Welcome to the first of a three part series that puts me in the shoes of a client and served as the inspiration to start this blog.
The Other Side of the Table
The words hit me like a sledgehammer. I was devastated. “Charlie has a tumor,” said my wife on the phone. At first silence, then tears. A sudden wave of emotion swept over me as I digested the news about my best friend, my dog. In a split second, I went from one side of the exam table to the other. Let me explain…
Charlie and I had become best friends in veterinary school where he was part of the blood donor program. He arrived shortly before I started school and I joined a group of students responsible for getting the dogs out to walk and play. Charlie was more than just one of a group of dogs who helped save other dogs lives. When they say that dogs love unconditionally, Charlie epitomizes that. During stressful times in school, exam weeks, getting bad news from home…whatever, Charlie was who I would go and spend time with and have conversations. Though he never spoke back verbally, I knew he was understanding and nurturing; always wagging his tail, giving a sloppy kiss, and even being able to hug. When I graduated, I got to adopt Charlie. Later, a picture of him & I is what Jennifer told me helped break the ice between she & myself.
For 12 years, Charlie has been by my side even as we left Florida and moved to Kingston, Ontario. As we don’t have any kids, I suspect the wave of emotions we were feeling was much like a parent with a child. He had been eating less as of late and with the brutally long Kingston winter, I took his trouble with the stairs to be related to arthritis and a previous incident of slipping on the ice. I had no idea what was brewing inside his abdomen. The night before he just couldn’t get comfortable and he was panting more than usual. The next morning he seemed more lethargic, weak, and would not eat. My wife Jennifer, also a veterinarian, had taken him to her job that morning since he seemed very weak and lethargic. The x-rays showed a large mass on his spleen.
I was devastated by this news and I now know how many of my clients feel in a moment like this. The fear of losing a family member, the uncertainty of whether he would make it, the concern for his quality of life…all the things I had discussed numerous times with pet owners over the years were now swirling through my mind. I left the clinic to go pick up my buddy and bring him back to the Kingston Veterinary Clinic where I work. He was definitely weaker looking than when I left and it crushed me to know he was hurting. How could I have not seen this coming? I was upset with myself but I had to be strong for Charlie. His chest x-rays had been normal and no blood was seen on the ultrasound as is often the case with these tumors. We had thought about getting ourselves a portable ultrasound to use at home to monitor him just in case as well. Jennifer & I talked; we decided to go forward with surgery. We knew of all the outcomes and the risks. I had to try and save my best friend. I couldn’t give up on him. More importantly, though, I wasn’t ready to let go.
To be continued…