Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mr. Elliott's Dearly Departed

It was a typical slammed busy booked, (OK, truth be told, overbooked, again), night of evening veterinary appointments.
There is some debate over how many appointments a veterinarian should optimally see in an hour. I think 20 to 30 minutes is ideal, but I typically get booked at 15 minute intervals, with walk-in emergencies on top of that, on the two nights I work. Seeing appointments every 15 minutes causes me great stress. It is too much information to attempt to keep straight in my head as I run from room to room and patient to patient. It is the eternal juggling between keeping prices affordable, assisting our clients with their emergencies (even though our appointments are already booked), and providing a thorough examination, diagnostics, and treatment plan in a timely manner. I have yet to find that ‘perfect’ balance, I continue to run around like a chicken with its head,,,,(goodness, that is a terrible saying for a veterinarian,, umm, maybe I’ll just say  “run around like a crazy person” instead?).
In the middle of the hysteria the receptionist came to corner me in the pharmacy. I sensed her still presence and I knew she needed my full attention..(Argh, getting further behind by the minute).
I looked up met her eye to eye and then she smiled.
“OK, don’t laugh, and I’m not kidding.” She said suppressing a giggle.
“OK.” I replied, begging her internally to talk faster.
“Mrs. Elliott called, she is very upset, she said her husband is on his way down here with his fish who just died and he thinks he is responsible for it, but, she wants us to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, that it died from a bladder tumor and, he wants his fish to be privately cremated.” She was of course laughing by half way through the first sentence.
I, however, was not laughing as I was still trying to comprehend what she had just described.
I was mentally trying to sort through; a man is coming to the clinic with his fish?? His dead fish?? Who died from bladder cancer?? Is that possible?? Where do I find the bladder in a fish?? Oh my god, is it like a goldfish?? Is someone going to come into the front office with a fish in a baggie for me to,, umm,,,examine?? Private cremation for a fish?? There was too much odd information for me to try to process to laugh. I was just hoping that she was kidding.
I looked at her after a moment.

When she realized I wasn’t laughing she replied, “Well, I told you that I wasn’t kidding.”
“As soon as Mr. Elliott gets here put him immediately in an exam room and come get me.” I could at least try to save him from the gawking clients as he stood at the front desk holding up a goldfish in a baggie.
I didn’t have any time to research ‘fish bladder tumors’ in a book, so I was going to have to wing it should that topic arise when Mr. Elliott arrived.
A few minutes later my receptionist found me again and notified me that Mr. Elliott was waiting for me in room two. I had seen him enter the waiting area, he was carrying a attaché sized folded towel in his arms. OK, nix baggie fears.
I entered the room and looked at Mr. Elliott’s tear streaked face. I was going to be further behind then I had planned, but this man needed a shoulder to lean on and I was going to switch into low/slow gear to help him.
“I know this sounds silly, I know that no one could understand this,” he whimpered and paused. “But I loved that fish, I did, he was a really special fish.”
“My wife and I have a 75 gallon tank in the living room. We went to the aquatic store and the salespeople told us that they had a fish that liked to be petted. So my wife went over to the tank, stuck her arm into the water, and he bit her. I knew right then and there that he was the fish for me.” We both smiled, and my receptionist finally got her laugh from me.
“I brought him home that day, and every day since he has followed me back and forth in his tank. And when I go over to the tank he comes to my hand and I would just pet him. He loved that. That fish knew me.”
He lay his towel on the exam table and gingerly opened it.
In the middle of his carefully folded towel lay a ten inch long purple pink bulbous domed large headed fish. It was quite beautiful and it was certainly not your average 'goldfish'. I watched closely for any signs of life, just in case he asked, but sure enough there was none. (I was relieved he didn’t ask me to check for a pulse or a heartbeat. I wouldn’t have known how to do either).
“No, Mr. Elliott I don’t think it’s silly. You loved your fish and I think he loved you to. I understand how hard it is to lose something you love.” I gave Mr. Elliott a hug. "I know the pain you feel when you lose a pet you love. I have loved and lost a rabbit, a pig, a sheep, and many dogs and cats, and no one can tell me that the love for one kind of pet is greater than another."

There was a long, slow, still few minutes as he stood next to his fish and gazed with adoration at him.
I took another deep breath. “OK, Mr. Elliott here is where I am stuck.”
He looked at me perplexed.
“I don’t know how to be any other way than honest with you, but I am concerned that I will make you more upset.” I was dreading my next few words. I couldn’t bear to further upset an already grieving man.
“Dr. I want you to be honest.” He replied. I believe he was still fearing I would mock his fish.
“Mr. Elliott I can send your fish to be cremated, and they will gladly take your payment for it, but once he is cremated there won't be any ashes to return to you.”
“Oh!” his eyes opened wide!

“Oh!” he said again. “Fish have no bones! There won't be anything left of him for me to keep!” His tone changed from grief to resolve.
“Yes.” I meekly replied. Somewhat baffled by his sudden transformation.
He re-wrapped his fish quickly and adeptly.
“OK, I’ll take him home and bury him. Thanks Dr. Magnifico. I’ll be OK.” And out the door he went.
He was off in one direction, and I was off to find my place in the evenings appointments.

Mrs Eliott was nice enough to pass this along..

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