Lessons Learned

This is part 3 of 3.  For part 1, click here.  For part 2, click here.


Lessons Learned


The first 48 hours was challenging.  I hadn’t slept that first night as I was constantly checking on Charlie to make sure he was comfortable and that his IV fluids were running.  Multiple times I found myself giving him small pep talks.  I just had to make sure he knew how special he was – to me, to Jennifer, our other pets & family, and all the dogs he had helped save over the years.  They were all pulling for him.  I was even more touched when we noticed our cats had taken up a bedside vigil with Charlie for a short while.

Our oldest cat Gremlin providing moral support

Our oldest cat Gremlin providing moral support


The next morning I had to go into Kingston for work at the clinic.  It was never a decision that required any contemplation; Charlie was going to travel with me.  My boss understood and my co-workers were amazing with the nursing care they helped provide during the day.  Charlie had not yet started to eat and even more concerning was the fact that he had not urinated.  We passed a urinary catheter and he seemed to be a lot more comfortable once his very full bladder had been emptied.  It was later in that day that Charlie stood up on his own for the first time since surgery and I was beaming like a proud parent whose baby had just taken its’ first step!


It was time to go home that first day and fortunately when I arrived home, my neighbor was kind enough to help me get Charlie in the house.  We had been keeping Charlie’s pain under control with plenty of pain medications and it would have made walking very difficult, especially with stairs.  Once Jennifer arrived home, we tried to coax Charlie to eat but to no avail he continued his 48 hour fast but on the plus side he gave us a tail wag!

Jennifer & Louie helping to cheer Charlie up

Jennifer & Louie helping to cheer Charlie up

We still had to pass a urinary catheter to relieve his bladder and ultimately the next day we found out this had created an unusually bad urinary tract infection.  Upon getting some antibiotics on board, Charlie began taking an immense liking to one of our technicians and he began to eat for her.  Again, I felt the joy of optimism that everything might turn out well.


The next couple of days passed quickly as we saw Charlie regain his appetite and his personality.  My most joyous moment was when I went in to the kitchen where he followed me and then proceeded to beg for treats.  It was also that night that I received the pathology report with the findings of really what we had removed.  It wasn’t very clear as it only said “probable hemangiosarcoma” of the spleen so there were no definitive cancer cells seen.  Good news arrived in that it had not spread to the liver as the nodules seen in surgery were normal liver cell regeneration.  We took this as a small victory and hoped that it meant he was going to be okay.  On the advice of some colleagues, I got the slides sent off to a second pathologist who was considered to be “the authority” on such matters in her field.  Roughly one week later, I received the news I had hope to hear – benign hemangioma!


"I'm ready for a walk!"

“I’m ready for a walk!”

My two weeks of fear were instantly erased.  Charlie was a cancer survivor!  We had taken the skin staples out, he was eating, walking around on his own, and taking in all the comforts of our couch.  I had my senior dog back who was again acting like a puppy.


Jennifer & I are very lucky.  Charlie beat the odds and is healthy again.  Most dogs who present to the clinic with a splenic tumor never get to go home and share more time with their families.  Charlie has saved countless lives as a blood donor and provided lots of emotional support to help me get through school.  Now he has worked his charm again and taught us how to use the greatest gift for a veterinarian – compassion, understanding, empathy – whichever term you prefer, these are things no professor in school can teach.


The profession of veterinary medicine has a gravitational pull for people who have a natural tendency for caring, compassion, and service to people & animals.  There are days when everything goes right; and days where everything seems to go wrong no matter how hard we try.  This is part of the the heart of the term “compassion fatigue.”  We, as veterinarians, care so much but sometimes in the field many of my colleagues have experienced a burn out and lose the soul of what led us to this profession in the first place.   Charlie has once again kept me on the path to bettering myself as a compassionate veterinarian as I have now been in the shoes of many of the pet owners I have worked with.  It’s amazing what four furry paws, big brown eyes, a wet tongue, and wagging tail can teach us.  Thank you, Charlie.

Charlie & I two weeks post-op (our photo from the clinic webpage)

Charlie & I two weeks post-op (our photo from the clinic webpage)


  1. We were all lucky – Charlie most of all. The Great Dog Above surely was watching over him – and repaying him for all the lives he saved (and you, for your love and devotion to Charlie and his fellow blood donors). I know how hard you take it when things don’t go 100% in favor of your patients – it’s not just Charlie. You and Jen are that way with everybody. They’re all special to you. It’s the hardest job in the world, I think. People doctors have it tough, but they can explain things. You can explain to clients, but you can’t make your patients understand why they are having post-surgical pain or why they can’t eat for awhile because they need to fast (or why they need to wear the always irksome cone of shame!) 🙂

    Give my grand-dog plenty of ear scritches & tummy rubs – tell him they are from me!

  2. Oh what happy news!!! I was so afraid it was going to be bad news. While I am sorry you had to experience one of the scariest times of your life, with it you gained a new level of compassion for your patient’s and their parents. Now when you tell a parent that you understand their fears, it will be with authority because you HAVE walked in their shoes. I thank you for sharing this journey with us…off to give my puppers some scritches & love.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      May 29, 2014 at 8:48 am

      I surely am grateful for how all this turned out. Since Charlie’s incident, I’ve had to deal with three other patients like him and I was able to relate to their owners much better. Unfortunately, they have not ended well but at least I feel that the people were not alone in their fear or emotions.

  3. What a fantastic ending to the story! I’m so happy Charlie is fine. The only reason our dog’s splenic hemangiosarcoma didn’t rupture is because when he was going in for minor gum surgery, I mentioned to the vet that I noticed a bit of a swelling in our dog’s abdomen when he lay on his back (as he likes to to, the goof.) The vet did an ultrasound and found the humungous tumour. I’ve learned a lot about hemangiosarcoma in the months since, and of course just lost my other dog to it, but fortunately she didn’t bleed out either.

    Yay Charlie! 🙂

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      May 29, 2014 at 8:46 am

      I hope that your dog that had the ultrasound is doing well. Sorry to hear about your other pup. It’s such a varying range of how they show their signs…sometimes it’s obvious and in other cases we can miss it. I just hope that my experience will give people some hope and that they will talk about their vet with the options before rushing to decisions.

  4. Ryans Granny (Charlies Great Granny

    May 29, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Dear Ryan (Dr. Llera),

    I will be eternally grateful that this experience has a happy ending…or new beginning! I met Charlie when I was visiting Ryan at Vet school in Illinois. They were best friends from the first meeting. Charlie – it was “love at first sight” for me too.

    Ryan – you will always deserve the very best in life and this time you certainly got it. I am always proud of you and love your passion for what you do so very well. You are a wonderful Vet and a wonderful man and I am proud to say….My grandson!

    Charlie – You are my amazing Great Granddog and I love you!

  5. Tears from beginning to end and then some, I am glad I was able to read all 3 parts at once! I would not have been able to wait!
    Bless Charlie! Your very good at what you do, you have so much compassion and I’m thankful that my furry little pets have you as there doctor!!!!!

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      July 16, 2014 at 8:30 am

      Thank you Melissa! I do love my dog Charlie and am so lucky that he is still here with us. I feel lucky to have the job that I do and love all your kitties 🙂 I just hope they stay healthy so they don’t have to make too many visits. I’ll check in later this week with you about them. The latest blog post is up today. Thanks for stopping by and share if you wish to 🙂 (the Facebook symbol on the right side of the page lets you follow to see when new posts are published)

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