The afternoon was gray and overcast, and the streets slicked by a recent shower as I drove the familiar route to our vet’s office. Whimpering softly in the carrier beside me was Rainy, our 18-year-old Maine Coon, who was unusually lethargic that day. Her eyes cast a distant, faraway look that frightened me.
A few weeks earlier our vet conducted a comprehensive examination, including lab tests, a urinalysis, diagnostic imaging, a blood count and a biochemistry profile. When the results came in we learned Rainy had advanced lymphoma. After Dr. C explained the diagnosis and treatment options we rejected chemo or radiation in favor of the palliative route. Taken into account was Rainy’s age -- which was equivalent to 92 in human years -- and frankly, the cost associated with adding only a few more months to her life was prohibitive. Dr. C agreed with our decision to forego aggressive treatment, and prescribed Prednisone and an appetite stimulant. She also advised us to make sure Rainy stayed hydrated.
Over the years Dr. C has treated many of our pets and we’ve always felt confident of her advice and veterinary skills. Lifting Rainy from the carrier that day I told Dr. C I was unsettled by her appearance. It was hard to pinpoint exactly, or to put into precise language what it was about her expression that alarmed me, but Dr. C seemed intuitively to know. She drew blood from Rainy, who by then was quietly dozing, and after a short while she returned.
“Rainy’s white blood cell production is off the charts.” I knew what that meant but didn’t at first grasp the urgency.
“If her time is near, do you think I can take her home for the week-end, and bring her back Monday?”
Dr. C shook her head. “I can’t, in good conscience, let you leave with her.”
I never loved any of our vets as much as I did that day in Dr. C’s office. She could see what I couldn’t. She knew what I didn’t know, and she understood -- as I hadn’t – that Rainy’s suffering was beyond anything we could do for her. That distant expression on her face, she explained, signaled her distress. The choice was made to euthanized her without delay.
As our pets have grown older, we’ve become frequent fliers at the clinic. Our bonds have strengthened not only with Dr. C and her associates but also with her caring staff, of whom we’ve grown very fond. Last year Dr. C taught Michael how to administer fluids subcutaneously. Spot, our little calico, developed leukemia suddenly and aggressively at age 16. For months there were multiple clinic visits for abdominal drainage, Convenia injections, and fluids. It was Dr. C’s idea to teach Michael how to set up the IV; gently pinch the injection site, insert syringe, release Spot’s skin, then depress the plunger with steady, even pressure. We felt good Dr. C had the confidence we could do this, and it was of course less stressful for Spot. Earlier this year she finally succumbed to the disease and joined the others in our backyard Cat Garden.
We are now down to just two cats and two dogs but our interactions with Dr. C and the clinic are still fairly frequent. There’s wellness visits, heartworm testing for the dogs, and the occasional need for prescriptions like Clavmox when one of the cats comes down with a passing upper respiratory illness. Having raised a dozen rescue cats over our 18 years of marriage, we’ve come to appreciate our relationship with our vets. As for our part, we understand the relationship cuts two ways. To ensure the bonds remain strong we don’t bother them with excessive, unnecessary phone calls, break appointments or arrive late. For those of us whose pets are part of our family, and whose vets are part of our extended family, we make every effort to respect their personal time, and to let them know how much we appreciate what they do for us and for our cherished animals.
Contact Deborah Camp at Deborah.email@example.com for comments or suggestions.