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Tag Archives: euthanasia

My Earl

5 Feb

20140205-233755.jpgOur clinic works closely with a house-call vet in Manhattan. Since she doesn’t have an office, we take in a lot of her patients that need inpatient care. About two months ago, we took in a rescue dog that one of her clients had told her about. A 3-year-old pug named Earl who had been found in South Carolina, emaciated and covered in fleas. We took him in.

After he was with us a week, he began having violent seizures. Two to three minutes long, full-body convulsions, foam seeping out of his mouth. It all became clear why such a beautiful dog had been thrown to the street. With a combination of medications, we got his condition regulated. But they had left him a little handicapped, mentally. He just wasn’t smart. He’d sit in his cage, kind of staring off into space. He’d chase his tail for a long time, getting to the point where he’d grab it with his mouth and stand still, unsure what to do next.

Over the last couple of weeks, we let him out of his cage more and more, to the point where we set up a little bed for him in the treatment area, and we kept him out with us all day. Every once in a while, he’d have a day with clusters of seizures, but for the most part, he seemed fine.

This last weekend, it was a little bit slower, and we all spent so much time playing with him in the slightly warmer weather, cuddling with him indoors. He had one of the best Pug temperaments. Docile and loving, content to just be held. I fell head over heels in love with him. Even though I don’t live in a situation where I could have a dog, I fantasized about adopting him, taking him home, making him my own. At the end of my shift on Saturday, I held him in my lap, petting him, and I whispered to him, “You’re such a good boy. I promise we’re going to find you a good home.”

Then yesterday, on my day off, I get the staccato texts from Dr. L. Earl isn’t doing well. He’s having so many seizures. His temperature is 108. He looks bad. And finally, the one I was dreading, they had euthanized him. I sat alone in my apartment and wept for a dog that was never mine, but who I loved as much as if he were.

Today was a difficult day. It was busy, but in our down time, we’d look to Earl’s empty corner and talk about how much we all missed him. We do this to ourselves over and over again. We let ourselves get attached to them. I don’t understand how we keep doing it.

It’s easy to build up a wall against this sort of pain, to distance oneself from the possibility of getting attached, to falling in love. But then there are special souls out there who know how to find their way in to a blocked off heart. Earl was one of those.

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Shalimar

15 Jul
My girl sleeping. I didn't want to open the cage and wake her.

My girl sleeping. I didn’t want to open the cage and wake her.

Shalimar started coming to us last winter. She’s a pom-mix, less yappy lap dog, more fox. She’s also a rescue from Arizona that around the office, became known as the foot dog. No one knows exactly what happened to her. The shelter that took her in found her wandering the desert streets, her paw pads scalded by the heat. But the radiographs we took show significant bone loss, and some have theorized that someone tried to declaw her by ripping out her nails. Either way her paws were severely infected with oozing drainage tracts on the tops and the bottoms of her feet.

Radiographs of her back paws, with distal bones missing.

Radiographs of her back paws, with distal bones missing.

The one blessing in this mess was that she seemed to have nerve damage to the point where she couldn’t feel her paws. She also happened to be the most stoic dog I’ve ever met. NEVER tried to bite, would only quietly cry in pain. Since her feet hurt, she liked to be held like a baby, feet up. Most dogs are hesitant to look you in the eyes, but she would focus her big brown eyes on yours. I adored her.

We treated the paws the best we could, but the infection was aggressive and not responding to antibiotics. They’d get better, then they’d get worse. Her owner was particularly patient and loving toward Shalimar, never complaining to us about our inability to fix the problem. That only makes the situation harder for us as good clients are hard to come by.

She deteriorated at a faster rate the last couple of weeks and Dr. L decided to admit her for heavy rounds of antibiotics and intensive nursing care. I took on a lot of her treatments and would hold her whenever I had some free time (which was not often this week.) Doing foot soaks can be a pain as animals flop around, splash water, want to escape. But with Shalimar I would hold her in my lap while her sad paws sat in the Epsom solution. She loved it and would often fall asleep as I held her paws in place. With gloves I would massage her feet in an attempt to reduce the swelling. One of the most disturbing things I’ve experienced as the paws would crackle like bubble wrap in my hands.

A part of me wanted to title this post “Delusion.” Too often I see owners who keep their pets alive too long. They selfishly refuse to accept that their pet is suffering and only getting worse. It makes me angry. But over the last week I realized how natural that feeling of hope can be and how hard it is to let go of something you love. I held Shalimar so many times and felt her labored abdominal breathing (a sign of pain). I watched her struggle to walk, refuse to eat. But because I loved this dog so much, I refused to see it. It wasn’t until Saturday night when Dr. L upped her pain meds that I realized she would have to be euthanized, and soon. She was conked out from the morphine and finally feeling a little peace. It was so hard to be pulled from that delusion and see what was really in front of me, an animal in a lot of pain. I started to cry and ran into the bathroom to try and contain myself.

I can’t say enough about how wonderful the owner was, how much she loved this dog and how reasonable she was. They euthanized my girl last night. I’m so sad about her being gone, but in that sadness I have to search for a little bit of happiness that we did the right thing.

Clients

20 May
Eric Kayser Boulanger treats.

Eric Kayser Boulanger treats.

In a way I have the Upper East Side clientele to thank for my career as a vet tech. I asked to become a tech, because I desperately wanted to leave the front desk. I didn’t know how I’d handle working so closely with the animals, the blood, the death, the illness, etc. But I knew I’d rather do anything than deal with those clients day in and day out.

When some of the horror stories of our clients make their way to me now, I breathe a sigh of relief. My client interaction is at a minimum, and I couldn’t be happier. But nonetheless, I still have to deal with some clients.

One of our most notorious clients of legendary snobbery is a devoted follower of Dr. Z. She is the epitome of Upper East Side old money. She inherited millions upon millions and spends her time breeding Dachshunds for show. They are beautiful dog, many of which have competed in National competitions. They have the softest coats of any dog I know. And they are dead inside. Behind their big black eyes, lies nothing. No personality, no reactions. It makes sense for a show dog to be personality-less, as they’ll trot and hold themselves in a perfect manner, but they make for uninteresting pets. Anyways, back to their owner who we’ll call V. She’s a small, elderly lady, who wears her hair in a short bob with barrettes on the side much like a small girl. The things we have heard her say are legendary. Like (to the dogs), “Jumping is forbidden” or to other clients in reference to their dogs, “You really should have that bitch spayed so it doesn’t reproduce.” Ew!

Luckily I don’t typically work with Dr. Z, so I rarely have to deal with her. But I recently had a run-in with her. I went with Dr. Z into the room to examine the dog. He hands me the blank-stare dog, and I weigh it on the scale. As I do this V looks from me to the doctor and back again before cooing in a childlike voice, “Hmmmmm, can we get someone who’s experienced?”

I wish I could have seen the incredulity wash over my face. Before I could say anything, Dr Z calmly told her, “She’s very experienced.” V shrugged and kept mostly quiet the rest of the visit.

I head back into the treatment area to tell my co-workers who all laugh uproariously. It’s one of the rudest things a client has ever said to me, or more accurately around me, as V seemed oblivious of my ability to hear.
“That woman’s a c***,” says wise Dr. G. “She doesn’t like me either.” It made me feel better, but it’s still amazing how a client has the ability to suck the life out of you in one quick sentence.

But as far as clients go, there’s a flip side.

One of my favorite patients was a sassy, miniature Schnauzer named Juliet. A lot of my love for her is the breed. Their stern eyebrows, teeny ears, terrier bodies. Juliet was such a little lady, and I was always happy to see her come in. She typically came in with her owner Mr. W who is perhaps the nicest client we have. He’s an older man, soft-spoken, eternally patient. When I was a receptionist, I remember how kind he was to me. Never minded waiting a minute, never raised his voice. He was quiet, and he was good. His wife has MS and can’t function well anymore. His daughter (also a client of ours) is mean to her core. Selfish and demanding, it is mind-blowing that they are related. And in this storm of sick wife, difficult daughter is a gentle man with an utter love and devotion to Juliet.

She was an elderly patient with bad eyes, bad knees and diabetes. She required so much home-care, but Mr. W did it all with a smile. For him, she was solace. A quiet soul that he could tend to, away from the problems in his life. He would confide in Dr. L that she was his joy, his project to tend to. That dog had so much fight in her, and I believe it was because she knew how much she meant to him. She lasted a long time, but eventually we all knew it was time. In true, Mr. W fashion, he quietly nodded and agreed to the euthanasia. It was clear the fight had left her, and he knew he had to let go.

Weeks later he walks into the clinic holding boxes of pastries from a boulanger around the corner from us called Eric Kayser. Dr L and I ran to the front to greet him. He shyly smiled at us and told us they were from Juliet. Once we brought the boxes back to treatment we opened them to find a variety of beautiful pastries. We looked at each other, tears welling in our eyes.

The thing is Juliet’s death wasn’t sad. It was her time, and everyone involved understood. But sometimes, like with the bad clients, it isn’t the patients that get to you, it’s the clients. Working with pet owners I’ve seen such beautiful displays of love and devotion for animals. It reminds me of the inherent good in humanity. And sometimes the hardest part isn’t losing the patient, it’s dealing with the broken heart of a person you care about, you respect.

For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Mr. W.

Why I do it

8 Apr

2013-04-05 09.07.22 I enjoy writing on this site about my vet tech career, and I have spent the last couple of weeks brainstorming ideas for a post. The reason I haven’t written a vet tech post in a while is because it has been a rough couple of weeks at work. Lots of loss, lots of tragic loss, saying goodbye to patients that I loved, writing condolence cards to clients who I know are going through a painful time. It’s been consuming my work life, and if I were to write about it, this could  become a rather depressing blog.

One of the most difficult losses was Prince Buster, a cheerful bulldog with a kind family. The owner adopted him years ago, and in the last couple of years has gotten married and had a charming daughter. Prince Buster was there through it all and a centerpiece of the family. A couple of weeks ago, Prince Buster came in because he wasn’t “acting himself.” On a chance hunch, Dr. S tapped (stuck with a syringe) Buster’s stomach and pulled out non-clotting blood. This is a bad sign, it means that one of the organs in the abdomen is bleeding, this usually means cancer.

He was rushed into surgery. The little family said their goodbyes and were told they could come visit after surgery that evening. Unfortunately, upon opening the abdomen, the membranes looked like ground hamburger, each tiny bulb was cancer. There were also large tumors suffocating most of the organs. They were metastatic, and they had won. Dr. S called the family and explained the situation. They wanted to come in to be with him for the euthanasia, but the doctor explained that he would only be in pain and that it would be best if he were euthanized directly on the surgery table. The family agreed but had one request, that the receptionist and technician that had known Prince Buster since puppyhood each hold a paw while he was euthanized.

I stood in the doorway to the surgery suite and watched my co-workers hold those paws and cry. I thought of the little girl who had kissed her dog goodbye, I thought of the happy bulldog. It was a difficult day.

That night I met up with a friend for drinks. I was running late and explained to her that I had a sad day at work. I told her the story of my day, how emotional the euthanasia was.
“Why do you do this?!” she exclaimed at my sad story. I stumbled over an answer of there are good days and bad days, yada, yada, yada. But I didn’t have a clear answer. At the end of the day, I love my job and find it satisfying. I’ve never had a day where the sadness leads me to the thought that maybe I should do something else. But why do I put up with such a sad career?

A couple of days ago, we got a card at the clinic. A little girl had drawn a bulldog on the front and included were a number of photos from the life of Prince Buster. Inside was a beautifully written note. Part of which read, “Whenever he turned down the street to the center, he would fill with excitement and pull at the leash until he could collapse on the floor of the waiting room prepared to be smothered with affection and cookies. Thank you so much for the joy and health you brought to his life.”

And just like that, I had my answer. I’ve never seen my job as a burden of dealing with death, but a privilege to be a part of their lives. The same day we got the card, we had a new kitten exam with a tiny Persian. I went to the room to grab her and said to the kitten, “Are you ready for your very first doctor’s appointment?” Her owners got all excited and began digging through their things for their camera.
“You’re right! It is her first appointment! We must have a picture to commemorate. I hope you don’t mind. We’re very proud parents.”
I didn’t mind as I posed for the picture with the kitten. I thought of the puppy pictures of Prince Buster we had in the back. One day that kitten will likewise pass away. We all know and understand that. But that’s not what’s important. Pets die, but we all continue to own them, love them, adore them. Because to be a part of their lives is worth it. For me to work on keeping them happy and healthy for as long as possible, it’s worth it.

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.