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Ode To Moses

Ode to MosesOde to MosesOde to MosesJanuary 21, 2011Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

Yesterday evening I was involved in a discussion about Quality of Life, a topic that all of us in veterinary medicine must address at some point, with some patient…sometimes multiple patients, multiple times a day depending on the type of practice. So we were discussing what quality of life meant to us as individuals, all of us admitting it really is a concept that had to be determined by that certain family, for that specific pet. On the heels of that conversation, I woke up thinking of Moses.

Moses was a shepherd mix of some sort, with perky ears, and multiple shades of brown on his shaggy coat. He could have been mistaken for any ‘ole mutt, except for the plastic tube that hung out of one side of his abdomen.

You see, Moses had megaoesophagus, probably for his entire life. I met him as a young adult, tube and all. It was a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube that had been placed so that his owners, two of the most devoted pet owners I’ve ever known, could deliver his feedings of gruel directly into his stomach. Moses was a happy dog; he had a good quality of life, really good in fact, because of his doting parents and love for people in general.

He was so energetic and playful that at times he would accidentally yank his tube right out! Whether playing in the backyard, or running around the house, it would get snagged and Moses would be tubeless. So he’d come see us in the internal medicine practice and we’d replace the tube so he could continue on with his rambunctious self.

He lived well over nine years in this fashion. It never seemed to occur to him that he was different, that he should be eating with his mouth rather than receiving deliveries of gruel with a loaded feeding syringe multiple times a day. For him, every day was an adventure that he was happy to greet with a doggy smile on his face.

That’s not to say Moses didn’t have his problems. His megaoesophagus was so severe that even the natural accumulation of saliva in his mouth couldn’t always be swallowed. On occasion, he would contract aspiration pneumonia, and he would need to stay with us for a few days to receive antibiotics and nebulizing treatments. He was always the model patient, never fussy or flighty, and we all came to love him deeply.

My job was not to personally deliver medical care to Moses, but to be the liaison between Moses’ family and our practice, and Moses’ internist. Over the years I came to love his parents as much as him—an outgoing, wonderful woman and quiet, gentle man, who loved Moses beyond words.

Last night, we also discussed end-of-life situations and conversations. Eventually, during a particularly tough battle with aspiration pneumonia in Moses’ later years of life, it was time to have this conversation with Moses’ parents. He just wasn’t bouncing back this time, and each day became more of a struggle for him. His smile had faded.

His parents understood, and chose to end his suffering with euthanasia. I’ll never forget that day, or our last request of his parents: Would they mind if we gave him an ice cube to munch on, let him eat a bite of food, as a last treat to a brave dog that was denied the ability to eat most all his life.

In those moments of watching him munching, the smile back on his face, we celebrated. Moses’ life, his legacy, and the lesson of love his family had taught us. Quality of life, such as the life Moses lived, is worth remembering.

Posted: January 21, 2011, 12:50 p.m., EDT1/21/2011 9:47 AM
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