Today was one of those days that makes my job more difficult than the average person. I had the responsibility of euthanizing an animal who had reached the end of her time here on earth. She had excellent care throughout her 18 year life but the body had finally worn out. It was a rough day. As I was driving home and thinking about her, it occurred to me that veterinarians deal with death routinely as part of our daily work life. For whatever reason, it was kind of a revelation. I've been doing this job for nearly 19 years and never thought about in the same context before. It is something that a person experiences when losing family members or friends but on average this isn't a regular occurrence. Veterinarians deal with death routinely but it is never routine. It is the end to a life that was spent with some purpose whether it was to be a loving pet to a family or a service dog for the handicapped. It is the end to the beautiful animal that we had the opportunity to share our lives with who gave us comfort and happiness during their short time with us. Something not to be taken lightly.
I read an aritcle in The New England Journal of Medicine (Treadway, 357;13) a few years back that discussed the end of human life from the perspective of an intern. The article discussed a busy hosptial and the routineness of a "code". Everyone swarms into the room, tries to revive the patient with death often the outcome, they leave and move onto the next patient . During all this, they are trying to remove their fear of what they were actually doing-trying to save a life. If they thought about the shear responsibility they had of saving that life, they might fail at what they were trained to do. During one of her experiences of a failed code, she was the last to leave the room and repeated a phrase she remembered from church "may choirs of angels greet thee at thy coming." It was a way to acknowledge the loss of a soul here on earth who she had a part in trying to save.
Since reading this article, I always think of those words when an animal has taken it's last breath and is free from it's malady here on earth. I hope there are angels awaiting to greet them or that a gatekeeper is waiting at the bridge to give them a shiny new collar or a new furry mouse. Wherever their souls go, I long for it to be a happy place and they are rewarded for their time spent here to enrich our lives.