I have a talented daughter who is an equine veterinarian. Although I am a registered nurse for people, she occasionally allows me to ride on calls with her as she treats animals. We have adventures. I call myself VetMa. (OK, it’s a bit dramatic. So what?)
I heard the gathering of supplies and the phone conversation as I was waking up. There was no time for breakfast. We were on the road within minutes. It was Saturday morning and the weekend had officially started.
An animal loving family had been nursing their mini calf during the last week. It had been seen by vets locally and at the University. It had been doing well and was being stalled in the house, in the bathroom. At midnight, the night before, it had been standing, chewing calmly on some hay with no apparent problems. This morning the family found things quite different. They were afraid it might be too late.
The scene was not encouraging. When the Doc arrived the calf was lying on the living room floor, swaddled in blankets with a heat lamp on it. A worried looking husband and wife gave her the story. They had found the little animal unresponsive, barely breathing and looking near death. They had no clue what had happened.
A mini calf is about as big as a medium sized dog. The woman was stroking his head, holding it to keep his airway open. The preliminary exam showed a temperature too low to register on the thermometer, unusually cool limbs, barely audible heartbeat and respirations so diminished they were hard to detect. Its eyes were open and glazed. The only sign of life was an occasional struggle and agonizing cry.
The doc is not only an animal lover herself, but also a very compassionate people person. She always tries to give people options even in the most critical looking situations. There weren’t many options to give in this case. There was no apparent course of action and it was doubtful the little guy would survive another trip to the university hospital. She offered to try to decompress the bowel, in case there was a blockage of some sort and talked with the owners about euthanasia as well. She went out to the truck to get her equipment ready should they wish to have treatment. The man came out a moment later with tears in his eyes to say they did not want their animal to suffer any longer.
Hearts break when a precious animal suffers. It is part of the risk of ownership of an animal, that it will get sick or hurt and suffer. A good doc gives owners as much information as possible to make responsible decisions about the care of their animal. Making the decision to not let suffering continue when nothing can be done is difficult but there is also a peace and a feeling that the decision is the right one for the animal. A caring veterinarian helps clients through these times, being as kind, gentle and humane as possible. And that is how the first call of the day ended.
Euthanasia is not something a veterinarian enjoys, but it is part of the job. It is heartbreaking. Every time.