Dear COVID-19,

I could have never imagined you would bring so much fear, uncertainty and change in the lives of thousands of people including myself. I was in Asheville doing my last externship when I heard you were spreading in the United States and there was no vaccine against you. In those moments, I started to become scared of you. At the time, I was staying in housing with 17 other veterinary students from around the world. When I came back to Alabama after completing my externship, I thought a vaccine would be developed soon, and everything would be okay again. I never thought you would spread like wildfire throughout the country and things would get worse.

In vet school, I have become familiar with other strains of coronavirus in small animals, large animals and poultry. I have seen how they mainly affected the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract of animals, but nothing like you. You have drastically changed the way we live, study and interact with others. I have learned how to practice social distancing, wear masks and gloves to protect myself, and not for surgical purposes like I always do. I have seen how the entire world but especially my veterinary world has adjusted to you. Now, veterinary hospitals offer pick-up and drop-off pet curbside services and telemedicine consults. Veterinary medical teaching hospitals have reduced the number of employees and do not allow veterinary students like me to complete their clinical rotations to protect us from becoming infected. My clinical rotations were switched to online and then were canceled. I have missed my last days in the hospital and new learning opportunities as a senior veterinary student.

You have canceled many things- important things including my graduation commencement. I remember I started my graduation countdown on the first day of my fourth year. I was excited to receive my degree after four years of hard work, stress, a lot of studying, and lack of sleep. It’s unbelievable to see how you have prevented the most important day for many graduates not only veterinary students. It is hard to realize that I won’t get the chance to walk across the stage to receive my DVM degree. I’ve envisioned myself walking onto the stage, seeing all my family happily settled in their seats and feeling proud of myself. Now, I won’t get to celebrate my biggest accomplishment the way I always dreamed to. However, no one will cancel what I have accomplished so far, and I will now be a part of the two virtual veterinary commencements. One of them held by my school and the other by Dr. Andy Roark.

You have shown me that life can be unpredictable. In these tough times, I had to make quick decisions and change plans. I packed my stuff in five days and made the journey back to my family. I took a five-hour flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. I have never felt so anxious to get on an airplane before, but I prepared myself to avoid getting infected. I wore a mask, gloves, shoe covers and a raincoat. This was not how I expected to move to California, but I did it. I always dreamed that I would leave my home in the South after receiving my DVM degree and start work right away. I also dreamed of the opportunity to take our last group picture as the Tuskegee University Class of 2020 “The Visionaries” with a chance to say goodbye to everyone. I never dreamed of witnessing your impact, the pandemic that changed everything.

You have taught me that sometimes things can turn out in unexpected ways and nothing is for sure. But I must keep going and fighting for my dream of becoming a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. I still believe the best is yet to come!

Sincerely,
Maria Estefania

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maria Estefania Colon is a fourth-year veterinary student at Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. She was born and raised in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. She received a bachelor’s degree in Medical Microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. At a young age, her family fostered in her a genuine interest in animal welfare and she became dedicated to taking care of injured stray cats in her neighborhood. In her free time, she loves reading, writing and telling her stories as a student blogger for Merck Manual Vet Stories blog. She also aspires to become a role model for low-income students and work as a small animal veterinarian in Los Angeles.

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