When we met, you were dying. Not in the existential ‘a little every day’ or a slow fade of light, but in the ‘Poo is hitting the fan, move. Now.’ kind of way.
I quickly went to work. Your eyes were screaming for help, and you let us. Thank you for letting us, I know it was scary.
I was able to find out what wasn’t going on: you weren’t bleeding out, your heart wasn’t failing. You were, I would later learn, crashing in septic shock.
Then I met your dad. His eyes were screaming even louder than yours. I ran him through everything I knew, and what I felt to be true. That elbow, the shock, a chance.
I saw my technicians getting your catheter in over your dad’s shoulder while I talked. One of them made eye contact with me, a silent conversation between us about what you needed, she nodded, and pushed two bags, steady, and calm. My other technician kept his hands on you the whole time. He talked you through the plan I was discussing with your dad, and what was going to be asked of you.
I had minutes to convince your dad to trust me, and then to take you and run. What you needed, I couldn’t give. I wasn’t sure anyone could in that moment, and I told him that. You deserved a chance.
A friend came at that moment, listened, and took the helm. She said to load both of you in her car, she was driving, she would pay, they could be at the ICU in under an hour if they left now, you deserved the chance.
You spent the next week in the ICU. My whole clinic read your SOAPs every day. Dad started a crowd funding page and the whole town chipped in. You kept going.
It would be months of recovery. Anonymous donations kept showing up on your account. You were in our clinic every other day. Your dad would talk to every person that was in the lobby about how I saved you.
It’s hard for me to own that. I sent you down the road, your dad was really doing the work with your oral meds, my technicians were doing laser on you.
Maybe there’s a lesson about knowing when we can’t help. My skills didn’t save you, my treatments bought you the hour you needed to go somewhere else. My greatest service was sending you away. You deserved to be saved and I couldn’t do it.
A few weeks ago your dad came in with wrapped presents. One for each person in the clinic. Thank you, each of you. Paw print charms, some on necklaces, some on earrings, a bracelet. Every single person put one on. Not because we all have the same taste, far from it, but because every single person cares about you.
I wear one on a necklace with one other charm, the ashes of my own dog. I couldn’t save him. But every time I see the charm on someone else, I’m reminded that we can win, and I want them to see that in me. I want every animal to listen to that silent conversation we had when I first looked in your screaming eyes, “I’m here to help”. I wear it to remind myself every time I look in the mirror, “This is why I practice”.
When we enter medicine we know, at some level, that we will never fully win. The greatest doctors of all time have never kept a patient alive forever. But we keep showing up, not to win the war, but to fight for ever small victory.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
About the Author
Dr. Hammond is a graduate of Ross University. She practices integrated small animal medicine in Gloucester, MA. When she’s not in the clinic she spends time traveling with her husband, on the ocean, or getting lost in the woods with her dogs.