I don’t think there was a dry eye in the hospital. It was Thursday on a week that had been long by Tuesday. Many of us had issues at home that were stressful at best. All of us try hard to leave home at home and work at work. We couldn’t continue if we didn’t. But sometimes some things get to us.
This week it was Buddy. Buddy was a sweet golden retriever. Eight days ago, his mom had taken him to the ER. I got a direct message, “Hey Dr Wixsom. Sorry to bother you. But I believe Buddy has had a stroke. He can’t move his hind legs at all.”
“Strokes are extremely rare in dogs. He may have slipped a disc. Can you get him checked tonight at the ER in Kenova?”
“We are on our way now.”
“Good luck. Keep me posted.”
“Thank you so much for texting me back. As you well know, I’m a mess.”
“Keep your head on straight enough to know that you do have options.”
“I will talk to you before anything.” Much later: “Well…..not good. Dr Pinkston says he’s had an infarct in the spine. He is paralyzed. My heart is broken.”
“Sometimes (rarely) it will clear, but Buddy is a big and old dog. Dr Pinkston is a good vet.”
We saw Buddy the next morning. He had been on IV fluids the night before and was very bright and alert. He did have some feeling in his toes. This is important because as long as any part of the spinal cord is intact, the cord can remyelinate around the core. It can take weeks to months, but can be worth trying.
Before trying, it is important to know what is causing the problem. We recommended that Buddy go to a specialist, potentially for surgery. I got an update later: “I actually just pulled in the driveway. They did an MRI and spinal tap. Dr McCallister and Dr Cook were the neuro team. Checking for lymphoma, possible infarct, MRI shows an area of change in the lumbar area. They’re thinking steroids will help and waiting to see if he responds to them. He had more of a response to pain, and actually moving legs. But not at all able to put any weight on them. Alert. Very alert. Extubated well from anesthesia after MRI. I’m still holding on to hope.
“Thank you for giving me the option and hope!!! If something does happen and it’s his time to go, I will know I did everything possible. And I owe that to you! Thank you for always taking such wonderful care of my babies.”
“I love him, too. I don’t know how we ended up with you as a client, but I am glad we did.”
“I love all of you so much. And you are my hero!”
Buddy did well in the hospital and then went home. “ More encouraging news. He has more movement in his legs. Going to get him in the morning. We will be using a harness to exercise him. He still isn’t able to bear any weight on his hind legs. Which prayerfully will come in time. Dr McCallister told me worst case scenario, may have to express his bladder and deal with him being incontinent. That is not a problem!”
But Buddy didn’t continue to do well. “Hey Dr Wixsom. Sorry to bother you again. I’m at that point of not knowing what to do. I’ve tried twice to express his bladder with no results. I have done absolutely nothing else but tend to him and everything he needs. My heart doesn’t want to give up but my gut feeling is not good. We don’t sleep much. I nap when he naps. I have to literally make him eat and drink. And physically, my body hurts and is exhausted from lifting, trying to help him stand. Cleaning him like I would’ve my babies so he doesn’t get excoriated from the urine. And watching him just lay here breaks my heart.”
Over the next three days, Buddy lost all the progress that he had gained. He was reasonably, happy, eating, but could not control his bladder or maintain any of his weight on his back legs. His owner was beyond stressed and Buddy was starting to be anxious also.
I had some chores to do Thursday and we pushed back the start of appointments. When I came in, the staff said, “and before you have your coffee, Buddy is coming in for euthanasia as your first appointment.”
“Damn. I’m not ready, yet.”
Most of the time, I can totally realize euthanasia for the relief that it is. No more pain. No more suffering. Just a deep, dark peace. I am the one that mentions that “it might be time.” I am the one that looks out for what is best for the pets while caring for the owners.
Buddy’s mom said it was time. Buddy was weaker, but he was still alert. We do not recommend owner stay, because the pets pick up on their doubts. Buddy’s mom was a mess. She knew she didn’t want to have her last memory of him lifeless. Buddy had been with her through a lot. Their bond was amazing, but Buddy wasn’t going to get better.
A long ago review said that “Dr. Wixsom doesn’t care to tell anyone that their dog is dead.” That is not true, but I am usually good at keeping it together until later. Usually until the middle of the night. It was not true on that Thursday morning at all. Hugs and tears in the room as his mom said goodbye. Lots of tears and clinched jaws as I injected the barbiturates into Buddy. I wasn’t the only one. Several staff members had scattered. Rusty was holding but looking away to try to hold it together. Unable to speak, I had to tap Rusty on the elbow and point at Buddy’s leg.
Buddy looked up at me as I injected the narcotics that would make him feel good and then be gone. I whispered “we all love you” through the tears.
I managed to wash my face in cold water and take his paw print out to his mom, but in the next exam room, I would not be able to finish the exam. The new owners would ask if it was them. Garrett explained that it had been a rough day before 10:00am. I hope they really did understand. Sometimes this job is impossible.
The next day, I checked in on his mom. “How are you doing?”
“I have to say, the saddest I’ve ever felt in my life. No exaggeration!”
I really do understand. I still have tears thinking about it. I normally have enough reserves to be okay, but sometimes, it is a lot.
“Yeah. I get it.”
Chat Conversation End.