Arrivederci First Year

Well, that was one hell of a year.

Which is absolutely insane, not least because I’m not sure I’ve even come to terms with the fact that I made it to vet school at all! I guess I’ll have to wrap my noggin around it, because year two begins in three months.

I remember so clearly the first time I visited Easter Bush to tour its facilities. I recall walking around its impressive teaching building and world-class hospitals, and having to close my gaping mouth at regular intervals. It was like a gleaming artist’s impression of the future, absolute perfection. And absolutely unattainable.

I remember seeing the students moving between lectures and working in the hospitals – my idols. These people were among the very best of their generation, and had made it through some of the toughest selection processes to study at a world-renowned institution of science. I wondered what it must be like to have that affirmation, and to belong to such a tight family of professionals.

In all honesty, I can’t tell you all that much about affirmation… I still can’t quite believe I made it.

But there’s certainly a lot to be said for my new family. I can’t help comparing back to what I used to know. Sure I had friends in school, and I knew lots of people, but the vast majority wouldn’t give me the time of day. Aside from the company of a kind few, I felt way out of place, all of the time. There was never a shortage of snide comments, or even outright bullying, to remind me that in this cliquey environment, I wasn’t really invited.

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For a very long time, I was convinced that there was something wrong with me. It must be my fault that I’m so universally rejected by so many of my peers.

I now know that this was absolute bull. And I owe that to these people:

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People will be people, and everyone’s an individual, but there’s a unique and special bond that holds the Dick Vet family together. We’re all trying to stay afloat, and we’re all in it for the same passion, so I know that if I need anything at all, from a pen to port in a storm, I only have to ask. There are things I can do now that I would never have attempted at school, like I can approach groups of people and be enthusiastically welcomed into their conversations. Or people will approach me at the bus stop, or in the locker room, just to ask who I am and how I am. These are things I’ve never experienced before. Complete acceptance, non-judgement and knowing that my peers have got my back.

I don’t feel the need to compete with these people in the same way I used to. My classmates will openly seek my help, and older students will eagerly pass on their advice to help me along. Because they know what it’s like. We all understand each other, because we see ourselves in each other. That’s what a family is. I’ve finally found my people, and there’s certainly something affirming about that.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that the Dick Vet family is the envy of the university, med students included. There’s nothing like us, we’re damn proud of that fact… and as our rugby boys like to put it: together we stand as one giant Dick, that the others just can’t handle. Hear, hear.

These people have changed me. The whole experience has left me feeling like a very different person.

This first year has been a relentless series of challenges that have escalated week by week, the kind of challenges that bring people face to face with their own limits. It’s not just been a test of the limits of our memory. It’s been a test of our resilience, patience, determination, passion, independence, and physical and mental strength. It’s a course unlike any other that I’ve ever heard of. On a single day of the week, you can find yourself memorising complex biological concepts, standing up and presenting research to a leading expert, struggling to maintain control of a fifteen hundred pound animal, and battling the urge to throw in the towel. I’ve never before been the target for such a massive volume of information, I’ve never wanted so badly to slam the brakes on time itself just to catch my breath and take it in. I’ve never been so completely and utterly exhausted.

I understand now what exhaustion means. Exhaustion is when something is depleted completely, it’s when there’s literally nothing left. It’s when you’ve motivated the hell out of yourself, but motivation can’t light the dregs any more. It’s when the world loses its colour, and everything looks the same.

Exhaustion is when you find yourself standing in the middle of a room with a friend, laughing with a kind of hysteria that borders on insanity, because you’ll both be damned if you let this thing make you cry.

And yet I’ve never felt so alive. It’s only when you find something that really, really puts your back against the ropes that you start learning what you’re made of. You start doing crap you never thought you could do, and you find this minute-on-minute purpose through every single day. I started to value completely ordinary moments, and appreciate people in completely new ways.

And with each day of lectures and each minute spent with an animal, I felt a huge part of my identity fitting into place. I’m not just a teen who likes animals any more, I’m a veterinary student. Animals, medicine… it’s what I do now.

I’m a single, solitary year into a very long degree, and yet I could never have predicted possessing such a thorough understanding of the animal body as the understanding I have already. It changes the whole world, everything’s different – I’ll never look at animals, at people, the same way again. The living organism is a mind-blowing universe in and of itself, and the privilege of getting to know it so intimately is something I wish everyone could have. People have no idea just how beautiful and outstanding they really are, just by being at all. And so the exhaustion is worth it, this field of study so captures my attention that to dedicate every last measure of my energy is my pleasure.

But I’ve learnt so very much more than just the contents of my lectures. I’ve learnt a great deal about myself, about the world and the people in it, about how indistinct the line can be between ‘friend’ and ‘family’, and just what it is to live what you love.

And so here’s to four more years of discovery, and of exhaustion.

But it’s not over just yet. In two weeks I’ll be starting a solid eight weeks of placements, starting with a week of dairy farming. If it’s anything like my dairy work experience, you’re going to want to tune in. See you there.

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