I'm entering my second semester of the Veterinary Technology program at St. Petersburg College and it's exciting and stressful while also amazing. I ended last semester with straight A's! Woot! No pressure...I'm so thankful for this period in my life. My kids are healthy and happy, and so am I. While I have seen sadness and had heartaches, every step of this journey has been worth it. I know this blog has been sadly neglected, but I am sure whoever is out there reading will forgive me the life I am living.
Have I mentioned recently how much I love my job? It feels so wonderful to say that after so many years of dreading going to work. I love being a veterinary assistant at Bayshore Animal Hospital. The people and animals are awesome and I'm learning so much being there. It's really helpful working in an environment you're studying. Applying real life to my studies and vice versa has made an incredible difference in the ability to retain information and do well on exams in addition to allowing me to succeed in my job. Every day when I get up for work I go:

One of my classes is a work practicum class where I have to journal my work experience for that week. I thought, how awesome would that be for the blog? Two birds, one stone, boom! So, here is week 1, with illustrations for your visual pleasure and because I like to be as gross as possible. My job is so awesome :)

Journal Entry #1: January 12-January 18, 2015

My time at work is busy, often stressful, and sometimes events jumble so much I can’t remember what happened when. I am a veterinary assistant at Bayshore Animal Hospital in NW Oregon. Our practice has three veterinarians, four technicians, and three assistants as well as three receptionists and a kennel technician working with an average of 30 clients daily, and this doesn’t include the work we do for the local animal shelter. We mainly see cats and dogs with the occasional pocket pet. Our days begin with checking in the drop offs, which are animals scheduled for surgical procedures, sedation, or sick patients needing in hospital exams and care. During rounds, we explain and plan the day's cases and establish teams, which consists of a doctor, a technician, and an assistant. As an assistant, my job is to check in rooms, fill prescriptions, restrain for procedures, and the list goes on!

Our practice is currently working to go paperless, so even though we still have files, much of what we do is centered around the computer system, Avimark. It took some time for me to navigate this system having never worked with medical charts or programs before. We can schedule, put in charges, make estimates and drug labels, follow-up with patients, see lab work, clock in, and I’m still learning all this program can do. The first thing I do when I walk into an appointment is to login to Avimark and open up the patient file. I then put in charges that I know will occur before the doctor even walks into the room. Some things were easy, such as exams and scheduled vaccinations, but it took time and intuition before I was able to predict what else I knew would be charged. For example, if an animal was coming in to check the ears, I know the doctor will do an ear swab and slide and will charge for that. I also know to take an ear swab and prepare a slide, which makes less work for the doctor and saves time. After I enter charges, I go into the lobby and call the client in. I like to introduce myself as the assistant and explain that I’ll be taking vitals and a brief history because then the client doesn’t get confused as to why I’m not performing a full exam. I’ve had clients think I’m the vet and then wonder why I’m not going more in depth with the patient! I weigh the pet then TPR them, that is I take the heart rate, respiration rate, and temperature. I then take a brief history of the complaint if there is one and ask general health questions such as if the pet is eating/drinking, any vomiting/diarrhea, are they on any medications, and so on. I then inform the vet of who is there, what room they are in, why they are here, and if I have prepared any slides whether it’s an ear/skin swab, fecal, or urinalysis. I also draw up vaccinations and place them in the room for the vet.

As an assistant I am not authorized to dispense medical advice, but I can educate clients on products and services we offer, vaccination protocols, and preventative care. One of the main issues I educate clients about is flea and worming. We had a client bring her dog in for an exam that she had adopted from the local shelter. We had previously treated the dog for heartworms and it was having a recheck appointment. The owner had many questions about heartworms, what to do if the test was again positive, and what she should do to prevent her dog from getting heartworms again. I explained that heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, which inject the larva into the host and the worms mature in the heart and lungs. I explained that we recommend Heartgard as a preventative against heartworms as well as roundworms and hookworms. I later explained to another client that we often recommend worming cats and dogs who have fleas because they often ingest the fleas while scratching and then develop tapeworms.

Just be thankful I didn't post a picture of worms bursting out of an overloaded heart. This shiz is nasty, folks. 

One of the biggest challenges I face is venipuncture. I think I stress unnecessarily because I want very much to excel. I feel I'm improving when drawing from a jugular, but I struggle when drawing from the cephalic vein. We brought the above mentioned dog back to treatment for her heartworm SNAP test, and the technician handed me the needle. I have been lucky to work with people who have been really supportive in helping me practice procedures and helping me learn, but I was nervous! I told her I had trouble drawing from the leg, and she gave me a few pointers as far as needle position, and I hit the vein on the first try! I got my sample, prepared the test, and set it in our lab machine that runs CBCs, chemistries, and SNAP tests. Thankfully, the test was negative!

This sight terrifies me. Hit that vein, Mandy! No pressure!

One thing I do a lot of as an assistant is clean and treat ears. We use a product called EpiOtic to wash the ears and then use cotton to clean away any debris. We are careful not to use cotton swabs except around the pinna so we don’t ulcerate the inner ear and potentially puncture the eardrum. A medication we use often is the EKT ointment, which is a thick ointment when warm and then solidifies in the ear. It releases medication over a period of two weeks and treats a variety of ear infections. We use it quite frequently and the clients like that they don’t have to do daily medications and weekly cleanings.

I love that my job challenges me and that every day I learn and see something new. The other day, the receptionist said we had a drop off coming in that was a cat with rapid, shallow breathing. The other assistant, who is also going to school to be a technician, and I decided to bet on the diagnosis. She quickly theorized a heart condition and I said it was fluid in the thoracic cavity. The cat came in and it was clearly having difficulty breathing. An x-ray was taken, and sure enough, there was so much fluid in the chest you couldn’t see the heart! I felt bad for the poor cat, but excited to have guessed the correct diagnosis! I have learned that in working in a field that can oftentimes be incredibly depressing, one has to find humor and joy anywhere you can, even if it seems callous. 

Normal cat chest x-ray. Notice you can see the organ structures.

X-ray of the cat with pleural effusion (fluid in the chest cavity). 

helped the technician prep the cat for a thoracocentesis, which involved shaving a 4x4 square on each side of the chest over the last few ribs. We then sterilized the area as if preparing for surgery, and the doctor put a needle between the ribs and started drawing off fluid with a 20cc syringe. 

This is how we do.

The fluid was purulent, and the doctor said that was the best scenario for treatment. If it was red or yellow, it could have signaled a big problem. After drawing off more than 320ml of fluid, the cat was breathing much better. It was incredible! The cat came in weighing 12lb 5oz and left weighing 11lb 5oz. It lost a pound of fluid! The doctor had me take some of the fluid for analysis on our CBC machine, which was fun because I had only run blood on the machine before. In fact, no one else had run anything other than blood either, so I demonstrated in front of the other assistants what settings to change and then we looked at the printed results together. Later, the doctor wanted me to prepare fluid for a send out to an outside lab, and the other assistant and never prepared pleural fluid before either or requested the specific tests, so we learned together how to fill out the paperwork and she taught me how to put charges in the computer for labs that weren’t listed. It was a very informative day!

One of my favorite aspects of my job is being held solely responsible for the care and treatment of cases. It makes me feel good that I am trusted enough not only to carry out the tasks, but to ask questions and communicate concerns to the certified staff. This is especially rewarding when I perform the discharge for that patient later as I know every aspect of the care they received, can explain the medications they are going home with, answer questions, and feel that I have established a personal relationship with the client through their pet. It’s very rewarding when a client sees me and remembers my name and smiles because of the care I gave to their pet and the help I gave them. I always said I wanted to work with animals because I’m not very good with people, but I’ve learned that the people skills are just as important because they own the pets and their pets are their family. Building a trusting relationship with the owners means a great deal to me, and I’m trying to do that through respect, care, and attentiveness. Every day I go home and no matter what happened that day, I love my job!



Sunday, August 24, 2014

It followed me home!

It was a beautiful, sunny day perfect for a hike, so Rick and I took all the kids into Ilwaco at the base of the Discovery Trail and prepared to wear the little devils out. With a couple bags of snacks and healthy energies, we set out to enjoy nature and some exercise. Aside from a few minor incidents, the hike was uneventful, until all four kids stopped behind us and declared, "We hear meowing!" Rick and I looked at each other and said, "I hear it, too." So, I started calling out, "Here kitty, kitty, kitty," as I walked along the treeline and sure enough, two little faces poked out of the bushes. We crouched down so we wouldn't scare them and I tentatively reached out my hand to touch them. To my surprise, they were friendly, which is not typical feral cat behavior. We had to conclude that these kittens were used to people and were most likely dumped in the area. I looked up at Rick and said, "You know what I'm going to do, right?" and I picked the little ones up. We emptied the snacks into one bag and put them in the other. (Please note: this was a highly permeable cinching bag, so they were able to breath comfortably. In case you were worried about that.)
So, what do you do if you find kittens in the woods? The obvious answer would be to take them to a local shelter where they can be cared for and re-homed. In our case, this was a Sunday, and the shelter would not be open until Tuesday. If you're faced with a similar dilemma, here are some tips for caring for stray kittens:

1. Limit your contact. Since you don't know where they came from, you don't know what they were exposed to. Besides worms and fleas, there isn't anything they could give to people that would be worrisome so much as what they could give to your other pets. I have two cats at home, and I didn't want them to contract one of two highly contagious diseases: feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). FIV is spread through bite wounds and prevents the body from fighting off infections leading to severe illnesses. An infected cat, with proper care and management, has the possibility to live for many months or years. FeLV is spread by saliva and nasal secretions and kittens can contract it in utero from their infected mother. The immunosuppression caused by the virus eventually leads to the virus infecting all body systems and predisposing them to a variety of infections. Less than 20% of cats diagnosed with FeLV live more than three years. There is no cure for either virus.
There is a preventative vaccination for both FIV and FeLV as well as a simple blood test to determine if they're infected. I would have to wait until Monday morning when work opened, so for the evening we set them up with food and water and a heater in the shop.

2. Check for hydration. This is done by a simple pinch test. Gently pinch the skin and release. If it springs back quickly, the cat is well hydrated. If it sinks back slowly or tents, the cat is dehydrated and will need fluids.
Performing the pinch test. 












Notice how the skin on this cat has remained "tented" after letting go of the skin? This cat is dehydrated and should receive fluids immediately.








Luckily, our kittens were only mildly dehydrated, so in that case I purchased some Pedialyte for them to drink that night. I mixed it with a little bit of turkey baby food and they scarfed it up! 

3. Check the mucous membranes. Lift up the lips and check the color of the gums. Are they slick or sticky? The gums tell us a lot about the health of an animal, but the main concern you will have is anemia. 
These are healthy gums. They are pink and shiny. 
These gums are pale, a sign that the cat has depleted blood cells. 
Our kittens' gums were a little pale, which wasn't surprising because they were covered in fleas. 

4. Check for injuries including bite wounds and broken limbs. Thankfully, our kittens had neither. If you find an injured kitten, take them to the vet immediately! If your regular vet is closed, they will often have the number for an emergency hospital or a vet on call. Also, do you notice sneezing or weepy eyes? This is evidence of an upper respiratory infection common in cats and it requires medication. Our kittens, one in particular, unfortunately were sick.

5. Keep them warm and secure. Since there was no rush to get them to a vet that night, we made sure the kittens had food and water, towels to snuggle in, and a heater to keep them warm. I kept them in a large carrier. Remember to keep them away from your other cats to prevent the transmission of diseases and parasites! 

6. Does the kitten need to be bottle fed or can it eat solids? Definitely something to consider if you find an orphaned kitten. This is great guide to tell how old a kitten is, but here's a quick version: 

Eyes closed until about 7-10 days old and cannot walk. This kitten is a newborn and needs a milk replacement such as KMR.  
At 2 weeks old, the eyes are open but the ears are floppy. Wobbly as she moves around and beginning to grow teeth. This kitten is still nursing.
This 3 week old kitten is reacting to noises and beginning to explore. At this age, they still need milk, but at about 4 weeks when kittens are steadier on their feet, they can begin to try solid foods. 
At 5 weeks old, kittens are playful and have pre-molars. They will lap from a dish and learn to use a litter box by watching mom/other cats. 
At 6-7 weeks old, a kitten's eye color will change from its original blue (unless you have a blue-eyed kitten!). They will be very active and have all their baby teeth. They will weigh around 1.5-2lbs. 
Kittens are generally weaned around 6-8 weeks of age. If you find an active kitten weighing around 2 pounds with all its teeth, you're safe to feed it solids. Start with soft food to be sure. As I stated earlier, I mixed Pedialyte with turkey baby food, but if you have access to it, mix a little milk replacement with canned Science Diet a/d. Offer dry kitten food. I suggest free feeding them.

We determined that our kittens were around 6-7 weeks old, so it was okay to feed them solids. We also checked and discovered they were both girls! 

The next day, we took the kittens to the vet for their all important FeLV/FIV test!
All it requires is 3 drops of blood and 10 minutes! 
The only dot you want to show up is the positive control. Even a smidgen of another dot indicates a positive result for FeLV or FIV. 
The kittens were pretty good for their blood draw and after 10 minutes, their results looked like this! Negative! 

After we determined the kittens, named Sarah and Sparkles by the kids, were negative for FeLV and FIV, they were given topical flea medication and dewormed. They were also checked out by the vet and prescribed antibiotics for the URIs. Once we gave the flea treatment 24 hours to absorb into their bodies, we gave the kittens baths and trimmed their nails. A week later, they are happy, bounding kittens that are almost done with their meds and fully litter trained! 

I hope this post helps if you find yourself in a similar situation! Remember, knowledge is power!

And I know you're probably wondering if we'll keep the kittens. The answer is no. We're going to find homes for them. I swear...
Sarah (l) and Sparkles (r) spend all day (and night *grumble*) playing. The little darlings are sweet and affectionate and super fun to watch romp!







Saturday, August 2, 2014

Look for me on the Evening News

For the past several months, Evie has been BEGGING me for a ferret to the point of tears, as if acquiring one is a life goal on par with the Holy Grail or the cure to cancer. The fuzzy cuteness of these weasels literally brings her to tears, and I mean that LITERALLY. They're so cute they make her cry. She's been trying to prove her worthiness of pet ownership by feeding Ranger and the cats as well as feeding and watering Cuddles the bunny. She's doing a great job and I appreciate her help, but at the end of every day (and sometimes about 100 times a day), she asks, "When can I get a ferret?" I tell her I don't know, that we need to wait until she's a little older, that we're busy, to enjoy the pets she has now, and any number of delaying tactics in the Mommy Arsenal of Excuses. Mind you, this is difficult for me because given the chance, my house could easily become this:
Except the animals would be alive and they would be sleeping in my bed.

No excuse will deter Evie, and now Roman has joined the "We want ferrets! When do we want them? Now!" team. So, in order to hold them off and buy some time, I made this:


How this works is I have a bowl full of pretty stones and whenever Evie and Roman have a great day of helping, listening, and behaving, they put a stone in the jar. When all the stones are in the jar, a ferret has been earned. This doesn't mean we'll get one that day, but it's a guarantee that a ferret is coming. This scheme is almost as good as threatening no presents from Santa at Christmas. If the kids threaten to misbehave, all I have to do is remind them that their "ferret treasure" is on the line and they straighten out. I'm not gonna lie, when Roman entered the game, I added more stones to the bowl. The end result is a happy Mommy and two very excited kids full of anticipation. Honestly, I'd like to have a ferret, too, but I think the person most excited about the ferret jar is Rick. He's been a bit of an animal enabler because he's always wanted a ferret, too. 

I think I'm in big trouble. 

We were at the county fair the other day and they had a petting zoo with the usual goats, alpacas, pony, and a mama guinea pig with babies (that Evie said I nearly pooped my pants over, which was true because they were SO CUTE!!), but they also had one of these:

Patagonian Cavy: a deer-like guinea pig cousin that's 18-35 lbs of soft adorbs. 

It was friendly and quiet and Rick declared he liked it and wanted one. My brain interprets that as, "If you love me, you will give me that rodent birthed from bunny fur and kitten smiles." Thank goodness my credit card is basically maxed out because I totally found an exotic breeder online and Rick almost came home to one. I did send him the link, though, which earned me a "You're the best girlfriend ever." I felt it my duty to warn him.

DO NOT GO DOWN THIS ROAD WITH ME!! If you say, "Hey, a guinea pig cage would fit here," one day you'll come home and there will be a murtherfurken guinea pig there. I'm very easily persuaded to bring pets home. I told him if I have free reign to acquire animals, one day I will have a petting zoo. It doesn't help that he sends me pictures of adorable baby animals every day...the man likes to play with fire. Inevitably, I'll end up in one of those exposes on animal hoarding. Except I actually take care of my animals, so it will more likely be a story about the crazy lady with a giraffe in her yard and a capybara watching t.v. on the coach next to the ferret while the dog and cats sleep in their beds. 

Sounds awesome :)



Thursday, July 17, 2014

All good things come to those who Google

The onset of the Internet occurred during my early childhood and the concept was vague and faintly magical like your first kiss or unicorns. Only the extravagantly rich could afford an Internet capable computer and our eyes would light up in wonder if we heard of anyone we knew connecting to this mysterious network that somehow took a regular phone line and turned it into search engines, encyclopedias, and a treasure trove of cat pictures. The Internet was way out of my lower middle class sphere and was filed away into the realm of unattainable possessions next to that pony I kept begging Mom for. I never lamented my lack of dial-up as it wasn't crucial to my existence. If I needed a phone number, I had a phone book. If I needed a reference, I used books. The Internet in it's infancy was little more than a toy with the added bonus of being able to send innocuous letters via e-mail instead of waiting three days to hear Aunt Sophie's hip surgery went swimmingly.

And suddenly, the Internet exploded into a superhighway of information. People began to realize how easy it was to send and receive news, research for study projects, and keep in touch with loved ones. Around the time dial-up took thirty seconds as opposed to three days to connect, my family was finally able to enjoy the soothing sounds of a computer reaching out through the phone lines to link up to the world, which was reminiscent of a fast paced game of pong being played under water projected through the speakers of a fast food drive-up. Even then, the Internet was relatively foreign to me. In school, we were encouraged to use it as a basic tool and to rely on books for facts as the information gleaned from the world wide web was generally untrustworthy. As I became a junior high and high school student, the Internet was a virtual cornucopia of knowledge, yet we were still dissuaded from using it as our only source. I recall researching papers and writing the bibliographies and being told that no more than two references were to be from online sources. Though it was blooming, the Internet was a secondary, if still unreliable, source, and I was still learning how to wade myself through it, to use it to it's full potential.

By the time I entered my first year of college, everything had changed. The Internet was slowly becoming the sole source of information from news to scientific papers to reference materials. Almost 90% of the research for classes was done online. Though my school had a fantastic library, I am ashamed to admit I rarely visited. What was the point? Everything I needed was at my fingertips, and all within easy reach. That bibliography? Mostly Internet sources. Using the Internet intelligently, cross checking facts and ascertaining the sources were reliable, the information could be considered trustworthy. And let's not forget everything could be found on the Internet, and thanks to DSL and wireless, it could be found fast! From registering for classes, to checking grades, to submitting homework, the Internet was integral to my on campus college experience.

Oh, how exciting! What happened next?!

I graduated. And with the advent of social media, I was constantly reminded that I passed over continuing my education and pursuing my dreams in order to live the domestic life. The Internet became a source of "what might have been" and "look what such-in-such is doing with their life" and "oh, hey, look! Another friend going back to school." It was a depression only an endless stream of cat videos could cure.

And then my world fell apart. My loveless marriage ended, and I had two small children and myself to support. I soon discovered a major drawback to living in a small town: no jobs. Or if there are jobs, you have to know someone. The Internet became my source of hope for finding an income. Nail biting day after day, I would search the want-ads, send resumes, go on interviews, and for months never get a call back. I was going gray trying to decide what to do, and I thought about my boyfriend going back to school and taking classes online. I was really excited for him, to the point where I wished it was me...and voila! Like the proverbial bolt of lightning, it struck me: GO BACK TO SCHOOL!

Yay! School! But for what? That question took me back to my earliest passions. What made me happy? Working with animals. What did I originally go to school for? To pursue a career in veterinary medicine. That left me with a conundrum. I wanted to study the veterinary field, but there were no colleges in my area offering those programs and I couldn't move. My only option was an online degree. Off to the Internet with a cup of tea and precious block of time I went, researching schools, comparing curriculum, tuition, graduation rates, and reviews. At one time, I believe there were twelve tabs open across the screen. Eventually, the choice was made, and while I still had the courage, I applied to the Associate's in Veterinary Technology program at St. Petersburg College. The website for the school was constantly open for reference to be sure I satisfied all the requirements to be accepted into the program and to communicate any questions. One of the happiest moments of my life (second to the births of my children, graduating with a bachelor's degree, going to Europe...okay it wasn't necessarily THE happiest moment, but it ranks in the top ten) was receiving my acceptance letter via e-mail!

That's when the work really began. It had been years, nine to be exact, that I had been in school, and I had never taken classes online. In order to adjust my schedule and brain to the student life, I enrolled in two classes on Coursera, a site of over 700 courses taught by accredited institutions and all for free! The classes were composed of video lectures, quizzes, and assignments all dependent on one's personal schedule and pace. Having to once again keep track of homework, "attending" lectures, and studying for tests was great practice for the real thing. Plus, I learned that my aging brain still has the capability of retaining information. Best of all, I remembered how big of a school nerd I am. It's true; I could be a professional student.

The next big role the Internet has played has been a resource for finding scholarships. When I was fresh out of high school and preparing to attend my first year of college, I don't think I worked quite this hard. When you're young, everything magically falls into place for you. Now I'm a grown-up and I have to fend for myself. Thankfully, the Internet has offered numerous opportunities to find the right scholarship for me thanks to sites such as Niche, FastWeb, and ScholarshipPoints, all of which have made the task of narrowing searches and wading through the seemingly endless scholarship offerings more efficient. Though the process is arduous, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be without the Internet helping every step of the way. And those one-click and online applications? Convenience times a thousand and just what the busy single mama needs!

As a distance learner studying a life science, hands-on experience is crucial. A major requirement for the distance veterinary technology degree is an internship during the program to gain that important first hand knowledge. Off to the Internet I went once again to find veterinarians in my area with which to intern with! Though my search didn't last long as there are only four clinics in my area, I was provided with information of the clinic, staff, and locations. I next researched writing a cover letter tailored to each clinic, attached a resume and letter of recommendation, and sent them off to my potential employers. The wait was agony, especially since my attendance hinged on being able to secure clinic hours. What if none responded? All my efforts would be futile. My stress level was at an ultimate high that no amount of Lolcats begging for cheeseburgers could allay, and my fridge had a constant supply of soothing wine thanks to my considerate boyfriend, who frankly deserves a medal for talking me down from the frequent cry-fests and panic attacks I had due to the uncertainty. Relief was thankfully imminent, as I have since been contacted by two vets willing to work with me. Thank. goodness.

"Yippee!" 

Without the incredible tool that is the Internet, I would not be able to finally follow my dreams. There would be no opportunity to continue my education, find funds to finance school, secure an internship, and, most importantly, take classes on my terms as a working single mother. Though there are downsides to the distance program including finding an internship for practical application and missing out on face time with professors, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. The Internet is changing the college education system, making certain programs available to those who might not otherwise be able to attend a brick and mortar campus. In addition, online degrees are less dubious to employers as they once were, being every bit as valuable as a degree earned from sitting in classes all day. It's an amazing time to live in, and I'm excited to be a part of online college life!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

At the Dinner Table with the Minions: Height Restrictions

Conversations at our dinner table are often a source of insight into the human condition, philosophies on life, and scientific queries. Tonight, Evie was interested in human growth patterns, mainly hers compared to mine.

Evie: "Even though Roman is younger, could he get bigger than me?"
Me: "It's possible. We'll have to see."
Evie: "But we'll both probably be bigger than you because you're a tiny person."
Roman: "Yeah, you're a tiny person, but you still have tattoos."
Evie: "You have to be a grown-up to have tattoos because it's a big decision and they're permanent. And it hurts and they use needles."
Me: ...
Evie: "Do you [grow] when you're a kid?"
Me: "Yes, of course. You're growing right now."
Evie: "Do some kids get bigger than their moms?"
Me: *sigh* "Yes, some do."
Evie: "Will I get bigger than you?"
Me: "Time will tell..."

So, basically my kids see me like this:

Betty Broadbent: the most famous tattooed attraction of all time. In 1927 at the age of 18, she joined the Ringling Brothers and Bailey circus as the youngest tattooed woman in the United States with 365 tattoos. Betty was one of the last working tattooed ladies in the U.S., retiring in 1967 from the Clyde Beatty circus after 40 years in show business. In 1981 she became the first person honored in the tattoo hall of fame.  

If you can't find me, I've run away to join the circus. Look for me in the side show.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Oh, the places you'll go

Oh, hey! Once again this blog has been neglected because of life. As so much has been happening, I almost feel I need an itemized list to play catch up. It always seems like I often turn to this blog when I have something particularly gravitas to say, and today is no exception. I pondered whether my next words were wise to share, am I revealing too much, am I treading on privacy, but I decided that one of the best legacies we can leave is a valuable lesson. This post is not going to be an amusing one, so if you'd rather have a laugh, go here instead because a lot of personal shit is about to go down. 

As I've mentioned in a previous post and as many who know me personally are aware, I've recently finalized a divorce. It's been over a year since my ex and I separated officially, but honestly, the detachment goes farther back. All I wanted was to make him happy, and for a long time, I was happy, too. I had big plans for my life, and I thought that he was beside me as I was for him in pursuit of those dreams. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but little by little, I was chipped away. A suggestion here, a critical remark there, and I began to change. For him. I don't feel that it's as important to offer specifics as it is to focus on the outcome, the bigger picture that my life eventually became.

My greatest dream was to become a veterinarian. I worked toward that future since I decided that was my goal at age eight. I worked in vet hospitals, volunteered, watched documentaries, read books, majored in zoology/pre-vet, did my internship at a wildlife rehabilitation center, you get the picture! By my junior year of college, I was getting burned out and the prospect of the cost was daunting, but nothing made that goal so wholly unattainable than this person I loved telling me, "You're crazy if you think you can handle vet school. You don't handle stress well at all." Direct quote, ya'll. Yes, I was stressing major at the time, but there is no excuse for the complete lack of support and encouragement. So, I graduated and followed him and our lives concentrated on his career, his goals. As I worked through processing my resentments after the end of our 11 year relationship, the fact that it was never my turn to follow my passions, that they were expected to be forever abandoned, that hurt me the most.

So there I was in a small town working whatever I could, supporting his vision of our life together. Without realizing it, my opinions were influenced by his, my beliefs left behind, slowly my interests and hobbies were wasting away. The reality was that he wanted someone who would stay home and be only a wife and mother, and though I dearly loved both, I yearned for a career of my own. When two people are together with two very different ideas on the roles to be played in life, it really isn't fair to either. And when you try so hard to facilitate change and your cries fall on deaf ears time and again, it's easy to give up hope. No one should have to settle for an unhappy marriage, but the truth is, I had two wonderful kids that meant the world to me, and I was afraid to yell so loud as to compromise their little lives. And though my husband was a constant source of anger, stress, and pain, I did not want to hurt him. So, I remained locked in the box he forced me into, barely socializing with friends, never going on vacation, and losing my identity. I stopped enjoying simple things that I always loved because he was so critical. I restrained from having opinions that he didn't share. He dominated conversation while I shrank into myself. I felt unappreciated, taken for granted, and emotionally neglected. My friends could see how unhappy I was, but I had no idea that I was living as a reflection in a disturbed pond, a distorted version of myself waiting for a storm to pass so that I could be whole again.

Ignorance is no excuse? I disagree. I had no idea what kind of life I was capable of. Having never experienced the sort of relationship that constituted a real partnership, how could I have known what I was missing? How I deserved to be treated? Sometimes it takes a glimpse of sunshine to realize how enveloped in darkness you've been. I had matured and changed; he had not. Our relationship had not. When I finally found the strength to face how miserable I was, I also came to the realization that it wasn't simply a matter of "too late." Rather, it was "too different." I wasn't the wife he wanted, and he wasn't the husband I needed. For years I had tried to be someone else, a reflection of this man that shared very little in common with me, and as I gained distance and perspective I felt pieces of myself coming back as if my very cells were swelling with renewed life. And when he finally moved out of the house, I felt free.

I am happier now than I ever believed possible. Yes, I struggle. Yes, I've cried. Dealing with emotions buried for years have a nasty way of rushing in at you when you finally allow yourself to face them. Yes, my kids have had questions and tears. I answer them honestly, I dry those tears, I smile, and I hug them mightily. We're doing great, and for all the worry and stress that comes with separation and divorce, I would not trade it for one more day of comfortable misery. There is too much life to waste it, and I intend to live it all.

My friends see much more of me now. I've reconnected with family. I travel more and visit old friends. I take my kids on spontaneous adventures. I read, I write, I ride, I watch scary movies, I talk about random pieces of oddness, and I plan trips that I might never take but damn it I have ambition! Above all, I am not ashamed or embarrassed about anything that makes me unique and ME. Never settle for a fragment of yourself. Never go through life with someone who holds you back. Never spend the rest of your life thinking there's something wrong with you. For all the thoughtless and oftentimes heartless words my ex said to me or  about me, nothing was as awful as the things he never said: words of encouragement without contingencies, praise without criticisms, acquiescence without guilt, or simply, "I'm proud of you."

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true." I have embraced my new beginning, my fresh start, as the catalyst for change, for the closing of a circle. I have parted ways in regards to the coffee shop, and I have decided to go back to school. I will be starting online courses in the fall at St. Petersburg College earning an Associate's degree in Veterinary Technology to become a Veterinary Technician. I'm writing again, albeit more scholarship essays than anything else these days :) I have no idea what lies ahead, but I face it without fear, and I know I'm not alone. I have my amazing kids whom I couldn't adore more, my incredibly supportive family, and a wonderful boyfriend that words cannot describe how lucky I feel to have in my life. I'm confident, I'm strong, I'm basically like,

"'Sup?"

Bring it on, universe. Been there, done that, and I'm ready for the next adventure!