"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tales from the Trenches: Veterinary ER Stories

I started this blog with the intention of also sharing stories from my job as a vet tech. Most people don't know what exactly a tech does unless they've been techs themselves. I have a pretty freaking awesome job, and I'm always meaning to write more about work but I'm always second-guessing myself when I do because there is a confidentiality and privacy issue; I don't want to say too much nor do I want to get in trouble. There have been several posts that I've published and then gone back and removed or completely re-vamped due to these non-disclosure rules. 

All that said, I am going to start a new series called Tales From the Trenches, which I hope to post randomly at least once a week. Patient names and problems will be changed to protect patient privacy, and I may change the patient's breed or species to further protect their privacy. The spirit of the story and the events which occur and the way in which doctors and techs handle the problem at hand will remain as they happened in real life. If I post photos from work, they will be of staff, as I am not allowed to post photos of patients on virtual media. If you see a photo of a patient of a cat or a dog on here, it is going to be a photo obtained from Google so as to help illustrate the story. I will explain things that I think you might not be familiar with. Most stories will be funny. Some will be sad. Some will just be great stories with a happy ending. There often will be sarcasm, as sarcasm and a big sense of humor are vital to surviving in any type of job that involves saving lives. 

Let us start!

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It snowed the other night while at work.

Usually things like polar vortexes and snow mean that people stay home with their pets. This night was the exception: it was unusually steady, especially after 10:00 pm, which is usually the time when things start to slow down.

We had one particularly memorable case, a 2 year old Great Dane mix named Odie that had been referred to our hospital by the client's regular vet to monitor for bloat. Bloat, aka GDV (gastric dilatation & volvulus) is a problem that is common in large breed dogs (and can also happen in horses!) and is a life-threatening emergency because it involves the stomach becoming full of air and flipping over on itself, effectively cutting off circulation to the stomach, liver, spleen and the entire hind end of the dog. It is either surgery or die. Symptoms are simple: non-productive retching, lethargy and a distended abdomen.

When Odie arrived with his owner in our lobby, he was bright, alert and bouncing around, almost pulling his owner to the ground as he tried to fill out his paperwork. The dog's abdomen was not distended, and he was not in danger of bloating at the moment; he was having bloody diarrhea and productive vomiting. He was panting excitedly when he arrived at our hospital. His regular vet had taken radiographs that showed a normal stomach with a moderate amount of air, most likely a result of his overzealous panting. His abdomen was normal on palpation but he was pretty dehydrated, which was confirmed with bloodwork.

Our intern who was overseeing the case recommended hospitalization and the owner agreed. So Odie got to spend the night with us.

He was one of those incredibly frustrating dogs that is large, strong, and goofy enough to have an uncanny ability for moving and doing things at exactly the worst possible moment.

Our intern wanted a blood pressure and an IV catheter placed so we could bolus Odie a large volume of IV fluids. Dehydrated patients can be tachycardic (have an accelerated heart rate) as a result of the thickened consistency of their blood: the heart has to work harder to pump that blood through the patient's veins. Odie's heart rate was almost 200 beats per minute on presentation; the normal heart rate of a dog his size is closer to 90!!

My coworker Janice and I decided to get the blood pressure first, as the stress of clipping the patient's leg, scrubbing and placing the IV catheter can cause enough anxiety to falsely elevate the blood pressure.

Obtaining a blood pressure on a dog, using a Doppler, a blood pressure cuff and a sphygnomanometer. (Bet you can't say that word quickly! I have coworkers that don't even bother. They just call it the "spaghettimometer" Hahaha...)
Odie did not like his paws touched. He did not like the sound of the Doppler. He did not like the cold ultrasound gel on his paw. Every time I started to hear his pulse through the Doppler, he'd yank his enormous paw out of my hand, despite Janice's awesome restraint skills and my firm hand around his toes. I'd have to start all over again trying to find his pulse with the Doppler so I could get his blood pressure. After the 5th attempt, Janice and I gave up and decided to just place his IV catheter.

Odie's IV placement was quite an ordeal in itself because of his uncanny ability for doing exactly the opposite of what you needed him to do at the worst possible time. I was able to get the catheter in his cephalic (front leg) vein, but then he somehow managed to remove the T-set (adapter for connecting an IV line to the IV catheter) with his other leg before I was able to tape it in. This involved a lot of gushing blood while trying to get Odie to hold still long enough to replace the T-set. Since we were sitting on the floor in the middle of the ER, I could not reach where we had our T-set stock up on the counter! Janice and I were able to get him to hold still long enough for us to occlude his vein with our hands and clean up his leg (you do NOT want blood smeared all over an IV catheter site, as blood is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria!), while one of the doctors passed me a fresh sterile T-set. Odie then kept randomly jerking his leg as I was trying to change the catheter tape, despite Janice's best efforts at holding him still. There is only so much you can do when the patient you are trying to restrain weighs more than you do!

Flushing a cephalic vein IV catheter on a dog.
The little cable-like looking thing attached to the IV is a T-set.

By this point, both Janice and I were laughing uncontrollably.

Then there was still the matter of obtaining Odie's blood pressure.

With a big sassy grin, I told our intern that based on how Odie's blood had gushed out through that 18 gauge IV, I determined his blood pressure to be 150. (This is a high normal value for a dog's systolic blood pressure. In veterinary, we just focus on the systolic pressure, and it is what we are able to obtain with the Doppler. If we have the patient connected to a multiparameter monitoring device, we'll focus on the Mean Arterial Pressure (MAP))

The intern laughed at me and said that, while she would gladly take my word for it, we still had to obtain a real blood pressure.

We started his fluids just letting him hang out in the middle of the ER. Since he was being a really good boy and just standing still, while Janice was squeezing the fluid bag (you can give a bolus on an IV fluid pump but the doctor wanted us to give almost a full liter as quickly as possible; it was faster to just squeeze the bag and let the fluids pour into him), I prepped a hind leg for Odie's blood pressure, thinking that maybe he'd be more tolerant of having this hind feet touched. (Some dogs really are better about their hind feet than their front feet.) The minute I put the Doppler probe to his foot, he kicked out like a horse and leaped forward. Janice ended up holding him for me while squeezing his fluid bag at the same time. Wouldn't you know: his blood pressure really was 150!

The intern high-fived me when I told her.

I got mad skillz yo. :D

Odie decided that that IV catheter in his leg sure looked yummy and tried to go for it with his teeth. "ODIE NO!!!" both Janice and I exclaimed. Thankfully, this was the one time he obeyed. Millie, the third tech working with us that night, grabbed an E-collar (aka Elizabethan collar, aka Cone of Shame) and slid it over Odie's head while Janice and I distracted him. Sorry Odie, we really don't want to have to go through that whole IV catheter ordeal again.

He now had a weapon on his head with which to knock us over like bowling pins.

Not Odie
His heart rate after his fluid bolus dropped to a much more normal rate of 120 beats per minute. Janice and I transferred Odie to our hospital's intermediate care ward and rounded the ward techs on him. Rounds include going over the patient's problem, symptoms, diagnostics run and treatments already performed, plan for the patient during his/her stay in the hospital, and a brief explanation of the patient's attitude and personality (if they get nippy about temperatures, if they need to be muzzled, diet preferences or restrictions, the best way to get that patient to calm down, any special handling required, etc.) We warned the ward techs that Odie had a knack for doing exactly the opposite of what you wanted him to do.

While rounding, he had been standing up in his run, head cocked, seeming to be listening attentively to everything we were saying about him. Katherine, the head ward tech, turned to Odie and told him, "Odie, you need to stand up."

Odie sat down.

Not Odie. But you get the idea!
The ward techs loved him. :)

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In the veterinary ER, we get cases in series. Example: we'll have weeks where on every shift we'll see at least one cat with a urinary obstruction. On another month, we'll get multiple hemoabdomens. For a week, we'll get emergency ear infections. There's always one specific problem that we will see in a series. It's weird. Sometimes it's borderline creepy, like the night where we had two different dogs come in that had run away from their homes. Both dogs had been found moments later with bites from another unknown animal; both dogs were brought into our ER minutes apart for laceration repairs. Both dogs each had a "cauliflower ear" (crinkly ear from a past ear hematoma.) Both dogs were from very different areas. Neither dog owner knew the other. That's just plain weird, guys.

This week, it was anemic cats. Of course, this had to happen when we had run out of cat blood for transfusions in our hospital.

Most specialty hospitals store canine and cat blood for possible transfusions. Most specialty hospitals will just order their blood from an animal blood bank. Some hospitals keep a couple of donors at the hospital. The canine blood donors of choice are greyhounds, as they naturally have a higher packed cell volume (PCV) than the average dog (this means they have more red cells circulating in their blood than the average dog.) The first specialty hospital I worked at had 5 greyhounds that lived at the hospital as blood donors.

My current hospital buys blood from the blood bank, but they also have the capacity to obtain and process blood from donors. We have a huge centrifuge for this purpose only (I could sit down in the centrifuge; it's that big!) , and all of the special equipment, blood bags, anticoagulants, and preservatives required for this job. The centrifuge is used to separate whole blood into units of packed RBCs (concentrated red cells) and plasma. (Plasma is the fluid portion of the blood; you can give a transfusion of just plasma to a patient with low blood proteins or one that needs coagulation factors.) Our donors don't live in the hospital; they are employee or client pets. Blood donors must meet certain health, weight and age criteria, and  have extensive blood work done once a year along with a very thorough physical exam to make sure everything is in order. They have another physical exam done at the time of donation - if anything is amiss, they are not donated. Donors must be absolutely 100% healthy animals.

Our centrifuge for donated blood looks very much like this one, except it's even bigger.

We have several techs that are specially trained to be able to prepare donated blood for storage. I have received this training but have not practiced it enough to feel confident donating an animal by myself and preparing the blood as required.

We had 3 anemic cats referred to us on this day that we had no cat blood, so we had to scramble to have employees bring their donor cats in for us to collect blood for transfusions.

Donor cats are always sedated for donation, as they must hold absolutely still while drawing that larger-than-average volume of blood. One of our main donor cats is named Peter. He is so feisty that his owner is unable to handle him when he is in the hospital. It is just fear on his part that makes him like this, so we try to get him sedated as quickly as possible because this often calms him down enough to actually make him a really nice cat to work with.

The day Peter was donated, he saved the life of an adorable young kitty who arrived at our hospital severely anemic.

Peter, however, let us know afterwards that he would gladly accept human sacrifices in exchange for his blood.

This really is Peter.
My coworkers Janice and Leah did this work of art in Peter's tribute with medical tape, and the photo was shared by all of us on Facebook. His owner loved it! (Unlike clients, employees at my hospital sign a waiver stating that photos of ourselves and our pets can be shared on the internet.)

The kitty felt so much better after her transfusion with Peter blood that she started channeling Peter himself. To everyone's relief, she was discharged to go home today. 





Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pony Time!!

Finally felt good enough today to make it out to the barn to see Lily! Charles offered to come with me, as I needed to re-arrange some of my stuff in the feed room so I can start keeping my beet pulp at the barn instead of storing it in the trunk of my car.

Have I mentioned before how awesome my husband is?

I wore: silk underpants, fleece breeches, insulated riding overpants; Cuddl Duds fleece top, wool turtleneck, 3-in-1 jacket; nylon sock liners, wool socks, snow boots, flannel scarf, and SSG 10-Below Gloves. I felt like the Michelin man, but I was toasty. Charles laughed at me when I told him it wasn't that cold. Well, when it's been in the teens for days, 31 degrees almost feels like summer. Almost...

I had taken some warm water from home with us with which to make up Lily's beet pulp in case the pipes were frozen again at the barn. We let her eat while we got my stuff figured out in the feed room. I wore a surgical face mask while inside the feed room: any dust or allergen exposure can rapidly set me back whenever I have any respiratory issue going on. It was a pain in the ass. My glasses kept fogging up, and it was either not be able to see or have to hold my breath indefinitely. Since I don't have the breath-holding capabilities of a dolphin, I ended up just removing my glasses while setting up Lily's feed for the week (grumble, grumble, grumble). I kept the face mask on though! I behaved! I was a good patient.

I was dying to ride, but I knew better than to try pushing myself too hard too soon, especially when I have to go back to work tomorrow. I decided to take Lily up to the arena to let her run around. She trotted all the way up the hill next to me, flagging her tail in anticipation! You'd think with all that acreage in her field she'd run whenever she wants, but apparently not.

The trotting didn't last very long.
She was being sassy at Charles. That's him standing by the gate.
Canter!!
Zooming trot



And some video; you can see her flicking her toes at the trot!

I saw Oscar drive by with the golf cart loaded with square bales for the mares, and thus I brought Lily to a stop and took her back down to the field so she could get her proper dinner and evening hay. 

I did it! I made it to see my pony! I actually felt even better after being outside for awhile, at least while at the barn. They've used so much salt around our neighborhood to melt the snow on the pavement that the smell bothers me; I find it irritating to my airway. Does anyone else have this problem?

The lake that we pass on the way to the barn. It was frozen solid! Charles ended up stopping the car to gawk. We've seen frozen water before. It's just still new for us to think that this is where we live! :)
Winter is much more fun when you are OUTSIDE.

Yay for pony time! 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Puerto Rico: A Photographic Essay


I have mentioned here before how I come from a family of artists. My mom and the aunts teach on the weekends at one of the art schools in Old San Juan, PR, and I grew up in that environment. Most weekends you could find my brother and me at the school sitting in my mom's or one of the aunts' classes, participating in the lesson because they were doing something particularly cool that day, or just quietly sitting in a corner of the classroom doing our own thing. The two classes that I actually signed up for were Ceramics when I was a teenager, and Photography when I was in my late teens-early 20's. I took 2 years of Ceramics and 3 years of Photography. Photography was my favorite. My professor was Alina Luciano, a photojournalist for the Claridad newspaper on the island, and one hell of a photographer in her own right. I LOVE that woman, her feisty, outspoken personality, and her incredible work, both within the context of the newspaper and outside of it. She was, and continues to be, a great teacher. I can't think of any other classes I've taken where I've consistently laughed more!

These are photos of photos, and thus the images do not do the originals justice. Each photo has its story, with a full array of sensory memories attached to each one.

Taken at the barn where I boarded Lucero. This little calico was one of the barn cats; she was actually walking down this wood panel that was leaning against one of the fences; I deliberately took the photo at a weird angle. This kitty was the sweetest little thing, and my BO's favorite of the cats. She was killed by one of the neighborhood strays, and my BO was extremely upset. I gave her a copy of this photo for her to remember her favorite kitty by. It was the only photo ever taken of this cat.
Lucero, back when I still kept him at home. I often tied him with a long rope to a sturdy tree on our hill to let him graze at will. Check out all that lushness around him. The vegetation would go nuts growing with our summer rains; our groundskeeper could not keep up with it, and thus Lucero was a huge help!
If I didn't tie him, Lucero would invariably end up in our backyard, where he would upset my grandmother and the dogs. He was very smart about ropes. 
Woven hammock on our back patio. It was a beautiful hammock, but quite uncomfortable to lay in! The fence overlooked the hill on the side of our property. This photo brings back the smells of wet earth, and that sweet green smell that accompanies the rainforest; it brings back the sounds of the pitirres singing in the trees, the coqui tree frogs chirping happily after the rain; the sharp tang of the humidity against my skin.
Ananda, one of the many strays that showed up at our doorstep and we kept. Here she was curled up in her favorite chair. The name came from Madeleine L'Engle's "A Swiftly Tilting Planet." It is Sanskrit for "That joy in existence without which the Universe would fall apart and collapse." She was one of the happiest dogs I'd ever known. She would break up arguments between our other dogs and lick their faces to put them at ease, until everyone was happily wagging their tails again.
She was not a purebred Dalmatian; we always thought she might have Lab in her as well. She just showed up one morning, a 6-month old pup that was so hearbreakingly thin, you could count her ribs and vertebrae. She was a little skeleton covered in spotted fur. My grandmother loved Dalmatians; she let us keep her. My grandmother would be outlived by her. Ananda passed away early last year; she was 17 years old.
One of the first photos I ever took where I deliberately captured a leaf with the light hitting it from behind.
This was an elephant ear plant. The leaves of the variety that is found on the island (I think the ones we have are Philodendron) can reach 3' in length.

We were given an assignment in Photography class where we had to take a self-portrait. However, our faces could not be part of this self-portrait; the photo had to be something intimately representative of ourselves in our truest form.
This was the photo I submitted for this project: Lucero's shadow at full attention, my leg disappearing around his side.
He had the thickest, most beautiful golden mane.
 Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.
It is one of the historical places in Old San Juan; there are tombs that date back all the way to the 1800's. It is a desolate, eerily beautiful place full of the bodies of Puerto Rico's past, the people that come to life in our history books.
The ocean breeze always blows here, and you can always hear the roar and thump of the ocean against the fortress walls that surround the cemetery. 
A tree's shadow painted across an Old San Juan wall by the light of the early morning sun.
On Saturdays, we'd arrive in San Juan early, before the rush of tourists and general weekend activity started. There is something special about such an ancient city when it is still asleep in the morning. Centuries of history slowly waking up as the sun rises higher in the sky, the restaurants and shops opening their doors one-by-one, the sweet smells of baking mayorcas, toasted bread, and fresh-brewed coffee filling the air.
A child's innocent graffiti in the art school. I remember this window: it separated the upstairs hallway from one of the classrooms, and was right above one of the large, deep sinks where you could clean out your painting materials.
The photography classroom was right next to this window.
It brings back the musty smell of the concrete walls of the school, the plasicky smell of acrylic paints, the acrid scent of the chemicals we used to develop our film and photos in class, the echo of children's voices in the hallways.

Every couple of months, Old San Juan hosts all sorts of craft and art shows, where local artists can sell their wares.
This was a class contest: we had to take 1 single photo that captured the essence of this particular craft show.
This photo won. 
A grackle on one of the fountains in El Paseo de la Princesa in Old San Juan.
There are tons of pigeons in the area, but also grackles. The grackles are the bravest: if you are eating a snack, they will follow in your footsteps as you walk down the sidewalk, or hop around the bench you are sitting on, waiting for crumbs to drop. We call the grackles "changos" on the island.

A chocolate Lab attentively watching the streets of Old San Juan from his home. I remember what color he was because at the time I took the photo, he reminded me so much of my uncle's own chocolate Lab, Rufo.

My brother and me; the only photo in this series not taken by myself. :) My mom took this one; we were playing in the living room at home.
My brother was playing the electric base, and I was playing my acoustic guitar. In my early 20's I entertained a short-lived obsession with music. It was the only art I had not explored yet.

My brother with his bass.
This would eventually lead to one of my bigger projects for Photography class. The following 8 photos were part of that project.
In early 2000, I decided to do a photographic essay of some of Puerto Rico's local bands; the project lasted about a year.  This was the bass player of the local punk rock band, "La Experiencia de Tonito Cabanillas." The band still exists! Though the members are completely different now, they still strive to bring to light some of PR's political and cultural injustices through their music and videos. If you want to hear what island punk sounds like, you can go here

Lead guitarist of "La Experiencia de Tonito Cabanillas."

Lead singer of "La Experiencia de Tonito Cabanillas." His name was Tony. I loved his tattoo; I'd often see him from a distance at school, as he was working on a music degree at the time and was in my same department.
Trumpet player of "Kampo Viejo." I love this photo, how his silhouette is etched in light.
For these photos, I used ASA 1600 film by Fuji.
Around 2000, Kampo Viejo was an up-and-coming Puerto Rican ska band. They had a local record deal and were trying very hard to achieve national recognition by coming over to the States to play. You did not get radio play on the island unless you had already had radio play in the US, a very stupid rule that I believe still exists to this day. They never made it; they had a really hard time finding a good manager and promoter to get them recognition on the mainland, and later there were some disagreements among the band members that I think were the cause of their ultimate demise. I honestly don't know what became of them and there are no online records to be found explaining what happened.
I dated their bass player for a year, though at the time I expressed my interest in him, I didn't even know he was in a band. He worked at the music store where I purchased my guitar strings and we'd been flirting for awhile.
My personal interests aside, I discovered ska as a genre because of this band. Actually, I learned to really listen to music, to pick out individual instruments, chords and notes, because of this band and my relationship with Victor. They were good. It was a pity they never made it. You can listen to one of their big hits here.
Eduardo, on the left, was the rhythm guitarist and lead singer. I sadly cannot remember the name of the guy on the right.
Victor, Kampo Viejo's bass player. 
Kampo Viejo's percussionist. His name was David. He was a spicy, happy-go-lucky guy that attracted girls like flies! This is among my favorite of the hundreds of band photos I took. At the time, they were playing at a skating competition, and had been told to set up in the middle of a steel skating "U". Thus, they had a ton of light reflecting back at them from the metal surface surrounding them. It was a really hot summer day; they were all roasting by the time they finished playing their set.

You can read about both La Experiencia and Kampo Viejo within the context of Puerto Rican rock in this article. I share these with you because it is a part of the island that outsiders never get to experience unless they know where to go to listen to these bands.

That time with the bands was a very weird time in my life. When I was playing guitar and was so interested in music, I attracted musicians in the sense that I was surrounded by them most of the time; the majority of my friends were musicians. I didn't know a single musician prior to this time. It was like something about me had changed and we could scent one another out.
The day I broke up with Victor was the same day I lost interest in music as anything other than something I enjoy listening to. I never played the guitar again. And I have never been among musicians again; when I stopped being one of them, I surrendered the ability to find them out of context.

My uncle still owns a beach house in the southeast corner of the island, in the tiny, tiny town of Arroyo. Every summer and spring break, and sometimes other holidays, we would borrow his beach house for anywhere from a weekend to two weeks. To get there, we had to cross the island's central mountain range. It was always bright and sunny when we went, except for this one trip. It was Thanksgiving. It was chilly and raining from the time we left our house to the time we packed our things at the beach. The mountains, as we crossed them on the way to the beach, were shrouded in mist.

Old sugar cane field in Guayama, the town next to Arroyo. This was taken during the same trip as the previous photo.

Two rivers lead to the ocean in Arroyo, which means you can find tons of smooth river stones strewn across the beach after storms. I have a collection of them that I keep in a ceramic bowl on our dresser.

My brother. I loved photographing him, and it used to drive him crazy at times.
I think photographing him in the starkness of black and white was my attempt at keeping him in the light, at preserving the part of him that made him unique, the part of him that he was rapidly having to change in order to fit in in the world.
When my brother was born, the doctors thought there was something seriously wrong with him because he didn't cry.
He was silent. And then he laughed.
He was born laughing, a brilliant little boy that glowed with happiness and light. He could see and understand things that the average person could not. He had a sensitivity, an aura about him that marked him as different. And he was taunted mercilessly in school because of it. It almost broke him, and it's why I have no forgiveness for bullying.
We were close growing up, not like your average siblings that squabble and bicker constantly. We were best friends, partners in our adventures. We kept one another's secrets and could often speak without using words. We literally saved one another's lives multiple times in our adventures together. 
I wish I could have protected him from the bullying as well.
He lives in Ohio now and is happily married; he was the first of our family to move to the great white North.

My aunt Lucy at the beach house. She was staring out the front entrance of the house towards the parking lot. I love the soft dreamy quality of this photo.
My aunt Lucy and I have always been so very much alike that people still think I'm her daughter. Not only were we alike physically; we were alike personality-wise too. We butted heads a lot when we all lived under one roof. Now that we are separated by some 1,600 miles, we get along quite well and talk more often than when we lived together!

My brother sketching while sitting out on the beach house's patio after a morning in the ocean.

My brother in the foreground and his best friend, Jerry, in the background.

Jerry. He was my brother's best friend from the time they were 6 years old, and we referred to him as the third sibling. He fit right in. He was a gifted gymnast as a child and went on to be a professional dancer and instructor. Like most of the people our age we knew growing up, he now lives in the continental US.

One more coconut, rolling back and forth on the shore with the sway of the waves.

Dried up brambles found on the beach after a storm.

A typical morning in Arroyo. My brother is in the rocking chair by the windows, his friend Jerry is leaning back on the couch. The girl leaning forward on the couch was my friend from university, Alice, and that's her little sister sitting on the couch armrest. Everyone reading. We had a strict no technology rule at the beach house, and it was us kids that had set it: we could listen to music and talk to family on the phone, but no TV and no video games were allowed.  Time that was not spent physically in the ocean or walking along the beach was spent writing, drawing, reading.

Huge piles of driftwood still on the beach a couple of months after one of the big hurricanes.

Another self portrait.
That's my hand on my bodyboard, ready to go ride the waves.
There are beaches far more beautiful than Arroyo on the island, but Arroyo for me was the one place where my soul could rest, where I could find peace within myself. It was my haven. It is the place where I would want my ashes spread.
Part of that peace was obtained from riding the waves, the sport that I discovered on this beach that always kept me safe, with its sandy bottom and gentler waves. I lived for that lift-off from the sandy bottom as the wave crested behind me, allowing myself to be captured by the power of the ocean as I maneuvered my board to slice across the waves at top speed in the wake of their breaking force. I loved it almost as much as I do riding horses. You can't dominate the ocean, you can't force your will upon it. You have to wait for that wave and give yourself to it so that you can ride it. You become one with it, with one of the most primal forces on Earth: the ocean. The waves.

My bedroom at the beach house in the morning.  The southern side of the island where Arroyo is located has a more arid, desert-like climate, which meant that the days were blazing hot and dry, but the evenings were wonderfully cool. You did not need air conditioning to sleep well at night; I just had a fan. My bedroom faced east and there were no curtains over the main glass windows; I liked it like that. It meant I was woken up bright and early by the fiery heat of the sun, despite the cool air from the fan. I'd lie in bed for awhile, enjoying the increasing heat as the sun crept higher in the sky, listening to the waves crash distantly on the shore, knowing that any minute now I'd be getting out of bed to get straight into my swimsuit so I could run down to the beach for yet another morning of surfing.

A generic beach photo. Except it is my beach: Arroyo.

The rearview mirror of my Toyota Tercel; I was in the passenger seat and we were coming home from the art school on a Saturday evening. It had been raining all day.

The view of the city from our backyard at night.