Friday, November 21, 2014

Humane *random* thoughts about veterinary medicine and euthanasia

*warning - this is emotional for me. you may or may not agree with how I feel but please be kind.*

I want to start out by saying - my job gets crazy. Over the top, mind-blowingly insane. While I enjoy my chosen career path the majority of the time, its far from easy. Clients depend on me. My patients (unbeknownst to them) depend on me. My colleagues and co-workers depend on me. And I would not have a job if it weren't for any of them... I need them too.

I have had an overwhelmingly high number of euthanasias lately. I won't say how many. Honestly, you wouldn't want to know. With a thriving business and new clients daily, you have to expect that with the increased number of patients, the quantity of euthanasias increases proportionately as well. That being said, it is a service that I thank God we can provide. There is no reason for an animal to needlessly suffer through their last days on this earth. I personally would extend that thought process into human medicine too... but that is a topic for another day.

I had one euthanasia yesterday - it was a decision that the client and I eventually came to together based on the condition of their beloved pet and my interpretation of the lab work. I know they weren't expecting that news when they brought their pet in to see me - those are some of the hardest conversations we are forced to have with our clients. As an advocate for their pet, it is our responsibility to speak on their behalf and mutually decide with their owners the best course of action, keeping their pet's well-being at the forefront of the conversation. Sometimes we don't have all the answers... but with this particular case, I was confident that we were making the best decision.

Sometimes I have trouble handling grieving clients. I try to be as sympathetic as possible, because I honestly do understand the gut-wrenching feeling of deciding whether or not to have a pet euthanized. Many times, from my position, the decision to euthanize is painfully obvious. The client does not always understand the severity of the situation, and in those cases I know I need to take a deep breath and calmly explain that their pet is suffering... and may have been suffering for a long time.

Sometimes I get angry. My tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve is not helpful in these types of situations. I see the condition of the animal and I want to scream because I probably could have helped them two years ago. Or two months ago. But I JUST. DIDN'T. KNOW... because the client didn't call. Age is not a disease. Animals age, yes... but that doesn't mean they have to be in pain or be uncomfortable throughout their final years... months... days.

Sometimes I cry. I understand that I am the professional and I am in control of the situation. My clients trust me to be the rock, something sturdy for them to lean on when they are at a weak point. And even when my science brain KNOWS that ending a pets life is the ONLY humane option... that doesn't stop the emotional side of my brain. We feel something with each euthanasia that we perform. The day that I no longer feel compassion for the pet is the day that I no longer can rightfully practice medicine.

Honestly, some euthanasias hit me much harder than others. It is not because I care more about one pet than another. But sometimes life is cruel. A sweet, loveable two year old pet didn't deserve to have a body riddled with cancer. When I met her owners, I saw the close bond that they had with their pet. I saw how much she loved her owners and the complete trust in her owners to take care of her and keep her safe. Sometimes, I think you can just tell... I can't give details about what happened in that exam room... but I held it together as best as I could while I euthanized her, walked out of that room, and immediately began sobbing.

How lucky are we that we get to share our lives with these special creatures? Much like relationships, owners and pets are not always suited to each other and sometimes we have to try to make it work as best as we can. Occasionally, it just doesn't work out. But sometimes... sometimes there is that magic connection where you know that the person and the animal were brought together to enrich each others lives and share that awesome bond. I saw that with the young pet with cancer. I saw how much her parents adored her and how they knew exactly what would make her happy, even in her final moments. That bond isn't always a given. They weren't planning on having to say "good-bye" after only having her in their lives for 2 years, but they knew what was best for her and I was fortunate to be the one to help ease her pain and suffering. And lucky to bear witness to that particularly special kind of love.

Are you crying yet? Because I am. This is an emotional career that I chose. This aspect of my career is tough but completely necessary. Someone asked me the other day, "What's it like to play God?" I think the comment was not intended to be hurtful, but weeks later, it sticks with me. I'm not playing God. I'm a medical professional for pets and I have the ability to permanently eliminate a pet's suffering via a non-painful procedure. Humane euthanasia is just that - humane. You may not all agree with this practice, but understand that we only want what is best for the animal.

End random stream of consciousness regarding euthanasia. Not a happy topic... but one that we as veterinarians face daily and is a reality of our chosen careers.

1 comment:

  1. crying! It takes some one just like you to understands and help the pet's owner reach a decision that is best for the pet. You have a heat of gold.