Friday, October 13, 2006

Mercy killing

This afternoon a receptionist approached me and said, "Can you work in a euthanasia?"

Grr... it was late, already 4:30 pm, we were booked. I asked who it was and she said, "The owner said her cat was diagnosed with cancer." I looked at the record - we hadn't seen the cat in over a year, and the last few phone calls the owners declined the recommended diagnostics. "Do you want me to fit it in tomorrow?" the receptionist asked me, and that got me back into the realm of common sense. "No, if they are ready, have them come in now." I didn't know this cat or these clients, but at least euthanasias don't take long.

Of course, I was running late with my last few appointments. I could tell by my nurse's face this cat's condition was poor. "Is it as bad as we feared?" I asked her, because usually when cases like this finally come in, they've lost half their body weight and probably should have been put down long ago. "Its the worst ever," she said, pulling back the poor creature's blanket.

I saw an emaciated cat, not just so skinny you could see all of its bones, but so skinny you wondered what was holding those bones together under that skin. Because the skin was thin, hairless on the last half of the body, covered in sores, and smelled really bad. "HOW could they let this cat get like this?" my nurse asked indignantly. "HOW COULD THEY! You can't let an animal get this bad and not bring it in."

It was alarming, but I focused on the task at hand. I pulled up the euthanasia solution, took a deep breath and walked into the room.

The woman there was quietly sobbing. I introduced myself and said, "He looks pretty bad..." That's when the story of this cat came out, with her tears. "He's been gone for weeks," she said. "Despite the cancer, he's been a really good eater. Then he disappeared, and I figured he went off to die. But I kept looking for him, you know? And then today, he came back. I don't know how he did it, but he dragged himself back into my yard. I was going to let him have a natural death, but this is too much..."

Immediately, we had nothing but sympathy for this woman and her poor cat's ordeal. The cat obviously was not ambulatory, so I don't know how he got back to her either. He was half-rotten, and literally looked like death warmed over, yet she said he ate for her once he got home.

I told her she was absolutely making the right decision, helping him with a peaceful painless death to end his suffering, and that there was nothing I could do to help him, except to help him die. I also told her that clearly this cat's will and spirit exceeded the limitations of his body.

As she held him in her arms, I gave the injection that slowed his breathing and stopped his heart. She cried and kissed him good-bye, then thanked me for "still being open." All I could think was, what kind of monster would I be if I had not stayed and helped them this night?

13 comments:

EdamameMommy said...

I'm in tears. What a story.

Krispy said...

Jen,
What you do is amazing. It must be hard to deal with this element of your care on a regular basis, and with such grace.

But what is most striking to me in this story is the openness with which you dealt with this animal and its caregiver. It was also a gentle reminder for me to be more mindful of the people around me - for example when I am adament that it is bedtime ("closing time?") and that I mean it, I should listen for a moment. Half the time my oldest is just taking his time picking out a story for me to read to my youngest.

scribbit said...

I'm not really a pet-person or one who enjoys animals much but I can't stand to see things in pain. My kids laugh at me because I make them take the spiders they find in the house outside, even the daddy long legs. :)

Jennifer said...

Thanks for your nice comments. Krispy, it is hard to deal with the euthanasias, but sometimes this task which takes the most out of you can be the most rewarding aspect of the job - giving an animal a peaceful, dignified death, ending suffering, and making the experience a good one for the owner. Thank goodness I don't work at a place that does "convenience euthanasias," and it doesn't happen every single day (but probably more than most people would guess).

Leigh-Ann said...

A sad story, yet I'm glad it had a positive ending, and that this cat did truly have an owner who loved it and who will mourn for it.

Emily said...

Wow, that poor cat, dragging itself back home one last time. I'm glad you were able to be there for them.

(Just now catching up on your blog after a week. I didn't realize my browser was pulling an old version of your blog, so I hadn't seen any of your last 4 posts!)

JILL OF TOM said...

DON"'T MAKE ME CRY!!
THAT MADE E CRY.

Lisa said...

Emily, my browser was doing the same thing. I kept thinking, "Wow. Jenn has been really busy!". And, it turns out, you have been busy. I mostly just wanted to say this is a really wrenching post. I'm sure the cat's caretaker was very grateful to you for your compassion. Good for you and your clinic's staff for accomodating them.

angie said...

Cats are just the most amazing creatures. A peaceful, painless death is the least we can do for them in the end. The cat's owner will always remember your kindness and compassion.

A.Norma said...

Jenn. you do good work and we can all see now how hard it is for you sometimes to carry out your tasks...I too am crying like the rest of them...that is a heartrending story ....God Bless you,Jennifer. xx

Leah said...

All I have to say is...your the greatest...your heart is as big as mine. I am glad the animals have you looking out for them

baseballmom said...

Wow...this totally made me cry. I had a 15 yr. old cocker spaniel, and she was so old, arthritic, and sick that she was skin and bones. I had to carry her outside to go to the bathroom, and finally decided to let her be put down (I couldn't stand to let her die, but knew I had to). I had held animals for euthanasia at a work study job in high school, and couldn't do it myself. I made my husband take her in, and still miss her SO much, and this was 7 yrs. ago. My point is, the thing that made me feel better was that the vet tech (I had worked there, and knew her well) called me later, and said, "I just wanted you to know that it was TIME, and you did the right thing." It helped me so much...what you guys do is awesome, and I admire you a lot!

Library Lady said...

Thank you. For all of us who have pets whom we love, pets whom we have had to say goodbye to, thank you.

It's love and compassion of the sort that you showed that makes it a little easier to bear the pain of that goodbye.