Monday, November 7, 2016

7 Nov 16: Shelly celebrates Halloween

Hi, everybody. I just wanted to give you a quick update on the Shellster. About 8 days ago, I passed the Shelly torch to two of my colleagues, Jaclyn and Trey. Being the class president, Trey was one of the first people I met at UGA. He is awesome and he LOVES turtles so I felt confident that I was leaving her in capable hands.
"Don't you dare touch that *beep beep beep* tube, Shelly!

Shelly celebrated Halloween with some cool new shades!
Shelly decided that she didn't want to have her feeding tube anymore so she pulled it out. She really is a TURDle sometimes. Getting adequate nutrition is crucial for wound healing so she's getting tube fed her pancakes now.

When the doctors cleaned up Shelly's fracture, they collected samples and submitted them for culture to see what was growing in it. The culture came back as they expected: a lot of nasty, nasty bugs. The bright side, literally, is that Shelly gets to go outside for extra sunshine time with the hopes that the UV rays will help kill the bacteria (they take off her bandage while she's taking a walk.) They're also trying out a new bandaging technique.

Good news: Initially we thought that Shelly would require surgery to close the crack in her shell. Because of the awesome care she's been getting, Shelly may not need surgery! Her shell fracture is actually healing itself. Scar tissue is forming in the crack, a phenomenon called "healing by secondary intention." When you have a cut in your skin where the edges are perfectly aligned, this is called "healing by primary intention." When you have a wound, a burn for example, that heals from the outside in, that's healing by secondary intention. That's exactly what Shelly's shell is doing! She is going to have a big scar down her shell but it will be strong and healthy as if the fracture never happened!

Our goal in rehabilitating wildlife is always to return them to the wild. Making a "pet" out of a wild animal because it is not releasable is inhumane. Forcing a wild animal to live in captivity because it is not releasable is inhumane. It's a completely different frame of mind than treating companion animals. For example, if you have an owl that is blind in one eye but is otherwise healthy, it is not releasable because without it's eyesight it cannot hunt "on the wing" (catching prey while flying.) The kind thing to do in that case is to humanely euthanize the animal. This conflicts with our medical approach in small animals-do everything you can to save the animal provided it will have a good quality of life.

Now for the really good news: Shelly may be released into the wild sooner than we expected! If her shell continues to heal and we can keep her infection under control, she's gonna be a wild turtle again!

For now, Shelly's just hanging out in a nice warm incubator, in her glove box house, having afternoon recreation time and resting. She's excited about experiencing her first Christmas since she usually hibernates through the winter. She asked Santa for a choo-choo train and a healed shell :)

Stay tuned for more updates on Shelly the broken-shelled turtle, now Shelly the Miracle Turtle!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Oct 2016: Shelly the broken-shelled box turtle

Hi, everybody! I know you probably thought I died or went to live in an ashram in India, but no. I'm just a vet student and we're antisocial/stressed/stinky. I thought I'd write a little update on what I've been doing and introduce you to a very special turtle.

Early this year I decided to apply for transfer to a veterinary school in the United States. Don't get me wrong-living in the Caribbean has its perks. But affter 4 years of living abroad, dealing with developing country medical systems, losing a small part of my soul every time I went to the grocery store, and dealing with daily power outages, I'd had enough. I completed my last semester in St. Kitts in May and then took the summer off to have ACL surgery and wait for news from the schools to which I had applied. In June, I got the call I'd been waiting for. The University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine offered me a spot in their Class of 2019. Delaying graduation by 9 months seemed well worth the opportunities, convenience, and comfort offered by life in the States. I immediately accepted the position and moved to Georgia in August.

I spent a lot of time worrying if I would be able to "cut it" at UGA. For once, my worrying actually translated into reality. The exams at UGA are much more difficult than what I had become accustomed to at Ross. Instead of multiple choice where you have a 25% chance of at least guessing the right answer, UGA exams are fill-in-the-blank or short essay. They also use a different grading scale that only awards 4.0 GPA points for A's over 93%. Which means, if I get a 92% it's still an A but I will no longer have a 4.0 GPA. This is a way to further assign rank in a class of 114 people. Most doctors will say that grades don't matter in vet school. They're right. If you go on to be a small animal clinician, no one is ever going to ask your GPA. However, if you want to do a residency, that's a different story. So far, I've maintained my A's but my GPA is no longer 4.0 I'm not sad about this. Going to an amazing school like UGA is worth the 0.05 lost GPA points.

Because they were unsure about what classes I would want to take, UGA enrolled me in a smorgasbord of different electives, including "Behavior Problems in Cats," "Advanced Clinical Dermatology," "Clinical Techniques in Large Animal Medicine and Surgery," and "Lab Animal Medicine." My favorite class, by far, has been dermatology. I've always been one of those nasty people who like to squeeze and pick. Being immersed in the splendid world of rashes, tumors, and abscesses has been fascinating. Did you know that dogs with allergies don't get hay fever like humans do? They get a skin rash! How cool is that? While this semester has been awesome, I'm eagerly anticipating Christmas break. Translation: I can't wait to read for pleasure without the crushing guilt that usually comes with reading anything non-textbook during the school year. Also Santa Claus, buying gifts, and snuggling with the boyfriend (Oh yeah! I gots me a boyfriend, too.)

There are so many amazing student organizations and opportunities available here. There is also a brand-spankin new bajillion dollar Veterinary Teaching Hospital. If you imagine a wondrous place that has doctors of every specialty, a horse-sized MRI machine, and a particle accelerator for radiation therapy, you'd be imagining this place:
This is just the front entrance for the small animal hospital! 
There's even a special ward for exotic pets and wildlife, aptly named "Zoological Medicine."
The front doors of the "Zoological Medicine" ward.
This ward has special incubators for reptiles that simulate sunlight and moonlight so that they can maintain their Circadian Rhythm. WHAAATTTT? Special cages with drains that allow you to create a tiny pond for Jerry, the sick duck? YES. This also happens to be my favorite part of the hospital because it's where I work...

That's right. I applied for a position on the Wildlife Treatment Crew (WTC) and I got it! At UGA, there is a club for every interest (e.g. The Student Chapter of the American Association of Feline Practitioners) and two veterinary fraternities for socializing. Students interested in cow emergency surgery, for example, can apply to be a paid member of the Large Animal Emergency Treatment Crew. In my typical "the hard way is the only way" fashion, I managed to apply for the only treatment crew that doesn't pay. More about that later.

WTC members sign up at the beginning of the semester for "call." Being "on call" means that you are available to come in to the hospital at a moment's notice if you're needed. We sign up for three-2 week periods of call per semester, for a total of 6 weeks. During one week of the 2-week period, you are a Primary, meaning that you are the first one to be called in. The other week you are a Secondary. The Secondaries are called in to help if the Primaries get overwhelmed. My first round of call was in September but I didn't get a patient. *cue sad face* That's actually a good thing because it meant that nobody had run over a baby rabbit with their lawn mower that week (very common.) Also, I had 5 tests in a two week period, so I wasn't sad to have the extra study time.

My second round of call started last Sunday (October 23rd.) Rachel, another WTC member, and I were responsible for the care of "Shelly," a tiny wild box turtle that had been presumably run over by a car. She had a fractured shell and had been in the hospital since October 8th. Shelly is recovering in an incubator that allows us to change the temperature during the day (80 degrees) and at night (70 degrees.) This helps her feel like she is in the wild. She lives in an empty glove box and rests on a nice bed of hay.A small water dish provides the level of humidity that she likes best.
Shelly relaxing in her tiny glove box.

Normally, we are not allowed to take pictures of our patients without the permission of the owner. Since Shelly is owned by Mother Nature, she gave me permission to photograph her as long as I don't post any pictures of her with a double chin. Introducing the very special Shelly turtle...
Like all women, Shelly is thrilled to get on the scale.
You can see that Shelly has a lot going on. The shell of a turtle is made out of bone so when they get a cracked shell, it's like you breaking your leg. Except for them, underneath the bone is THEIR ORGANS. A broken shell exposes the soft tissues beneath it. When she was first brought in, they put her under anesthesia, made a small incision in her side, and looked to see if there were any signs of infection INSIDE her body. An infection that has spread inside the body cavity has a grave prognosis. She would have been humanely euthanized, the fate of many injured wild animals. But Shelly is one lucky turtle! They found no signs of infection!

Walking around with a broken bone like that is very painful. Shelly was not interested in eating because 1)she was in pain, 2)turtles slow down and don't eat much in the winter months,and 3)wild animals in the hospital don't want to eat. Like humans, animals can't heal if they aren't getting proper nutrition. To help Shelly recover, the doctors inserted a feeding tube into her esophagus. The tube coming out of her body beside her neck, the one taped to her shell in the picture above is the feeding tube. She is also getting a pain medication injection. Every morning and every afternoon she gets a yummy meal of a special diet made for omnivores in critical care.
On Friday, I promised her I'd bring her pancakes from Cracker Barrel but the best I could do is "pancake batter:"
This paste is prepared from a special powder for ICU patients. I suck up 2mL in a syringe and inject it into her feeding tube.
Broken turtle shells are often repaired using zipties to pull the fracture together. Shelly has been in the hospital for 3 weeks but they haven't been able to repair her shell yet. Last week, she had a concerning complication: mold started growing on the inside of the crack in her shell. Closing the shell with bacteria or fungus in the crack would effectively trap the pathogens inside her body cavity. Shelly was put under anesthesia on Thursday and the infected tissue was removed with a dremel-type tool. We are packing her shell fracture with antibiotic-infused gauze to hopefully kill the infection so that she can proceed with surgery. Tomorrow, she is having an endoscopy procedure but I'm not sure why (possibly to look at her stomach?)
This was her shell fracture before the debriding (surgery to remove the infected tissue.) You can see the body wall underneath.
Having a living, breathing patient all week has been amazing (and exhausting!) I go in at 7am to check Shelly's incision, weigh her, feed her, and make sure that her habitat is clean. Then I go back at 4pm for her recreation time. Enrichment is very, very important to the health and well-being of our wildlife patients. Every afternoon, Shelly gets to go outside to walk around in the grass and sunbathe for 30 minutes. During that time, I watch her to make sure that she doesn't go somewhere she shouldn't (the road-her favorite place) and to protect her from other animals. Often times, people walking into the hospital to pick up their dog will stop and admire her and ask questions. I love this. What an amazing opportunity to educate people about the importance of wildlife conservation! It's also a chance to spread the word that if someone finds an injured wild animal, they can bring it to the vet hospital and we will treat it (except for venomous reptiles and rabies-vector species like raccoons<-----the law.)

Shelly loves to exercise her legs and dig in the grass! The crack in her shell is bandaged to protect it.

Very few people understand the reality of wildlife rehabilitation in the United States. All of Shelly's care is being paid for by the UGA Wildlife Treatment Fund. This is 100% funded by donations. Each semester, the WTC hosts a fundraiser to help pay for the care of these amazing creatures. Unlike the other treatment crew members, WTC members work on a completely voluntary basis. This is often the case for wildlife veterinarians, as well. Sadly, animals requiring greater than $300 in medical treatment are humanely euthanized. It is unfortunate that these hard decisions must be made, but in order to do the greatest good for the greatest number of animals, it is necessary. This Thursday I will be participating in the Wildlife Treatment Crew fundraiser at a local brewery in Athens. A percentage of the sales will go to the treatment fund and we are also selling cool pint glasses and wildlife-themed memorabilia. Bear Hollow, a local animal sanctuary, will be bringing some animal ambassadors for visitors to interact with!

I would love to continue prattling on about the plight of injured wildlife and how awesome Shelly is but I have to go to the hospital now! My week as a Primary ends today so I'm passing the Shelly torch on to the next two caregivers. If all goes well, Shelly will have surgery to close her shell fracture, will remain in the hospital until she is stable, and then she will go to a wildlife rehab. They will keep her over the winter until she is ready to be released into the wild. Check back later this week for an update on her condition!

Thank you for taking the time to read about my vet ventures! Having my first wildlife patient this week has been both exhausting and life-affirming. I often find myself overwhelmed with the amount of studying that needs to be done, or the paper that needs to be written, or the grades that need to be obsessed over. I am preoccupied with thoughts of the future because I just want to get through this day, this week, this month. I think everyone experiences this. It's so hard not to get bogged down by the constant barrage of to-do's, the over-stimulation of social media, and the ever-present pressure to MAKE MORE/DO MORE/HAVE MORE. But in the end, empathy costs us nothing. Getting up at 6 am to care for an injured turtle and then watching her close her eyes as she enjoys the sun's warmth on her face, makes it all worth it. THAT is what life is supposed to be about. Helping those that can't help themselves (animal AND human), those that can do nothing for you...this is living! Have you lived today?



Saturday, May 30, 2015

30 May 15: 4 weeks down, 98,475 to go!

Happy Saturday, everybody! In an effort to keep up with my own life via blog, I'm gonna write short posts as frequently as I can. Here's a recap of this week:

I had my first vet school exams this week. Number one, microanatomy (the microscopic study of tissues and cells) was on Monday. I studied all weekend, walked in feeling prepared and it payed off-got an A! The post-good grade high lasted about 30 seconds before the Gross-Anatomy-is-sucking-my-soul fog set in. This was the feeling for most of the week:

Despite only being in school for three weeks, the gross anatomy exam covered a ridiculous amount of material. Did you know that the dog has about 33 muscles in it's front leg? I do. Not only was I responsible for IDing all the muscles, but I had to know their origins/insertions, actions, related tendons, bursas, ligaments, bones, and clinically relevant information. Let's not stop at dogs though! Why not throw in horse and cow legs to spice things up? Top off that nervous breakdown sundae with some xrays and you've got one helluva week. I took the test at 7:50 yesterday morning and came out of it feeling confident that I at least passed. Drained of all my brainpower/will to live, I napped for four hours and slept through my afternoon classes. :)

In a moment of stress-induced brilliance, I realized that I could move my desk right on up to my bed, allowing me to wake up and get right to studying. Why waste time moving to a chair? This happened:

I got a little crazy with the scalpel this week and sustained my first vet school injury:
Scalpel cut to my thumb knuckle crack = ouch.

The most remarkable thing that happened this week wasn't almost cutting off my own thumb or getting elected Vice-President of the Surgery Club (Nobody else ran for the position! YAY!!!!), it was this:
What you see here is a ballpoint pen that has run out of ink. This was my favorite pen. I started using this pen on Monday and I managed to run it out of ink by Friday night. What is so remarkable about a dead pen? DO YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH WRITING IT TAKES TO USE ALL THE INK IN A BALLPOINT PEN? Needless to say, my hand has permanently molded into a pen-holding claw. Bandaid and all.

Guess what?? I can receive packages here! They are almost guaranteed to arrive, it costs about $100 less than sending a package to Africa, and they get here in a week! If you feel inclined, here's the address:

If it's hard to see in the pic:

Sarah Stewart
Ross University
PO Box 334
Basseterre, St Kitts, West Indies

(Sending USPS is the best. If you send FedEx, leave off the PO BOX. Everything should be out of the original boxes or I'll have to pay customs taxes.)

If you feel like sending me a long, nosy letter, I'd love to have something to read that isn't a textbook. You can send it to the same address and I'll write you back! Letters, cards, bills, whatever!

Conclusion: This week was hard. Really hard. I won't get my anatomy grade until next week but I have a feeling that it's an A. The stress of vet school is worth it when I see my hard work pay off in the form of grades that I can be proud of. I might complain a lot (the first thing out of my mouth when I wake up is a string of cuss words) but I'm doing well. I live in paradise. I'm finally learning all of the things I've always wanted to know. Everything I've done in my life has led up to this point and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. 

Stay tuned for scenes from next week's episode: two more exams, a beach trip (FINALLY), and tickling cows on Monday at "Bovine Safety, Handling, and Restraint" class. :)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

23 May 2015: Sarah's 3% an animal doctor!

After this week, I'm 3% a doctor.
I'm gonna have to keep this short and sweet because I've got...umm...16 hours of studying that needs to be done today. I thought I'd give y'all an idea of what I'm doing now!
This is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea.

If you're new to my life, I'm in school now to become a Veterinarian. I live on the tiny island of St. Kitts & Nevis (Nevis is the sister island) in a dorm (for now.). The school is Ross University, an awesome AVMA-accredited veterinary medical school. IT'S REALLY HOT HERE. So hot. I keep a thin layer of sweat all day, which becomes a thin layer of dog cadaver smell after I spend 2-4 hours in the anatomy lab. I have 7 classes, including gross anatomy, histology, infectious disease, and physiology, and they are thoroughly kicking my butt.

This is where I eat my lunch (when I'm not spending lunch in a meeting or seminar.)
Isn't it gorgeous??

Some cool stuff:
The school has a "toxic plant garden" to help students recognize dangerous plants in toxicology class.
How cool is this? My friend said "I hear the restaurant there makes a killer salad!" Bahahaha
I've joined the surgery club and I'm running for vice-president/fundraising chair. We have some exciting things planned for the semester including an anastamosis training (how to sew up intenstines!)

I've also joined the Zoos Exotics Wildlife (ZEW) club. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do career-wise so I'm trying to get all the experience I can. I'm going to a training today at noon to learn how to take care of the turtles that live in our turtle pond. I volunteered to feed them for a week in June. When I walk up to the pond, the turtles swim right up to greet me expecting a snack. This club plans that greatest things and I signed up for all of them: Ecotour to see Leatherback sea turtles, monkey dissection, Wildlife Rehabilitation Certification, and...get this...a dolphin physical exam! During breaks, I'll have the opportunity to go on externships to the Belize Zoo and/or to South Africa to work with wildlife vets.

I've already arranged for housing beginning next semester (August.) For the next year, I'm going to live at the Mariott Residences. The apartments are clean and fully-furnished. The most amazing perk is that I get full use of all the Mariott Resort facilities: three pools, private beach, gym, and spa!! Go ahead and book your ticket to come visit me.

Fancy dancy! That couch folds out into a bed...hint hint.

One of three pools!

Moving to St. Kitts and starting all over again has been...exciting, stressful, exhausting, thrilling,etc. I was in orientation for a week when I first arrived on the island, which allowed me to make some new friends. I now have about 6 girls that have become my support system. We study together, complain together, talk about our meltdowns together, and go to the beach together (about once a month when we give ourselves permission not to study for a whole afternoon.) Being in a new place with new people forces you to examine your character, something I've been doing for years now. I was looking for a document this week and stumbled upon this picture below...

Let me tell you a story.

About a year ago, I agreed to participate in a Girls Leading Our World Camp. I signed up to talk about puberty, teen pregnancy, STIs, and other unpleasantries. Did you know that menstruation is the number one reason that girls miss school in Africa? Sometimes they don't have the supplies they need. Often they are too embarrassed and ashamed to go to school when they're on their period. Thus, Mighty Maxine was born.

Mighty Maxine is a character I created for the camp. She proudly wears an "M" on her shirt because she is not ashamed of her body! She is always prepared with her tool belt of tampons, pads, birth control pills, and male and female condoms. She teaches girls that they are in control of their lives and that being on your period is nothing to be embarrassed about. As you can imagine, Mighty Maxine was well-received. After the camp, we asked the girls what they had learned. Because many of them spoke little English, we had to do a post-test to determine our efficacy as educators. The girls said "I don't have to be ashamed! I can menstruate with pride!" They GOT it!
Mighty Maxine is always prepared. Look at that sweet tool belt!
Me and Ashley showing off our dance moves.
Moral of the story: It's been 7 months since I left Africa and I'm finally in a place to be able to reflect on my Peace Corps experience in a positive way. I can be kind to myself about the things that I did and did not accomplish there and about my own personal attributes. Having up and moved a second time and made another group of friends, I am learning to accept that I'm always going to be the eccentric, “crazy” person that I am. I'd love to be a quiet, sensitive woman but that just isn't me. Some days I feel like I must be the most annoying, loud, inappropriate human in the world (we all feel insecure sometimes right?) but then I see pictures like this, think about the young people I taught in Botswana and how effective I was at teaching kids as my plain ol’ “crazy” self. I think I’ll keep me.
My people!!!

Stay tuned for more stories of the life and times of a vet in training! This picture, I just love it. It reminds me of my life. You can't tell where the tracks are going but you know it's gonna be beautiful and wild! :)

Monday, March 9, 2015

8 Mar 15: Sarah comes home, toots a lot, and prepares to move to the Caribbean!

Happy Daylight Savings, everybody! I woke up this morning at a late 9:35 scolding myself for being so lazy. Then I remembered that I gave up an hour of my life for the sake of late sunsets and the instant relief of everyone's Seasonal Affective Disorder and I felt ok again. This blog post is going to be boring at first, then I'm going to ask for your Christmas cash, and then it gets good. Just bear with me.
Hot showers and indoor climate control doing me right!

I've been in America for almost 5 months now. Can you believe it? Transitioning has been an emotional carpet ride (think ups and downs, but mostly smooth, comfortable sailing.) While I don't think I'll ever fully reintegrate into American culture, I've gotten used to my life here. At first I lived with my best friend, Amber, and her gracious parents who had prepared a comfortable room for me. I got and lost a boyfriend, moved into my own apartment, worked at Williams Sonoma over Christmas, re-certified as a lifeguard, trained to be a swim lessons instructor, and enrolled in Biochemistry.

THE BEST NEWS: After all the stress and strife of applying to veterinary school from my teeny weeny village in Africa, I GOT IN!! Ross University, an American Veterinary Medical Association-Accredited school in the Caribbean, accepted me to start in September. I settled in, got comfy, and began planning for spring and summer in the US. I'd work and save up money to buy all of the many things I'd need to take with me to learn to be an animal doctor. Then I got an email from the vet school:

"Hey, Sarah. Don't you want to start school early? Start in May and we'll give you a $5000 grant! We'll even proctor your Biochemistry final!"

Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit! How could I turn down an offer like that? I called my advisor, moved my matriculation date to May, and then it hit me. I'd be leaving America on April 24th. That's a short 7 weeks away. OH MY GOD I'M POOR HOW AM I GOING TO PAY FOR ALL THIS STUFF? I HAVEN'T APPLIED FOR LOANS YET. I NEED VACCINE TITERS AND A POLICE CLEARANCE LETTER FOR MY VISA. I HAVE TO GET A NEW PASSPORT OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD.

I'm moving to St. Kitts and Nevis!!

I got a bill on Tuesday for the first two trimesters (Ross operates on 3 semesters a year.) I hope you're sitting down:
In case you can't see it, it reads Total: First Born Child.

After pooping myself a little bit, I resigned myself to a lifetime of debt and applied for student loans. Having had a week and a half off of school and my swim lessons cancelled for snow, and taking Biochemistry three days per week, I have made very little money the past few months. The list of supplies I need for vet school grows everyday as I read posts on the school's facebook group. Don't forget to bring coveralls and rubber boots to wear in the barn. Don't forget to bring an extra box of scalpel blades for the dog dissection. Make sure you bring a laptop with an extra charger. The money included in the student loans for "supplies" isn't available until a week after I arrive at school, which doesn't help at all. I wish I could be more excited that my dream is coming true but all I can think about it showing up in St. Kitts in my winter coat because I couldn't afford to buy any appropriate clothing.

So here I am again asking my friends and family for help. My animal angel friends and even people I had never met came together to raise $1500 when I was trying to send an abused village dog to America. I'm happy to report that Kali (formerly known as Sandy) lives in New England and is being spoiled rotten by an awesome couple I served with in Africa. I've made a gofundme for myself (even though asking for donations for myself makes me feel incredibly uneasy) because it is the only way I'm going to be able to continue my path, my destiny, to help animals. You can copy/paste the address below and donate $5, or share on Facebook, or send me good thoughts. I'll take any and every positive vibe!

This beautiful dog was abused and neglected for years before I found her.
Because of your generous donations, she is now a happy,
healthy, spoiled rotten New Englander!
Now that that's out of the way, I thought I'd round off the blog with some things that I've noticed since I came home.

-Not eating wheat for the last year and a half + binging on mac n' cheese just because I can = TOOTING BEYOND BELIEF. Sometimes I surprise myself with how much I toot now. In Africa, I worried about pooping myself so I never trusted a fart. But here, with very little threat of water-borne illness, I let 'em rip. If tooting is wrong then I don't wanna be right.

-I love to be in bed on a real mattress. Eating cereal in bed. Playing candy crush in bed. Just wallowing around in the sheets. I bought 4 pillows and I perch on them all evening like a queen on her throne. I might never own a couch again because laying on a mattress is the epitome of comfort.

It's 4 pm? Time to get in the bed!

-I love my bed so much that I don't like to share it. I found out that I hate sleeping in the bed with a man. I don't know if I feel possessive over the pillows or I just want to have all the room to stretch out or I need to fart constantly and I can't because there's a man in my bed (see the first point) but I hate it. For two years, I fantasized about having a beautiful, tall lumberjack in my boudoir and now I'm like "Um. Can you sleep on the couch? Or go home?" Forever alone.

My future.

-Speaking of marrying myself, I went on about 10 dates in January/February. Epic fail after epic fail. The dating world is a cesspool of crazy, dysfunctional, weirdos. Case in point: I went on a date with a guy. We ate wings. The following weekend I went to Starbucks with a male friend. The guy I went on the ONE date with found out and showed up at my house yelling at me like this: "HOW AM I GOING TO BE YOUR BOYFRIEND FOR THE NEXT SIX MONTHS IF YOU'RE DATING OTHER PEOPLE??? YOU HAVE NO EMOTIONS! WHY WON'T YOU TRUST ME AND LET ME IN?'' I told him that I wasn't interested in being the first lady of crazytown and showed him the door. I want to take a lover who looks at me like maybe I'm magic because I'm awesome, not because he is hallucinating.

Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

-When I moved to Africa, I was fat by American standards. In Africa, I was perfect. Big tatas, big hips, big booty, most beautiful woman alive. Naturally, it shocked the hell out of me to come home and find out that I was still perfect. I don't know when "curvy" became the new ideal of beauty, but I ain't complaining! Amen and hallelujah to whomever decided that women look good with hips! I've never had so much attention from white men in my life.

Well, I think that's enough nonsense for one post. If you're still reading this after two and half years, I thank you. My blog has had 10,000 views thanks to the faithful readership of my family and friends. I'm not exactly sure what the next 4 years are going to be like but I do know that I'm doing what I am meant to do. Without the constant support of my people (you) reassuring me that I'd get into school, reading draft after draft of personal statements for applications, donating to my causes, sending me kind words and thoughts when I was stressed out about this donkey or that chicken, I wouldn't be watching my dream unfold right now. Thank you!!

Me and my best friend from Africa, Bobby.


PS- I'm cheap. This week I spent a snow day making a rug for my dorm room!
Repurposed from an old sweater, torn nightgown, and a towel!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

12 Sept 14: A 12 Step Guide to Caring for Your New RPCV

In honor of the two-year anniversary of serving my country in Africa, I've written the following humorous, yet dead serious guide to dealing with me when I come home in 36 days. :)
Only 36 days til pastries and cappuccino!
Disclaimer: I'm writing this based on my experience. If you're a PCV and this doesn't reflect on how you feel, I don't care. If you've not developed antisocial tendencies or parasites and this blog doesn't apply to you, well...aren't you lucky?

A 12 Step Guide to Caring for Your New RPCV

Congratulations on receiving your newborn RPCV, or Returned Peace Corps Volunteer! Your RPCV is a rare specimen, having earned their status with blood (and intestinal worms), the sweat of two miserable Kalahari summers, and enough tears to fill up a swimming pool (wait, what's a swimming pool?) "RPCV" is a badge of honor that your Volunteer will wear for the rest of their life. Please use this guide to care for your RPCV as they transition from their old, dirty life into their shiny, new one.
Ooooh America!
1. Your RPCV is going to be weird. Really weird. They've lived in extreme isolation for two years, often going weeks without having a conversation beyond superficial greetings with another human being. You might have to dig to get them to talk about themselves. At site, RPCVs don't talk about themselves unless they're in the company of other Americans. Most villagers lack the English vocabulary to have a deep conversation about feelings. And after getting enough "You don't have any problems. You're an American. You're rich. AND you're white." they stop trying.

2. Keep in the mind that your RPCV will have no idea what has happened with American politics or pop culture for the last two years. If you talk about current events, they will be lost. If you find yourself saying "Have you seen...Have you heard the new...?" you can stop. The answer is no, they have not seen/heard anything that has happened since 2012. Most likely, their contribution to the conversation will be limited to "One time in Botswana...In Botswana, I..." Your RPCV doesn't mean to be boring but hand washing clothes and picking thorns out of their feet are all that they've known for two years. They didn't have tv. They didn't have internet. When they had wifi, they spent most of their time trying to update blogs, return emails, apply for grad school, and file PC reports. Miley Cyrus' latest antics were not a priority.
Peace Corps Volunteers celebrate major holidays by making forefather beards from pillow stuffing.
3. RPCVs live in limbo (especially at first), a confusing place between being American and...something else. Somewhere between hipster and hobo. They're citizens of the US but also of the world. They've known what it's like to live without and they no longer need "stuff" to be happy, which makes them extraordinarily unsuited to life in America, not to mention hard to buy for. Because of the things they have done and the things they have seen, they are extremely sensitive. Not delicate. Sensitive. Please guard their feelings and be careful with your words. Understand that their awkwardness is not intentional, their reluctance to talk is not personal, they're

4. Waste hurts your RPCV. A lot. Complaining irritates them. Hasty generalizations about Africans will definitely piss them off. Needing a lot of alone time does not mean that they aren't happy to see you, it just means that they aren't used to constant social stimulation.
Waste not :)
5. Prepare a space for your RPCV to stash junk. RPCV's are hoarders because you never know when you're gonna need to make a toilet paper roll flower bouquet. Or when you're gonna need that two inch scrap of wire to fix a chair. They are the world's most resourceful people.

6. Your RPCV might pee in the toilet and forget to flush. For two years, their philosophy has been "if it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." Gently remind your RPCV that in America, we flush every time. Old habits die hard.
"What do I do with this pee?"
7. Under no circumstances should you ever comment on the physical appearance of your RPCV beyond "You look great!" Contrary to what most people think, your RPCV did not have diarrhea for two years straight. Their diet likely consisted of carbs, carbs, and more carbs. Volunteers do their best not to sink into an abyss of depression and comfort eating is part of that strategy. Suppress your urge to blurt out "Wow! I didn't think you'd GAIN weight in Africa!"
Peace Corps Volunteers don't know what looks good but that's ok!
8. If your RPCV seems lazy, they're not. RPCVs become accustomed to a slower pace of life, often going whole days without "accomplishing" anything. This is normal. Eventually your RPCV will find a hobby and get a job like a good little American.

9. Your new RPCV may be a complete stranger to you. Chances are the remarkable experiences that they've had have changed them, mostly for the better. They may have different interests than they had before they left. Resist the tempation to compare your old friend to your new RPCV. The last thing an RPCV wants to do is have to explain/defend why he or she no longer enjoys hot tubs (too hot!) and fast food (their GI tracts become maladjusted to digesting that much grease in one sitting.)

10. Your RPCV may have sleeping habits which you find bizarre. If you keep in mind that Peace Corps Volunteers rise and set with the sun, you won't be alarmed when your RPCV goes to bed at 8 p.m. Try keeping them up with kettlecorn and the latest season of Orange Is the New Black, but bear in mind that RPCVs need their 10 hours of sleep, and probably a mid-day nap too.
Your RPCV might hang dry their clothes in the hotel bathroom.
11. Your RPCV may say inappropriate things at inappropriate times. Pooping in a bucket for two years can cause a loss of shame on the part of your RPCV, thus making any bodily function fair game for casual conversation. When they discuss their bowel habits at the dinner table, don't be offended. Most likely, they're not used to eating at a table. Meal time is simply another opportunity to ruminate over the Bristol Stool Chart with the people they love.

12. Most importantly, keep in mind that no matter how hard you try, you can NEVER understand what you're RPCV has been through. Two years of chronic stress and not having their basic needs met has been hard on your RPCV. They have given of themselves everyday for 800 days. There may not be much left to give. They may have a meltdown in the cereal aisle at Walmart because they have become unaccustomed to making so many choices at one time. Be supportive and gentle but don't say things like "I know how you feel" or "It's just cereal! It's not a big deal!" Encourage your RPCV to attend events and socialize within your city's RPCV community. A good head rub also helps.

All shiny and new!
If you follow this basic guide, accept the fact that your new RPCV is NOT the same person they were before they joined the Peace Corps, feed them lots of protein and drip coffee, and encourage their sense of wanderlust, you will help ease the transition from hairy, dirty Peace Corps Volunteer to happy, well-adjusted RPCV.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

July 2014: Sarah hitch hikes across the country with a sick dog and marries her off.

Meet Sandy! Sandy-the world. The world-Sandy.
Sandy, when she first started coming over.
Sandy's story is a compelling tale of miracles and human kindness. I came upon Sandy when I was trying to revive a puppy that belonged to one of the teachers at my school. The puppy was Sandy's, the last living puppy of her litter. Like most dogs in Botswana both Sandy and her puppy had been neglected. Unfortunately, the puppy died of "tick fever."

Having realized I was a friend, Sandy started visiting me at my house. The nutrient demands of lactation combined with the fact that her owner didn't feed her had left Sandy emaciated and frail. I couldn't help but give her my leftovers, which she gobbled down without complaint. Eventually, I started cooking for her: lentils, meat, spam. She loved it all. After a month, Sandy abandoned her owner and moved into my yard!

By this time, I had started hitch hiking to the next village over to buy her real dog food. She was gaining weight and had enough energy to play with the other neighborhood dogs! One morning I woke up and Sandy's insides were hanging out. I had no idea what was wrong. A prolapsed uterus maybe? Was her uterus just going to fall out of her body at any time? In a panic, I packed up my tent, some clothes and Sandy's belongings, and with Sandy in my arms, I headed to the village hitch hiking spot. 10 hours later a very nice truck driver dropped Sandy and I in Gaborone, where an emergency veterinarian picked us up.

Sandy ALWAYS finds the most comfortable spot in the house.
Dr. Mike diagnosed Sandy with a venereal tumor, something he had seen hundreds of times in Botswana. He was confident that it would resolve with four weekly doses of chemotherapy administered IV (given by me.) Sandy stayed overnight in the hospital and I stayed with a friend-of-a-friend who took me in, sight unseen. The next morning, I picked up Sandy and we made the tiring 8 hour trip back to the village. The animal angel who housed me, a lovely lady named Sheilagh, generously offered to pay for Sandy's chemo treatment.
After taking her ALL the way to the capital, I decided that the time had come for Sandy to become an inside dog. I told her original owner that because I was taking care of her, paying for her treatment, etc. that she belonged to me now. Bottom line: she's mine. I bathed Sandy to remove any ticks I hadn't picked off and she became my new snuggle buddy. I walked her three times a day and she quickly adjusted to indoor life. 

When the time came to administer her chemo, I was confident that I could do it. I'd worked in many vet clinics, had drawn blood, and assisted in surgery. I was confused. Apparently dogs don't enjoy being stuck with needles and Sandy, though extraspecial, was no different. I enlisted the help of some very nice nurses from the local hospital (one a nurse anesthesiologist) but we failed to give her chemo. I came to the realization that Sandy needed a kind of care that I couldn't give her in the bush. She couldn't be cured by my love alone.

After a MAJOR FREAKOUT, Sandy and I hitch hiked again to the capital city. Seana, a Peace Corps Botswana staff member, took her in, offering to take her to her chemo appointments, have her spayed, and then vaccinate her. Talk about an Animal Angel. I said a sad "good bye" to Sandy knowing that she was in the best of hands. Sandy re-started her chemo and quickly became a best-friend to Seana's gardener, Thory. Thory allowed Sandy to sleep on his couch and hand-fed her chicken when she was sick after chemo. This is HIGHLY UNUSUAL for someone in Botswana, as they typically don't even let dogs inside the house. Thory is another special miracle that entered Sandy's story at just the right time.

Thory hand-feeding Sandy after her chemo appointment.
Sandy quickly adjusted to her new life with Seana and Thory. She was spoiled rotten with the best treats, toys, and her very own bed! Sandy finished her chemo, was spayed, and vaccinated!
Sandy loves clowning around!
When Seana had to go out of town, a PCV named Christina volunteered to house sit for her. Christina has a giant horse dog, Pula, who became fast friends with Sandy. Sandy now lives with Christina and Pula in a large house in Gaborone. Thanks to the kindness of all of the angels who have helped her, Sandy is FULLY RECOVERED! Her tumor is gone, she is healthy, and she is enjoying her new life with her best friend.
Sandy looks good!
Last week, me and some other volunteers decided that Sandy and Pula's romance needed to become official. We held Botswana's first dog wedding at Christina's house, complete with wedding outfits and a dog-friendly cake. 

The bride, groom, and the rest of the wedding party.
Pula, Meera (bridesmaid), and Sandy pose for wedding pictures.
The wedding "cake"

Despite everything she's been through, Sandy still has a smile on her face!
Lisa and Christina serving up the wedding cake!

The blushing bride.
The happy, exhausted couple!
Nothing better than a belly rub.
Me with Pula.
So what lies ahead for Sandy? Sandy loves her life with Christina and Pula but eventually she needs a forever home. If left in Botswana, Sandy will likely end up being the victim of another negligent, abusive owner. Sandy needs to go to the good ol' US of A! There are several people who are interested in adopting Sandy but it costs $1500 to send a dog from Botswana to America. And Sandy just refuses to get a job. I have created a gofundme page for her cause. Through the kindness of strangers, most of whom don't even know me or Sandy, we have raised $975! I have set the goal at $1500, an increase since I first listed the page, to accommodate all of the expenses that go into flying a dog home. The fundraising ends on September 1st (to allow me time to get the money to the person responsible for sending her to the US.) If you would like to contribute to her cause (and she'd be eternally grateful) please click on the link below. Every dollar counts!!

Sandy, miracle dog.
For those of you who have donated, we thank your from the bottom of our hearts. Sandy is truly a four-legged miracle!