I have always had a curious relationship with Death.
The first memory I have of a pet dying happened when I was about 5 years old. I had a pet frog, which I kept in a red pail. I was sitting outside on a cement patio staring at my sunbathing friend when my little brother, aged 3, came running out the back door with his blue velcro sneakers on and stepped on my little frog, right in front of me. When he raised his foot, the frog heaved up like a twisted accordion. I refused to believe it was dead, and left it in that pail for days, hoping for a resurrection that wouldn't come.
My second memory of pet death occurred at the age of 8. Our family dog, Buster, fought valiantly against brain cancer, enduring two surgeries, before my dad decided to let her go. I'll never forget coming home from school and seeing him crying on the bed. It would be a long time before I had to deal with Death again.
In 2001, the year I decided I wanted to be a veterinary technician, I lost 3 of my 4 pets within 9 months. My 15 year old dog Buzzy, the puppy we got a year after losing Buster, died of old age. My mom's cat Elmo died from an asthma attack in my lap, in the car, on the shoulder of an 8 lane Chicago highway. 2 weeks before I moved across the country to become a vet tech, I had to euthanize my first cat Raven due to acute renal failure. I was devastated.
There was a cloud of loss that followed me from my home in Chicago to school in Denver, and a light drizzle over the time I spent pursuing my A.A.S. at the Bel-Rea Institute of Animal Technology. I avoided "terminal labs" at the shelter, where I could have practiced different procedures on animals that were going to be euthanized. I avoided the euthanasia lab. I basically avoided death and the word "euthanasia" at all costs. I was terrified that I would not be able to handle death in practice, and that I would not succeed at being a veterinary technician because of this. I wanted to help animals, not participate in their deaths. The emotions of it were overwhelming.
The last part of our program at Bel-Rea was a 400 hour, 10 week, unpaid externship. I completed mine at the animal hospital I had done all of my shadowing and other projects at, the hospital that would eventually hire me upon graduation. The first patient that I remember coming in for euthanasia was a giant schnauzer who had been battling transitional cell carcinoma in her bladder. The kind veterinarians that I worked with thought this particular case would be a good one for me to participate in, since it was a terminal disease and her time had come. As I watched her family help her through the front door from a window in the pharmacy door, I started to have what I can only describe as an emotional panic attack. All of the emotions from my own pets' deaths came flooding back, and I ran crying out the back door of the clinic. At the time, I smoked cigarettes, and I lit one after another and would not come back inside until she was deceased and gone from sight.
A low point, to say the least.
I started to wonder if I had chosen the wrong career. Would I ever be able to deal with Death? Could I talk to grieving owners without ugly crying? Could I even be in the same room with a pet whose time had come?!
I wasn't so sure. And then I met Amber.
(to be continued)