Natalie Zatz childhood lizard
Photo courtesy of Natalie Zatz
Dear first patients,
You were lizards, tadpoles, crawfish, hermit crabs, and one soft shell turtle. I cared for you with the best intentions, and you taught me invaluable lessons that I carry with me today as a veterinary student.
As an aspiring veterinarian with two little brothers, I grew up in Florida with a vast array of little critters right in my backyard. Afternoons were spent with nets in hand searching for minnows and tadpoles in drainage ditches. Evenings were spent catching lizards and geckos that had wandered indoors, hidden in hard-to-reach cracks and crevices. Weekends were spent scouring rocks near fishing piers for sea cucumbers and hermit crabs. Hurricane season sometimes cut off electricity, forcing us outdoors and bringing us closer to nature to search for tree frogs in curled leaves. As children, we were curious and that curiosity came at a cost for some of you little critters. For that, I'm very sorry, yet each one of you strengthened my desire to become a veterinarian and help future patients.
To the lizard I tried to “save” by bringing into my room, only to lose you under the bed so you could become a snack for my cat Fluffy: I am so sorry. I truly only wanted to provide the best life for you. Instead, your life was cut short and I may have given Fluffy Platynosomum fastosum. You taught me that sometimes less is definitely more, and it's possible to try to help more than is necessary…
To the hermit crabs I brought home from the lagoon and forgot about in my closet for a month: I have no idea how you both survived, but I'm so glad you did. I only hope you had fulfilling lives once I realized my mistake with newfound maturity and released you back to your lagoon home. You taught me that some mistakes can be corrected if we have the courage to admit our fault.
To the crawfish my brother found in an overflowing ditch: we tried to give you the best little home. I hope you appreciated the little lake and dunes we tried to make for you in that plastic tub. Maybe it wasn't as great as your ditch, but we hope the minnows we provided were tasty. My brother and I normally spent so much of our time arguing, but you were one thing we worked on together. You taught me that collaboration is an important aspect of life and caring for its creatures.
To the baby soft shell turtle we found on the side of the road after being hit by a car: we really should have taken you to a wildlife clinic, but we were young and didn't know any better. We gave you the tastiest turtle food PetsSmart could offer, and I hope you didn't give us Salmonella. You taught me that even if you've given it your best, most heartfelt, effort, it may still not be enough.
To the tadpoles I collected in my buckets and tried to raise into frogs: most of you made it! For the ones that turned into frogs, you taught me that patience can be rewarded in time. For those of you in that one bucket I accidentally tipped down onto the driveway, I'm still a little scarred from trying to pick up all of you. You taught me that accidents can happen, and we can try to pick up the pieces as best we can.
I'm older and wiser now. I look back and see all of the things I would have done differently. However, I also look back and find nostalgia for the simplicity of observing and admiring the smaller wildlife that I now sometimes walk past without a second thought. I hope my younger self would be proud that I still stop and help earthworms off a hot sidewalk or catch spiders in cups because I can't fathom squashing them. Each of the earth's critters is still a little patient.
As a veterinary student, I still think of my first patients and the lessons you taught me. Thank you for teaching me to appreciate nature and its little creatures. Those lessons will make me a better caretaker for all of my future patients, and for that, I am extremely grateful, as I'm sure are my future patients.
With love, gratitude, and apologies,
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.