Thursday, October 4, 2012

For an incredibly special and brave family...

*I would like to dedicate this post to the Weinerlein family that is fighting a hard and difficult battle.
It may be a tad random and I do not understand the weight of your battle nor attempt to trivialise it in any way but my heart was with you as I wrote this and I wanted to dedicate this post to you.
I hope that you can find the purpose in your battle and that you may enjoy the humour in mine...*
Anyone who has ever received some form of education for any length of time will know the awful time of having to write the dreaded end of year exams. Now for us strange folk that hail from "Die Republiek van Onderstepoort"(i.e. vet school), end of year exams occur from early September till mid-October. I don't know if this is as a result of them drilling us so hard through the year that they know we would never really make it till December (certainly feels that way!) or if it is because our lecturers enjoy having their own lives and own vet practices to spend their year end focussing on, but either way this system has left me bogged down under the books for the past 4 weeks.
Needless to say, I have spent much of that time getting way too little sleep, eating far too much junk food and living in a room that is spectacularly clean due to the very real fact that scrubbing floors becomes a very useful form of procrastination when the books start to call.
It has been an incredibly up and down time for me emotionally too, as this years exams have been the hardest set of exams I have ever written. The length of time over which we write (6 weeks in total), combined with the sheer volume of work that each of my 10 modules present has transformed the past 4 weeks of my life into a series of desperate cramming/praying sessions as I am forced to face what feels to be an enormous sense of inadequacy.   
As every exam approaches and as every exam is written and "conquered" (with varying prospects of actually passing it) I have been forced to rely more and more not on my own sense of ability but rather on the infinite power that I can draw from God. It is absolutely amazing how much our faith can be increased in our times of desperation and apparant helplessness.
Now the concept of writing an exam to some may not seem all that challenging or warranting of the desperate scenario in which I have just described...
I, however, would challenge those individuals to be the one sitting the oral exam in which an external examiner is asking you to name (in latin) all the plant species that serve as differential diagnostic causes of blindness in cattle.
And of course, it is in that precise moment that your mind, after days of non-stop studying, chooses to conjure nothing more than pretty images of butterflies and fairies. 
We each have our own battles (and I am really not undermining yours), but this is one of my particular brands...
But nevertheless, God is faithful.
I have made it out of those said exams, in a cold sweat and a cloak of relief, with some prospect of passing and I have made it out of others with a certainty of failing and the hope of a supplementary exam.
All the while though, I know that God remains faithfull and near my side.
Life can be full of tough questions that feel like they have no answers and it can be full of the challenges in life that feel that can't be faced alone.
I can't tell you why that person you love got sick. I can't tell my friends in vet school why their best may turn out to not be good enough to get them through after 4 years and more money than they had to give to this dream.
And I can't tell you why my beautiful twelve and ten year old cousins (despite knowing that God loves them more than my human mind can comprehend) could be left with a disease that prevents them from being able to move their joints without being in almost unbearable pain. Nor why their parents should stand by, helpless, when I'm sure they would gladly carry the infliction on themselves if it meant that it could spare their children.. 
What I can tell you is that these situations don't feel like they are meant to be endured alone.
Because they aren't. And because you arent..
Regardless of your battle, God is with you.
And he loves you.
For me, sitting in a room with 2 lecturers and a series of impossible questions may seem scary. Untill I remember that there is someone else in that room who loves me enough to make it be ok, regardless of the outcome...
 The same someone who sits in the hospital room with you. The same someone who is right next to you, listening to you desperately pray out the big questions in life, the ones that seem to have no answer.
When I have been stressed for an exam, I take the time afterwards to go and walk a dog. Utterly random, I know, but as I walk this cute little beagle and as I watch her sniff out all the smells and interact with the variety of animals we have on campus, I always feel that God opens my eyes to the bigger purpose in my life.
For me, I know that God has called me to be a steward of the things of this life that reflect His glory.
And maybe He wants me to do that through being a vet. Maybe He doesn't. But despite the outcome of the exam or the battle, He is with me and He has a purpose. And watching the peace of animals helps me to see that.
He has a purpose for your life. He is with you through your struggles. And regarldess of the outcome of each little batlle, take the time to remind yourself of that.
Much love...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

God is way more awesome than two letters next to my name.

On most days I love what I do. I find it challenging, fascinating, rewarding and at times outright wacky. How many other professionals out there can say that they have been bitten, peed on, licked, been covered in fur and –my personal favourite- stood arm deep up a cow, “all in a days work”.
It saddens me, however, to see the minority of individuals within the medical fields that can destroy the integrity of the profession through their arrogant, “I am God”, attitudes. It seems that making life and death decisions somehow makes people feel in control of life and death and the result is a professional that feeds off the supposed status and power of being a “doctor”.
Now it’s hard to imagine why this same attitude is prevalent amongst some vets – I mean, standing ankle deep in stressed-out-cow poop with an appropriately poop-covered tail swishing back and forth into your face was never my idea of the God of the universe- but unfortunately I have also witnessed this undeserving attitude amongst some veterinarians too. 
So this post is written to my future clients, with a request to never accept this attitude from me. Here’s why…

In many ways pop culture highlights the status of “doctor”. It is seen often in popular series and movies. Somehow having the letters “Dr.” next to your name makes you super-cool and awesome (and promiscuous if we’re going with the television series). Often medical practitioners are portrayed as super-humans, making life and death decisions in seconds and having no space for the seemingly meaningless field of faith.
“Everything backed by science and no such thing as a miracle”.
Yes, life and death decisions are made daily by these people, but I will tell you first hand that “Doctor” does not equal “God”.
I will one day make decisions that help the body’s own mechanisms to heal itself, but I cannot in my own strength heal the body. I make the decision of euthanasia when the probability of life is too low or too painful, but I can never breathe life into any creature. I can never will a heart that is dead to start beating and I can never guarantee life or death. I can artificially deposit sperm into the uterus of a cow at precisely the right time to match ovulation but I cannot make that beautiful miracle of two fused cells multiply and grow into what will be the fluffy, wobbly bundle of a calf 9 months later.
And the same applies to death, no matter how textbook a routine I perform, no matter what drugs and treatments I may give your pet, when God says that it is time, I am completely powerless to stop it.
With all the science and knowledge that I will have spent 7 years shoving into my head, I will come out surprisingly not in control.
…And to be honest, I’m seriously grateful for that.

Without the pressure and weight of those decisions I can know that I will do all I can to help and assist in the healing of my patients. I can share the miracles with you when they come and I can carry the pain with you over your losses, not as someone superior to you but rather as someone like you but uniquely gifted to help your pet. I can bare the brunt of your misguided blame in the pain of your loss knowing that at the end of the day, it was never my decision to make.
Yes I will fail, and at times my failure will be costly. Yes, at times I will make the decision to end the life of those in pain. But when I close my eyes at night I will be at peace knowing that the life that exists within my patient is a gift that only God, and not I, can give and maintain.

One day, as a vet, and even now to an extent; I am a steward of the creatures of this earth. I believe that that God created all the majestic animals around us as a unique and special gift to humankind. I see the dog that breathes hot smelly breath into your face first thing in the morning, and I see the cat that coldly acknowledges you from the end of the bed. I see the working German Shepherds that keep our streets safe by sniffing out inaccessible scents of parcels that were destined into the illegal drug trade. I see guide dogs guiding their blind companions safely on their way.
I know that as I see people eating that cheeseburger, wearing those leather shoes, adding milk to their coffee, I will have helped in ensuring those animals’ safety so that the gifts that they give to humans will be safe for human consumption.
When God commanded Adam to be master over the creatures of the earth, I believe it was a gift for human use that came with the responsibility of protection and care. It is this ideal that drives my love of this profession.
As I will one day be a care-giving steward of one of Gods amazing gifts, how could I ever feel entitled or empowered by it? It is a calling on my life, and not something that makes me equal to God himself.

 So maybe one day I will become a vet.   And when I walk across the stage at my graduation, and when I walk into my office everyday of my career, I will know that I am certainly not God. I am but a humble servant, gifted with knowledge and opportunity to serve you and help your pet in the hopes that through it, you may look to see the miracle of the animals around you that God has blessed you with. Maybe when I “save” your pet, you will be able to recognise and be grateful for God using me and in those moments when I help you let your pet go, you will know that I am your sister in Him, simply allowing Him to take back the gift that He once gave.
If you are grateful to me one day for treating your pet, rather just appreciate His glory in choosing to use someone like me to steward his creatures, cause everyday I know that I will be too.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Life is a Miracle...

WOW. What an incredible suprise of a day did I have a few days ago.
Let me give you a bit of an update...

As a vet student, I love being around animals. It feels almost necessary for me to surround myself with a variety of furry creatures. I love keeping pets and caring for my animals as a way of "fuzz therapy"- reminding myself of the innocent passion that made me fall in love with this profession. 
So what better way to do that than with my two furry guinea-pig roommates, Scotch and Soda.

I aquired Scotch in October last year. A sweet little guinea pig with long hair and a fiesty personality. He was a blessing to have around but the more I researched caring for guinea pigs the more apparant it became that guinea pigs are social creatures that cherish furry company.

So on the 1st of April I purchased Soda-an adorable bedheaded guinea pig to befriend Scotch.
Scotch and Soda... my guinea pig collection was complete, or so I thought.

As a vet student, I am obviously well versed in the reproductive realities of keeping male and female animals together. But as a responsible pet owner and vet student, I had Scotch go in for the big-pig-snip well before I bought Soda.
In my mind, there was no way that I wanted to allow my pets to even have the possibility of breeding. And knowing the various medical risks of reproduction, I believed that I had done everything necessary to ensure no future guinea-piglets.

So yesterday morning, I was sitting chatting with my mom and we had the guinea pigs cuddling with us. She was holding Soda. My mom turned to me and remarked,
"Is your guinea pig not getting a little fat?"
Yes, I had noticed Soda's belly expanding somewhat, but I was feeding my pigs very good quality feed and Soda seemed to have quite an appetite, often bullying Scotch for his food. I had been feeding them more than the recommended amount of food to ensure that both pigs got enough, so it seemed logical that she was getting a bit tubby.
"Robs," my mom continued, "her spine and ribs are prominent so she cant be fat, but her belly is very expanded. Are you sure she isn't pregnant??"

Of course I was sure, I had done everything to prevent that...
 But as my mom said the words, it was like my eyes had been opened. My guinea pig was definately pear shaped, a classical sign for pregnancy in guinea pigs. Frantically I consulted a vet who confirmed the diagnosis- not only was she most likely pregnant, but she was likely very far along. 
How could this have happened, and how did I, as the responsible vet student, not pick up on the obvious?
The gestation period in pigs is 2 months, and having had her for only one month, it became obvious that she had probably been doing the hanky-panky at the pet shop. 

Knowing the risks for a young guinea pig to go through pregnancy it came as a shock and huge concern for me. I hadn't prepared for this and it seemed a bit of a disaster to my "perfect plan".
Dystocia, death in labour, rejecting the babies, having to wean and rehome up to 6 baby guinea pigs- my concerns were mounting and I felt a dreaded guilt at not realising the situation sooner to provide better care for this poor little creature. 
5 years ago I wouldve been over the moon with excitement for this new adventure, but 3.5 years of vet school has hardened me to the harsh realities of life...

So that evening I was sitting in my lounge cuddling my very fat pig. I had my hand under her enormous belly, gently stroking her up her back while she "giggled" in only the way that guinea pigs can.
Then I felt it... the strong kick of life coming from within Soda's belly. And then another, and then another. 
It was the most magical feeling in the world...
Feeling the absolutely amazing miracle that is life, the cynisism within me slowly melted away.

So yes, sometimes I plan things supposedly perfectly.
With my knowledge and experience, I can ensure that things won't go unexpectedly- no suprises and no room for mistakes. 
But God has other plans- and at the end of the day the things that are least expected are often the greatest of miracles.
Yes, the risks are still very much there, but at the end of the day I am certain that whatever happens, God is still in control. 
This little adventure has turned into a beautiful reminder from God that despite the cynicism that my studying and that the stress of this world may throw at me...
...Life is truly a miracle.

  I wrote this post about two weeks ago.
On monday evening I was sitting in my res room cramming some work for a test I was due to write when Soda started making some soft guinea pig noises.
When I went to check on her all was well and so I got back to the books.

About fifteen minutes later Soda was still quielty "talking" and when I went to open up her house to give her a cuddle I was encountered with 2 little adorable, fluffy baby guinea pigs.

Mom and baby pigs were both fine, my fears had been relieved and the beautiful little creatures have wormed their way into my heart. 
God truly is amazing and I am grateful for His work.

To some these creatures seem small and insignificant, but when I watch them, running around and eating and playing, it is just a small reminder to take a moment to appreciate God's signature that is beautifully written in the world around us.