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.
Lisa Cronin says
Oh, I am sure that helped. That would make me cry and then make me happy. With regard to prices, etc., the last time I had to put a pet to sleep was a year ago – my vet called me a few weeks ahead of time because with cancer, we knew the day was coming. We worked out all the specifics ahead of time, because as she said it was not yet time but better to talk through all of this when we had time and it wasn’t urgent than right when it was needed and I was in an emotional state and really didn’t need to be presented with all that info overload. So if you can work it out ahead of the visit, honestly, better.
Lisa Cronin says
also, the image of that blanket, I would be honored, really, if that was my beloved pet.
Sherry in MT says
Absolutely PERFECT idea and I cried when I read what you did and the wonderful idea you had. It will indeed be the thing those people remember about that day, because it is precious and so NOT sterile.
Lisa W says
Oh my God, I cried when I read this! What a lovely, lovely idea. And why you are just the best.
I can’t thank you enough for volunteering to go into the home for this service. For so many pets a trip to the vet is just added stress at that time. And yes, the baby blanket is a lovely idea.
Amy Palmer says
I hope, if the day ever comes again, that my vet has as much compassion and caring as you during such a heart breaking time.
Brook Whyte says
i have tears rolling down my face. i remember too clearly the last dog i had put down. how i had to pick him up and put him on that cold metal exam table. as soon as Dr. Holly put in the injection, i wanted to scream “No, NO! take it out!”. but, it’s almost instantaneous. i’ve read of vets who go to peoples homes to euthanize their pets, but no one does that here. i got to ride in the back of the pickup with Murdock to where i’d spent a week digging his grave so i had time to say my goodbyes. i’m dreading when i lose the fight with Astro’s lymphoma, i so much do not want him to be on that cold metal table. i won’t be able to hug him and sit with him after. he’s going to be stacked in the back like a cord of wood waiting until the people from Rainbow Bridge can pick him up to be cremated.
Dr. V says
I’m so sorry you are fighting lymphoma. Wishing you and Astro many more good days.
That is really touching and meaningful. Our vet came o the house with his tech that Lambchop loved too. All was okay as it can be I suppose – until they put him in a bag and in the trunk of a taxi. That hot me and not in a good way as much as I understood why it had to be that way.
Argh excuse the typos from the phone and my big paws!
Dr. V says
I would imagine there was SOME thing they could have done differently so you didn’t have to see that. I would hate that too.
Kim L says
Not a lot of (human or animal) medical professionals are “good” at dealing with death, the dying process, and the feelings of grieving family members. But those who are will make a big impact on the lives of those left behind. I’m fairly confident that if this work called to you, it’s because you have the right touch. Not everyone would have their radar on to pick up on those “minute cues.” It’s really important work, Dr. V — these pets’ humans are lucky to have you. 🙂
Gayle Cooley says
So very touching Jess. You made me cry. Sharing this one on my page
Is it feasible for owners to do their own putting to sleep? My cats get so stressed out by people coming over to the house that I don’t think it would make any difference if we went to the vet or the vet came to me. What I would like to do, when it’s time, many years from now, is to go to the vet and have them put in the catheter or whatever, then send me home with the drugs. Then we can do it in the safety and comfort of your home, just us. And yes, I believe I could be strong enough to do it myself when the time came. I realize this is probably not something that could happen, due to people possibly using the drugs for themselves, but is it a possibility?
Dr. V says
That is a good question. As you have guessed, it is unfortunately not possible due to the extremely tight regulations around those drugs. We have to account for it 100% from the moment it enters our clinic to the moment it is used.
alameda auntie says
Maybe your vet could give you drugs to sedate your cats an hour or so beforehand, so they wouldn’t know when the vet came in.
You are a wonderful human being . Made me tear up but , you did good
You = beautiful heart. Thank you.
Michelle S says
Your incredibly compassionate gesture would have meant a great deal to me if I were that pet parent.
That was beautiful. You may have felt wierd saying what you did as it was all new but if it were me I most certainly would’ve appreciated the blanket an d the sentiment knowing it was shared in a family with alot of love would’ve comforted me greatly. Great job!
Cathey Avery says
Beautiful! And I am with CaliDiva all the way – I can’t say it any better than she.
As a pet parent whose had to endure this pain, I know that you’re compassionate gesture meant a lot…when we had to let our 13 year old Chow go, our vet cried with us. At the time and even now 10+ years later, I remember her fondly for that very thing. She truly felt our pain; it wasn’t just a job to her. That helps a lot.
Ok. You got me! I cried at the end. How generous and befitting of you to share the love!<3
Ugh, the invisible ninjas chopping onions must be back. My eyes are all watery.
Dr. V says
Dang onion ninjas!! They’re always stalking me.
Crying here, too. I loved this nugget of truth, which actually works as a guide for life, “It only works because it’s not cynical.”
You’re going to be great at this home visit thing, I think. Home visits for euthanasia, under the right circumstances can be a fairly positive experience, especially for kitties. It makes me so sad to think of the last hour of a dear cat’s life being spent transported in the hated cat carrier to the hated vet’s office. I always think they deserve better than that.
My own personal poem for comfort at these times is the poem titled “Grieve Not,” by Isla Paschal Richardson. Not that anyone can help but grieve at a time of loss, but that grieving should, when ready, be accompanied by remembrance of the good times. I don’t actually like the Rainbow Bridge very much, as I don’t believe in an afterlife or in heaven.
I highly recommend the novel “Unsaid” by Neal Abramson. He deals with many issues in this great story, but an important theme is that of euthanasia of companion animals and the burden veterinarians and guardians wrestle with.
Dr. V says
Oh, thank you for the book suggestion. I will have to read that one. And I agree, I decided not to hand out the Rainbow Bridge poem because it presumes one’s belief.
E.A. Summers says
As you said, everyone is different and everyone needs something different.
My most recent experience, which was a time of my choosing at my home/property – outside with my dear Karelian Beardog who loved the woods we live/lived in…and a compassionate vet who explained the procedure, stated that everyone was different and then asked me how I’d like to proceed.
re payment: I had asked in advance and had the check written so I didn’t have to think about it. It included the euthanasia, transport to a crematory and specific instructions regarding my wanting the cremains.
Previous to this experience, was a euthanisia in a clinic after a hospitalization and a drastic down turn from a cancer. I had no question re timing, Zack was already sedated for pain and a catheter in place from the hospitalization but I was still able to hold him as his heart was stopped.
I believe we owe it to our dear pets to hold them in our arms or at least be touching them while they pass. I’m afraid I don’t have much empathy for “leaving the room” – this time is about them, not me.
It is a kindness to them to let them go and I am grateful beyond words that I’ve had veterinary doctors that I trusted to do best for my pet and for me – DVM’s who had the respect and courage to ask me what I wanted also.
Tracy Calhoun says
Absolutely perfect, Dr. V. As a hospice (people) nurse for 20 years, the best thing you can do is simply be present and listen. All people have different needs as death is approaching, listening at that moment is key (in my youth, I would find I would focus on finding the words to say the right thing, while probably missing what that “right” thing was!). In a similar fashion of the baby blanket, I do have a suggestion when it is over. At our Hospice House, we have a “walk out” quilt to drape over the body for when we walk out to the mortuary van. In reading Annette’s post about her experience, I immediately thought how nice it would be to wrap the pet in a quilt or something like we do with our people.
Dr. V says
Thank you for the amazing work you do. I learned so much from the hospice nurses who took care of my grandparents and strive to be as wonderful as they were. And I have to tell you, I am still shocked at Annette’s experience. I have a fluffy comforter in my car.
Carol Martin says
Thank you so much. The smallest and unspoken gestures make a huge impact when words just can’t possibly do. You are gifted and have found your calling, thank you for following it.
That brought memories and tears. I’m fortunate to have a wise, compassionate, and thoughtful vet such as you are DrV. She never hurries – leads me to a decision – left me time with previous companions after they were euthanized. She will come to our home, but I prefer the office. All needed help is there, my dogs enjoy the treats they always get, and the atmosphere is supportive.