Monday, June 10, 2019

The Lost Lessons In Practicing Euthanasia. How Practice Never Made Perfect.

I call myself a mom.. I have had many children.. All were mine to bring into my world, and too many have been lost along the way. A mom is a person who dedicates their lives to the rearing of others. I qualify. I mother. I rear. It counts regardless of skin tone or degree of lacking alopecia.

My kids all have been four legged and furred. They were, are, and will remain, my everything, my world.
Me, Charlie and Storm
To say this is to be honest. To live this has been the greatest gift. The loss the hardest to ever try to live through.

My pup Jekyll. I miss him everyday.
It was exactly what propelled me into veterinary medicine. The force that drove me to study, sacrifice and the proudest moment yet; to accept that medical license and finally start being the girl I had always dreamt I would become. Veterinary college graduation was the culmination of a long heart driven journey. When your path is so narrow, your vision so focused, and your goal so precise you forego or forget everything along the periphery. You lose, or rather sacrifice, many other aspects of yourself along the way. It is the cost and the price for a big prize.

I didn't always have a singular calling. I had many visions of following the artistic coercion. To dance, to draw, to write. My truest passion lies in these. The longing to drown in color. Speak in landscapes, and captivate in portraits. I was the visual kind of autistic child. I was also the product of a parent and a society that measured worth by productive net income. There is a small part of me that would have never allowed myself the freedom to be the artist. To surrender a life dedicated to helping other lives for the pleasure of just expressing and sharing joy. I keep that girl quiet inside of me, but, she is still the persona who wears the pants of my soul. She is the caged bird I wouldn't let myself frolic in. She is selfish, frivolous, undervalued and less vital to the word she lives in. She is kept quiet for reasons I have a harder time justifying.

I was called to vet medicine from the passionate seduction of art because it is difficult to be immersed and devoted to both. But, like every mom we make sacrifices for our kids and suppress the self for their time with us.

The loss of them, the family I have known and loved along these many years, has been more than I can describe. The pain, the visceral sense of loss and loneliness when their presence is no longer palpable has been the most devastating moments of this life. No matter how long it has been, how far removed I have become from them I still long for them to return. I still reel with anxiety that it wasn't the right thing to do. Did I let them go to soon? Were there options left to try? Something I missed? For as many times, almost daily, that I have to confess to a client that I fear the case is lost, the battle too stacked against us, I still can't forgive myself for giving up on my kids. I decided but I still question if it was ever really their time? It is the consequence to loving so much, and having to decide when to say goodbye. They can both be a curse.

I have to say I never walked away feeling as if I had been selfish, or waited too long, or even whether or not I made the right decision. I still know it had to come to saying goodbye, but, I didn't know that exact moment. The year, maybe, the month possibly, the day, perhaps,, but that single moment of farewell.. well, I never come to terms with the moment of adieu.. I know it wasn't the right thing to give up on them. To ever give up. To not wait out another miracle another day from now. You can buy, beg, or bury yourself in a minute, but a day longer was never mine to squander or spare.

There is me, the veterinarian mom,, who has to analyze, judge, decide, quantify, and bear responsibility for the first and last steps of her kids lives, and then there is me, the veterinary mom to the patients I hold so dear. I have a tough enough time consoling myself in that last few steps of a life, never mind the steps for those clients to have to navigate it on their own. How can I make it easier for them if I can't offer the same for me?

How I have wished that I could be that all knowing god. The one who walks into the exam room, places the hand on the dying and says something so powerful it can suck up the grief and the doubt and fill the room with peaceful permission embraced in the arms of the better place we are promised to be delivered to.

I never know what to say. I never know how to not internalize that patients suffering to knit it into something soothing and consoling. Like an embrace you dolefully succumb to.

I fear I say stupid things, like, "I'm sorry." For whatever good that does anyone, but, sorry?, which I am genuinely. Is that enough?

Or, I mutter that I "know how impossibly difficult this is".. which I do.. does that help? Is it relevant? Comforting?

Can't I just be quiet? Collect the last moments of the color, the breath, the rhythmic pulses of the lungs pulling me into their struggle? There isn't any courage or bravery nor any point in trying to deny them.

There is no right place to say goodbye. It always comes too soon. No right time. We are never prepared. There isn't any argument I haven't had, nor, game I wouldn't play with either the white winged good angel or the red leather horned bad one that I wouldn't have considered? It was not a place for decorum or grace. It was ugly and full of anger as I questioned my failed attempts to buy more time. More good days lost in each other.

There are people who are truly gifted at being the guide as the after life acquires the present. People who can softly encourage the fear to be greeted with acceptance and even desire. Convince us that the next place is kinder, gentler, and more welcoming than this one. I'm not sure if it is congruent to be a healer, a fighter of the preservation of life and the giver of death via a quiet syringe of sleep. I haven't come to terms with how to fiercely be the former, the girl I forced to submit my own calling to be the artist, and the girl who trained to be disciplined, methodical, and follow a scientific approach to every problem, AND, then be the priestess providing last rights when the high command calls.

You can get stuck in trying to define, refine and serve a purpose inside and out of yourself,,, never mind the figuring out how to deliver the request to seek the end of suffering.

I fumble, a lot. Internally and verbally. It's the price a veterinarian pays when your quest to wear the coat turns you into a warrior for saving lives in a society with disposable values.

Here is a video of my dear friend Kim, talking about her recent experience with me, at the clinic when she had to say goodbye to her beloved Gracey. Kim also works at our local funeral home so she adds a perfect insight to loss and how we manage the passing of the lives important to ours.

It's been years of beating myself up over euthanasia's. Not knowing what to say, what not to say. How to act. Wanting to melt into a pile of tears with every grieving pet parent I sit next to as they say goodbye to their own beloved. Relive the pain of my own goodbyes as they begin theirs. I understand. I really do.

I can offer empathy. Genuine heart felt empathy. But I cannot say that every request for passing that I am asked for is with selfless merit, nor, internal conflict with the consequences of denial. I am truly lucky to know such wonderful generous loving people in my practice. People who helped me grieve my own losses. People who shared their impossible goodbyes with enough trust to allow me to be present. But, I long for a day when euthanasia isn't an option. I think I have come to this. To that place where pets all die of old age, disease we cannot cure and a place in our hearts that is empty after they are no longer with us. What else is the option? Economic euthanasia? Convenience euthanasia? Depopulation euthanasia? They all exist as the counter to our ability to decide another life. The lives of my kids, and others who never knew the love of a mom.

To all of you out there facing, or having faced the loss of your beloved pets I offer this small piece of advice.. Find someone who you connect with. It's ok to give yourself the time to grieve, however you want to. Follow the guidance of your heart. It will never deceive you. Every right decision lies in that place.

And to all my absent kids, wherever you are, your mom loves you. She will see you again someday.

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Thank you for reading and sharing your life with the companions who remind us why life is worth working so hard to keep them in the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to.

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  1. If it helps any I don't have a clue what my vet or her support staff have said to me on that final visit. In 50+ years of pet ownership there have been enough of those visits for me to sense that they all have a common theme... I am so lost inside my own head that I have no clue what anyone has really said to me. I'm sure whatever they said was kind but when the time for "that" visit comes I'm so lost inside my own head they could have sung the national anthem or been quoting Shakespeare and I would not know the difference. They are kind and patient with my furkids, they are respectful in handing the remains (I always take mine with me for burial at home) and they give me as much alone time as I need in the exam room to pull myself together before I have to walk out through a waiting room full of people. Those are the things I notice and am grateful for. Words, yeah, not really getting through to me at that point.

  2. To make that decision to put my animals down is one of the hardest things i have ever done i feel like im killing them and i pray that they dont think thats what im doing My Heart Brakes every time i haft to do this Please God help them to understand i do it out of love for them and so they dont suffer anymore !!