Post Conference Culture Shock

Posted: Sep 19, 2014
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As I sit here in DFW on my way back to Portland after an awesome few days at IVECCS in Indianapolis, I find that I’m sinking into a bizarre form of culture shock. The immersion into vet culture started on Tuesday when I found myself at PDX International Airport, beginning the soon to be constant habit of checking out every passing person to see if I thought they might be a vet-type. Now vet-types don’t have to be just vets – they include techs, assistants, front desk staff, practice managers, owners, and various and sundry other people who tend to have a sort of uniform appearance. 

These folks usually look tired, often have coffee in their hands, and frequently have varying levels of pet hair on their clothing. Some look more unkempt than others making that a harder characteristic to spot them with. In some ways, they just have a sort of aura that attracts my eye the same way that you can’t walk past somebody with a dog without grabbing a quick peek to see if it’s as cute as yours. At the airport I see a few potentials but nothing definitive.

Now, by the time I get to Dallas and I’m at the gate for my flight to Indianapolis it’s a different story entirely. As I look around I see a LOT of people who I suspect of being vet-types. I’m a raging introvert so I’m not exactly reaching out and talking to anybody. But I can feel my bubble expand a bit larger than normal as I wander around sticking out a bit less like a sore thumb. I happen to look really tired, have coffee in my hands, am covered with pet hair, look like a person who doesn’t own an iron, and my fanciest piece of makeup is a purple tube of fruity-flavored chapstick. I KNOW that around 15-20% of the people on my plane are vet-types and every minute of that flight from Dallas to Indianapolis has me just gradually acclimating to their presence.

By the time we get to Indy, some of the more extroverted and/or frugal types are speaking up and sorting people into sharing taxis to the event hotel. From the time that we get to the hotel, I step into a world where there is every chance that if you start to chat with a stranger, you will talk about something interesting – like HGE or open-chest CPR or maggots – instead of hearing gushing tales of every pet that a person has had since they were 4 and how they never needed a vet because none of them were ever sick until they all died suddenly of mysterious and tragic diseases at 7 or 8 years of age.

I then spend 5 days surrounded almost entirely by vet-types. They are in my hotel. When I leave the hotel to go somewhere else, there’s a 50+% chance that there are some of them nearby. I’m far less likely to get yelled at by a stranger from the next table in a restaurant for talking about approximating volumes of bloody diarrhea in a parvo puppy at dinner. All day, every day I’m learning about things that stimulate my mind and make me think about ways that I can do a better job and all around me sit others who are thinking the same things and feeling the same interest.  This is the time for Conference-Me to blossom and flourish, spread my leaves, soak up some sustenance from the best & brightest in my field, and grow and learn.

Sometimes I feel like we all have multiple personalities and without a chance for our sub personalities to blossom every once in a while, we risk withering and losing that aspect of ourselves. There’s Vacation-Me who wants to bask in the sunshine, swim, relax, and be awake during the daytime. There’s Work-Me who is reserved, independent, primarily works overnights, loves the cool gloomy days of Portland's winter, and cringes when the sun shines in her eyes. There’s Home-Me who loves to visit her homeland (NC), spend time with her family and beloved friends, hug people and almost seems extroverted. For my sanity I need all of my subselves and they all need a chance to flourish regularly to survive and keep Whole-Me sane.

Well, once Conference-Me has run out of classes to attend, it’s back to the Indianapolis airport to begin the trek back to Portland. There I gradually start going back into hibernation and let Work-Me take over. In the airport things are still pretty good. I would estimate there are a solid 10-15% of people around me who are still vet-types. I’m still running into old colleagues and friends that I haven’t seen for years as we go through security and make our way to our individual gates. I'm still making new vet-type friends. A group of vet-types sit down and have lunch together, rehashing our favorite parts of the conference like who got most drunk at which event, who ordered too much dessert, etc. 

After lunch I meander on to my gate where Conference-Me still lives on – bumping into the nice young Aussie couple from one of my limited enrollment sessiosn and discussing their ongoing travel plans in the US before returning home. I'm burning with jealousy that I don’t get to go to New Orleans and Manhattan and let Vacation-Me out to play a bit. We get on the plane where I continue to see former colleagues, lecturers, friends, and faces that I’ve just seen at IVECCS. 

As we disembark in Dallas Conference-Me is nearly gone. I watched from the gate as friends, lecturers, colleagues, and recognizable strangers wandered off in various directions. I sat down for dinner knowing that if I tried to talk to my neighbor about how my quesadilla explosion salad looked kind of like a raisin vomit I saw last week, it wouldn’t be well received. Work-Me returns as I again become my reserved self and gradually stop looking around me for people with the telltale vet-type signs.

It never ceases to amaze me how different I feel when I’m surrounded by thousands of colleagues the way that I am at a conference. Work-Me will be stopping by the clinic on the way home from the airport in Portland and she will be back to her normal, late-night, sun-hating self. Conference-Me will be put back into storage until the next conference. Thank you all for helping to take care of Conference-Me while she had a chance to come out and play in Indianapolis!