A Day in the Life of a Vet
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
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.