Youth in Asia

10 Feb

It’s peculiar and fascinating what people can get used to, what our minds can adapt to. At my vet clinic, there are about two or three euthanasias a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. A lot of times pets die naturally at home. It’s a part of the job. People always ask me if it’s hard, if it’s sad. The easy answer is yes.

When I started at the clinic as a receptionist two years ago, I began with a wide-eyed optimism. My new job would surround me with adorable puppies and kitties. Somehow I didn’t factor death into the equation. I remember the first time I saw an appointment for euthanasia. I didn’t even know how to process it. I can vividly recall watching the family in tears carrying the pet into an examination room and leaving the hospital, their arms empty. My heart hurt, and I went home that night and quietly cried in the shower.

I remember the first euthanasia I participated in. It was a very old, incredibly sick Yorkie. Dr. S was hoping he could save it and had me sit vigil with it for about six hours while he monitored it between appointments. The dog lay on its side, breathing heavily. It had what my tech friends and I call “death diarrhea.” It’s black, liquid, the most horrible smell you can imagine, and it slowly seeps out. We call it the death diarrhea, because once a patient starts having it, death is almost always a day or two away. The black liquid (Melena) is actually what happens to blood when it is digested, so the presence of the diarrhea indicates that there is extreme internal bleeding along the intestinal tract.

I sat with the dog for hours, trying to not gag because of the smell, and petting the dog’s head lightly. Finally Dr. S spoke to the owner on the phone, and they opted to put the dog down. It happened so quickly. He drew up the drug’s and injected them. He leaned close to her and quietly said, “You did a good job. You’re a good girl. Your dad loved you very much.” I went home and cried in the shower.

Since then I’ve participated in many more, most of the time in pets that are suffering and death seems to be a blessing. Usually the doctor brings the dog to me, I place an intravenous catheter, the doctor takes the dog back to the owner, euthansizes it, they bring the body back to us and we prepare it for the crematorium, which is done offsite. Rarely, the owner doesn’t want to be present, and we perform the procedure in the treatment area.

And I’ve gotten so used to it. Just another duty at work. Sometimes we even make off-color jokes about it that seem hilarious to us, but when I mention them to friends, I obviously get a look of horror. It’s kind of horrible to feel calloused, inured to death. But it’s psychological survival at its finest. I can’t come home everyday from work and cry in the shower. I would lose my mind. Some people do. Veterinarians have the third highest suicide rate among professions. Physicians are number one.

Yesterday we had a euthanasia where the owner didn’t want to be present. It was a new patient. A 21-year-old dog, which is remarkable in itself, who was having difficulty walking and no longer interested in food. It was an adorable ragamuffin terrier. I held the butterfly catheter in place as the doctor injected the drugs. I pet the dog’s head and watched the lights dim in its eyes. I told him what I tell them all, “You’re a good dog. You did a good job,” because I believe that’s all a dog really wants to hear in its life. And then I felt it, that same heartbreak I felt two years ago when the idea of a euthanasia appointment was enough to upset me. But I also felt relief. Relief that I still have a piece of my heart and am capable of feeling that sadness, that mourning. Because I need that to psychologically survive as well.

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6 Responses to “Youth in Asia”

  1. Erin Sandbach February 11, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    I’m an emergency vet tech at a BUSY veterinary hospital and, in my opinion, it’s not a regular day at work if I don’t bag at least one body. Weekends and Mondays are the worst. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’ve become so acclimated to death. Of course I still struggle with the death of an animal that I’ve taken care of and bonded with, but because we get the most injured and very sick pets most times it’s more of a blessing to ease their pain and suffering.

    • Chrissy February 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

      I agree 100%. In a lot of cases, the word that comes to mind is definitely blessing. There’s nothing worse for me than when an owner tries to keep a pet alive despite immense suffering.

  2. Quincey Trigillo February 12, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    Ooohwee… I almost couldn’t read this! Doesn’t help that Walter has been sick the last few days (he’s ok now – yay)… I know I couldn’t never do this… I still cry during those ASPCA commercials…

    • Chrissy February 12, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

      I cried during that Super Bowl Budweiser commercial with the clydesdale.

  3. LadyVetTech February 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Agreed. I’m not sure what’s worse, the amount of euthanasia I do, or the fact that it’s really just become part of the job for me.

  4. Christopher March 16, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    I teared up reading this. I’ve read several of your other posts, but this one hit me right in the feels. It’s EXACTLY how my VetTech career started. From receptionist, to assistant, to Tech.

    My first euthanasia I had to hold a small, completely deformed 6 week old Pug. He came out in the same placenta as one of the other Pugs but it was clear he was the unlucky one.

    6 weeks old, barely weight 2.5 lbs. he couldn’t breath properly, distressed, rapid, sharp breaths. His eyes were literally just centimeters from falling out of their sockets. A gimp from leg, but he was happy. He ran around the exam room playing with his littler mates. He drank water fine, though he was smaller than the bowl. And our new doctor, only 7 months out of school, this being her first job, convinced the owners to euthanize.

    And she made me hold him while she struggled to inject the solution into his jugular. And missed. Several times.

    To this day, I refuse to assist in a euthanasia. I know it’s probably cowardly, but it’s something that weighs so heavily on me that I can’t force myself to be there. My coworkers (all females, me being the only male in the building) seem very understanding. Needless to say, I don’t much get along with that Doctor.

    I’m glad there are sensible people like you in our profession.

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