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The Wuzzy Chronicles

A Day in the Life of a Vet

Wuzzy Rat loses her battle to cancer
A Day in the Life
Published on December 16, 2010 : 13 comments

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The work day commute home consists of loud music, thoughts of the Mastiff I spayed today, and concern for the juvenile Bearded Dragon I treated.

The Bearded Dragon is on intense supportive care for a muscle wasting condition. He has lost six grams, which in almost any other patient would not even be worth a mention, but for Tiny Beardie, is a significant portion of his body mass. 

I try to remember if I have ever spayed any pet larger than Giant Mastiff. I have not. Many, including my dog-niece Riley the Great Dane, have been the same size, but none have been larger. I hope Giant Mastiff is resting well at home. I hope Tiny Beardie makes it. I know they are both in good hands, as are the scores of other patients I saw during the day. 

It has been a rewarding day, and my thoughts turn toward home. Wuzzy Rat has not been healthy lately. She is battling an infection, which I fear may be secondary to something worse.

I walk into the house to see Russ cupping Wuzzy Rat in his hands. My thoughts return to the day she and her littermates had been so sick as babies. He again hands her to me with a mix of urgency and sadness. He says, “I tried to reach you. I told her to wait till you got home.”  At that, I realize that this is not going to be a second happy ending.

Wuzzy is breathing with great effort. She looks up at me and relaxes, or maybe gives up. When her heart stops, I attempt CPR, knowing that this time, her heart did not stop for a reversible reason. I kiss her goofy, disproportionately large ears and her ugly little face (ugly from the ravages of disease—she is actually quite gorgeous). I am not ready to say goodbye.

I hold Wuzzy for a long time. The pet owner and veterinary scientist within me are battling. I am not sure who wins—I suppose the scientist. I have to know what had taken Wuzzy. Had a simple infection gotten the best of her? Was there another cause I could find? Does it matter?

When a pet passes away, sometimes a veterinarian will perform the animal version of an autopsy, called a necropsy. It is respectfully and even “cosmetically” done, meaning the pet appears to have had surgery—with only a simple sutured incision to show for it. Often, a cause of death can be found or confirmed, and other valuable information obtained, such as whether a disease was contagious, or whether other disease processes were also occurring. It is a very valuable procedure, yet underutilized in the veterinary community—for good reason. 

Necropsies, as valuable as they are, as respectfully as they are done, make us sad. With every prior personal pet I have lost in the past, the veterinary scientist in me loses out to the pet owner, and my pets have not been necropsied, sometimes at the cost of a definitive diagnosis. Wuzzy’s necropsy was one of many for me as a veterinarian, but my first as a pet owner. 

In hindsight, it was a very wise decision. I confirmed that she did indeed have cancer, which appeared to have originated in her mouth. Often with necropsies, tissue samples are sent to a veterinary pathologist, who can then tell more about what was occurring on a cellular level (for instance, cancer type), but I did not have this done with Wuzzy. I did not feel that knowing the type of cancer or how exactly it got the best of her would help.

In this case, I was able to convince myself that there was nothing more we could have done. Surgery at the location of the tumor origin would have been too invasive, too painful.

During the day, Wuzzy had climbed up her habitat and watched the kids play, and even played a bit herself. When Russ got her out to hold her, he could tell something was wrong. Still, she was happy to be close to him. She held onto his finger and curled up in his hand.

Wuzzy’s best friend Fuzzy died six weeks before she did. I know it was two separate instances of two very different cancers. But also, they had never been apart. I know losing Fuzzy was as difficult for Wuzzy as it was for us. Losing Wuzzy brings me back to the beginning of mourning for Fuzzy.

Fuzzy and Wuzzy lived to much older ages than any other rats I have ever had. We had so much fun with them as a family. I loved bringing them to see kids at Camp Kindness, church, preschools and daycares. Everyone who met them loved them.

I feared losing Wuzzy a year ago. She survived and thrived and we had been closer than before ever since. Wuzzy sat with me through the recent Blogathon. She did well the entire time we were out of town last week. She waited till afternoon to even admit she didn’t feel well. She even waited until I got home from work to say goodbye. Still, it was too soon. I will miss Fuzzy and Wuzzy very much, but the opportunity to have known them is well worth walking through the sadness now.

Tiny Beardie passed away the next day. My veterinary team reminded me that sad things happen in three and we are due a reprieve. I know that we vet types cling to some pretty silly superstitions, but I am holding on to this one. RIP Fuzzy, Wuzzy and Tiny Beardie. My life has been better because I knew you.

Finch93Shawn Finch is a veterinarian and Mom. She works at Banfield, The Pet Hospital of Papillion. She writes for her own website (www.rileyandjames.com), Omaha.net and Carefresh. :)

Comments

mom Karen (not verified) says:

December 16, 2010 : 5 years 41 weeks ago

mom Karen's picture

I miss my grandrats too and I’m crying. you are the most awesome writer to be able to express your feelings like that. I’m so glad that your are jacy’s Dr. and my DIL. Love you bunches!!!

AnnDbugz says:

December 16, 2010 : 5 years 41 weeks ago

AnnDbugz's picture

Oh Shawn….
Amazingly written and I am so sorry you have had to go through all of this. THANK YOU so much for sharing your self with us ;-D

MissusLippy (not verified) says:

December 16, 2010 : 5 years 41 weeks ago

MissusLippy's picture

Sorry to hear about your loss, Shawn. You have some great memories of them to treasure. Your love for animals and science comes across so clearly.

Finch93 says:

December 17, 2010 : 5 years 41 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

Thank you Mom-Karen! Love you too!! Thank you Ann and Sandy! Just getting to write and talk about our goofy little rats is helping… ♥

mom Karen (not verified) says:

December 17, 2010 : 5 years 41 weeks ago

mom Karen's picture

Your heart really came through your words! I could tell it was helping!! You know those 2 and the other 3 taught me a whole different attitude about ratties!

Mary (not verified) says:

December 17, 2010 : 5 years 41 weeks ago

Mary's picture

A beautiful story, Shawn. Thank you for sharing this with us. I’m so moved by your passion and love for these animals. And, I don’t think any part of you needs to win. You can hold both. Sometimes in tension, sometimes in joy. Sometimes with tears. Mostly with laughter and fond memories of lives who changed you. As both a scientist and a mom…to a coupla rats.

Finch93 says:

December 18, 2010 : 5 years 41 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

georgia little pea ratatouille (not verified) says:

January 13, 2011 : 5 years 37 weeks ago

georgia little pea ratatouille's picture

hi there, i met you in the petblogger challenge. don’t know if you remember.

anyway, i thought i might read a few of your posts tonight before bed, and saw this. i know it’s been some weeks now, but i’m dreadfully sorry for your loss of fuzzy and wuzzy rats.

reading about pet loss from a vet’s perspective was interesting. when we lost jordan [dog] almost 2 years back, i actually went through a phase where i got upset with the vet who euthanised him. i had all sorts of doubts. had he been too hasty in his diagnosis? couldn’t he have shown a little more emotion about putting him down?

after a while, i realised that he [and all vets, I suppose] must necessarily step back from all the tears, fears and hesitation of people who bring their sick and dying pets in. He helped us make the decision that we couldn’t that night. I might not like what he had to do, but I am grateful.

thanks for sharing your story.

Finch93 says:

January 13, 2011 : 5 years 37 weeks ago

Finch93's picture

Of course I remember :) I love your blog…and your perspective. I have never been able to step back emotionally, and I never want to - just yesterday I had to euthanize a very, very old kitty I had never before met, and I was so sad.

All that you went through with Jordan is so normal! And it is ok to be angry with your vet - we know as well as every pet lover how much it sucks to lose our friends. Maybe he did need to step back, sometimes we do so the family can grieve and we can be strong, if only for that few minutes. I am glad he was there for you…at the same time I hate that you had to go through that.

Emily (not verified) says:

March 16, 2011 : 5 years 28 weeks ago

Emily's picture

Dr. Finch, thank you for sharing a quick look into what had to be a terribly hard day for you. I’m trying to come to terms with losing my dear Otis Pee Rat two weeks ago. He got to the two-year mark and developed what eventually turned out to be a high-grade fibrosarcoma. We had it removed three times, and it just kept coming back bigger and nastier, and finally we made the hard choice to let him go. We didn’t find out about chemo as an option until it was too late.

I can’t look at his spot on the couch without crying, and about ten times a day I have to stop myself from running to go grab him and cuddle him the way I would have. I can’t stop wishing we had just one more day with him, except that he was having such a hard time at the end. I don’t know if I’ve ever met another person — human or otherwise — who made me feel so loved and so happy. Your essay on losing a pet was one of the only things I’ve read that helps.

Shawn Finch (not verified) says:

March 17, 2011 : 5 years 28 weeks ago

Shawn Finch's picture

Oh Emily, I am so sorry to hear about Otis Pee Rat! He sounds wonderful. What a great name! He was so blessed to have you and it’s ok that this time is so hard. Not that knowing that makes it any easier for you…just don’t think that you need to rally because you don’t. I do hope that your days get less sad soon. Thank you for sharing Otis Pee Rat - it makes me remember how silly and fun and sweet Fuzzy and Wuzzy were.

I wrote THIS on pet loss too, right before our own personal season of life became so sad…

http://omaha.net/articles/pet-loss

and then I quit writing much at all. Maybe I need to start again. Thank you for your kind words. Even in your sad time, you are reaching out and that is so very helpful.

morgan says:

March 17, 2011 : 5 years 28 weeks ago

morgan's picture

@Emily - Dr. Finch has an amazing blog as well (rileyandjames.com) - if you are looking for additional thoughtful reflections I encourage you to follow her blog.

@Shawn - take your time, you’ll know when you are ready

Shawn Finch (not verified) says:

March 17, 2011 : 5 years 28 weeks ago

Shawn Finch's picture

Thanks Morgan!!