Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Turmoil Of Contemplating and Deciding How Long To Fight For Your Pets Life

Jekyll has been actively dying for 6 months.  Getting here is like living in a dark tunnel you try to claw to the light from. It is an abyss of emotions that leaves you struggling with minutia details that define your whole day. You live your life in snippets that are defined by day and night and rarely last longer than a 24 hour time frame. You don't make any plans at all,, for the near future. He is dying and I am not going to miss a minute of it,, the living we have left to do that is..

For me it means I have cancelled (or rather, failed to make or dream of) any Summer plans. My scheduled list of Summertime activities which has always included a few days away to Cape May on the Weds through Friday before Memorial Day, my week to the beach for sand between my toes and a long awaited escape book, and my hopes for day trips to my favorite spots, are all laid aside for now. I would happily exchange each 'escape' trip for another day with him.. and so I do. I cancel everything, I make no plans, and remind each invitation that "I cannot commit at this time."

I live in limbo. I fight in moments.

I ask myself over, and over, and over, where my line is? Where is that place that is The End?

The abyss of dying. Of knowing you are there is where I define who I am. The adage about;

We veterinarians rarely get to that Holy Grail place of ... and the "Diagnosis Is". We plod instead in Obscurity and Guessing. These are too often the place of decisions and dire consequences in veterinary medicine. We are presented with a patient and a parent who is describing a set of clinical signs. A series of incongruous clues we try/attempt to string together into a neat series of features to fit a diagnosis and allow us to define a course to cure.

There is a short dire list of diseases you don't escape alive from. Jek picked one of those. One of the diseases that is only met by "I'm sorry," when you reveal it to another veterinarian. It is just a disease with a Hallmark card footnote. Jekyll picked a disease that is always cured by death.

For me the problem, the real life dilemma lies now in knowing where our line is?

I have been grappling with this for a long time. Perhaps made more acutely painful by the not too distant memory of Savannah who fought for a year to not die. That was a year of trying to keep her happy and alive. I vividly remember the exhaustion and uneasy release of the burden that caring for a pet so intensively takes. I remember being so tired after I finally said goodbye that I felt guilty to feel relief from that intensive care she required. I could bury her with the weight of relief that surrendering to a force you cannot defeat brings. Oh, my, God, was I spent. I was so tired I hid for days. Just sleeping and processing what life might look like and feel like without her. I remember waking up the next day feeling as if I was not used to the house so quiet and still. The fretful chaos had departed. I also remember catching myself in panic stricken moments thinking I had forgotten her outside, or hadn't heard her in a little while therefore she must be stuck/distressed/etc. The panic attacks after her passing were after shocks from the daily worrying I had grown so used to. I had to resolve these along with the grief of not knowing what to do with an easier day-to-day life. I also remember looking at the puppies she left behind, Charleston and Jekyll, who had existed around Savannah's needs for a year. I had essentially ignored them and overlooked how good they were. They had been quietly waiting for my time and attention. I remember the guilt of that too.

When you find yourself in a place where questions collect unanswered, and the ability to move in any direction is mired with contemplation so profound you end up paralyzed, you seek advice from mentors, friends, and confidants. That, well, this quest for finding myself an answer, the one single answer I am still trying to find,

"When do I give up on him?"

is not giving me answers I am satisfied with. I have asked so many people. (Heck, I am supposed to be the expert on this..).

I know why I am not able to answer for others, and I cannot come to terms with why I cannot answer for myself.

I am not another person. I am me.. way too over invested. Way too attached, and equipped with lots and lots of options (granted some are borderline crazy-town) to not be forced to give up. A large tool box and options are the curse of having the freedom to impracticality.

As a veterinarian in the trenches everyday I have to give parents terrible news about their pets health and prognosis. I do not ever underestimate the magnitude of this, nor the consequences if I am wrong. I have to be so careful to not over-promise, under-deliver and pass around prognoses based on scant advice. IF, I give a pet a dire prognosis I damned better be better than 100 percent sure of it. Lives are given up on if I hand out a premature, or an inaccurate, death sentence. I am not perfect, and no person knows all. Veterinarians, doctors of all persuasions, need to remember this. Many a person will not be able to afford long term end of life care, many more will simply chose to not strap into this lifeboat to nowhere, and others have lives who cannot weather terminality.

I learned a long time ago to be very careful with my diagnosis of certainty. You never know how people will react and act to impending, pain, suffering, or dying.

As for me, I am trying desperately to look the creeping insidious crusade of death in the eye and stare it down... for as long as it takes.

It is the person I have asked others to consider being. Unafraid of in-eventuality and inevitability.

Life remains, for me, at this singular time, a quest. To see what I am capable of, what life brings for us to enjoy at this once-in-a-lifetime moment, and to stay on the pursuit for another meaningful moment in a fleeting life's journey.

Life or me, and my beloved beagle Jekyll exists in a place where only today matters, tomorrow is a veiled shadow of uncertainty and a line of life meets death that I cannot define.

I do not know where that place is that I give up on him. I know there are a million excuses and reasons I can give to say that it is here and now. But, I made a promise, I hold a commitment and it isn't a clearly narrowly defined moment. It is days, and little suggestive clues, and a compromise that I will find a way to say goodbye while not denying him a chance to find a meaningful moment in the shadows that grow nearer.

I have pushed death much harder than most of my clients do. I do not presume to say I am right about this. That they aren't more forgiving and compassionate than I. I can only live my own life, and beat myself up for my own decisions. I do not know what is best, nor do I know what is concrete and without exception. I accept that Jekyll is leaving me sooner than I want, but I will not let it be without a chance to gain another day, good or bad, hard or easy. My line is not here, and it is not today. My line for his life lies somewhere in managing pain and maintaining functional life dependent necessities.

There is a road of scenarios in front of us. I have shared them with my family, the people who have to share and carry this decision. I have asked the experts who share the burden of navigating his path. We have all decided where we will not go. The outskirts of medical and surgical intervention we will not cross. I may not know where the end is, or what that date, place, or picture will look like, BUT, I do know where the suffering without benefit lies, and where the boy I love so much needs to be loved enough to let go.

For all of you out there who have to decide someday, or who have already had to surrender a pet they love so dearly, I can only remind you that life isn't supposed to be easy, it isn't supposed to be convenient and simple. It is hard, the veracity of that is what makes it meaningful. It is ok to not know, to question every step. But, please remember that the "light you see in their eye" the loss of the being they once were might be a medical need, it might be that it is time to ask for help and not just say goodbye. That maybe there is beauty and deeper understanding of all that life is in the hard days? Maybe you find the answers to the questions that trouble you in just being there? Maybe humanity lies in the edges and the fringes and not in the power to end? I ask myself these questions every single day. And for us, there has been joy and happiness in each as we struggle to see the light that lies ahead.

What have I experienced as a veterinarian? That people love their pets, that they feel pain and suffer when they say goodbye, and that we often think goodbye earlier is kinder than struggling later when there is no hope otherwise.

What I have learned as a mom to my beloved pets is that the most deeply meaningful moments were in the hard days, not the easy ones, and that I can love them even when they are leaving, and that mercy is the lifeblood to salvation and peace.

More  on Jekyll here;

Jekyll Arrives

Jekyll Loses His Tail Mo-Jo. Tail Droop.

The Things Only A Mom Knows. Planning for our pets lives beyond our own.

A Tribute To A Beagle, Jekyll.

Slowing Down Without Giving Up.

If you have a pet story that you would like to share, or an experience with this condition please add it to our Storyline page at

Please also follow me on, our my vet clinic website Jarrettsville Vet, or our Jarrettsville Vet Facebook page. 

I am also on Twitter @FreePetAdvice, and YouTube

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