Yesterday, I sent my childhood friend of 18 years over the rainbow bridge. I’ve lost pets before, but none since I started my career in veterinary medicine. I’ve come away from this experience as a changed Technician, and I believe it to be for the better. Here are just a few of the things that changed my perspective.
1. I carry a new burden of responsibility.
When we lost our dog 10 years ago, I was in high school. The decision was based on the recommendation of the medical staff, and it was made as a family. The weight of that decision was shared among the four of us, and was guided by compassionate Veterinarians and Technicians that we trusted. Now, I am the Technician that my family trusts and looks to for guidance.
As Veterinary professionals, we all get the usual influx of calls, texts, and messages from friends and family asking for medical advice. But when it comes to quality of life and whether or not to say goodbye, suddenly the weight of being a Veterinary Technician is much heavier. The weight is both an honor and a burden. I know how much it meant to my family to have someone they trusted to look to for advice and guidance and answers. I know it meant my cat was spoken for in the best possible way. I am honored that I am trusted and that my family recognizes how valuable my knowledge and experience are. The decision to let our cat go was one that was made as a family, but the guidance and suggestions came from me. That was a new weight for me to carry, and I didn’t realize until now just how heavy it would be.
2. Grieving looks different outside of the hospital.
As a Veterinary Technician, I feel I can confidently say I’ve witnessed the full spectrum of grief within an animal hospital. But what I learned is that the experience of grief changes outside of the walls of the hospital. I easily participate in at least two or three euthanasias per day at my job. I always admire people for their strength and their ability to make the difficult decisions that need to be made. But what I don’t let myself think about is everything those people experienced up until the moment they are sitting on the couch in front of me, and everything they will go through as soon as they leave the hospital without their loved one.
Honestly, it’s something I can’t afford to think about – my emotional capacity won’t allow for it. But in saying goodbye to my own cat, I experienced it firsthand. There was sadness, there was anger, there was doubt, blame, camaraderie, isolation, love. I felt the weight of all of these emotions, many of which were even directed at me specifically in my unique role as the guidance counselor for my family. We all grieve differently, and I know this, we all know this. But we only witness a limited spectrum of grief in our work. This experience offered me a reminder of just how much people endure prior to euthanasia and afterwards – those parts we don’t see. As a Technician, it has made me respect pet owners for their difficult and compassionate decisions even more than I already did.
3. It’s important to have a plan.
I knew this already. I tell clients on a regular basis to have one ahead of time. But I learned firsthand just how important it truly is. My cat was in chronic renal failure. We were lucky in that she lived with it comfortably for over 3 years. But we said from the start we would never do subcutaneous fluids at home. We had tried it on numerous occasions, but every single time she would fight and cry and growl and struggle and then hide under the bed for the rest of the day. Fluids are brilliant for many, many cats. But they just weren’t right for ours. It wasn’t what we wanted for her. We made this decision as a family years ago, shortly after her diagnosis, and we were confident in it, because it was made in her best interest. In the past couple weeks, when she started to decline quickly, we lost perspective and were grasping for straws because we weren’t ready to lose her. But the decision not to do daily fluids had already been made, and we could look back and know that our reasons were valid.
Had we been presented with that decision in the moment, when she was struggling and we were emotional, our choice may have been different. Without the plans we made ahead of time, we may not have had the strength to make the right decision for our cat. As a Veterinary Technician, I’ve always said that I lose all sense of reason when it comes to my own pets. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it also could not have been more true in this scenario. The plans we set in place ahead of time helped me just as much (if not more) than they did the rest of my family.
4. I have plenty to learn.
I thought I understood CKD. I thought I knew what my stance on quality of life was. I thought I knew what the options were and how it would all happen. I was wrong. Experiencing something like this with your own pets gives you a deeper and more thorough understanding of it. Talking to my family about all of the different medical conditions our cat was experiencing and what we could and couldn’t do for her gave me new perspective into how difficult it can be to process information in an emotional situation.
I know that my ability to communicate with clients will be stronger and clearer. I know that my thoughts about euthanasia and quality of life will be even more confident. I know that my level of compassion and patience has grown. I know that I have plenty more to learn, and I also know that I am a much better Technician today than I was a few months ago. I’ve learned things about myself, about my family, and about my career that will aid me greatly in years to come.
5. I work with beautiful people.
I’ve always admired my coworkers and the amazing work that they do. They are a group of compassionate, patient, brilliant, and genuine people, and I feel honored every day to work alongside them. Through this experience, I’ve grown to appreciate them that much more. In the past few months, I have leaned on my coworkers in ways I’ve never needed to before. I cannot count the number of texts I sent or the hours of conversations I had.
Each of my teammates spoke from both their medical knowledge and their personal experiences. They comforted me in ways I cannot describe. In a period of time in which I felt my family was looking to me for answers, I was looking to them. My logic had gone out the window and been replaced with emotion and doubt, but they were there to be the voice of reason for me. I consider myself to be a pretty independent and confident person, but in the face of incredibly difficult decisions surrounding my cat and her quality of life, that was challenged. My coworkers were there for me when I truly needed them, and I was able to experience a side of them that is usually reserved for clients.
These are absolutely beautiful people I work with. They are selfless and supportive, and I was lucky to be on the receiving end of that. I’ve always thought of many of my coworkers as friends, but I now see them as family. I know for a fact I would not have been able to do this without the love and guidance they gave me, and it has exponentially increased the respect I already had for each of them.
I owe a lot to my cat. I grew up with her. She gave me 18 years of friendship and love. I am eternally grateful for her life and the honor of being a part of it. There is something to be learned from every relationship, and I think some of the most important lessons come from our pets. Thank you, Kiwi. Even in your final days, you made me a better person.