I’m doing some relief veterinary work at a clinic in Casper this week.
It’s everything veterinary medicine is…challenging, fun, interesting and, unfortunately, incredibly sad.
I met a 4 yr old Bernese Mountain dog named Buddy yesterday. The first case of the first day at the first time back in a clinic after a nearly six year hiatus. Of course this would be the way it would go. Of course.
Buddy came in very sick…with very large lymph nodes throughout. All of my instincts said lymphoma–the clinical signs matched, the cytology of the lymph node aspirate said yes, but I simply could not give that death sentence to his owner without a definitive diagnosis. So all day today, she and I waited on pins and needles for the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory to call me back with their interpretation of the slides sent down yesterday.
I would love to tell you I was wrong. I tried to convince myself I was wrong. I think Buddy’s mom tried to convince herself she didn’t really hear me say that cancer was one of the differentials on the list. So when we got the results confirming my worst suspicions, neither one of us wanted to inhabit reality. And we both wished we could turn the clock back several days and have a do-over. That if we could, we’d rewrite it the way we thought it should go. And neither one of us would be sitting on that little bench in the exam room, looking at a piece of paper with the horrendous, ugly words “lymphosarcoma, immunoblastic variant, high grade” typed on them.
My heart aches for Buddy and his mom and dad tonight. This is the part of veterinary medicine that rips out your insides and leaves you hollow. That makes you want to scream at the universe that “this isn’t bloody fair! What on this green earth are you thinking? Lymphoma in a 4 year old dog??? REALLY??? Seriously????” This is the part of veterinary medicine that makes you question why you ever thought it was a good idea to apply to veterinary school. The part that makes you think there is no justice in this world, that happy endings don’t exist, that the world is black and grey. And then, somewhere, it’s possible to remember, to grasp onto a tiny thread of thought, and come to the realization that this is EXACTLY why it was a good idea to apply to veterinary school. And that perhaps it seems as if there is no justice in this world, that life is truly not fair…but we CAN make a difference. And despite this being so incredibly sad, we can make the end of Buddy’s life a little better, a little more comfortable. And when the time comes, we can ease him along on his journey to his next experience. We will cry, together with Buddy’s family. Because every time one of us is called to minister at the end of an animal’s life, we can’t help but recall all of those who have gone before. All of those animal beings that we have helped at the end of their earthly existence.
Sad? Yes, incredibly. But we would have it no other way I suspect. “We choose to surround ourselves with lives more temporary than our own” (author unknown and as I’m far from home this night, I cannot find my source.) And yet even after those lives are taken from our side, all too often all too quick, we would choose again in a heartbeat those furry friends to walk the path with us.
So tonight I honor Buddy…and his human family…and their precious bond. Give your animal companions an extra love tonight, cherishing their presence in your lives, if only for a short time.
“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.” (WB Yeats)