Coming Up For Air

It has been quite the semester. Completely and totally different than I ever expected it to be.

I certainly never expected to be sat at my desk 4 days before classes were set to start, sobbing to my mother about the impending Hurricane Irma and how badly I wanted to go home. The days leading up to school were supposed to be filled with settling into my apartment, note preparations and assigned readings, not hurricane preparations.  White Coat Ceremony was supposed to be held after our first full day of classes, not at noon with several faculty members missing and colleagues with planes to catch only a couple of hours later, or that very next morning.

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On the subject of White Coat. It is usually a ceremony held during the transition from pre-clinical to clinical year. It is meant to signify the entry of a veterinary student into the veterinary profession. However, it is the belief or RUSVM that admittance to veterinary school is a student’s true entrance into the veterinary profession. From Day 1 of orientation we are told:  “Be the Doctor now.” We are held to the standards and expectations of colleagues, not of students, particularly because the program is accelerated. Ross students are expected to rise to the challenge of accelerated study, all while maintaining a level of professionalism (inside and outside of the classroom) of the practicing veterinarians we will soon be. So on Monday, September 4th around noon, myself and 170 of my future colleagues (+/- a few that chose to remain stateside until Irma passed), stood up and collectively pledged to the Veterinary Student’s Oath:

At the time of being admitted to Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, I solemnly pledge:

To consecrate my life to the service of both animals and humanity;

To give my teachers, staff, and classmates the respect that is their due;

To conduct myself at all times with conscience, dignity, and integrity;

To always provide comfort and compassion to teaching and client animals left in my care;

To maintain the honor and noble traditions of the veterinary medical profession;

To not allow considerations of religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, politics, or social standing to preclude productive and constructive relationships with my instructors, staff, classmates, or clients;

To never use my veterinary knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity;

I make these promises sincerely, freely, and upon my honor.

It was a wonderful ceremony, rushed and all. Not even 48 hours before the ceremony, I was considering giving everything up. In the face of Irma and other island-related difficulties, I was confronted with every single one of my fears. The fear of natural disasters, the fear of being 1700 miles away from my family on an island that’s not particularly easy to get off of and something going terribly wrong, the fear of failure…just to name a few. I walked out of the ceremony invigorated and excited for the future. My fears are still very real and very present, but the promise and the potential of my future career make every challenge, every perceived risk, totally worth it.

[I am also extremely lucky to be going through all of this with the most amazing group of people I could have ever hoped for.]

After White Coat, we had all of Tuesday to prepare.Water, wine, non-perishable food, and battery-powered lighting were bought in bulk. Furniture was moved away from windows. The television was tuned to the Weather Channel 24/7. We played the waiting game, anxiously watching as Irma downgraded to a Category 3, and then rapidly rebuilt herself into a Category 5.

Mom and I stayed up most of Tuesday night watching the Gameshow Network, with the occasional shifts to the Weather Channel, until the power went off. With only hours until the center of the Category 5 “Monster Storm” (their words, not mine) was meant to make landfall in the Lesser Antilles, the focus of the channel had already switched to Irma’s projected effects on the United States.

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(I marked in red approximately where St. Kitts and Nevis is. And no, the islands are NOT to scale!)

It was a scary night. At times it sounded as if my house were sat in the middle of a wind tunnel. There were moments when the front door shook violently and the windows rattled in their panes. Just when you thought the worst was over, the wind would whip up again.

And then the sun came out. It took a while, but it came out. We were made almost instantly aware of how lucky St. Kitts and Nevis had been. At the very last second, Irma tracked north. Compared to the horrors of the other island nations, St. Kitts walked away relatively unscathed. At my place, there was no water for 2 days, no power for 3. Thankfully, my apartment is equipped with a gas stove, so we had hot food. It could have been so much worse.

Classes began, Mom left, and Tropical Storm Maria grew in the Atlantic Ocean. She was first projected to hit St. Kitts and Nevis almost directly as a Tropical Storm. Then a Category 3 Hurricane. And then very suddenly Maria was heading directly toward St. Kitts and Nevis as a Category 5 Hurricane.

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Starlord and I hunkered down. This time, it was just me and her. But we were as prepared as we could be. We had food, water, first aid, downloaded movies, and study materials. Maria was moving slow. An entire day before she made landfall on St. Kitts, we were hearing horror stories out of Dominica. But we were prepared, and there was nothing left to do but wait.

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It was scary, but having already faced Irma I felt much more secure. Starlord and I spent 24 hours hunkered down in the alcove of my apartment where there aren’t any windows. We watched movies and studied for an upcoming exam and slept a whole lot. The winds whipped, the rain poured, the doors and windows rattled.

And then the sun came out. St. Kitts and Nevis got lucky again, as Maria had tracked farther south than originally projected. There was more damage this time, but the power and water came back within 2 days.

Classes resumed. Life moved on.

And it moved fast. This entire semester, right up until this very moment, has felt like a blur. One long, stressful, blur. For weeks on end, there was no sense of consistency. Professors couldn’t get back on island, so our lecture schedule was out of whack. Courses that were supposed to sync up still haven’t and won’t until next semester. Anatomy labs were held on Saturdays to compensate for lost time. For several weeks, we were in class from 8 or 9AM to 4 or 5PM, every day. The past month, there have been exams every week.

I’m also a TA for a course I took last semester. Once a week, I hold review sessions where I present questions based on that week’s lectures. While I work with the professors on making sure all the information is accurate, it is solely my job to prepare the questions and sessions. Has it been a little extra-stressful to have added responsibility? Absolutely. But it is also fun to present and rewarding to help teach a subject I thoroughly enjoyed last semester.

Thankfully, it hasn’t all been stressful. There have been a lot of good times. As I mentioned earlier, my class is comprised of some of the best people on the planet. Even on the roughest days, after the toughest exams, they can be counted on for a good time. On this island, you’d be hard-pressed to manage not to find some way to have fun. Dinners, drinks, dancing, house parties, beach days. Without a balance of work and play (and without the right people to do both with), surviving on this rock would be excruciating.

Needless to say, life has been pretty busy. The vast majority of my time is spent revising and reviewing for the next exam, creating study guides, preparing for lab sessions, and preparing my TA sessions. Any time (during the week) not spent scanning textbooks and power points are spent eating, sleeping, taking care of Starlord, or exercising. Most of my time on the weekends is still devoted to studying, but weekends do allow for some social activities or “me” time. Hanging out with friends at the bar or beach (or both), or giving my eyes a rest from screens and doing absolutely nothing at all.

That’s why there haven’t been any posts this semester. There just hasn’t been any real time. Until today. Today has been the first real “pause” since the beginning of October. We had a Physiology exam this morning, and classes for the day ended at noon. For the first time in a month, there isn’t a test within the next week. Our next exam is a full 16 days away. Of course, there are still things to be done. Lectures to be turned into study guides, lab videos to watch, assignments to complete. But for the first time since September, it actually feels like there is time enough to complete them without having to run myself into the ground to do so. It is entirely feasible to do a little bit of everything every day, instead of focusing almost all of your energy on one subject (one exam) at a time.

This entire semester has gone by so fast because we haven’t stopped moving. Today, I was able to stop. Not because I was so exhausted I felt like I was going to collapse. Not because it was midnight and I had to be up at 5:50 the next morning. Because I had the time to.

It was like that moment when you dive into deep water–a pool, the ocean, a lake, etc..–and you realize you’ve gone just a little to far. Your chest seizes, and you turn your gaze towards the surface. A sense of panic creeps up your throat, but you don’t freak out because you can see the surface. It’s right there, you’re not going to drown. That doesn’t stop your body from behaving like you might. Your sympathetic nervous system (your “fight or flight” response) is firing at full capacity as you kick rapidly toward the surface. Your chest continues to constrict and you can feel your heart pounding in your chest, panic tightening its grip around your throat, your feet flick just that much faster…

And then you break the surface. All at once, your entire body relaxes. The “Oh my God I might actually drown” thoughts subside. The grip on your throat and chest is released and you take the biggest, most glorious breath of your life as you settle back down. Your kicks become slower, more rhythmic. Your arms stretch out, and you begin to tread at the surface. You were never really going to drown, it just felt like it for a second that your brain tricked you into thinking was actually an eternity under water.

Now that you’re on the surface again, you start planning your next dive. This time, you’ll be smarter. You won’t go so deep, you’ll take a deeper breath before the plunge. Even if you get caught a little too deep again, you know you’ll get back to the surface.

Until the next time I come up for air,

Brooke

 

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