Life Goes On…

There I stood, in that rainy parking lot, ready to administer the overdose of anesthetics that would gently and kindly end the suffering of a dog who had beaten cancer, beyond all possible odds. Actually, he didn’t just beat cancer, he decimated it, and lived perhaps ten times his expected prognosis. But now, his advanced age, and secondary health problems made life too much for him. It seems so unfair for a dog with such a gallant heart, and the loving people who gave so much to help him, to reach the end of life. Yet that was the decision we all came to. His body was failing him, and his spirit was faltering. The look in his eyes was unmistakable. It was time for the ultimate transition.

Pretty much no matter what the world throws at us, life goes on. We have little choice in this matter.

There’s a rawness to a cold, gray, rainy April morning in upstate NY. It should be spring. The sun should be shining. Trees should have buds ready to open, and spring flowers should be popping up. The breeze should be soft and warm, not the kind that sends chills through you. And I should be standing anywhere but the parking lot of a veterinary hospital, with two distraught dog owners, who were facing the last moments of life with their beloved dog.

But COVID-19 has happened. Our work lives and personal lives are turned upside down. Nothing happens in the same way anymore. We are distanced from each other, physically and socially. We are afraid about what will happen next and worried about everything from having enough money and food to will someone we love get sick. Or even die. It’s a world we’ve never experienced before, and that shakes people to the core.

On a normal day, this sort of event would occur inside the veterinary hospital, inside a room made as comfortable for all as possible. Behind a closed door. With all the privacy and silence and time anyone could need.

Yet here we are, in COVID-19 days, where we are not allowed to have owners in the hospital. And because we want people to be with their dog in these final moments, we find ourselves in the parking lot, with the dog in the car. With no privacy, no silence. Exposed to the elements, and the world. Cars flying by. Horns beeping. People in their cars all around us. Everyone wearing a mask, trying to keep six feet away, when we would rather be hugging each other, striving to find comfort through the profoundest of pain, the loss of an innocent. It’s the best we can do in today’s world. And frankly, it sucks.

The good news is, most dogs are really comfortable in the car. What’s your dog’s response when you ask if she wants a ride? Cars lead to a cool places, like parks, hikes, visiting friends, and more. And in these most difficult moments, the comfort of the dog is the single most important thing. As I think about it more, it is really the only thing that matters to me, that the dog feels as comfortable as possible. We humans will work our way through the pain. A dog should never have to.

And so, I stood there, on that raw gray day, and administered the drugs, and helped a gentle spirit not suffer the failing of his body any longer. I provided what comforting words I could to his people, knowing full well that those words could not ease a drop of the heartbreak they were feeling. Only time can do that. And, as I can tell you from personal experience, that wound never fully heals. These dogs, these once in a lifetime dogs, impact us so deeply, how could we expect their passing to not leave lasting impressions on our hearts, perhaps even our souls?

As I walked back into the hospital, tears in my eyes, I noticed how many cars were in the parking lot, with owners at the wheel, all witnesses to this sad event. One of them spoke about it when I called him to discuss his dog. He was both saddened and angered by what he had seen. He was not aware that this sort of thing might happen. He was unprepared for it. He was mad at us for making him watch it.

I get it. None of us are prepared to witness something so sad, so painful that it feels like being stabbed in the gut. Perhaps it brings up the memory of when you lost a pet, or a loved one. Perhaps it was a tough day, which is all too common right now, and seeing the despair of someone else was more than could be handled. Things are hard right now. Nothing is happening the way we would choose it to happen.

To those people who were witnessing something they did not expect to witness, I am sorry. I am also grateful. You got to see love in action, in the most tragic of circumstances. You saw devotion to a beloved dog, in the worst moments.  I am sure you felt a real connection with those suffering, in a time when we are feeling so distant from one another. It probably hit you hard. It may not have been the emotion you wanted — no sunshine, rainbows, and puppies, as so many people think a veterinarian’s day is filled with. But these feelings are what make us human, and sometimes the most powerful and inspiring ones are profoundly sad.

A bit of time has passed since this day. We are moving ahead of this COVID curve, and soon more normal life will resume. But I hope we remember this time, and the obstacles it placed in our way. We have found a way over them, around them, and through them. And we always will.

May your life be blessed with both old dogs and puppies.

With much appreciation to Kelly Coffey for her encouragement.

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!