*Warning* This post is a heavy, sad, painful topic and involves death. It is not for the faint of heart. It is definitely not for those who cry easily, who love their pets deeply, or who simply are not in a place to hear something painful. I suggest you skip it if you are not up for anything of that nature. I have also, for the first time in the four year history of my blog, disabled comments. If you truly want to reach out and contact me, you may do so by emailing me.
I do not have children, so I understand loving your pets like your children. My pets are my fur babies and I can’t imagine loving them any less. I also understand that, should I have children, my dogs would still be family. They would be my children’s first playmates, first best friends, and first experience of loss. My dogs are what brighten my day.
When I am at work, I nurse my patients the way I would want to know my own dogs were being treated if hospitalized. I would want to know that their medical condition is not just being looked after, but they their best interest is. I want to know that their nurses do not see them as just another patient, but as someones best friend and family member. And each day at work, I look into the faces of scared kitties with compassion when they hiss at me. I look into the faces of growling dogs and understand that I am a stranger reaching for them and they don’t know why. And I look into the faces of the ill, the dying and those that we cannot help, and give them as much love and tenderness as I can, so that they do not feel like they are facing such a scary thing without “family” with them. I tell my clients that I treat my patients like family until they are able to return to their own.
I work in an ER. I do not do “new puppy/kitten” exams. I do not do wellness exams once yearly or vaccinate pets. I see families go through their first experience with death, I see children lose the only pet they have ever known, and I help heal animals for those who have no one else in their life. I take this very seriously.
You can scoff and say that all I do is work with animals, but I will tell you that I save family members of the non-human variety. I help patients that don’t understand what is going on, who can’t be reasoned with, who no amount of explaining will ease their anxiety. I speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, who are unable to say that they are ill, who cannot not express the depth of their pain. I give a voice to suffering.
When in my care, I fight for my patients. That doesn’t just mean that I sometimes have to stand up to doctors and insist that I know something is wrong, even if they don’t see it. It sometimes means sitting next to them and urging them not to give up, because I’m not giving up on them. And sometimes it means sitting next them, and stroking an ear, and watching them suffer while I stand by helplessly.
This weekend, I had a patient who suddenly crashed. He had been in oxygen and his heart rate dropped suddenly. I grabbed him and rushed him to our treatment table and began to work to save his life. Our whole team jumped in, someone alerted the doctor and I began to fight to save my patient. And I did. But we quickly discovered that that one moment of triumph would not mean much, because his disease was winning and there was no longer anything we could do. We called his owner and explained that this wonderful dog was dying. He was bleeding to death internally from his disease. He was throwing clots in his brain that were causing repeated strokes and he was struggling to breath. She was hours away and he was suffering. She refused to euthanize him. So, I sat there, for 4 and a half hours, monitoring his condition, watching him suffer in agony. Every so often he would worsen some more and we would call her again. And again, she would refuse to end his suffering.
And I sat there, physically exhausted, having been at work for over 15 hours without a break. I sat there, emotionally drained having to watch this beautiful creature slowly and painfully bleed to death on my table, while all I could do was try to make it slightly less terrible for him.
Suddenly, he began to buck and throw his head. I though he was going to code again. Instead, he began to cough up blood. He was now bleeding into his lungs and drowning. He was fighting to breath to the point of exhaustion. And I sat there. I suctioned his mouth and throat to ease his effort. I kept oxygen flowing by his face so that his body would not have to struggle so hard to get enough. I sat there, while this dog fought a losing battle to live, when his owner couldn’t bear the idea of letting go.
No one wants to think about letting go. No one wants to have to make such a choice. But I have to tell you, it is an act of pure selfishness to tell me that you would rather let that happen to your “beloved” pet. The excuse we were given was that she didn’t want him to be at the hospital and euthanized all alone. I’m here to tell you, he couldn’t have had a more loving staff, who would have stroked his ears, and kissed his snout and told him what a wonderful dog he had been.
And no one knows that each time an owner elects to do that. Each time an owner refuses to let go, while hours away, they are condemning me to that fate. The fate of siting with my patient, watching them suffer, watching the unspeakable happen, while I can do nothing. The emotional toll is almost too much to bear. To sit helplessly and watch an animal die, drowning in their own blood, too tired to keep fighting.
When I was finally relieved of this duty, my patient had suffered a significant seizure and slipped violently into a coma. No longer aware of his surrounding, he would not know if his owner ever showed up. But he would continue to physically suffer until she did.
I urge anyone who loves their pet to never let that be their fate. I understand, having been through it myself, how difficult it can be to lose a loved pet, family member, and friend, but if you love them, don’t let them suffer in that way.
And if that doesn’t encourage you, then think of it this way: If you couldn’t bear to sit and watch what I did, then don’t condemn your pet’s nurse to have to do the same.
An act of love, or an act of selfishness. The choice is yours.