Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Loving Sparkey

Until one has loved an animal,

a part of one's soul remains unawakened.

---Anatole France

The vet visited Sparkey at home around one in the afternoon and called me about 3:30 on my cellphone. I was at work, and it was my turn to clean the office kitchen. She gave me her report, detailing the muscle wasting, hind leg atrophy, disequilibrium and cognitive deficits that she observed, as well as the ongoing renal failure. Just as she began to recommend that we strongly consider euthanasia, a coworker walked in and distracted me, my eyes beginning to fill with tears. I left the kitchen, cellphone clutched to my ear, and made my way to a quiet corner, sitting at one of the doctor's desks, photos of children grinning from the bulletin board as I fiddled with pens and paperclips during the continued conversation with the vet.

Taking into consideration that the kidney failure will only get worse, and Sparkey's physical disability become more of a burden for him and us, she gently advocated for us to euthanize him before something bad happens. The way she explained it, if his kidneys blow---and they could at any moment---he'll vomit and retch uncontrollably and suffer a horrific plethora of symptoms. With his hind legs like they are, we're also running the risk of him experiencing an injury or fracture---likely while we're at work---that will cause him terrible suffering. Euthanizing him while in acute pain or organ failure would be much less comfortable for him and a terrible way for us to say goodbye to our loyal friend and family member.

The vet counseled me that we have gone above and beyond, providing home hospice care with a nightly IV for more than four months, more than many people would do. She urged me to not second-guess what we could have done better, and to rest my mind in the certainty that we have given Sparkey a loving home and the best care we could manage. She assured me that he is not yet in great pain, just uncomfortable, and the most humane thing to do is allow him to leave with dignity and without undue suffering. I told her that we would consult our animal communicator in the morning by phone, and follow up with her in 24 hours. We agreed that the appointment which we so strongly hesitate to make could take place at our home on Saturday morning, four days hence.

Tearful, face quivering, I retreated to my desk in the corner of the office, and was consoled by three different co-workers, who hugged me and offered their own experiences and stories, which were simultaneously comforting and frightening. I fled the office, leaving my desk a mess, and drove over to Mary's office where I gave her the news. We both cried on and off in the car, stopping by our previous vet's place to pick up IV supplies. One of the lovely and compassionate vet technicians at that office who loves Sparkey and really sees his soul took us into a private office and counseled us in our despair and confusion. She was saintly in the attention she gave us, and we are forever grateful for her kindness and largesse.

The ride home called for a stop at Friendly's, kid-size coffee Fribbles for us and a dish of vanilla ice cream for Sparkey. When the going gets tough, the tough eat ice cream.

It's going to take a few days to integrate this, to come to terms with the reality, and to accept what we have to do. While deciding to end an animal's life in a medical manner may seem unnatural, the domestication of animals is also somewhat unnatural and we must bear the full responsibility of their care, and often the timing of their death. My heart feels like it's breaking tonight, but perhaps that breaking does not have to be seen as injury, rather, it's an opening, an opportunity for even more compassion to be experienced, whether I want that experience or not.



Happystance said...

My best wishes to all of you at this time.

Sparkey is a much-loved companion.

Best - Tony

melissa said...

Again my heart breaks...but I think you are right to take into serious consideration the vet's advice. Sparky has been so good to hang on so long, but his body cannot keep up with his spirit. You, as the vet said, have gone above and beyond & I think he knows that. All my love and thoughts are with you.

Intelinurse2B said...

Sometimes the right decision is the hardest one to make.

My two year old dropped cherrios all over the kitchen floor and I called for Charlie to come eat them up, I cried (yet again) when I realized he wasn't there anymore to clean up for me.

I can empathize and I hope you heal quickly and focus on the good memories and all he gave you.

Kim said...

Oh Keith...

I've been there and I cried for months after Mickey, our Golden Retriever suffered a stroke after a diagnosis of lymphoma.

And now I have a Sparky, by the way, and a Samantha, too.

And while I love my cats (all seven of them), there is something about a dog that attaches itself to your soul.

I'm reminded of a speech given by Captain Kirk during Spock's funeral in Star Trek 3 when he said: "Of all the souls I have known, his was the most human." (paraphrase)

You could say the same about Sparkey.

You've given it your all and then some.

Sparkey is a very lucky dog and you are a very lucky man.


andrea said...

One cannot underestimate the therapeutic power of ice cream. I personally believe it should be listed as an intervention for every NANDA dx.