A Spring Break Surprise

Ali and Spencer Selfie
Ali and Spencer, newly engaged

Spring Break has come and gone in a flash!

I traveled to Utah’s Zion National Park with my boyfriend, Spencer, and we camped for three days under the Utah stars. Being used to waking up at 6 a.m. for school, it wasn’t hard for me to adjust to our early-morning hikes, but for Spencer, it was a bit harder! Beating the Spring Break crowd is a priority, because being in nature surrounded by loud strangers is never ideal. My favorite hike was up Angel’s Landing, one of the most coveted spots to hike in North America. Half of the trail is a series of 21 brutal uphill switchbacks, which make your legs (and lungs) shaky like Jell-O. A sedentary, studying lifestyle has somehow failed to put me in peak mountain-climbing shape.

mischievous chipmunk
The mischievous chipmunk that stole Ali’s lunch

The last half of the hike has chains built into the mountain, a narrow rock path, and cliffs on either side of you. I kept telling myself, “Don’t look down.” But it never worked. I repeatedly looked down and kept scaring myself. Six people have died climbing that cliff face since 2004, so it must be taken seriously.

Unexpectedly, as we were watching the early morning sun cover the canyon, Spencer got down on one knee and proposed to me. I said yes, of course, but was too afraid to wear the ring down the mountain, so I put it back in the box until we got to stable ground at the bottom. I am very excited to finish my last year of vet school in the clinics, marry him, and start our life together in 2019!Once at the top of Angel’s Landing, you can see across the entire Zion Canyon that has been explored by humans for thousands of years. It was a breathtaking view and a great reward for the challenging trip up to the summit!

Our second hike was up to Observation Point, a little higher and lengthier than Angel’s Landing, but a much less terrifying hike. There was a family of chipmunks at the top that were feistier than any animal I have ever met. National parks tell you to “Please do not feed the wildlife” when they really should warn you that wildlife will sneak into your backpack and drag your PBJ out of it. I never knew something so adorable could be so mischievous!

After not showering for three days, we headed to Las Vegas to celebrate our engagement with family. Someone asked me, “How are you going to study when you have a wedding to plan?” and I really have no idea. Being a vet student leaves us with such little time to think about anything except for vet school, but I think I will have to take some steps back and prioritize what is important!

We also traveled to the Hoover Dam, which is only 30 minutes away from Vegas in Boulder City. It is so much bigger than I could have ever imagined, and I cannot imagine the feat that it was to build it in 1935 to block the Colorado River.

I was curiously wandering around and found a dog’s grave near the entrance. The plaque states that the dog rode the bus and accompanied the workers to their job sites every day. But then, one day, he was sleeping and was run over by a truck and was mourned by the workers and buried under the guard tower. Such a special tribute to man’s best friend!

My Spring Break was a very needed respite from the stresses of vet school, so that I am fully recharged and ready to take on my last semester and last full year of clinics. I am slightly regretful of the amount of things that piled up over the week off; however, I know I will find a way to catch up, like I always do.

Dam DogAlong with tests, quizzes, and projects due this week, we are also getting ready for our Vet School Open House that is coming up this Saturday. I am volunteering to present a surgery simulation where we show what veterinary surgeons look like gowned, masked, and gloved-up in the operating room. It is always so much fun interacting with kids and adults who share our passion for animals and science. Hopefully, we can inspire some little minds to join this amazing and rewarding profession!

Finals, Coffee, and Bears—Oh my!

Finals week is upon us!

Ali C.There is truly nothing like a finals week in veterinary school, where it seems you learn an entire semester in one night! There is so much to remember and never enough time, so you are forced to learn as much as you can, do your best, and still be satisfied with never knowing all of the information.

Third-year vet students are lucky and only have three finals this year—but they are all worth a LOT of points, so they cannot be taken lightly. The first final exam is in “Large Animal Medicine,” over 29 hours worth of lectures. No pressure, right?! Our second exam is in “Small Animal Medicine” and ranges from placing external fixators on bones to how to tell if a female dog is pregnant. Our third exam is over “Radiology,” and since it is cumulative, we have to study things from all the way back in August.

Finals week and veterinary students are like hibernating bears and winter. We stock up on food and supplies, wear our comfiest clothes, and lock ourselves in our rooms/library for a week straight, only emerging from the cave for refrigerated items and the scheduled cup of coffee at 6 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m. Our hair always seems to be disheveled, no matter how much we comb it down. We may be sensitive to sunlight and show signs of aggression. Every now and then a friend or family member will check in to make sure we are still eating and sleeping an acceptable amount.

The end of the semester is when we really appreciate those gift cards for Starbucks and Chick-Fil-A that we get in our stockings every year (hint hint, Santa). While it is OK to cry during finals week, I encourage relieving stress in ways like yoga, running, singing Adele songs unapologetically loud in your car, or studying
outside in your favorite park. Resist your innate hibernating instincts. The good thing about December in Texas is the low temperature is usually around 65 degrees and sunny; you basically have no excuse NOT to go outside. It is also important to find a reliable friend who will share their dog with you; hugging a dog will increase study motivation by 200 percent. I have tested and proven this scientific fact my entire life. You also may want to keep the TV playing in the background while you study to stay minimally connected to the outside world.

One thing I have noticed about vet school is that every finals week seems to get better:

  • First year was the hardest: between anatomy, immunology, and histology, there’s a lot of nuances to learn, and you’ve never done it before—therefore, it is completely intimidating and foreign.
  • Second year gets easier: the material is quicker to master and you also have gained the confidence that “if I survived first year, I can get through anything.”
  • Third year we are barely even phased: we have done this MULTIPLE TIMES before, and there is also the hope lingering in the air that this is the second to last finals weeks we will ever have for the rest of our lives!

It’s amazing that another semester of vet school has flown by so quickly; nevertheless, I do not yet wish for it to slow down. Although we may emerge from our caves on Dec. 8 sleep-deprived and wired on caffeine, we also emerge smarter, more resilient, and one step closer to being the veterinarians we were born to be.

Wish us all good luck!

Piecing Together the Puzzle

Ali C.We are now over a quarter of the way done with the semester! Whoop! Veterinary School is really good at keeping our minds and bodies busy, so even though it feels like the clock is barely ticking during some class days, it’s actually FLYING by! I can feel the jittery excitement in the air, because all of my third-year classmates can finally see a glimmer of light at the end of the vet school tunnel. We are gaining confidence, skills, and wisdom; we finally feel closer to being doctors and further from students.

We third-year students have gotten more comfortable with basic surgical procedures so far this semester; nevertheless, I still sweat bullets the entire time. Putting non-powdered surgical gloves onto sweaty hands should be an Olympic sport. Gold medal goes to me for my hilarious and laborious struggle with such a menial task! This week, AFTER I took 10 minutes to get my gloves on, I proceeded to accidentally poke a hole in the glove on my left index finger with a stray towel clamp, which meant I had to stop what I was doing, remove my poked glove, and start the whole gloving process over again. It’s definitely a learning curve.

Luckily for me, sweating doesn’t interfere with my paper test-taking skills! 3VM students had a BIG Small Animal Medicine test this week covering a month and a half of oncology and endocrinology material. These are probably some of the most common diseases I will be dealing with as a small-animal veterinarian once I graduate. Unfortunately, at least 50 percent of dogs over the age of 10 will get some form of cancer, which is why it is so important for us to learn how to treat and manage cancer patients. It may be surprising to you, but dogs and cats are candidates for chemotherapies and radiation, just like humans! Our professor, Dr. Claudia Barton, made sure to emphasize the fact that cancer is indiscriminate of species; therefore, observations from cancer in our domestic animals can be studied and incorporated into human oncologic research.

For endocrinology, we are taught by Dr. Audrey Cook, who has a wonderful European accent and a remarkable passion for the diseases she presents. I actually printed out all of her notes, put it in a binder, and labeled it my “Cook Book,” since I plan on keeping it on my shelf in my veterinary practice in the near future. My favorite disease she has talked about is feline hyperthyroidism. I like it because it is a disease that likes to hide behind the façade of just “old cat syndrome,” but when correctly diagnosed and treated it can really improve the lives of our aging kitties. It is nerve-wracking to learn all of these common, everyday diseases while having aging animals of your own. I find myself wondering which diseases my own cat will get someday—and hoping I will be sharp enough to spot them early and treat them!

This upcoming Monday is one of the few Mondays that we don’t have an exam. To take advantage of my lessened weekend stressors, I am headed back to my hometown of Boerne to visit my parents, my 103-year-old great-uncle, and my three brothers. I haven’t seen any of them since summer and am starting to feel the homesickness. I try to make time during the week to reach out to all of them, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen with everything else going on. Hopefully they can get my head out of my textbooks, help me to relax, and have a little fun before diving back on Monday.

What I have found to be so incredible and different about our third year of vet school is that we are finally putting all the pieces together and understanding veterinary medicine on a different level. Our veterinary puzzle is actually starting to come together, and it is SO EXCITING!