Friday, November 4, 2011

When The Student Becomes The Colleague

I am on my way to Washington DC via the Marc train from Penn Station Baltimore to meet one of my vet school professors for lunch and a catch up on where the last few years have taken us. 

He was one of the coolest professors at vet school and has remained one of my strongest mentors and most inspiring friends. He completed his veterinary degree a scant few decades ago, went on to become boarded in Zoo Medicine, (a huge feat!), then returned to vet school to provide real-life experience and guidance to us VMRCVM  students in the newly emerging field of “Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine”.  He has written a book on the odd and interesting zoo medicine cases that he and his colleagues have encountered, and above all he remains a steadfast pillar of support for veterinarians and an advocate for animals worldwide.
What I find so interesting is this transition as I re-unite with friends, professors, and old shipmates and realize that we have grown up and in the process become colleagues.

I spent last night at a ship party where many of my old sailing mates from my long home away from home. C.S. Global Mariner, (a ship I spent 6 years of 4 month on, and 4 month off rotations on), were celebrating a major milestone in their shipboard life. The ship had been accident free for a full 365 days. This is an incredible accomplishment when you think about the degree of difficulty involved in the work they perform and the environment in which that work is done. The 30 - 40 foot, (or plus), seas, treacherous wet slippery decks, operating a project 24/7, and the emotional stress of being far away and almost unreachable for months on end is not exactly a “safe work environment.” There is a damned good reason that we were sent out to sea with a fully stocked medical facility and a medical officer. Just speaking for me personally I will admit to the following casualties: 1 unexplained fainting episode onto a very unforgiving steel deck that left me deaf and on “bed only” duty for three days, a static electrical shock that threw me 6 feet onto the opposite bulkhead (wall), burnt three of my fingers and left permanent numbness and nerve damage in 6 of my fingers, food poisoning that incapacitated me for a week in Peru, multiple crushed fingers, a few bouts of mild hypothermia, and to this day, if I have a nightmare it involves a ship. That’s what 10 years at sea did to me, and I was the cautious careful sailor.

And this was my life for the 90's.
I met up with my old Captain last night at their ship party. I joined his ship right out of college at 21, eager and oblivious. When I met him for the first time, after arriving at the ship “in uniform” I was directed to “go up to his office right away.” I dropped my bag at the gangway and headed up the four flights of stairs to his palatial Captain’s office. To my surprise there was no customary hand shake and “welcome aboard.” Instead he asked me to hand over my license, (in retrospect I think he was checking to see if it appeared to be legit), and then began to berate me with, “I want you to know that I did everything in my power to keep you off of this ship. I do not think that women belong at sea because they are nothing but trouble, but I am stuck with you.” He then directed me out of his office and to the Purser’s office to be signed on. As I walked down the stairs I remember thinking to myself, “If that M-F’er didn’t have my license I would march down that gangway and drive home!” At the end of that 4 month horrendously difficult cable lay I was the only Mate left that he hadn’t quit or been fired. Ten years later I left the company and went to Vet school. Ten years after that was last night and we are now respectively titled Capt and Doctor. He is as proud of me as my parents are, and I am now as glad as he was 20 years ago to not be on any ship.  He was right about one thing, I didn’t belong there. But for god’s sake never tell me I can’t do something. I will do it just to spite you even if it makes me miserable in the process. (It took me until I was 32ish to learn that wasn’t such a beneficially trait).

As I approach Union station I am now 6 years out of vet school and a fellow Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. My once-ago vet school professor is now the colleague to bounce real world stories off, and share new plans for the next chapter of my career. But even if we now share the same title I will always see him as the supreme veterinary path adviser.
So at 20 years post USMMA (college), 10 years post sailing, and 6 years post VMRCVM (Vet school), I feel a profound sense of joy in finally getting to where I was trying to get to the whole time and an immense sense of gratitude to all of those who helped me get here.

Graduation Day,
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
Class of 2005

Life is really about the journey, although this destination feels like a perfect fit.

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