Monday, April 17, 2006

Getting Ready

"I hear you're burning out on this."

"Yes," he mouths, no longer able to speak from the effects of invasive cancer.

"I love and admire you so much," I told him. "We'll do everything we can to keep you comfortable and at home." We shook hands, the sound of the oxygen compressor filling the room in the vast silence that followed that simple exchange.

Then I called hospice and let them know that it's time to get their services on board. We're all getting ready.

From there, I went back to the office, took care of some business, and then went over to the local animal hospital, where my 13-year-old dog has been since yesterday. I sat in his little cage/cubicle with him. Renal failure manifests as vomiting and anorexia in dogs. He vomited so much on Sunday, and then he could barely stand. We packed him in the car and sped to the animal ER.

Interestingly, two years ago on Easter Sunday---the very same day two years ago---I rushed him to the same animal hospital, and it was acute pancreatitis. At that time, he had not yet begun failing in earnest, and I wanted them to do everything they could, even in the face of respiratory arrest. This time is different. The poor old guy is DNR/DNI. I visited him in the ICU after work today. He didn't even get up to greet me, though he licked my nose as I talked to him, looked him in the eye, and brushed him down, removing large amounts of winter undercoat. I sat in that cubicle for an hour, the IV whirring as it instilled fluids in his canine veins. I told him I loved him more times than I could count.

I guess we're always getting ready, be we canine or human. We're getting ready from the moment we leave the womb. We hope the journey will be gentle. We hope there will be joy along the way. We hope we will not suffer, nor will our loved ones. We hope to die in peace.

My first dog, my dear friend, will come home tomorrow and begin a final chapter of his life's winter. We will love him and feed him and give him IV fluids as long as he seems to not suffer. And when the time comes, when we're all ready and the signs are clear, we'll call the vet, she'll come to our home, and we'll tenderly hold Sparkey in our arms as he leaves this sweet earth.

Meanwhile, my patient, unable to have his life end so mercifully, will see it through to the bitter end, hopefully in the comfort of his sweet and lovely home. Which is better? Which is more "humane"? Who will experience the least suffering?

All beings deserve to die with dignity and freedom from suffering. May we be willing midwives to them all.
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