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A Day in the Life: Collage - Catherine Fischer — LiveJournal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Catherine Fischer

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A Day in the Life: Collage [Oct. 17th, 2004|12:55 pm]
Catherine Fischer
[mood |contemplativecontemplative]
[music |The Air Conditioner (Blessed Power)]

The alarm clock goes off at 2 a.m. I have been waking up every quarter hour because I’m on call for the emergency rotation, and the cell phone has been cycling, due to the power outage, from “no signal” to “home” to “roaming”, regular as clockwork – the damn thing beeps every time the status changes. So I wake up in a panic, look at the phone to see if I’m being called in…I’m not.

“Wake up, Brent, love – time to go study pharm,” I say. The alarm clock (a travel alarm, battery-powered – some of the best advice the school ever gave me) will wake me, but not Brent. So I shake him gently, stroke his face until he surfaces from another heavy sleep. I try to sleep for another 2 hours, but the cell phone continues its performance, and I finally give up entirely at 3:45 a.m., shower by lantern-light, drink a warm coke for caffeine, start working on my anesthesia protocol.

Two hours later, Brent is staring at the computer screen, squinting so hard his eyes are almost slits behind his long lashes. I make scrambled eggs with cream cheese, hoping a decent breakfast will help get him through the exam. Feed the cats, Brent lugs my giant Rubbermaid bucket of surgical supplies up to the car (I still can’t lift anything heavier than a cat). Sunrise has begun bloodying the ocean, beneath low-hanging cloud strata. It’s still dark.

At school (having followed a tractor, a flock of sheep, a couple of “L” cars – learners, who drive no faster than 10 mph by law), I put on my coveralls and rubber boots, go to get a couple of bowls of grain, mix pain medication, draw up antibiotics and parasiticide, grab my stethoscope and thermometer. Brent goes to get the leads from my locker, and I catch up Winslow, my surgery sheep, by rattling the pail of grain. “Baaaa! Come on, Winslow!” He answers me gleefully, “Baaa! Baaaaaa!” and comes running to the gate. Brent passes me the lead and I clip it to his collar, take him trotting off to the scale to weigh him, baaaing at him the whole way (he always answers), my willing companion. Check his temperature, pulse, respiration, mucous membrane color, capillary refill time, rumen contractions, and suture line while he’s gobbling grain; he’s still losing weight (parasitism? Or is the scale broken?). His feet look good – well-trimmed, even, clean. He lips up the last of the grain and I turn him back into the sheep pen, feed him a couple of baby carrots.

Vincent is next. Being smart (as most donkeys seem to be), he knows it’s time for his morning treatment – and grain – and he’s waiting by the gate, twitching his one ear lazily. I check gut sounds and respiration while I’m temping him, hose down his infected and inflamed scrotal incisions (from the castration two weeks prior, during which he fell on me in an attempt to avoid the surgical pad, which he was afraid of, thereby tearing my back apart), clean and debride with chlorhexidine. One of my surgery partners shows up a bit late – her power was out, and her husband didn’t give her her usual wake-up call from the States (she’s a heavy sleeper, and none of us have slept properly for a couple of weeks). She takes over while I go write up the status on Winslow; Vincent continues munching passively, not aware that we’ll be taking him back into surgery tomorrow morning (a lateral palmar digital neurectomy, this time – a surgery done on equine patients to relieve chronic heel pain from navicular disease).

Brent has carried my books to class for me – they’re too heavy for me to lift (a source of immense frustration for me). He heads off to his exam; I run into my other surgery partner and we talk about last week’s surgery (on Winslow: a right paralumbar celiotomy, abdominal exploration, typhlotomy, and omentopexy), which I was the primary surgeon for.


“You can take breaks,” Dr. St. Jean had said, sympathetic about my ruined back. “Talk to Lynnette; she’ll get you a chair.” The chair had been too low, and so I had completed the 3-hour surgery standing. Dr. St. Jean himself had stolen my chair, at one point, right before I was going to take one of my few breaks (you can’t take breaks while your patient is bleeding). Winslow had had so little abdominal fat that you could see everything; he was entirely full of fecal pellets. You could trace the convoluted path of the intestinal tract by following the train of pellets, like a jellybean trail at Easter… Midway through the surgery, it had been time for me to take another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory dose, but being scrubbed in, I couldn’t very well pill myself – so Jen Robinson, anesthesia lab tech and teacher, had graciously pilled me while I kept my hands sterile. “First I’ll pop the pills in, then squirt the water in,” she’d said, pulling my mask down while I held my breath. It was a funny situation, but I was immensely grateful for the drugs. Later, while Winslow recovered (“Baaaa… come on, Winslow, wake up. Baaaa…” “Mrrrfff...” said Winslow, “Mrrrrrrfff.”), I could feel the drug wearing off. Trying to get Winslow (very drunk, and cold, and not wanting to do anything but sleep in my lap) up, I had to get help to rise, and stood stooped and painful. Everything started stiffening…I sat in the car while Brent collected my junk, threw it in the car, ran a couple of errands in town. Got out of the car while he was collecting my surgery stuff…and woke up on the ground, Brent holding me, talking in a continuous stream “Oh baby, c’mon, wake up, Catherine, baby, you’re scaring me”. “Sorry, sorry, so sorry!” I say, struggling to rise. Brent carries me down the stairs, puts me in bed, gives me opioids, water, ibuprofen, brings me my computer so I can email my professors, telling them I won’t be in the next day. Drug haze creeps in; I sleep 14 hours. I did manage, however, to wake at 4:45 the next morning, write out my surgical report, and fax it into Dr. St. Jean before the deadline.

Dana, my dear friend, sends me email, calls me at lunch to check on me. She’d been behind me while I was prepping for surgery, and I hadn’t noticed – my guardian spirit. She goes into surgery herself, after lunch. She’s nervous – but she does a characteristically stellar job, and is commended for it.


Large animal medicine class: Dr. Wallace brings more websites about sheep and goats up on the screen. The pygmy goats are adorable, fuzzy, the size of housecats. “I want one,” I tell Brent. “So we’re going to end up with a menagerie, then?” He asks, eyebrow raised. “Well, I don’t want everything all at once,” I retort. We laugh. “I want the fruit bat first,” I say, seriously. He just rolls his eyes. (I’ve already talked Jen Robinson into a pet fruit bat, too. Promised her I’ll bring her one, the next time I’m in Australia.)

Intro to clinics: small animal clinic rotation. My case: a Golden Retriever with a skin tumor, major skin allergies – “Fritz” Fish. His owner is extremely opinionated, and not all of her opinions are based on fact, observation, or medical understanding. I maintain professional courtesy, make note in the record of some of the things she’s doing that require correction or discussion (Dr. Yaphé’s job, not the students’, thankfully), but cannot manage to suppress a grin as I pass her comments on to Dr. Yaphé.

The week before, in small animal surgery rotation, I had been preparing to assist on a castration (canine – a student’s dog), and was approached by two more of my rotation-mates: “We got an extra case – a spay,” they told me. “We need an anesthetist – how would you like to stand in?” “Great!” I say, looking forward to the experience. “Well, the file is with Dr. Bruhl-Day, and the anesthetic protocol is due in an hour…” I swallow. “No sweat,” I say, sweating, running drug dosages in my mind already, negative side effects, breathing circuits, monitoring devices, etc. “Can you tell me a bit about her temperament? Age? Is she in estrus?” Power through a crash plan, scribble out my protocol, get it approved… the surgery goes without a hitch, but boy, do I need to review my anesthesiology notes!

Theriogenology: more rectal palpation of cows. “What do you feel?” JQ (Dr. Robinson – not a very formal guy) asks me. “Warm, squishy, with lots of poop,” I tell him. “And she’s crushing my arm with peristalsis.” (This last week I finally felt my first cervix. I have a long, long way to go before I’ll be able to tell anyone anything of value by palpating.)

The power has been out for about 12 hours every day for the last couple of weeks. Brent and I are working hard to empty the fridge of perishables. We’re eating out a lot – or eating snack foods, when all the restaurants are closed, due to the power outages. It’s election year in St. Kitts, and as far as I can tell, he whose political party litters the most, wins. Every vertical surface in Basseterre is PLASTERED with politicians’ faces, stupid slogans (“Remember, delay defeat,” is one I saw in the police station; “Justice is Rooted in Confidence” is the official police slogan, painted on the sides of the cars. All Kittitian slogans seem to make about as much sense). Flag-waving fanatic partisans collect in clots in the street, obstructing traffic. T-shirt effigies hang from the tops of the power poles – which are still not conveying power anywhere. No one knows if this is a political maneuver, or if the power company has blown up another of the ancient, decrepit generators (St. Kitts has 3) – and they’re not telling anyone.

Yesterday, the Ross University Alumni Reunion culminated in a buffet luncheon on campus, outside the administration buildings – and the water company of St. Kitts decided that they would flush the line that day, without telling anyone. “We have 800 people on campus, trying to use the toilets, which do not flush,” my friend TJ, the campus facilities director, is saying into his cell phone. “We have decided to send them to your building to use the toilets. No, we have not given you any advance notice – nor did you give us any. The water is supposed to go on soon, you say. So how soon is ‘soon’? Do you actually know? Do you have any way of finding out?” “Do you care?” I ask him, smiling brightly. He laughs and makes a face at me. He hangs up the phone. “At least they’re alumni,” says the Dean, who has joined us outside the nonfunctional restrooms. “We can tell them, ‘welcome back to St. Kitts – nothing has changed!’” I laugh, not envying housekeeping staff, who will have to deal with some desperately clogged toilets once the water comes back on. The campus has started to stink.

Last night my class took a catamaran trip to Nevis – I love Caribbean sea by moonlight, on the water, lying on the netting watching bioluminescent dinoflagellates streaking by like comets beneath the twin hulls. Brent hadn’t slept in two weeks. He was the walking dead all day yesterday, and fell asleep on the beach, so tired not even he could keep his good humor (he gets really cynical, pessimistic when he’s that tired). I feel awful for dragging him along, spend the whole way back holding him up against a bulkhead while he sleeps in the middle of the party. My classmates, my family, come up and talk to me, one by one. I will truly miss a lot of these people, and am planning on getting a big apartment in Minnesota, so I can put up visitors – it’s sounding more and more like we’ll all be visiting each other as we can. One could see this sort of closeness among the alumni, when they came to speak to us in class – that, and an amazing variety of experience, expertise. The sky is really the limit, for us. I have a lot of research to do, to determine the course of my future. Beginning, I suppose, with this afternoon, when my neighbor Audrey (an extremely cool person – and a large animal technician at the University of Minnesota for many years) comes over to help me find a place to live.

God, I have so much to do…at least poor Brent is finally sleeping.