Saturdays from hell and other tales from the dark side of vet medicine
It’s a good thing I got to bed early on Friday night. I’d had to. It had been a rough day of another round of rejections on a variety of projects (including the Vick piece for NPR, which was at least picked up by Veterinary Economics magazine, bless their good taste). I was dog-tired from the stress—and the appointment schedule for the following morning was booked to capacity in expectation of the usual long-weekend illnesses.
So when my Saturday began with a 6:16 wake-up call from a tearful client’s husband, I knew I was in for it. I was being asked to attend to a dying dog, oxygen cage-side, at the emergency hospital.
I had made a house-call the day before to check on Baxter when his soft stools turned bloody after a week of new treats. Not such a big deal for the average dog. But this big bulldog had serious upper respiratory issues. What’s worse, he was pushing the remarkable age of thirteen (for an English bully that’s rare). That’s when wife-client broke down and asked me: You’ll tell me when it’s time, Dr. K, won’t you? Looking at Baxter on Friday afternoon I’d had no cause to give her anything but blithe encouragement.
But now Baxter was on oxygen after he’d collapsed very early in the morning. His X-rays confirmed the advanced degree of respiratory disease he’d battled all his geriatric life. The fact that he required 100% oxygen to saturate his blood at a barely reasonable level was proof positive we’d reached the end.
I said all the helpful things I could—about how loved he was and how he needed to be given the chance to die as peacefully as possible. It was time, they agreed. I asked the emergency vet on duty (a good one I have an excellent rapport with) to place the largest, most secure IV catheter he could and to administer a whopping dose of a bronchodilator so he would survive the trip home to be euthanized near his brothers.
By eight AM (the time I was supposed to start seeing patients at the hospital) we were all at Baxter’s home-base bedside to say goodbye. We cried. We hugged one another. And then I gave the drugs…to no effect. The IV catheter had kinked and stalled—after half the required dose. Can you think of a worse nightmare? I can’t. It’s a stupid mistake worthy of a novice—I should have noticed the solution was going sub-Q.
So I sped back to the hospital for more drugs, knowing I’d risk not getting a complete dose into such a big dog without a whopping quantity at my disposal (I always bring a double dose but most of it had already gone under his skin before it became obvious that his catheter was useless.) At least Baxter was resting well with the sedation he’d already received.
Still, this was something of a crisis for me. I’d never been in this situation before and we’d all had tears streaming down our faces—prepared for imminent death—before it became obvious there’d been a hitch in our plans. Humans plan…God laughs. But I didn’t think there was anything funny about Baxter’s postponed demise—or the angry horde now waiting for me at work.
So I secured reinforcements before heading back to Baxter. Finally, it was done. But it wasn’t without all the stress, mess and tears of finding deep bulldog veins when most had already been sacrificed to the initial catheter’s probings.
It should’ve been all downhill from there, but the day got worse. That, however, is a story for another day. It’s much too much to have to recount it all in one post—much less, live it.