Vets try to comfort their patients and the “parents” when it comes time to put your fur baby to sleep. A lot of time they will say how they understand and it may do a lot or very little to actually create any type of comfort. I mean, do the vets really understand and care or are they just going through the motions?
I’m sure it varies from one vet to the next but check out this one Vet’s personal story:
August 4 th, 2011 started out like any other day. My morning clinics were interrupted by a phone call from my wife Eileen. “Rufus didn’t eat breakfast,” she said. “Bring him to the hospital,” I answered. As he walked through the doors of the animal hospital, I instructed my colleague to perform some tests. “I can’t be involved in the decision process,” I said, and busied myself in an appointment.
I was greeted by the radiologist on the way out of my appointment. “I was hoping we could get the CT scan today on this patient,” I started. “Buddy, I’m sorry. He has metastasis,” he said.
It took me a minute to register that he was talking about Rufus. I was bordering on catatonic but had to pull myself together to tell my wife and little girl. “On average, less than a month,” I heard myself saying again and again to owners over the years.
We all dropped to the floor crying and hugging Rufus. I had to be strong for my family, so I transitioned into “doctor mode” and did an ultrasound. There it was, a tumor of the spleen and to make things worse, it was bleeding into the abdomen. As a veterinarian, this is an all too familiar a situation, whereby internal bleeding from a splenic tumor results in the need for emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately, when the tumor spread to the lungs, the ability to extend his life with surgery was gone. While Rufus was not in shock, it was a matter of time when a small bleed would become a large bleed.
How could this happen? What kind of veterinarian am I? I couldn’t even help my own dog. But, I knew that no matter how hard we try to stop death, it was inevitable.
“You should take your dog home and spend some quality time with him,” I heard echoing in my brain remembering all the times I told owners they should “spoil” their pets. As we drove home from the hospital, I thought about what Rufus would want. I thought to myself, “If he is going down, he will do it with a smile on his face.”
We took him to his favorite place, the bike path that looped around a large duck pond. As we stood at the edge of the water throwing sticks for him, he smiled back at us with a look of pure joy as if to say, “what a wonderful day”. We let the Frisbees fly. Definitely slower than in his glory days, Rufus raced back and forth chasing down each one but never actually returning it directly to us, typical.
Finishing the loop around the duck pond we grappled with the idea of seeing how long he could be with us, and whether it was better to let him go out on top, rather than wait till this damn disease took him out. After, much debate we agreed that we didn’t ever want him to suffer and we would have to put him down. I always say that our pets are the most selfless beings in the world and that it is our job to be selfless when they need us to be. Struggling with our decision we walked and cried.
The next day we quietly and stealthily sneaked into the hospital and had a colleague put him to sleep while Eileen and I held him in our arms. As he drifted off, he looked at us, as if to say, “What’s wrong guys? I’m here for you.” “No buddy, we’re here for you,” I thought.
In the years it has taken to write this piece I think about Rufus every day. His memory still burns strong, with his dog tag firmly attached to my key chain as a daily reminder to be half the moral character that Rufus was. Those two days are with me every time I have to break bad news or perform euthanasia. Now when I say, “I understand,” I do.
Through my own tears I am sharing this Vets story because of how I felt when I was on the floor with my fur baby, waiting for her to be put to sleep. The look she gave me, how her fur felt one last time… I will never forget and remember it like yesterday. I miss Cocoa so much but it felt really good to know that some of the Vets actually do, understand.