Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sometimes We Fall Off

I have never been a good rider. What I am is stubborn, and I'm usually pretty good at hanging on, no matter how awkward or comical I might appear.

I've been falling off of horses as long as I've been riding them... That is, since I was 2 years old. My first real life memory is of falling off a horse as a toddler. It's just a few misty visual snippets of a wooden fence, a bunch of grey horse feet and the bare ground. Whether it's a real memory or simply one planted in my mind by hearing the story told numerous times I'll never know. I do know it's a pattern in my life. I ride, I fall off, but I always climb back on. Some would question: Am I stubborn or just plain stupid? Riding is obviously not my forte. Why don't I just give up? Those of you who've known me have probably even been witness to my repeated bouts of inelegance, year after year after year.

Vet school is very much akin to a classic Thoroughbred horse race. The training before the race is rigorous, difficult and competitive. Only a select few will be good enough to run. Those of us who are chosen arrive at the track anxious, excited, ready--hyped up with nervous energy. Once the starting gate crashes open, we all rush together into the vast wide open space ahead of us that is veterinary medical education, some emerging as leaders, others content to lag behind.

During the race, our charge is to collect and absorb a cosmic amount of specialized information. On the track, this information is the dirt on the wind, and it's flying in your face at breakneck speed. And there is too much. Some days the sheer magnitude of information is as blinding as a horse race through a tornado. One can't be on every part of the track at once, although some of us try, jockeying back and forth from the inside rail to the outside and in again, while constantly surging forward toward the finish.

The best most of us can do is simply open our mouths wide and suck down as much dirt as we can as it flies past. Often, just as you think you've caught a special morsel, the wind rips it from your lips before you can examine it, leaving only a faint smear behind. Other dust particles get lodged in the back of your throat like so much mud, tucked away behind the tonsils to be examined at a later date, probably after the race is over. And some of it whips by you unseen, never even registering in your consciousness as having been there at all.

Since starting vet school, I've acquired the tendencies of an insomniac. Sometimes it catches up with me. Like yesterday.

I have been really diligent this semester about attending all classes, especially since the end of Daylight Saving Time. I even attended classes while my family was here visiting. It is so important to stay ahead of the pack, to not get left behind in this intense medical rat horse race called vet school. It's imperative to all my future plans... Make excellent grades, network, lead organizations, network, be prepared for every opportunity, network. Meetings, committees, volunteering, extra lecture series, regular lectures, research, presentations, studying, papers, exams... You get the idea.

Yesterday, it finally hit me like a truck. On Monday, a professor cancelled the only class I had that day, and it really ticked me off. Why? I had gotten out of bed on time, rushed to school for a surgery lecture, only to find the prof a no-show, sending her apologies at 8:01 via walkie-talkie through a different lecturer. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal to me. I would appreciate the free time--time to go to the library and catch up on my toxicology project, listen to a CD of heart and lung sounds, or watch a video of gastrointestinal surgery, which we'll be performing in a few days. But the real kicker was that I almost didn't go. The lazy me tried to talk the Type A me out of it.

Lazy Me: It's just one lecture all day. It's a waste of time to drive out there.
Type A Me: Yes, but it's a Surgery lecture.
Lazy Me: But it's Large Animal surgery. Blah. I'm not doing large animals.
Type A Me: It's still surgery. And there will be an exam.
Lazy Me: It's Dr. T. She's unreliable; she probably forgot we even have lecture.
Type A Me: Get going, you lazy creep!

Of course, the Type A me won. And then got irritated because I wasted 45 minutes driving back and forth for nothing.

So on Tuesday, I rebelled and decided to sleep in. And in. And in. I made a half-hearted attempt to read a few radiographs, and looked at the data for a case study I need to write. But other than that, I did nothing but sleep and be lazy. And I did something else - something I used to do a lot in my LBVS (Life Before Vet School). I read a novel, cover to cover, in one sitting. Only a few times did I wonder what I might be missing at school.

I know I'll regret it in a few days when I must play catch-up. The only problem is that in vet school, no one ever wins at catch-up. Not even the best. Those precious particles of dirt are long gone, plastered now to someone else's face.

For me, unfortunately, riding has never been about grace and balance. It's always been about momentum. I can stubbornly hang on as long as the momentum is strong enough to carry me. But sometimes, if the turn is too sharp or the horse stumbles a bit, or if I allow myself to slow down for just a moment... sometimes, I fall off.