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

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Introspection

There will be a year-end review, which I am currently working on, but those always take me a ridiculously long time to put together and I have been insanely busy. And when I haven't been busy, I've just been trying to enjoy my time away from the computer by reading actual books with pages. Or cooking. I've been cooking a lot lately because I actually have time to make dinner after work instead of throw a frozen dinner or canned soup in the microwave to heat up. (When you work 12-hour shifts, especially 12-hour shifts that end in the wee hours of the morning, there ain't no time for cooking. You eat what you can, when you can, as fast as you can on work days because otherwise you won't get enough sleep. 10-hour shifts that end at 6:00 pm allow time for cooking. And working out. And sitting on the couch to watch a good movie before bed!)

In the meantime, I did want to put some thoughts about this year together because, in spite of some kind-of-epic hurdles, it was a really awesome year.

Riding with Gail at the Foxcatcher 25-mile LD, which we both completed!
Photo by Hoof Print Images; used with purchase.
I only got to compete with Lily once because every other plan to go to a ride was thwarted by said Mareface. I was incredibly frustrated each time, especially when she decided to send herself to the hospital on emergency, but truth be told, going into each of the competitive settings that I had planned for I had had some major concerns about one thing or another (like freaking hoof boots OMG. Gail's experience at the National Championship LD was literally my worst nightmare and precisely what I had been dreading in the hoof protection department) and ultimately, the need to stay home was met with relief on my part. Sometimes things are just not meant to be, and that's okay. Though the part where we're truly okay with a failed plan might take some time to come around to.

So 2/3rds of the way through the year I threw up my hands in anger and frustration and decided I was done with planning anything at all and would just go with the flow from now on when it came to the horses.

Easier said than done, right? Especially because I am a chronic planner. I plan everything and always have. I plan weekends several weeks in advance. Most of the time those plans are flexible but only to a certain point: if I really want to do something, I get really upset if it doesn't happen. I consider my obsession with planning to be both a strength and a weakness. This actually was the biggest challenge for Charles to get used to when it came to living with me because he is the complete opposite: he used to be the kind of person that never planned anything.

So this not-planning was actually really stressful for me. In the beginning. After Lily smashed her face, I'd go to the barn expecting to find some sort of disaster and then when everything would be okay, I'd decide what I was going to do with which horse.

After a while though, when everything continued to be okay, I started to kind of like this not-planning thing. I eventually started to look forward to not-planning. I'd arrive at the barn and check where each mare's head was at and then either do groundwork or ride in the arena or hit the trails depending on how they were doing/feeling. And it led to me being okay with keeping Lily again (you guys have no idea how hard I was hit emotionally when having to deal with yet another major injury with her this year) and to some major progress with Gracie.

Cantering bareback was a childhood dream that came true this year.
Because I was working with the horse I had on said day, not the horse I was expecting to have.

This not-planning started to trickle into other aspects of my life and for some unexplainable reason made me feel more confident about who I am and my place in the world. My other major source of stress was work: I was at breaking point with veterinary emergency work and my evening work schedule was starting to be detrimental to my health. I was contemplating switching to work in a different branch of veterinary entirely. Which branch? At the time, I was considering research, specifically: it is the highest-paying branch of veterinary medicine and you get government benefits if you work at any of the big labs here in the Washington, D.C. metro area. The National Institute of Health (NIH) is here, for example. Research veterinary technicians work right alongside the veterinarians and often get to use their skill sets to their maximum capabilities. I had the necessary credentials and experience to make the leap; I just had to take the ALAT (Assistant Lab Animal Technician) and later the LAT (Lab Animal Technician) tests, for which I took practice courses while in tech school. I literally just had to pay for the exams, take them and apply for the jobs. I just didn't think I was ready to deal with mass euthanasias at the end of a study. And it may sound trivial to some, but I also really, really didn't want to work with primates, which is often a possibility when working in a lab setting if you're working on the animal side (vs the microbiology side). (Also: monkeys are dangerous and terrifying. That is all.) Research is a highly misunderstood branch of veterinary medicine by the general public and while animal welfare is highly, highly monitored (believe it or not. The laws set for lab animal welfare and the paperwork involved are far stricter than anything you will find in the companion animal setting!) I still wasn't sure how I felt about all of the questions I had that would only be answered by working in the field itself. I was just really uneasy about making this leap.

I had been talking to Liz and Karen a lot about my frustrations with veterinary emergency and critical care (ECC) in general and one day Karen asked, "Why don't you just do something else?"

It was a simple question, and one that I had asked myself multiple times. And the answer came out without me even thinking about it: "I'm waiting for a sign."

That was what it boiled down to. That is why I had been lingering in ECC for such a long time...I had been burned out since we moved from Florida three years ago. But I was waiting for a sign that I should move on and do something else. You see, I had wanted to work in emergency and critical care since before starting my vet tech degree. My first veterinary job going into school was as a vet tech assistant at a very busy 24-hour specialty hospital in Davie, FL. I've always been a closet adrenaline junkie and I became addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes from the unpredictability of working emergency. The technicians I worked with at that first job were the equivalent of goddesses of animal knowledge in my eyes. I wanted so badly to be like them, to be one of them. They were absolute badasses that knew everything, could fix anything and worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the doctors, oftentimes even teaching them a thing or two.

We have an oath too. Just like veterinarians, doctors and nurses.
I loved it with a passion and it had been the be-all and end-all for me from the first time I walked into a vet tech classroom: my drive to work in emergency and critical care had become a defining part of who I was. It was the singular force that drove me to excel in school, that got me through job after job as I literally worked my way up the ranks. From the beginning, I had wanted to immerse myself in saving animals left and right, in making a difference in their care, in walking that line between life and death and influencing the outcome. And I had immersed myself in it. I loved it so much that I wanted to specialize in it, and had started working towards getting my act together to eventually take the board exam to become a member of the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians. (If you think that's an easy process, think again. Here are all of the requirements a vet tech needs to become specialized in emergency and critical care.)
Though at times, it really can be what brings home your weekly paycheck.
After a while in this field, you get really good at knowing when a patient is going to die. The problem was that sometimes we could postpone death...for an hour, for a day, for a week, for a month. Maybe more, if we were lucky. But most of the time, the animal died despite the knowledge that he/she was about to go, despite superhuman efforts to save him/her, despite all the money in the world from the owners and the most advanced medical care from us. If a patient's time is up, there is nothing you can do to change that.

And after a while, that just breaks you, you know? The fact that you can't do anything to stop death, when you are faced with this reality day in and day out...no matter what you believe in, it just starts to slowly kill you.

The problem was that I felt so dead inside by this point that I couldn't figure out anything else I could want to do in vet med with even a remotely comparable passion to what I had once felt for emergency and critical care. I felt so defeated, and for the longest time it had just been easier to stay and hope for something to change than to try to make an effort to be interested in anything else. Things would often get better for a while and my love for this branch of vet med would spark again, but less than a third of the way into 2015, I knew that, once and for all, I was done. I had reached the point of no return and was stuck.

Literally the day after I had the conversation with Karen, when I came up with the reason why I continued to watch and wait and put it out in words for the Universe, I walked into work with a different headspace. And literally 5 minutes after breezing through the doors, I got my sign bright and clear in glaring neon lights.

I was supposed to move on into something else. And the door had just been slammed wide open to allow for it to happen. The best part? I got to stay!! I really like the hospital I work at: I love the medicine, the management, the quality of care, the doctors, my coworkers, and being a part of it all. It's a huge hospital with over 150 employees, and I'm both known and loved there. I take pride in saying I work there. Why is this a big deal? I've worked at places with really shitty medicine or really shitty work environments or really shitty pay or management or a combination of any or all of the above. It's really hard to find a place with halfway decent pay for techs, good medicine, good hospital management and a good work environment. No veterinary hospital is perfect, but this one really had it all for me. I really didn't want to venture out into the unknown to try to find another place like this one when I already had it! 

There was some teeth pulling and negotiating involved to make the change happen in a timely manner, and I was taught yet another lesson in patience, but all in all, the transition from emergency to surgery was a breeze. And in the process, I learned that I have a voice and that people will listen and that I can make a difference. I can't go into the details about that, but it was eye-opening and incredibly empowering. And it all came about from learning to live more in the moment.

Surgery was not something I would have considered on my own. But when the door opened, with it came the sudden realization that there was nothing that I wanted to do more. Why? Because finally, FINALLY, I would be in control. In control of the outcome, of my patient's life. Like I said before here, I am in the driver's seat instead of running behind the chaos trying to pick up the leftover pieces.

In Emergency, we used to get anywhere from one to 10 deaths per 12-hour shift. Think about that for a minute. Sometimes all of the cases that would come in on a slow day were pet owners bringing their pets in specifically for euthanasia because their regular vet was closed or they just liked the way we handled euthanasia. (Because we are extra, extra compassionate at my hospital.)

I have been working in Surgery full time since October and training in the department since July...and we have had ONE death during all of that time. Just one. In five months!! It was a critical patient that went into surgery against the doctors' recommendations (it was one of those cases where the pet would die without surgery and probably during surgery too, but if he survived surgery, he might live a few more months). This patient coded in the OR and couldn't be brought back. It was no one's fault: it was just this patient's time to go. Every measure was taken to prevent it and to bring the patient back, but it just couldn't be stopped.

We plan a lot in Surgery, which plays well with my OCD planning streak. But when it comes down to it, once that animal is under anesthesia, you are living in the moment, watching, changing, adjusting, based on the way that particular patient responds to pain, to the procedure, to the anesthetic gas, to the drugs we have administered to prevent pain, and to the unexplainable. You prevent what you can, change what you can, and react to what you can't change. And if you don't know what to do, there is a group of people backing you up that you can ask questions to, who will happily answer them and step in to help when necessary.

I find that even more so than in Emergency, you have to stay calm: being frazzled while monitoring anesthesia really does affect your sleeping patient, which is an even greater proof of just how fine-tuned animals are to the emotions and energy around them. I have always had a scientific mind first and foremost. However, while I don't consider myself religious, I do consider myself highly spiritual and if there had ever been a question about my belief in a higher power, I would tell you that working in veterinary medicine has made me all that more certain of its existence. I have been, and continue to be witness to, things that cannot be explained rationally, both from the patient standpoint and the coworker standpoint. Animals know and understand a lot more about the world and about human beings than we begin to give them credit for, and there are people out there with true super powers. And I get to work with them.

Magic. It exists.


Another great thing that came out of this year was drawing.

Lily's injury that I was so upset about, that resulted in her hospitalization and endless amounts of work once she was back home, got my drawing rolling once and for all. Liz gets a HUGE amount of credit for this, as without her push, I most likely wouldn't have been as motivated. I had had an online store up for over a year through Vistaprint and had had absolutely no hits on it. Seeing Beka's success with her Etsy Straight Shot Metal Smashing store, I decided to make the switch to Etsy myself. Liz gave me a deadline, saying she would advertise the shop on her Facebook by x date. It was exactly what I needed.

I got the shop set up in a rush and the rest is history.

This drawing is one of my all-time favorites from this year. I only used colored pencil for him but he looks like an oil painting! He was commissioned by a former veterinary intern from one of the first e-vet intern classes I helped train. She now lives in Hong Kong, where she works with zoo animals and exotics. She is one hell of a veterinarian. We have kept in touch for the last 6 years through Facebook.
The power of social media is an incredible thing, btw.
Liz, Karen, Kathy and Beka all shared the store link and friends and friends of friends started ordering drawings. There has been a fairly steady trickle of orders ever since July, which have been a huge help in paying the vet bills. Towards the end of October, the little side job boomed to the point where I can say that in 2015 alone, I drew more than in the last TEN YEARS put together.

I even participated in Inktober, though I didn't get to finish out the month because I got too busy with the portraits!
I hadn't realized how much I missed it, how much I missed that part of myself. I had reached the point in my life where I had stopped feeling the urge to draw...I used to wake up and draw before breakfast every single day! And for the last few years I didn't draw at all...maybe a doodle while talking on the phone at work every few months. That's how far I had strayed from the person I used to be.

The funny thing is that because of Lily's injury and the Facebook advertising, this is the first time since starting work in veterinary medicine 8 years ago that my coworkers are aware of the fact that I can draw animals. Why is it funny? Because it is the drawing animals that brought me into veterinary medicine to begin with. The drawing came first. It came before everything else in my life. Before I could even speak, I drew. Animals. Always animals. Which should tell you why the frustration of not being able to do more, to save more, in emergency medicine was ultimately so devastating for me.

This year, it came full circle. Veterinary medicine took me back to drawing.


Charles worked on New Year's Eve and I had the option of spending it with some of my coworkers. In fact, I had been one of the spearheads in the plan to get together to party! But then the week of New Year's I came down with my yearly winter "itis": every winter for the last 15 years, regardless of country, state or climate, or how much immune-boosting stuff I take, I come down with some sort of upper respiratory infection that causes a major asthma flare-up. I don't have asthma except when I get my winter "itis". Why is it an "itis"? Because it used to be bronchitis every year but as the years have gone by the inflammation occurs higher and higher up in my airway...now it is considered a laryngitis or pharyngitis. Whatever. I just call it the "itis." I hate it with a vengeance because without fail it will throw a monkey wrench into whatever plans I have, but at the same time, getting sick only once a year really isn't bad at all. I felt okay enough to go to the party but I knew I would be paying for it dearly the next day, both health-wise and in my ability to have a productive first of the year. Also, I couldn't drink anyway because I was on steroids and antibiotics, which took half of the fun away!

So I did precisely what I had been trying to avoid: I stayed home alone. And like with anything, the fact that I chose to be alone, vs it being forced upon me, made it 100% okay. My Surgery department worked on the 31st and by the end of the day I was REALLY looking forward to getting home and making dinner and just hanging out at home with all of the Christmas lights blazing.

We actually got out early. And I was able to swing by the barn to check on the girls while we still had daylight...because on December 31st 2015, it was still daylight at 5:00 pm! *happy dance* I hadn't seen them in daylight in two weeks. And then I stopped by the grocery store and bought the ingredients for a fancy dinner: sauteed chicken with a rosemary, goat cheese and white wine sauce. And a side of roasted garlic potatoes that I made in the oven. And pumpkin cheesecake from Wegman's. Because they have the best cheesecake ever.

I lit candles and danced to Puerto Rican Christmas music while cooking, then set aside portions of everything for Charles for when he got home later in the evening. We texted as much as his work was permitting: they were having spurts of busy-ness. I finished another drawing.

Black cat on black paper! He was especially fun to draw.
Secret Santa gift for a coworker. :)
And then I sat down on the couch in my sweatpants with my feet propped up on the coffee table to watch Outlander while waiting for midnight. I called my mom in PR at 11:00 pm because it was already midnight on the island (they don't participate in the time change) and we talked for half an hour.

At midnight I cracked open one beer (because no champagne. And one beer with my meds wasn't going to kill me) and said good-bye to 2015 and hello to 2016.

One minute later, Charles called. And Karen texted: she is on a different time zone but she still kept track of Eastern time to say Happy New Year. Love her!

I've spent inordinate amounts of time alone this year, looking back on it, between Charles's crazier-than-usual work schedule and being at a quiet barn where I ride at different times from everyone else. But unlike 2014, where I battled some pretty awful depression for a good chunk of the year despite being surrounded by people most of the time, I never once felt lonely this year. New Year's Eve was no different.

And today? Today I got up early, hit the gym, made a huge brunch for Charles and me, then hung out at the house until Charles had to leave for work. After he had left, I went out to the barn to see the girls. I had originally wanted to ride but temperatures had dropped 30 degrees over the last couple of days and it was frigid out, which made my cough unhappy. I decided to just check on the girls. And then I got there and decided I would use a shedding blade to remove the encrusted meringue mud from their coats.

Lily modeling her meringue mud -_-
I didn't even take them out of the their field. I stood them in the run-in shed, which blocked the steady icy wind perfectly and they just stayed there while I went over them with the blade. Both Lily and Gracie seemed to enjoy the attention so much that I ended up giving them a full spa day: currying, brushing, combing mane and tails. Gracie was practically smiling with twinkling eyes as she held very, very still for the attention, and Lily would nudge me if I stopped.

It was a very relaxing, soothing afternoon spent at peace with the horses. And a great way to start this year.

And now I leave you with this gorgeous video that Gail shared on her blog today. The imagery is achingly beautiful and the speeches gave me goosebumps. They apply to us as equestrians, but also to life in general. Do watch and listen!

I wanted to share this with you because the speeches in it got me thinking for the better. It was exactly what I was needing. This goes so much deeper than equestrianism. Even if you're not into horses, just listen.. & Yes, I made this video, but I do not own the clips or audio.
Posted by Kaitlyn Brooke on Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Happy New Year!


  1. Amen sista!
    Happy New Year. I'm expecting great things (for both of us) in 2016 :D

    1. Amen and happy New Year to you too, Calm! :D

  2. That childhood picture of you is so sweet! Funny how life works out! Looking forward to your recap post!

    1. Thanks Nicku! :) I believe I was 2-3 years old when that pic was taken. Recap post in the works!

  3. I am so happy that your new gig is working out so well! And I am going to have to get one of your drawings in 2016. The ones you just posted are stunning!

    1. Thank you Hillary! I'd be happy to do portraits of Annie or your dogs! :)

  4. Glad you were able to take some time and recap some highlights you had this year because it sounds like a LOT has happened- even though it wasn't in the form of attending rides! From my vantage point, you seem to be in a better place emotionally and mentally, and even job-wise now compared to a year ago, which I would say is a huge accomplishment :) And of course, hurrah for doing more art! May 2016 bring you many more good things <3

    1. Thanks Grace! Wishing you many more adventures with Quest in 2016...and hopefully meeting up with you at a ride! :D

      And also: thank you for the inspiration with drawing! I wouldn't have known about Inktober if it hadn't been for you!

  5. Pretty awesome year when you boil it all down. That black cat portrait is one of my favorites ever. I simply love it.

    Cheers to a wonderful 2016 full of fun, carefree rides, and adventures!

  6. I for one am glad you got your Etsy shop running. I got my drawing yesterday and love it!!!

  7. your portraits are so beautiful, i'm glad the etsy store is working out!!