When is it time? Veterinarians and their families struggle with that too. Here is our story.
In November 2016, our dog Murphy’s hind end collapsed and he began dragging his hind legs especially worse on the left side. This always happens when his owner/vet is away on vacation! I put him in the car and we drove to the Mississauga Oakville Veterinary Emergency and Referral Hospital where, after Murphy enjoyed a night in a hotel, he was seen by a wonderful neurologist named Dr. Finnen. After a full assessment and MRI imaging of his spine, it was determined that Murphy had two invasive spinal lesions which were causing his neurological symptoms- most likely cancer-but further tests would be necessary to definitively diagnose. While Dr. Finnen was going over the results, my mind was in a fog and I asked if I could take notes as I knew Chad would want all the details. The words I will never forget hearing were “I’m not going to sugar coat this. It’s not good.” With that, the amazing staff helped me load Murphy into the car and after a tear-filled call to Chad, Murphy and I headed back to Sudbury.
We anxiously waited for the report from Dr. Finnen so Chad could go over the notes in detail. The decision we needed to make was if we would biopsy Murphy’s lesions so we could definitively know what disease he had and what type of therapy-surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy he may need. The biopsy would involve invasive surgery going through his abdomen to access the lesions. It was not an easy decision. Like each one of you, we wanted to do the best thing for our pet and give him the best quality of life, for the time he had left. We decided that given that he may not have much time left, we would forgo the biopsy and keep him comfortable and pain free as possible. We initiated several therapies for inflammation and pain and crossed our fingers.
Decisions like this are so hard, because when you are the veterinarian you’re supposed to know exactly what to do. We did not. We used what information we had and lead with our heart.
We are now here 7 months later and over the last week Murphy has deteriorated. Again, this happened when Chad had left town! Lol Over the long weekend, Murphy began to be very quiet, not moving much and really having difficulty walking. His abdomen was distended and he was panting. He seemed uncomfortable. Was this the time? Yes. No. Yes. No. It is so hard to know. We brought him to our hospital and after an ultrasound, abdominal Xray and blood work we are on a day by day basis. We have added more pain medications to keep him comfortable. He seems to have perked up a little. Most importantly, he still gets excited about his meals and wags his tail when we come in the room and those two things, as any Golden Retriever owner knows, are the essence of their being…food and family :). We are on a day to day basis with him.
Deciding when to help your pet cross over that Rainbow Bridge is never an easy or straightforward decision. It is one filled with doubt, guilt, sadness, empathy, kindness and questioning. We want our clients to know that we get it…. veterinarians and their families have the same hard time making life and death decisions with their pets too. I’m sure Murphy knows we will make the right decision for him when the time comes.