Today’s post is not for everyone. For those of you that have never owned a pet or do not understand why anyone would decide to keep a pet, especially during residency, you can stop reading here. But for those of you that take a keen interest in living with a pet of some sort, I think you will find this post very enlightening.
Most posts I write are not personal. Today’s post is very different. It serves several purposes. First, I aim to show my readers how we dealt with a sick beloved pet during the past few weeks in order to give examples of tough decisions that need to be made. Next, I am going to translate this episode into a life lesson about maintaining a good quality of life, translating it to residency. And finally, more importantly for me, I am going to be a bit selfish and eulogize the recent loss of my best friend and dog, Otis. The past few days have been some of the most difficult days of my life. I already miss him dearly.
The Ultimate Responsibility of Pet Ownership- Our Story
When we decided to commit to getting a dog, we committed ourselves to its entire life. We are ultimately not only responsible for feeding, comforting, bathing, and taking our pets outside but also the decisions we need to make when facing an inevitable loss. The difficulty is only compounded when you are training during the incredibly busy time of residency.
In our case, our incredible dog, Otis, had an episode of spontaneous agonal breathing. Like a madman, I rushed him off to our car and drove him to the animal hospital nearly 70 miles per hour through side streets. I passed him off to the technologist like a football so that the emergency veterinarians could instantly treat him. And, they treated him rapidly and professionally with a pericardiocentesis to drain off fluid during an episode of pericardial tamponade. While performing the ultrasound, the sonographer discovered a right atrial mass. Then, in the morning, the veterinarian radiologist scanned his abdomen, only to diagnose him with splenic nodules as well. They declared that he had untreatable metastatic hemangiosarcoma, a terminal cancer of dogs. It would consume him possibly in days or weeks, and if we were lucky, months.
We faced the ultimate decision after the veterinarians stabilized him. What do we do next? Do we bring him home now? Should he be euthanized? I couldn’t bear to say goodbye at this point because he seemed like he returned to his normal self for the time being. We decided to bring him home, hoping he would have a few more good weeks, maybe months.
The next week was one of the best weeks I ever had with my dog. We walked, let him roll in the grass (his favorite activity!), and allowed him to sniff just about everything. It was great. But, the day of reckoning finally arrived too soon. This time, the whole family came with him to the hospital after we noticed some subtle discomfort and worried that he was to become unstable.
The Big Decision- Quality of Life Issues
We knew at this point we had the big decision to make. Do we treat him with serial pericardiocenteses aware that the fluid accumulation and new episodes of pericardial tamponade would become more and more rapid? Or, was it time to say goodbye? We based our final decision on his quality of life. We had to say goodbye.
It was one of the most gut-wrenching decisions, I ever had to make. He was my best friend on earth. We slept on the same bed, traveled together, and ate meals with each other. He was always there for me over the past 10.5 years. It was his helplessness and innocence that pulled at my heartstrings. And now, I had to put him down. It was for the best. But, it made the decision no easier.
What is more important than the quality of life? Whether it is a person or a pet, it does not matter. We need to do for our loved ones what is right for them and not for ourselves in the moment.
Translated into the residency experience, we should always think about the quality of not just our own lives but also the quality of life for our spouses, relatives, friends, family, and beloved pets. It’s not always about reading the most cases, staying late every day, only to miss out on our loved ones as time passes by. Bottom line. We need to sniff and smell the roses, just like Otis always did.
Ode to the Memories of Otis
You were the size of a toy truck when I picked you up in Charlotte, North Carolina over 10 years ago. You lovingly sniffed me and graciously accepted me into your life. I thank you for that.
Driving home from the airport, you slowly pushed open the Sherpa bag with your nose as I drove you to our house to see what was happening. Your curiosity was always without boundaries. I thank you for that.
Rolling in the grass was your heaven. You could always spontaneously enjoy the moment. I thank you for that.
When other puppies would bite the hands of their owner to get a treat, you would make sure to take the treat carefully always making sure that we were OK. You were always like that in your life. I thank you for that.
Sitting crosswise, you were always there to protect the kids. I thank you for that.
Good-natured and non-aggressive, you were beloved by all the people and canines you have ever met. I thank you for that.
For all the wonderful memories we had together over the past ten years, I wish we had more. Your life was too short. And, we will miss you dearly. The great memories of you will last our lifetime and beyond. I thank you for that…
From Your Beloved Family- we give thanks for every moment we shared together. Rest in peace…