A Sad Shift

Working in an animal hospital can be sad sometimes. The other morning, an older man and his wife came in with their dog for an appointment. Unbeknownst to all of us, they’d decided to euthanize the dog so it wouldn’t suffer anymore. The man came up to pay, catching us off guard. I was running his card when he said to me or to no one at all, “26 years in the Marine Core and I’m crying like this…”

After a bout of confusion, I somehow ended up in the room alone with the dog, because they couldn’t bear to be there when it happened. As they left, the dog watched through the door and arose, as if he thought he may scrape one last chance to go home with them, bark at cars in parallel traffic lanes or live out his days chewing pairs of comfortable slippers.  I slowly closed the door—I wasn’t sure if it was so much for him or for me. I couldn’t bear to see them leave either. But the dog’s name was Dusty, and I wanted to be there for him.  I needed him to be there for me.

The tears began to fall and all I could do was just pet him. Sitting beside him felt so magnificent, like I was in the company of hero or a very old man who’d done extraordinary things, warranting saluted envy and awe. His eyes looked terrified and all-knowing too. He knew. He knew that I knew he was going to die, and I wonder now if he hated me for sitting there, pretending that everything was alright. You have to wonder what another living organism must think of us in such close proximity, in our narcissistic state—always helping, coaxing, pretending it’ll be okay. I would have hated me. But then I got to thinking that if I were dying, I wouldn’t like someone to be there beside me if they were only filled with fear. I’d want to be surrounded by warm wishes and beauty. I’d want to depart thinking that someone cared enough to be joyful for my breathing, joyful for my clarity, and joyful for my earthly presence. So I cried even more and bent down to kiss him on the top of his head.

Dr. Taylor and a technician came in shortly afterward and I wiped my tears away. We shared the dog’s last moments together. I’d been on the clock for less than an hour.

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