That thing? That Tuesday thing I’ve been fretting over for weeks/my whole life? Is now a Wednesday thing. No one in the universe is more anxious about this than me, but in case you were wondering why I haven’t posted any pictures of me popping a cork yet….yeah. But in this case, a one day delay is fine and I PROMISE I will explain everything then.
And in the meantime, a story.
On Friday, I told my colleague Dr. B, for whom I am now working once a week, that I would go to appointments with her to get a feel for how one manages the flow of a day when you are going into people’s homes, putting their beloved pet to sleep, then taking that pet away. It’s a little different than how one does it in the office; you’re not in an environment you have control over, you have no techs in the back to help you if you can’t hit a vein, and the owners are standing right next to you the entire time. I am convinced this is better for owners but, as you can imagine, the first few times doing this alone is a wee bit nerve wracking.
I thought the day would be mostly about the technical aspects of the process- which vein is best? What is your sedation protocol? How do you bring up the subject of payment? And while all of that was necessary and good, I also watched Dr. B and how she interacted with families. She is very, very good at this. After doing it for as long as she has, she doesn’t need to concentrate on the mechanics of where to put the tourniquet or the best angle for placing a butterfly catheter in the lateral saphenous. Muscle memory will come with time for me as well. But compassion memory is a combination of instinct and observation.
There are things you learn in school and things you do not. As I tried to explain to my husband when he looked at me with utter bewilderment as to why I was so nervous the night before, this is different. I have minimal training in grief counseling. Some people hate the Rainbow Bridge poem. Some people want to pray and others want to leave the room. And no matter what happens, I need to remain ever the buoy as the tempest of an awful event swirls around me.
Everyone is so very different in how they want to have the event happen; most of the time they don’t even know themselves what they are going to want. So you follow cues: talk a little first. Hurry up and get it over with. Give me a minute. I want a hug. I want a handshake. I want you to get out of here asap.
So you observe for those minute cues and hope you’re doing it right, and just kind of trust your instinct when it comes to how to respond to certain events, things that don’t go exactly the way you want, or questions you’re not certain you should say the answer to. This particular job is as much an art as it is a science. Obviously some people are more adept at this than others. I’m trying my best.
Towards the end of my day with Dr. B, as we were talking over her protocol, she paused thoughtfully and said, “You know, I’m wondering if I should bring a little drape to put over my hand so they don’t have to see the catheter.” Little things like that can be very nice.
I liked the idea, so before I had my first day on call by myself, I went through my linen closet trying to find a suitably sized cloth. All I could find were dishtowels or hand towels or facecloths. I didn’t like any of them. Better luck next time, I thought.
And as I turned back to the washer, I saw a little pink blankie neatly folded, by itself, peeking out from under a box of cleaning supplies. It was my daughter’s baby blanket, one of those little waffle weave ones with satin piping. She lived in it for 6 months, swaddled tight.
I thought I had gotten rid of all of them months ago; I’m not sure how this one managed to stick around or why it was randomly on top of my washer- we’ve only been in this house since December, so it worked its way there somehow. I put it in the car, just in case I thought it would be helpful.
At the end of a visit yesterday, I put it on my lap and then tucked in the little pup, like I had done to my daughter for so many years. And the words just came out: ‘This was my daughter’s baby blanket. It’s filled with a lot of love.’ I don’t know if they needed to know that, or if it mattered, but I hope it did.
I hope when the dust settles and her owners look back on an awful day, what will remain is not the memory of a syringe, but the image of their dog bundled up by someone who knows how much they loved her.
It only works because it’s not cynical. If it ever becomes that, there’s my cue to stop.