I am a veterinary technician. This means I educate pet owners and non-pet owners alike. I answer questions, take vitals, collect blood, urine, stool, skin cell (or other cytology) samples, give vaccines or other injections, keep medical records up-to-date, admit and monitor sick patients, place catheters, administer medications, take radiographs, administer sedatives and local anesthetics, induce anesthetic planes, and provide recovery care. I must have a good math and science skill set; my calculations and knowledge must be accessed accurately and efficiently executed in even the most adrenaline-rushed situation.
In reality among a few others I am sure to be missing, I perform the tasks of: nurse, anesthesiologist, laboratory technician, radiology technician, emergency and critical care technician, reproductive technician, dietician, counselor, behaviorist, and dental hygienist. Sometimes, I even play the role of the Angel of Mercy.
I am expected to (and willingly do most days) show absolute dedication, skip lunches, work on weekends and holidays, stay past “closed” most days, and smile through all of the joy and pain that I see on a daily basis. I am supposed to provide a clear head and educate amidst the most beautiful moments and the most heart-wrenching times in a owner’s life. Most of those close to me know that my passions in life are veterinary medicine and behavior and I would take any amount of time discussing the varied topics in either field with anyone who wants to learn more.
If it is any lesson I can teach; any advice I can give: Timing is critical. Everything in life is based on timing. Whether it is words, emotions, life events...or actions.
For me, time stopped at 9:25pm on Tuesday, August 9th, 2016, as the heart of my best friend stopped beneath my hands. Cancer had taken its toll on his body and his spirit was freed while we snuggled in his bed and listened to the final words of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”.
You see, I had thought about this day for many months…especially since his diagnosis, but even long before. I see the worst of the worst. I see medical emergencies happen to unsuspecting owners. I see behavioral concerns escalate into lawsuits and thus mandated euthanasia. I try to explain potential risks and help owners prevent situations as described, but even with all of our calculations, we just cannot predict the future, like:
Lung Cancer. An incidental diagnosis found because I am an ever-suspicious vet tech and I decided to radiograph my whole dog when I found crystals in his urine and needed a bladder x-ray to check for stones…and thus: a lung mass was discovered. And the process of internal, holistic, and oncological medicine began.
The Stages of Grief also began:
Anyone who says you go in this order is an idiot. There is no “order” to grief. There is only experiencing it; bouncing around through the stages like a pinball in a machine full of macabre thoughts.
He has been an Angel for a month now and I’m still experiencing ALL of them. I “know” I will forever bounce through them, and only hope that the sands of time do their job and file down the jagged edges, so that the pain is a little less each day. I still wake up hoping he is there. I’ll feel a weight of a blanket - and for just a moment - think his back is to mine once more on the bed. Or I’ll be in that hazy twilight between sleep and consciousness, snuggling my comforter close, swearing I feel his fur and warmth before my brain tells my heart it’s only his stuffed Gorilla, which to this day I have no idea how it got there. I still hope he’ll bring me my shoes as I sit on the bed or greet me when I walk in the door after work by bounding over, nubbin’ wagging crazily, telling me all about how he kept away the bad guys. The only thing that keeps me going right now is thinking that he’s at The Bridge…playfully bounding around, his vigor fully restored, and using his newly earned wings to create chaos with all of the others I’ve lost along the way. I even laugh out loud sometimes as I imagine the Angels flipping frantically through his Cue Book, trying to figure out which of the over 400 cues (in a few different languages) they can call out to make him Settle Down or Leave the rabbits or deer, etc. Yep, that would be My Guinness, frustrating even the most sanguine of angels. These are the thoughts that I like…imagining his new adventure. One that I will join him in when my own purpose here on Earth has been served.
It would be a disservice to our Legacy to stop now, however. We had quite the Adventure. He helped create the person I am today: CVT. Behaviorist. Rescuer. And so much more.
But sometimes we CANNOT save them and the only gift we can give is to end their suffering. But I can still walk with my head held high, knowing that I have continued to do the right thing, to the best of my abilities, and continue to care for patients like they are my own. I treat them as I would want my own to be treated. I speak to owners as I would want to be spoken to. I still choose to be in this field, regardless of the heartache, frustration, and even sometimes anger that bubbles up. I choose to live this life of perpetual chaos and the day that my tears stop falling over a life lost too soon is the day that I change my career.
So, here it is…my advice…Take it or Leave It: Live. Every Moment of Every Day…because there may NOT be a tomorrow.
I was there the moment Guinness took his first breath…and I was there, as promised, when he took his last. He gave me so many wonderful memories; so many beautiful gifts that I hope can help inspire more to ever-strengthen their bond. To…live.
Don’t wait “until the day comes”. Guinness refused all of his favorite snacks - even the ones he was allergic to, so rarely got! - that day. He didn’t want to eat. Not even ice cream. His absolute favorite. I have videos. I have a lot of videos of our entire journey, even the end of it. But in my head I always thought, “We’ll get steak, chicken, burgers, cheese, ice cream…and it will be a free day.” He FINALLY ate a little ice cream late afternoon…because I begged him to. Because I told him sugar, SOMETHING in his belly, would make this easier. He always trusted me…so he ate a little ice cream…but then lay back down to rest. He was so tired. He had fought as long as he could; he had nothing left...and I had promised him: “When you stop fighting, I do too.”
He had stopped eating after Barn Hunt that previous Saturday night – a final Bucket List item that we were able to try because of a wonderful person who allowed us to come out to her barn. I didn’t know it at the time; just thought he was tired again, with all the medications and even activities. But that was it. His Top Five things disappeared completely in the next 3 days. He spiked a high fever. His body completely weakened. I brought him to WVRC in Waukesha on Monday night because he could barely stand and was tense in his abdomen and I could not get him comfortable. Something was REALLY wrong.
While we waited for the Doctor and lab results…Guinness told me he was done. I saw it in his eyes. There was no spark. No more hope. Just a plea to help him; to let him rest. So, selfishly, I asked him for “one more day”. I needed just one more day and I would ease all of his pain and help set him free. So we told the Doctors we were done. We would do no further testing; no more treatment. We left and I drove down by the Lake because what better way to start his last day on Earth than to watch the glorious sunrise together for one last time. The Gods delivered. It’s one of my favorite pictures of him. We then went home for a bit to rest. Then I brought him to the park and he went into the Creek for the last time, laying in the cool waters and there was a small spark as he chased after the dude on the bike in the field, before thudding to the ground to rest again. We said goodbye to a few more friends and then the wonderful Dr. McClanahan and Nicky came to my house and helped me ease his pain for the final time. He was snuggled in my arms and surrounded by friends. Without any doubt about how much he was loved, his heartbeat ceased to exist. In a numbing haze, I then drove him to All Paws in IL for an after-hours drop off around 11:30pm…because I could not do anything but this final car ride with him. The reality of my heartbreak set in as I handed his lifeless remains to the compassionate employee who was there in the darkest of hours so I could find a little peace knowing Guinness would be cremated in a few short hours. His paperwork had been filled out weeks before, except for date. I filled this in and it was done. I compartmentalized my pain for the moment and passed out as my beloved Dan drove me home. I don’t remember the next few days, really. A blessing in disguise perhaps, as I’m sure I was more zombie than not.
It’s been a month now. Only a month. Already a month. I can acknowledge that I was blessed in so many ways to have this wonderful creature choose to spend his life with me, but I don’t dare say his name too loudly for the memories will surely fall from my eyes. We accomplished more than what anyone thought possible, myself included. I set out wanting ONE title; we earned 15, including him being the 3rd Doberman in the world to achieve a Trick Dog Championship. His legacy will live on. I know all this. But I miss my friend. We travelled this Earth together for over 10.5 years. He may have known over 400 cues…but he has taught me so much more.
So, here I am…because I have been asked so many times, throughout the years, “How will I know? Will they tell me? What do I look for? What do I expect?”
This is what I’ve recommended. This is what I’ve done. The choices are all yours.
It’s not Goodbye…it’s Until I See You Again.
Author, Poet, Dreamer