How I Got Into Vet School

It’s a beautiful fall day.  I’m sitting in the back yard, kleenex up my nose (having either a horrid allergy attack or coming down with a cold…not sure) watching the kids jump on the trampoline.  Usually it’s just a matter of time before Perry (the 4 year old) gets hurt.  Friday we all ended up at Acute Kids Care (LOVE THEM!!!) trying hard not to catch the flu.  Perry fell at the play ground and lacerated his chin.  As I was sitting in the exam room, trying not to inhale any flu germs, I wished I had the nerve to suture him myself.   Last year my boss cut his finger and I just about passed out trying to suture it.  I actually had to stop mid-suture so I could sit and do the head between the knees thing.  I can suture dogs and cats all day, but human skin is waaay different. 

Turns out, Perry didn’t have to get sutures, they were able to glue it and put in a couple of butterflies.  We were all giddy with joy that Perry didn’t have to get lidocaine shots in his face.  Aidan lacerated his lip when he was 4, they suture that one.  Scalp lacs require staples the doc informed me.  I have a skin staple gun and tissue glue at work…..for next time. (We’ll see about that one…)

So all’s well that ends well, as long as we don’t get the flu (incubation period is about a week, right?)

So I thought I’d tell the tale of how I got into vet school.  Dr. Rogers reminded me of it last week when she took a cuterebra out of the side of this cute little yorkie.  A cuterebra is this disgusting little worm that lives in a hole in an animals skin and eats their flesh.  Eventually it grows into a giant worm, and then a fly.  They are my absolute favorite.   (I’ve said before, to do this job you have to have a taste for all things gross).  I haven’t had the opportunity to see one since I was a high school student working at Atascazoo Animal Hospital in Humble (pronounced um-ble, no “h”), Texas, my home town. 

Cuterebras were a pretty common occurence down in the tropics of Houston and I LOVED when we got them.  The animal comes in with a boil, abscess or just a little hole.  If you watch it long enough, you can see the little worm come up for air, then go back down.  It was so COOL.   The vet would carefully dissect out the worm, and poof, animal was cured.

In vet school, I learned that it was actually  sort of a dicey operation because if the worm broke, it could potentially set off a massive anaphylactic reaction and be life threatening to the pet. 

Another disgustoid thing we got in Houston from time to time was what we affectionately referred to as “maggot dogs”.  This one was not so cool.  Thank God I don’t see those now, nestled as I am, in the little yuppie enclave of Plano.  These dogs were generally neglected and developed some sort of injury that subsequently attracted flies who laid eggs which then became masses of writhing maggots. 

There is a very distinct smell associated with these.  Once you smell it you will never ever forget it .   It’s kind of this sickly sweet odor, like vanilla pus.  I can’t describe it, and frankly, haven’t smelled it in around 10 years.  But when I smell it, I know to start looking for the maggots.

I worked at Atascazoo from about 1988, on and off until I finished vet school in ’98.  My experiences there were integral to forming the vet I am today.  I remember asking Dr. Kiker when I was maybe in 3rd grade: what’s it take to be a vet?  She said to me:  “Make good grades, and work for a vet as soon as you can.”    Age 15, I started working for her, in the kennel, scooping poop and walking dogs.

One fine evening a family brought in some kind of furry Lhasa Apso type dog for evaluation.  The dog lived out in the back yard, apparently ignored, and had developed a bad case of mats (in human hair, they’re referred to as dread-locks).   The mats got wet, and infected.  Then the flies came. 

I have zero recollection of what that dog’s name was, but we called her “Maggie”.  I think every single inch of her skin was covered with writhing maggots.  It was my job to shave off the mats and remove the maggots.  Just what every little girl dreams of when she fantasizes about being a pet doctor right?

I remember like it was yesterday.  I’d shave off the fur and there was literally thousands of little half-maggots writhing (they had eaten thousands of little holes in the dog’s flesh).  Once I got off all the fur I had to bathe her to clean her up.  The dog subsequently went into shock.  Her heart stopped three times.  My boss brought her back  to life twice.  I remember my unflappable hero, Dr. Kiker saying “Third strike, she’s out”. 

That night, when I tried to sleep, all I could see was maggots.  Hence, I got no sleep.  That was the night before I had to take the GRE exam to get into vet school. 

During my vet school interview, they asked me why I didn’t do so well on that test (I did ok, just not stupendous).  I told them the story of Maggie. 

I don’t remember anything else about that interview, except for one of the professors exclaiming that if I could go through that, and STILL want to be a vet….then I’m in. 

And that, my friends, is how I got into vet school.  (I mean, I got good grades and stuff too.  Dont’ get me wrong, any vet wannabes out there…but Maggie was the clincher)


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