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.
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!
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!
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.