I learned A LOT about death and dying working at the local emergency clinic, which probably goes without saying! I don't think there is a better way to summarize the time I spent there than to share with you the goodbye letter I wrote to the Cardiology Service. I had the pleasure of being a part of this dynamic duo for the best three years of my career. This was originally posted on my Facebook page in August of 2012, and has been edited for length.
"I began this journey unsure if I was qualified to embark on it in the first place, and end it with certainty that I was meant to. Over the last three years I have been privileged to offer comfort to the suffering, hope to the hopeless, and options to people who were in tears because they didn't know they had any. I have had the rare and awesome opportunity to participate in a variety of incredibly advanced interventional surgeries like pacemaker implantation and balloon valvuloplasty, and guest starred as "Lungs" for many a thoracotomy. I have met some amazing clients and have been inspired by their stories and the faith that they placed in us. Their pets became my pets, and the bravery shown by every single one of them in the face of whatever predicament they were in...let's just say that Mel Gibson doesn't know the true meaning of Braveheart.
Heart and Soul was one of the first songs I learned to play on the piano, and I have tried to live my life leading with one or the other. They also happen to be what has made the Cardiology Service so special - we excelled at treating both. I have been afforded an incredible degree of freedom to fully exploit and enhance my strengths as both a vet tech and as a person. The science has always interested me but my passion for my career is fueled by the pets and the people. The best part about understanding the hows and whys of what we do is being able to help the humans understand, help the animals feel better, and help all of them get through what was to come.
The only reason I was able to truly immerse myself in this was that I had complete and total confidence in the Cardiologist and her Medicine. She has shown me so much respect, and that has meant so much. I never felt silly for caring too much about any of our patients, because she was just as concerned about blankets in cages as I have always been, and writes just as much as I do in the sympathy cards. We could both write two paragraphs after just one visit. This absolutely meant the world to me.
Our clients, bless them, are legendary. I've loved and enjoyed them, and they have inspired me. They expected a lot, and in almost every instance we were able to exceed their expectations. I realized today that the one thing all of them had in common was a need to feel like they were not alone. They needed someone to understand their extraordinary love for their pet. They were ashamed to admit using pet communicators or holistic practitioners. They were suspicious of prescription drugs. They were tired of spending money on tests. They were afraid of the things they read on the internet. They were staying up all night with their pets listening to them cough or watching them struggle to breath. They were trying to find the time to give all of their medications, and panicking when what worked to hide the taste yesterday is no longer working today. They wanted to know when it would be "time". In that particular instance, my answer always started or ended with two words: "You'll know". The truth is, they knew a lot more than they thought all along. They weren't alone, they had us. I really think that's ultimately why we had such a special relationship with so many of them.
Our patients were an endless source of inspiration. We should all one day hope to display the bravery and selflessness inherent in dogs and cats who find themselves to be ill. So many times it was the patient showing the client how to face death with peace and dignity. I loved all of them, even the few that tried to bite us, because our clients loved them. Most of the time they were happy to see us for rechecks...we were a little loose with the mini-milkbones...and it meant a lot to the client when they didn't have to drag their friend through the front door. I always introduced myself to the client and then explained that I'd be spending the next few minutes on the floor making a fool of myself to calm nerves and make friends with the 'main attraction'. Nobody ever minded. Most of our patients were older, and had conditions that precluded them from receiving dental care, and I welcomed kisses from their smelly mouths just as much as I did puppy sugars. Many of my favorite patients died in my arms when the client was unable either physically or emotionally to be there. It meant a great deal to me and the pets that the Cardiologist was always willing to consider suggestions...sometimes it's nice to die in the grass on a sunny day.
Every year I've been the Cardio Nurse, one of my own cats passed away - this past Valentine's Day, our 6 year old kitten Audrey died of heart failure after a reluctant 4 and 1/2 month skirmish. I can't exactly call it a battle, because Audrey was one of the worst patients we ever had. She was first echoed two years ago, and was fairly tolerant of that. I skipped her scheduled recheck...don't skip scheduled rechecks...and last September she went into heart failure. Her first trip to work with me for a day of oxygen and lasix injections featured screaming, spitting, bite attempts, scratching, open mouth breathing, frothing, urinating on things, and vomiting, but she recovered.
I brought her back several days later because she hadn't started eating again, and when the Cardiologist peeked into the carrier to say Good Morning, Audrey projectile vomited bright yellow froth at her. This was a first for all of us! Our sweet, feisty little girl hated being sick, she hated medications and refused to cooperate for them, forcing me to force them into her twice a day. I spent a fortune on cat treats and "appetizers" so she could lick a teaspoon of broth and 'forgive' me for 'torturing' her.
On her final night, I happened upon her laying awkwardly on the floor, gasping for air, and the look on her face told me everything I needed to know. She passed away 90 minutes later at work, early on Valentine's Day morning. I got two hours of sleep and then worked a 9 hour day. I can't describe how much her story and the experience of it has improved my ability to relate to and comfort our clients. For what will have been the last six months of the Cardiology Service, she was my messenger angel.
And so I am coming to the end of this unbelievable run. I've had the emotional task over the last few weeks of calling at least 30 (lost count) of our favorite clients to inform them of the Cardiologist's departure. More often than not, I was asked if I was going with her, and they were sad when I told them no. The way we work together is complementary and at times synergistic (you should see us flip a patient over on the echo table), and our philosophies are identical. That's a difficult thing to give up. I was touched that our clients were so aware that what we did was a team effort, and that we were a really good team. We had a great supporting cast, and our Honorary Members know who they are. I could not be prouder of everything we have managed to do in 155 weeks!
I can't say enough how much I have loved what I have been doing for the last 3 years, or how much the Cardiologist will be missed, so I'll end with this:
"When you are joyous, look deep into your heart
and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow
that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been your delight." - Kahlil Gibran"