Journal Entry #10

May 13, 2005


    Finally, I write.  I have been putting it off for some reason.  I spent the last week of April in Arles, France attending the ECAMS (European College of Avian Medicine and Surgery) scientific meeting and the AAV (Association of Avian Veterinarians) European congress.  I flew down to London from Glasgow on Saturday morning and from there flew to Nimes, which is a town about 20km from Arles.  I took a taxi (37 Euros!) to my hotel in Arles.  We drove past some interesting old castle-like walls and I thought the whole place looked interesting, but sort of run-down.  I stayed at the Hotel Mirador on Rue Voltaire.  The hotel was two star and was the cheapest accommodation I could find - so I couldn't expect much.  The room had a shower and sink, but no toilet (that was down the hall in its own room to be shared by all on my floor).  There were two twin beds pushed together - for just me.  There was also a TV (but channels all in French) and a little desk.

    That first day, I walked out a bit and bought a pastry from the bakery a couple doors from the hotel.  I found that my mobile phone wouldn't work there, and when I checked out the pay phones, found I couldn't use them (they only accepted cards, and my credit and ATM cards would not work!).  I saw the old Roman arena, which was just a few blocks from my hotel.  I enjoyed walking down the narrow old streets and seeing the colourful buildings that enclosed them.  I tried to find the McDonalds (there was a sign pointing in one direction, but following the sign didn't take me there) for dinner - the pastry ended up being my dinner.  The next day (Sunday) I was miserable.  I went walking in the morning to find the conference hall - which I did find, and then found McDonalds on the way back (lunch!).  I felt so "lost in translation" because I couldn't speak much French.  I was afraid to really do anything.  It rained in the afternoon and I returned to my hotel for a bit, then I went for a walk down the Rhone river as the rain cleared.  For dinner I went to a restaurant I had found recommended on the Internet.  I tried some French words/phrases but felt very uncomfortable.  Dinner that night was pretty safe because I ordered pizza (ham and cheese). 

    Monday morning I was supposed to be in front of the conference hall at 7:45am.  I didn't know exactly how long it would take me to get there on foot, so I left nice and early (arriving more like 7:15am).  I managed to pick up a pastry and soda for breakfast.  I met a very nice vet (and professor) from Slovenia once I got to the conference hall area.  I also met people I knew from the UK and some I knew of from the US.  We waited a bit for more people to arrive and a bus to come.  About 50 people went on this bird-watching trip (called a pre-conference tour).  We really had a great time.  The weather was perfect - cloudy in the morning, clearing up to sun in the afternoon.  We had guides with us who pointed out all the bird species we saw.  People had telescopes and binoculars.  We went to a wildlife sanctuary and research centre and received a talk about West Nile Virus.  Then we went on a walk through the reserve...and many of us found that we hadn't worn the proper footwear!  It was very muddy - you could easily be in one inch of mud!  I was wearing new shoes that I planned on wearing to the conference (the only pair I brought).  I survived, and so did the shoes.  We must have walked for 1-2 hours amidst cattle and a few Camargue horses.  We saw the natural terrain of the region (full of salt-producing plants).  We also saw a few birds, including a cuckoo and a black kite.  On the drive out, I saw a wild boar (way cool!).  We then went to lunch in a barn-like building on a farm.  We had pate and French bread for the appetizer, Camargue steak and rice (produced on the farm) with tomato sauce for the main dish, and profiteroles (cream puffs) with chocolate sauce for dessert.  It was OK, but my beef was a bit overdone (I'm not too picky).  That afternoon/early evening we went "flamingo watching" and I took tons of photos.  The flamingos were so amazing to see, flying in the wild. 

    Tuesday was the ECAMS scientific meeting, which was very well-done and interesting.  That night at a restaurant near the arena, I ordered what I thought was steak.  But it ended up being very thinly sliced raw beef marinated in oil and basil!  I at least tried it, and it didn't taste bad - but I passed it over to other people in my party for them to enjoy.  :)  The apple pie was not too bad, and about the only thing I ate for dinner.  Wednesday was the beginning of the AAV meeting.  It was draining to sit through so many lectures!  But they were interesting (though the focus was more towards wild birds and zoo birds, which is not my main area of interest).  That day I had some great baked tortellini at a restaurant in the Place du Forum - I highly recommend that little square.  Full of good places to eat and a nice atmosphere.  Thursday was full of lectures.  Friday was the last day of the conference for me and full of more lectures in the morning, with master classes in the afternoon.  I had paid for one master class only, so I had a long lunch.  The master class was about passerine medicine and taught by a professor from the University at Utrecht.  It was very interesting, though there were a group of people behind me that kept talking during the entire class.

    Saturday I went horseback riding with a couple of avian vets from the USA.  They had a car, so we went to San Marie de la Mar (someplace like that).  I got to see the Mediterranean Sea for the first time!  It looked like any other ocean to me.  :)  We paid 30 Euros for a 2 hour ride on the Mediterranean's shore and over the Camargue - but we were riding almost 3 hours.  The ride was beautiful and the weather was so warm that we all got a bit of sun.  We were all unprepared the first time the horses began to canter - we couldn't understand the French when they told us what we were expected to do!  We must have cantered 4-5 times and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  We rode amongst the flamingos, too (in the water)!  I'll always have great memories of that day.  The next day (Sunday) I flew home to Glasgow.   

    Now I'm here in Glasgow and I've been here a couple weeks.  I had spent one week in school before going to Arles - and I took the OSCEs (Objective Structured Clinical Exams).  The OSCEs were terrible!  I had totally been expecting something else (like real clinical skills, not book knowledge), and so had most others in my class.  One of the more difficult stations asked us to name the anaesthetic apparatus, name its parts, and calculate fresh gas flow rates for various sized animals (and say whether this anaesthetic apparatus was appropriate in various situations).  Another station asked us to name the clinical sign of blood in the eye - we hadn't had our ophthalmology lectures yet!  We also had to answer questions regarding that condition.  I walked away thinking I had failed (and from what everyone else said, they felt the same way).  When I returned from Arles I found that I did NOT fail, but was pretty darn close to it.  I am happy that I at least passed and that I don't have to re-sit the OSCEs.  But I feel that the grade does not represent my clinical skills at all, which is what I thought it was supposed to.  I was amazed to find out that a good many people got As.  15 people (out of 88) failed and have to re-sit.  Everyone is unhappy with the OSCEs. 

    I am spending my remaining weeks here studying and studying - and studying some more.  I was also worried/stressed about my summer plans because they were not solidified until just the other day.  Now I can relax a little in that regard.  I have 7 weeks of EMS planned and I will do 3.5 weeks more of an externship that I can't get credit for (since it's overseas and I've completed my 10 week overseas limit).  I'll be doing one week of studies at a research centre in Scotland, then two weeks in Glasgow University's small animal hospital (doing mostly nursing duties and including some nights).  Then I fly to northern California where I will be doing 3.5 weeks at the Medical Center for Birds.  Then I will see my family for one week, and then fly to Albequerque, New Mexico, for one week with the Rural Area Veterinary Service on a Zuni Indian reservation.  After that, I'm flying off to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to do a 3 week externship at LSU veterinary school (exotics).  Finally, I head back to Glasgow and begin my 4 week equine rotation!  Phew - I will be busy, and if you can't tell - I'll be flying around everywhere, spending lots of money that I don't really have.  I am really really grateful to my parents for their support!  This is my last summer and I've planned it so that I will have a good chance at an internship of my choice in about a year.  Now that's assuming that I actually pass my upcoming exam (June 3) and make it into next year!  Yikes!!!!

    The upcoming CAC (Companion Animal Course) exam covers the entire year's worth of lectures in canine, feline, equine and (a tiny bit of) exotic animal medicine/surgery.  The exam is structured in this way: we must write one out of six essay questions (usually they incorporate several areas of medicine, surgery and often more than one species), then answer 10 short answer questions, and answer about 50 multiple choice questions.  I think the exam is a total of about 2-3 hours long and divided into two parts.  I am very worried about this exam - so I am studying.  I will write again when I have hopefully PASSED the exam.  Wish me luck!!


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