In Friday’s post, I touched on some of the less, shall we say, savory aspects of veterinary medicine, the things I will not miss (at least not while they happen.) That was the bitter; today I give you the sweet. I’ll try to stay to the edge of cloying.
I will miss the colors of the sunset shifting between the naked branches of valley oaks as I head back to the clinic after my last call. I will miss the egrets rising out of the rice stubble in the wetlands as I head across the causeway in the morning, letting my coffee warm my hand as the heater kicks in.
I will miss the smell of fresh shavings, of golden straw, of slightly dusty horse. I will miss the smell of silage on the dairies. And yes, I’ll even miss the manure smells.
I will miss the incredible frustration of waiting for a foal to take its first drink of colostrum. I’ll miss the urge to grab the wobbly head and stick it onto the mare’s teat. I’ll miss the softening of a mare’s eyes as she turns to her new baby.
I will miss the endorphin surge from accomplishments gained only after forcing “heart and nerve and sinew to serve their turn long after they have gone.” The feeling of pulling a calf or foal, of placing the last sutures in the skin after a successful surgery – those are senses of accomplishment that will never leave me. Nor will the joy of watching a horse that I’ve monitored on fluids through the night eat its first bites of grass with gusto.
I will miss the feel of hair, hide, or wool beneath my palm, the beat of a heart through the tubes of my stethoscope. I will miss soft lips wibbling my hand, hay-breath blown into my nostrils.
And most of all, I will miss the people. I will miss the offers to “stop by the house when you’re in the area.” I have had clients offer the use of kitchen and bathroom while I’m on my rounds. “Don’t worry if we’re not home,” they say. “Just come in the back way.” I’ve never taken anyone up on this; I guess I’m not really a country girl, but I will miss that sense of hospitality. I will miss the obvious things like the cookies and breads, the ornaments at Christmas, the thank-you cards and pictures. But, I will also miss the things more obscure: the circled ‘C’ in the upper left hand corner of an appointment that says that the client requested me; the less orthodox gifts such as the packet of lamb chops pressed into my hand after euthanizing a goat, or the children’s book about a pig with the same name as the pig I had just euthanized; the bag of tomatoes and fresh eggs on the front seat of my truck.
I will miss the delicious and unexpected details of my clients’ lives: the taciturn dairyman I overheard telling his herdsman that his favorite place was the café of a chain bookstore because he liked to watch the people while he drank his coffee and read; or the bear-like, ‘good ol boy’ cowboy talking about playing golf with the grin on his face that said he knew perfectly well our brains were tying themselves in knots picturing him on the links. I’ll miss the leather-faced, no-nonsense reining trainer who paints and reads fantasy novels in her spare time. I’ll miss the tiny, bent, apple-faced woman who has spent a lifetime raising kids of both kinds – goats and over a hundred foster children.
I will miss the clients who, when I first drove onto their ranches, looked askance at the new “lady vet” and wondered “how long’s this one going to last,” but who now never fail to ask about my children. Along the way, my kids became the practice’s kids. Aidan and Sierra were both born while I was working here. For a while I was known as “the vet who’s always pregnant.” Caitlin used to ride with me during school vacations. She has held a sheep’s prolapsed uterus while I stitched a tear, she has lost boots to the mud, and wiped a newly delivered calf with a towel. I will miss sharing with my children that sense that real work involves blood, dirt, and sweat, life and death, that work is more than words on a page or numbers in a spreadsheet.
This has been more than a job; it has been work – grueling, exhausting, frightening, exhilarating work. My quote earlier in this post comes from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” “If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve their turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you, except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’…” Like most of the writing of the era of British colonialism, the poem as a whole is a testament to a bygone time, with a typically male chauvinistic conclusion. Yet, despite this, or perhaps because of it, “If” is a fitting testament to work that has historically been male in a region where a way of life is fast disappearing. I will miss those who taught me the lessons of this poem through the lives that they live every day. There is no effort that goes more unsung in our society than that of those who raise the crops and animals that become our food. For your reading pleasure, here is the poem in its entirety.
By Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think -- and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!