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Catherine Fischer

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Catching Up [Jun. 13th, 2004|09:49 pm]
Catherine Fischer
[mood |indescribableindescribable]
[music |Tower Hill, by Clannad]

Uf-da. Still groggy. Just woke up – it’s 5:30 pm. So much on my mind, and so much to talk about…

This has been a hell of a two-week slog through exams, surgery…either one would be enough to tackle, alone. Haven’t yet looked at my small animal medicine exam grade; the exam took place on Thursday morning, right before our terminal surgery. Managed A’s in all other classes, although I still feel that much of that was dumb luck.

I’ve been personally dreading the terminal surgery since first semester – it’s the axe that hangs over every Ross student: the knowledge that we’ll have full responsibility for caring for and then killing a dog. They don’t give us long to get attached (3 weeks), and in all honesty, Dr. Spackman was generous and compassionate, allowing us to rescue as many of our dogs as possible by maximizing the use of cadavers in our final lab. But our dog wasn’t chosen as a clinic dog, despite the fact that she never barked, loved all people and animals, and completely tolerated anything any of us needed to do to her: draw blood, give her pills, give her baths, clip her nails, clean her ears, remove ticks from between her toes with forceps, take her temperature – whatever. Elise has a dog and no room for another. Stephanie has 5 dogs, all at home with her husband. And I have cats, and an unfenced yard with a dog-aggressive neighbor’s dog roaming at large at all hours. We were required to adopt the dog ourselves, and not foist her off on friends, neighbors, etc.

Terracotta began starved, scarred, frightened, with fleas and ticks and ear mites, a poor hair coat, pendulous mammae from some past litter (or multiple litters). She tolerated the physical exam, the attention, the baths, ear-cleaning, tick removal, ectoparasiticide application, etc – ate like she’d never seen a square meal. Took her antibiotics without complaint. Started wagging her little stump of a tail when she saw any of the three of us; began to recognize our voices. Old wounds healed. Her hair began growing in in thin areas; became a shiny chestnut brown (with charming gold-spotted paws). She began to answer to her name; taught herself to sit on the scale (we weighed her every morning); started jumping up on us to look into our faces, her golden eyes full of happiness to see us, looking intently, as if searching for something – perhaps reading our hearts. She sat in my lap on the mornings I was the one responsible for the SOAP (Subjective Objective Assessment Plan – basically, exam and record); I loved her unconditionally.

I was the anesthetist on the final surgery – a cystotomy, plus an intestinal resection and anastomosis. Both of these surgeries are important to learn; someday, they will be life-saving procedures essential in practice. But the sequelae of an intestinal anastomosis that leaks are grim, horrible: painful death by peritonitis. Our clinic just doesn’t possess the facilities, the faculty, the capability to care for (let alone save) that many dogs with peritonitis, and we’re inexperienced surgeons, so leakage is likely. I had a long conversation with Dr. Wright, our anesthesiologist/advisor, the afternoon before the surgery; I discussed with her the monitoring equipment I hoped to have at my disposal, and the anesthesia protocol I hoped to use, and the physiological tendencies I hoped to counteract – she assisted me by allowing me to forego acepromazine (which knocked Terra out every time…and then caused bradycardia and hypotension during the initial part of the surgery), and warned me in advance about the airway/ventilation physics she wanted to discuss with me the next day (so I was able to go home and research, and thus come prepared). I submitted my anesthesia protocol to the pharmacist, who wrote “TERMINAL” across the sheet, and, heart heavy, went home to study.

That evening, I took Terra out for an extra long time, despite the fact that I was nowhere near ready for the next morning’s exam. We ran around the campus in the long clear twilight, Terra bounding happily, sniffing everything, meeting people with her usual delight and trust, wagging her little stump of a tail. I fed her canned chicken chunks, her favorite treat; Elise sent her a big stack of doggie biscuits, which I arranged in her kennel like a jellybean trail at Easter. On the way back to the kennel, I ran into Alex Tabb, our director of security (and a great guy – fun to go drinking with); I was telling two other students that this was Terra’s last night to live. Alex looked at me and said “you probably ought to stop saying that, for your own emotional health.” Much to my dismay, I began crying; I told him I knew myself well enough to know that there wasn’t going to be a way I could avoid becoming emotionally attached, and would do what I needed to – I’d just cry doing it.

Which is what happened. My anesthesia protocol accomplished exactly what I hoped it would. I had the opportunity to perform an epidural prior to surgery, which will someday be an exceptionally useful skill. Terra’s vitals were rock-steady, throughout the entire 4 and three quarters she was on the table. At 4:30, Dr. Wright handed me a 12cc syringe filled with pentobarbital, saying nothing. With a sinking heart, I asked if I would be the one administering it. She nodded, and left. Elise, gracious and kind, offered to do it – she was, at that time, assistant – I shook my head and said that I’d need to be able to do this someday, and wasn’t going to leave to others the ugly duties. (Elise had been overheating badly in her surgical gown, under the lights, standing all that time; she wasn’t a particularly good color right then. Having once passed out in the middle of a surgery for the same reason, I felt for her. It’s a horrible feeling.) At 4:45, I injected the whole bolus, opened up the IV drip, and listened to Terra’s strong, steady heartbeat fade and cease. I thanked her for being my teacher, and promised her I’d never forget the debt I owed her, would spend my life in service to her species in repayment. Then my throat closed and I said nothing more; went about cleaning up, not looking at anyone, not seeing anything.

Jump up to peer into my heart
You knew, that last morning, we would not see each other again
And you jumped in desperation
With so much affection left to give.

Next week, I will have to deal with the fine needle aspirate of the mass in my right breast. I am not as frightened now as I was when I had my mammogram and ultrasound appointment – is that foolish, or self-deluding? – but the mass on ultrasound had none of the hallmarks of malignancy: it was well-encapsulated, either multiple or lobulated, had none of the acoustic shadowing that malignancy so often shows…but having watched my mother die of breast cancer, I’m getting it aspirated anyhow. Will be undergoing genetic screening for the BRAC-1 & BRAC-2 genes, once I have insurance again, and access to a genetics lab; if I have those ticking time-bombs, I may resort to radical prophylactic measures. I DON’T WANT TO DIE THAT WAY. Enough about death. Mine, I feel, is a long way off – time and time again to learn, and grow, and finally reach the will-o-wisp dreams I’ve been chasing for so long. Time to grow old…hopefully not alone.

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

When I had the appointment with Dr. Hodge, the island’s only board-certified radiologist, the day was a long one; mostly spent on medical procedures, I nonetheless managed to get in quite a long discussion with him on the topic of opera. While he favors the sopranos, and I the tenors, we still had a great many opinions in common, and soundly enjoyed ourselves, discussing the performances of different artists, the operas of different composers. While I love Verdi, he doesn’t, particularly; while he favors Puccini, I tend toward Bizet…the afternoon ended in a CD swap, which has greatly enriched my opera collection. That evening, studying a bit before Chicken Man with Brian & Leonie, I listened to some of my favorite arias at extravagant volume. I count Dr. Hodge among my friends, now, and am delighted to have met him even under such circumstances.

Brian called later on that evening; I was expecting him to tell me the chicken was ready, but instead, he had a surprise. Apparently, he’d had the chance to take an Irish radio reporter, doing a piece on travel to St. Kitts, on the rainforest tour; finding him interesting company, he invited him back to the house for the weekly ritual of Chicken Man. At some point, I’d come up in conversation, and the reporter had expressed an interest in interviewing me; nervously, Brian was asking if this would be ok. “Fine, Brian, fine,” I assured him. “I never shut up – why would I be afraid of talking on interview?” Then, just to tease him, I asked “Is he cute?” There was silence on the other end of the line, before I started laughing maniacally. “It’s ok, Brian; you don’t have to answer that!” I told the poor man. He rebutted: “Well, he’s not exactly my type, is he, so how should I know?” Fair enough.

Leonie and the chicken arrived, I changed shirts and headed up. Having made it through the day without anyone telling me I was dying of breast cancer, I was in a good mood; I bounded up the stairs and headed for the verandah. And got my first look at Peter Taggart.

Alright, I’ll admit I’m a sucker for salt-and-pepper. And definitely have a weakness for hazel eyes (although in Brian & Leonie’s odd-colored verandah light, I couldn’t quite tell at the time). That Irish accent is well known for slaying hearts. But something about Peter sparkled. And I was utterly charmed; my heart beat double-time all through dinner.

Conversation was fun, lively; some of the discussion on linguistics and accent was tremendously entertaining, with Peter treating us to his version of a Manchester accent (at which Brian laughed roundly), and Brian imitating the accent and colloquialisms of various other parts of England. (Funny. I think of trying to understand the Bostonians in my class, and failing miserably, or laughing my ass off at Gina’s New Yorker “Motherfucker!” story.) Peter, it turns out, not only does travel pieces, but is also a correspondent for CNN radio, in addition to working full time for Downtown Radio, Belfast. Busy life! (It actually dawned on me much later, when he was discussing his coverage of the Omagh bombing in Belfast, that I’d actually heard him speaking on CNN. An odd sort of déjà vu.)

The evening wore on; chicken duly devoured, it was time for my interview. Peter brought his professional equipment, the appearance of which suddenly made me nervous – he asked me about topics I wasn’t expecting to discuss, and I feel like I made an ass of myself (said “um” about a million times, too). Dammit. I hate that. Peter was, of course, encouraging and positive. The man has a real gift with people, a facility with social situations. This normally makes me suspicious and puts me on my guard, being the awkward bird that I am, but that never happened with Peter. (He’s either better at this game than I can defend myself against, or my instincts are actually right, for once.) The interview over, talk turned to flirting – subtle, but unmistakable. I felt bad; Brian drove him home, and we definitely kept Brian waiting. (Had my poor bludgeoned brain been functioning, I would have thought to offer to take Peter home myself, since I was the one enjoying talking with him at that point. Doh!) As he left, he and I discussed the upcoming week – my schedule, filled with 2 exams and the terminal surgery, was hairy, but Friday was free…he kissed me and said goodnight. I took this for the delightful European greeting/farewell that I’m beginning to become accustomed to (although I really wanted it to be more than that). Home, and to bed. Perhaps my voice, saying “um…” will appear on a radio program about travel in the Caribbean.

The weekend turned into a long blur of studying small animal surgery. On Saturday night, I played hooky and went to dinner with my wonderful friend, Dana – stayed late-ish, talking and talking. Dana has been one of the big treasures of this year – a true companion, and someone I’m coming to trust more and more, as we get to know each other better. I don’t make friends like her very often. In some respects, she reminds me of Pradeep (she’s another Scorpio – love them to bits, drawn to them magnetically, but CANNOT date them) – she has the same understated wisdom, the unforced strength, the diversity and the quality of always being fascinating. And the STORIES she tells…! I have so much fun going out with her. We discussed ghost stories, and roller-rinks, music that drags us nostalgically into the past, relationships, life in general and at Ross specifically.

Monday. The small animal surgery exam went well, even though I didn’t feel prepared for it beforehand; immediately started studying small animal medicine, in addition to putting my anesthesia protocol together. The week sped up, and began to blur together at the edges. The sense of disconnect set in, as it always does when I’m most stressed. Sleep patterns changed; appetite went away. Dreams became vivid and strange. Exam mode. I’m looking forward to someday being able to face challenges that don’t leave me feeling drugged by an overloaded sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”). I had one dream I really liked, actually: Dr. Betance, of the surgical team (who was immensely helpful during the first surgery lab), was standing in the surf with me, telling me how much he loved his job. Apparently, he fished in the Greek Isles all winter, and only taught at Ross in the summer; he was packing to return to Greece now. The waves, crystal clear and Caribbean blue, were passing at an oblique angle, rather than crashing onto the shore where we stood; as they became larger and larger, the crowd present at the beach began oohing and aahing at the size of them, and cheering when a particularly big one passed. I cheered, too; rather than being helplessly drawn out to sea by the power of the waves, I could remain where I was and appreciate their majesty. Fish swam beneath their fractured-glass surfaces, and the light danced and shone through them. Dr. Betance stood silent and smiling beside me, enjoying the spectacle. Later, I dreamed of moving – uprooting and leaving the familiar behind, bidding a final farewell to a house beside the sea. In 6 months, now, I’ll be doing exactly that. This all-consuming life, this school womb, the faces I see every day…all will change. Lost at sea again, my dream my compass rose.

Tuesday morning, walking out the door, I was attacked by a spastically flailing donkey spider – bloody awful things. Imagine a rubber spider from a Halloween store, except HAIRY and pale brown, and venomous…nasty. It got on my foot and I screamed. I hope I didn’t wake Brian and Leonie.

That evening, my friend Potato (yes, that’s a nickname) from up the street came by and hung out for a little while, limin’ on the front porch. The colors of evening unfolded slowly across the wide Caribbean sea; the kingbirds darted and chirruped from the power lines; I watered my plants and talked. Potato is easy company. Just the other day, however, he did let on that he has an agenda; he intends for us to go out. I don’t think so, but I don’t hold it against him.

Wednesday, Richard got his big noisy sports car back from the place he’d been having it fixed (for nearly 2 months); the reasonable silence was shattered. Damn. Back to roaring in and out of the neighborhood…

Thursday night, after dinner with Elise & Stephanie, I didn’t feel like going home to my depressingly empty little apartment and my melancholy thoughts. I called Peter; left a message at his hotel. Went to the Oasis sports bar, where I ran into a really good crowd of my classmates, drinking beer and watching the dog show on the big screen television. It was hilarious – those poor beasts! They hardly look like animals anymore; they look more like muppets. I sat for a while, talking, until I was sure I’d be able to go home and straight to sleep; the terrible pressure was finally ebbing away. I neglected to tell Peter that “the Oasis” was the sports bar; we didn’t hook up that night (mea culpa). To sleep, perchance to dream…

Friday night: date! (Large grin...)