The End

It’s Friday, so time for the Red Writing Hood meme. This is the prompt.  I’m going non-fiction again this week. I don’t usually need to put a warning or an explanation at the beginning of my posts, but I think this one needs it.

We euthanized our cat, Tylin, on Wednesday. She had lymphoma. She would have been 14 in August. She’s been sick for a couple weeks and this has been on my mind. It deals with euthanasia from a veterinarian’s perspective. It has the potential to be disturbing, and not in a good way. So if you would rather not read about that, stop reading now. If you have recently lost a pet or a loved one or are grieving, it may not be something you want to read right now.  I needed to write this, but you do not need to read it if you don’t want.

 

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I could never have imagined it would be so hard to take a life. I’ve probably done hundreds at this point, ten years later. But the first one sticks.

I was twenty-six, fresh out of veterinary school.  I walked into work and looked at the schedule. Right before my dinner break an appointment: E&D. We used the abbreviation in case a client got a look at the appointment book. Euthanasia and disposal.

I was going to perform my first euthanasia. I had been involved in them in school, but this was the first one  where I was completely responsible. I had made the terminal diagnosis on this pet. I had discussed euthanasia and how to know it was time. Me. I was the doctor.

I hadn’t adjusted to the title yet. I still smiled and stifled a giggle when someone addressed me as Doctor. I didn’t feel like a doctor. I  felt like a four year old wearing a too big lab coat and pretending.  And I was going to euthanize someone’s pet.

I needed to prepare. I unlocked the controlled drug box, checking to make sure I had enough Euthosol for the job. I looked at the hot pink label on the amber bottle. There wasn’t a dose listed. I had no idea how much I needed. I called my then boyfriend, doing his internship in L.A. He either knew the answer to my questions or could ask someone right then.

“It’s a cc per ten pounds,” he said.

“Do you draw up extra?” I asked. “Just in case?”

“Just in case of what?”

“In case it doesn’t work.”

“No. It works.”

Ever confident he was, then and now. I’m not. I wasn’t. I planned to draw up extra. Just in case.

The patient arrived. I watched on the security cameras as her owners carried her in. I watched the staff rush to open the door to the exam room that was already set up so they wouldn’t have to wait in the lobby. A blanket on top of the stainless steel table. A box of kleenex sitting on one end.

The patient was a sixty pound Golden Retriever I had diagnosed with lymphoma two weeks earlier. I had been so pleased with myself when they came in because they found lumps on the dog. Enlarged lymph nodes I had announced. I had taken a sample with a needle and looked under the microscope at the big, round cells. Textbook perfect lymphoma. An easy diagnosis, even for a new vet. When they left, I had showed the staff the cells. It was kind of cool.

It wasn’t so cool now.  I slipped into my lab coat, draped my stethoscope around my neck, and headed to the drug box. I drew up ten cc’s of the thick pink liquid with a giant 18 gauge needle. I changed to a fresh needle, 22 gauge, a more appropriate size for an animal vein. I had no idea how I was going to push that liquid, almost a gel, through the tiny needle. I hadn’t yet learned to dilute it with water. I grabbed a tourniquet and entered the exam room.

The owners jumped when I entered. They were bent over their dog, petting her head and talking into her ears. The dog had become wasted in the last two weeks. Ribs protruded. The muscles on her skull atrophied displaying her bones like an anatomy cadaver. The ten cc’s in my pocket seemed excessive now.

The woman was already crying. Her husband was gripping her shoulders. Like if he squeezed hard enough, he could keep the tears in. My eyes misted for a minute before I got hold of myself.

I petted the dog and looked at the owners.

“Are you ready?” I asked.

They nodded.

I went into my spiel. It wasn’t well rehearsed as it is now. I had to think about it, make sure I was giving all the information. I looked at the dog instead of them while I spoke.  It was an injection of an overdose of an anesthetic. It would be painless and quick. Sometimes they take a last breath or two, or make noise. That’s normal and does not mean they’re experiencing pain. Sometimes they lose bowel or bladder control. The eyes will not close.

“Are you ready?” I asked again.

Again they nodded.

I placed the tourniquet around a front leg and prayed I’d hit the vein the first time.  I doused the leg with alcohol to see the vein though the fur and made a quick stabbing motion with the needle. Pop. I was in. I drew back on the syringe. A flash of dark blood mingled with pink.

The dog looked at me. Panting, her mouth open in a smile. I released the tourniquet.

“Are you ready?” I asked again.

They petted her again. Buried their faces in her fur. The husband was shaking with silent sobs. The wife was not so silent.

I pushed on the syringe. The liquid was so thick I couldn’t use my thumb. I had to use the heel of my palm to force it in.

The dog kept smiling. I pushed and pushed. Then her head thumped on the table.  Limp.

“That’s it?” the wife asked, her face shocked. “It was so fast.”

I nodded, my face matching hers. I’m not sure I believed in souls or life forces or whatever it is, until that moment when I had no doubt I had felt it leave her body.  The  energy washed over me, taking my breath away.

I checked for a heartbeat with my stethoscope. Nothing.  I smoothed the fur one last time, straightened her head so it wasn’t at such an awkward angle. The tongue lolled out out of her mouth. I couldn’t get it back in her mouth.

I left the room. I had done it. I had just killed an animal. I was nauseous. The staff was waiting for me when I came out. They asked if I was okay.

I walked by and into the office. I closed the door, sat down at my desk, and cried. I cried for the clients. I cried for the pet. But mostly I cried for myself. I had just done something I could never take back.  I knew what it was like to take a life. And I knew I would have to do it again. The world had just shifted.


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48 Responses to “The End”

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  1. Erin
    Twitter: ErinsMiracles
    says:

    OMG!! I am crying with you in your office, but that was amazing!! I’ve had to bring them in to be put down, and never once did I ever think how hard it might be on the person doing it and not just the pet owner!
    Sorry to hear about your kitty, I am sure she will be missed!

  2. Mandyland
    Twitter: in_mandyland
    says:

    I’m in tears. I’ve never thought how hard it must be for the vet to administer the lethal dose. I guess, the two times that my family has had to go this route, I was too wrapped up in my own pain.

    This was a beautifully written, powerful post.
    Mandyland´s last post ..Wordless Wednesday

  3. The Drama Mama
    Twitter: poopscoopinmama
    says:

    I’m crying with you in your office too. This is raw, emotional, beautifully written. I understood that when you asked them if they were ready, you were also questioning yourself. I don’t think I would have been able to do it. This is the stuff you DON’T hear about when you think about becoming a vet.

    My favorite part of your story was when you talked about feeling like a 4 yr old playing dress up.
    The Drama Mama´s last post ..Writers Workshop- Cheesy Love

    • Jessica Anne says:

      There is a lot you don’t really learn until you’re actually the vet. Even working as a tech is not the same.

      I asked them over and over, hoping they would change their minds. I still ask every time.

  4. Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom)
    Twitter: Melissa_DrMom
    says:

    Oh, yes, I’m crying. I keep thinking about my husband’s childhood dog having to go through this same thing several years ago. His mom was with him. So sad.

    You wrote this with honesty, love, and respect. Great job.
    Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom)´s last post ..Crashing Down

  5. Ratz says:

    Painful. The part when you injected him… painful.
    Ratz´s last post ..The End- El Fin- Die Ende- TRDC Meme

  6. Maija @ Maija's Mommy Moments
    Twitter: MommyMoments
    says:

    I can feel your pain in this post but honestly, it makes me feel better. That there are people, like you/like this vet, that actually understand what they are doing and feel compassion and empathy while doing something that so clearly is difficult for them (though as a “patient” we never actually see this internal struggle).

    It is so well written too – I can clearly feel your internal struggle.

    Thank you.

    Maija

  7. Victoria KP says:

    That was really beautiful and sad. We lost our cat last year and were saved having to make a tough decision when nature took it’s course. I never really gave much thought to what a vet goes through. Our vets seem to love animals so much–it must be really difficult
    Victoria KP´s last post ..Young Love

  8. Carrie
    Twitter: Miss_Scarlett99
    says:

    This hit close to home. We had to put our cat down unexpectedly on New Year’s Day. She was only 6.

    You never think about it from the vet’s point of view. It’s difficult enough for the owners to make the decision but the vet has to DO it.

    Very powerful.

    Visiting from RDC
    Carrie´s last post ..Red Writing Hood- Sneaking it in

  9. Leighann
    Twitter: MultitaskMumma
    says:

    That was heartbreaking and real. Your descriptions made me feel like I was right there. I never thought to think of how my vet feels.
    So sorry for your loss

  10. Valerie says:

    I am crying now too. This was painful to read, because a friend of mine was going to go through this last weekend. Her very sick dog passed away last Saturday night, and so the vet didn’t have to come after all, but it was still a heart breaking time.

    Nice piece of writing, by the way. Very, very powerful.
    Valerie´s last post ..Long Ago and Far Away

  11. Kir says:

    Oh my, you know I am not an animal lover. I love our dog Fenton, a rescued Seeing eye German Sheperd, but that took me a long time to come to that place.
    While I read this, I felt all those emotions with you and how knowing it was the first and not the last time could affect you.
    thank you for sharing and I am so sorry about your loss this week.

  12. Jennifer says:

    I am so so sorry about your cat, it’s heartbreaking when they go.

    I felt that you handled every character in this story with such love and care, even the boyfriend who only made a few line appearance, and I thought it was wonderful that the dog was able to die surrounded by the people it loved. I admit that I did get a little nervous when the vet said that she hadn’t learned to dilute the Ethusol…
    Jennifer´s last post ..Knock- Knock

  13. CDG
    Twitter: MoveOverMaryP
    says:

    Insightful and gentle, and unique of you to give the perspective on loss to the doctor. Well done, really.

    I’ve held my vet’s hand while we said goodbye together, and you got it just right.

    And I’m so very sorry for your loss.
    CDG´s last post ..Arrival

  14. Melisa
    Twitter: mommythisnthat
    says:

    I knew I would be bawling by the end but I read it anyway. I never really thought about how the vet that has to do it feels. This was very insightful.

    We had to put our dog down last summer…still hurts to even think about it.
    Melisa´s last post ..Almost Famous and 36 weeks

  15. Kelly
    Twitter: itsafoodlife
    says:

    Thank you for your unique perspective. I have been on the other side and it is an extremely difficult thing. Well done. I could feel the emotion. There were tears.
    Kelly´s last post ..Morning and Sun

  16. Elizabeth Flora Ross
    Twitter: efloraross
    says:

    I thought I could handle this, but when I got to the part where the owners come in with their pet, I lost it. I couldn’t go any further. I’m sorry. And, I’m sorry for your loss.

    I will say this, as a lifelong pet owner who has been through this several times, I have always been touched by how the vets handle it. I’ve been blessed to have wonderful vets. You form a special bond, I think, with anyone who cares for those you love.

    Also, I wanted to be a vet my whole life until I entered the pre-vet program at the University of Missouri and realized my love for animals could not overcome my weaknesses in math and science. ;)

    • Jessica Anne says:

      Thank you for reading as much as you did. I know it’s a sensitive subject.

      Oh those prerequisites. Science is my thing, but not math. I’ll never understand why I had to suffer through calculus when my job requires nothing more complicated than multiplication and division with a calculator.

  17. Jessica
    Twitter: fourplusanangel
    says:

    So hard to read but so impressive that you were able to write with such honesty and convey your emotion. As difficult as this was to hear it is always comforting to read about the human side of people who take care of our loved ones and pets.
    Jessica´s last post ..I’m Still Standing- Featured Blogger

  18. Cheryl @ Mommypants
    Twitter: mommy_pants
    says:

    I’m sorry for the loss of your cat. My dogs are 10 and I know we have limited time now with them.

    You captured the emotion well. I’m sure it never gets easy for a vet.

    • Jessica Anne says:

      It’s hard when pets start to get older and you realize there’s only so much time left with them. We’ve lost 3 in last two years. I should take my own advice and space the ages out a little better.

      It’s never easy, but it is easier now. Most of the time.

  19. Ginny Marie
    Twitter: lemondroppie
    says:

    I’ve never owned a pet, except for a couple of fish, which just isn’t the same. I know I would be devastated if I had to put a pet down, and I would want you to be my vet. Even though it was a sad story, it was so heartfelt.
    Ginny Marie´s last post ..Learning to Let Lily Fail

  20. Mad Woman behind the Blog
    Twitter: madsbloggingmom
    says:

    Thank you for sharing this perspective. My mother had me take our family cat to the vet when her time came and it was the hardest thing I had ever had to do. But the kindness of the vet, the warmth and sadness in his eyes made the experience so much more tolerable.
    Thank you for being that kind of vet.

  21. Brandon
    Twitter: StoryDam
    says:

    Ok, well that sucked. I have a huge soft spot for animals despite the fact that I lived on a farm. The death of an animal there was a part of life, if that makes sense.

    Great writing. You are great at setting a scene, but ugh… now I need a laugh. :)
    Brandon´s last post ..Bonding with the unborn

    • Jessica Anne says:

      Ha! Sorry for the downer post. I definitely get the farm animal thing. I worked with them in school and my uncle owns a farm, so I understand that. Cows are one of my favorite animals to work on. Chickens, not so much.:)

  22. Ericka @ Creative Liar
    Twitter: erickaclay
    says:

    Wow, wow, wow. So well written. I’ve never once thought what a vet must go through during this process, especially one new to the game. I can’t imagine and yet it has to be done. And I love the way you included the fact about being excited when identifying the cells. As a trained doctor you did exactly as you’re taught to do, to find the disease and do your best to cure it. But as a human, your heart wins over in the end. Thank you for giving us honest insight to something a lot of us have had to experience.
    Ericka @ Creative Liar´s last post ..I’m Drinking Champagne Until I See Colors…

  23. Veronica
    Twitter: mayangelstar
    says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your cat, it’s so heartbreaking to lose a pet. I’ve been with two, my dog and I held her paw and stayed strong until I went home and bawled and my daughters hamster, I bawled then too..

    I never once thought of the vets perspective, thank you for sharing this point of view, written beautifully.
    Veronica´s last post ..The Stand

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