Saturday, September 26, 2009

A humbling experience

When I walked into U. of Tennessee's vet clinic this week, I really had no idea what to expect. My mother traveled with me for the first appointment on Monday. Immediately, when we got there, we saw a couple crying. My mom's words were, "this isn't a good sign." I took note, hoping I would not be one of those people.

We both took a seat in the "so-called" waiting room which really reminded me of one of my old college classroom buildings where there were many chairs and seats on one side of the hall and lecture rooms on the opposite side. Only this time, it was exam rooms which were teeny tiny. Obviously, I knew where their funding went (a good sign really), and it was not towards an elaborate waiting room!

After Baxter was taken back to run labs and other tests, I took a seat in the waiting room. Much like other medical waiting rooms, since it is an open area, it is easy to hear conversations going on unless people are virtually whispering. It was interesting, because on one hand, the atmosphere was lively with people chatting about why their beloved pets were there, but on the other hand, the ambiance reminded me of a human
NICU unit, a pediatrics ward, or a surgical ICU. Everyone there is literally waiting for answers, holding their breath for good news, wishing their pets did not have to be there.

In the two days while I was there, I overheard many stories. There was a man who said his
german shepherd had a gum disease and had to have all his teeth pulled. It was either that or to be euthanized, and he could not do that. There was another woman whose 4 year old Cavalier was battling lymphoma. He was going through his second or third round of chemotherapy. She was determined not to give up on him. Another couple had a great pyrenees mix with a tumor on her leg. One woman had a cute pomeranian puppy who looked like a stuffed teddy bear. I think he was there for a digestion disorder. It was a good thing he was cute, because, he was "litttle cujo" in wanting to snap at people.

The rest of the cases I heard ranged from seizures to melanoma to other forms of cancer, and even "fat" cat weight loss studies. I also saw a
cockatiel brought in as well. This isn't real abnormal for major veterinary teaching hospitals. There is always a wide array of species and illnesses, and people sometimes come as their last hope or to receive treatment they cannot get elsewhere. There are always pros and cons to teaching hospitals, and I had to remember that it was okay to see a 4th year vet student on initial history intake (though being her first day, I was slightly concerned). I admit I tend to get a little biased in wanting to see a "real" doctor, but at the same time, I also had to remember to give that person a chance as everyone has to start somewhere and learn. Later, I saw the vet intern who consulted with the neurology specialist whom I found to be quite knowledgeable.

I remember thinking when I was there, waiting for Baxter's test
results, that I was not going to cry if it was bad news. And really for 3/4 of the trip, I did not. I took in all the comments said, spoke matter-of-factly about what I wanted or didn't want, and the vet obliged my requests. It wasn't until after I saw the MRI scan and was back in the waiting room, thinking and researching gliomas on my blackberry that I began to think too much. The running thoughts in my head were 1) I was not ready to let him go and 2) I could not imagine my life without him. And from that point, there were tears in my eyes. I'd wipe them away, only to have more forming. I never sobbed uncontrollably, but I had way more tears than I expected.

When the vet came out to talk with me about medication alternatives to phenobarbital, I had to make a decision on the fly, and I hated that. I had limited information on the medications in general, so I didn't have time to pick apart the minute details of them. I decided to go with
zonisamide, though more expensive, had virtually no side effects. We spoke more about the biopsy and if it was a glioma. I remember telling Dr. R., "if it is a glioma, I would really like to see about enrolling him in the UMN study. Other than this and the mast cell tumor, he has been very healthy. I think this is worth trying, because (gulp) I'd really like to see him stick around for a few more years." I said all this holding back tears in my eyes, though I know they were certainly evident.

It took me quite a long time to regain composure. It really wasn't until halfway through my car ride home that I seemed to be okay. For whatever reason, I tend to cry in the car the most. I guess it feels like a somewhat private place.

The thing I take back most from this entire trip was what a humbling experience it was. Everyone was there for different reasons, but the same cause--to get their companion(s) better. It reminded me a lot of how much people love their pets and how these pets were lucky to have this opportunity, as not everyone can. Even my regular vet said that he does not refer out often, but that he knew how much I loved Baxter.

I don't know what future trips will hold whether it is to UT again or
UMN or another place. My feeling is that although it will never be any easier, I still hold out hope for the best, whether this might be in continuing treatment, discontinuing treatment, or in the ultimate decision of letting go.

Note--*This is my 500th post!


Lola Snow said...

Oh Tiptoe, I don't know what to say. Just *Hugs* and know that I'm thinking of you.

Lola x

emily sam said...

Hi, hun. My family is currently battling with a sick pet/family member. He's 15 and was just diagnosed with diabetes, but there is something else as well that we cannot currently test to find out what it is because we don't have his blood levels under control yet.

I know how difficult it is to go through this. I really hope Baxter will be okay. But, like my mom keeps telling me, animals will go through exactly whatever it is they need to. I'll keep him in my thoughts :)

Kristina said...


I think you are amazing, just amazing. After only having our dogs, Gus and Milo, in my life for only 8 months or so, I really can't imagine what things would be like without their presence. Baxter is lucky to have you, and I hope that he is okay. I also hope that you are taking care of yourself in every way that you can.

- Kristina

Tiptoe said...

Thanks for the thoughts, everyone.

Lola, I appreciate your hugs.

Emily, so sorry your dog is dealing with diabetes plus something else. I hope they get get his blood levels under control to determine what else is going on. It's so tough on our animals to have to deal with this.

Kristina, yes, once you have a dog or two, your life is never the same, and you can't imagine living without them. I think that is part of their work here on this earth.

Thanks for the compliment. So far, I'm doing okay. Just kind of waiting until tomorrow when it'll be a storm of phone calling back and forth and such.

Dr. Deb said...

I find when my pets get ill, I fall apart like a house of cards. I love them so much.

My heart goes out to you as you move through this. It is so hard.