Picture yourself on a tropical island. Not the beach, but the jungle. The terrain is mountainous, not the steady climb like into the hills of the Appalachians, but a steep, sudden and startling ascent from a vaguely modern scene to something out of Jurassic Park. You’re in a van driven by a graduate of Mad Max and Mr. Toad’s Motoring School and you’re rocketing upwards (and occasionally sideways) into the mountain jungles of Grenada. You’re bracing yourself against the seat in front of you, the classmate next to you, and occasionally the ceiling as your driver launches the car towards your destination.
Such is how large animal ambulatory rotations begin in Grenada. Bring your boots, coveralls and anti-motion sickness meds.
If you’re of sturdy constitution and don’t get carsick on the wild ride up the mountainside you can enjoy the view. It’s mostly jungle. The vibrant green of the dense foliage is breathtaking, but not more so than the crevasses and ravines that appear and vanish as the van careens along the roadway. Among them you see a mix of edifices, some massive mansions of stone, cement and several stories, others tiny shacks perched precariously on the edge of a gut-wrenching drop into the jungle below. The foliage is so thick on one side and the drop so precipitous on the other as to provide the sensation of flight.
That or the van is occasionally getting a little bit airborne.
Beyond the mountains and jungles you see the ocean. Whether it’s the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico you can’t decide, because even though you’ve lived here for three years the torturous path of the roadways has you lost for what direction you’re facing. Then you remember that it’s the Caribbean Sea in every direction so it doesn’t matter.
Your destination is a small farm in the mountains of the Spice Island. Maybe it’s a farmer with a few dozen pigs to castrate. It might be a man whose sheep and goats need deworming and such. Either way, it’s better to raise livestock up in the mountains where it’s much cooler than down by the beaches or on the swamps. As a student wearing rubber boots and heavy coveralls over your clothes, you’re as grateful for the breeze and gentler temperatures as are the animals.
Be glad for the gentler temperatures because the work is something besides gentle. In Grenada, they don’t castrate their pigs at five pounds like they do in the States. The pigs we castrated were closer to 40 pounds and that much stronger and louder for it. They are neither fun to catch nor to restrain for surgery; the goats, by contrast, are funny. They are somewhere between skittish and playful and it’s a guilty pleasure catching them in their pasture.
The rest of your afternoon is spent catching, restraining, examining and treating your patients. This is great and smiles abound. Doing physicals on your patients, performing procedures, even doing paperwork out in the mountain jungle makes you feel like a veterinarian instead of a veterinary student. You are given an opportunity to step up into your career and you meet it and relish it. You are fulfilled, satisfied and happy. You enjoy this. You now have the slightest and sweetest taste of what it feels like to be a veterinarian. And it’s fun.
Epilogue: The drive back down the mountain isn’t so bad. You’re more familiar with the roads, and exhaustion seems to have considerably dampened the vertigo. You don’t notice the livestock smell emanating from you and your classmates. You just divvy up the remaining paperwork and enjoy the bright Caribbean sunset.