As many of my readers know, my 14-year-old cat Rosy (the red Somali), is now a patient of our local home pet hospice that was founded by my amazing friend and fellow veterinary technician, Valarie Hajek-Adams, CVT.
What makes her amazing? Well of course after 35 years in “the biz,” she is a phenomenal veterinary technician. But that’s not all. She’s also amazing with the human members of the families she helps. Caring for the animal is second nature for her, and under the direction of the veterinarian of the hospice, she administers palliative care and monitors the quality of life for her patients. Working with the human family members, however, is another thing altogether.
We all have to work with the pet owners when they need our services, and some of us are good at it, some not so great, some really like helping the owners, some merely do it to get the opportunity to help the animal. But hospice is a whole different thing. These owners need emotional support as much or more than the animal needs medical care.
I find myself in the same situation with Rosy. Overall she’s doing pretty well, but that doesn’t stop me from incessant worry. Part of the issue is that we’re not exactly sure what’s wrong with Rosy. Her renal values were a bit high (Creat 2.9, BUN 49), so we wondered about renal failure…but her values really aren’t high enough to account for her symptoms.
Then another veterinarian suspected a GI issue because of her intermittent vomiting and soft stools, plus a major and rapid decline in her weight…maybe lymphoma? Likely infiltrative because no mass was palpated, and I made the decision not to pursue ultrasound and/or full thickness biopsy surgery. However I am fighting the urge to recheck her kidney values, just to “know” more. Will it change how she is doing at home? No, and I realize that…but it’s still difficult. If it didn’t stress Rosy out so much, I’d probably take her in. Yet overall she is drinking well, has a good appetite, but she did vomit a few times last week so I administered an injection of Cerenia. The next step? Steroids for the suspected lymphoma. Why am I hesitating? I’m not sure.
And then there’s my fixation on her weight. She’s gone from an 8.5 cat to a 6.9 mere wisp of a kitty, all in just a few months’ time. One of the last times I spoke with Valarie about Rosy, I told her of my desire to get her weighed—we don’t have a great way of weighing her at home down to the accuracy of ounces, so it would involve a trip to the vet, which is somewhat stressful for Rosy, but not overly so.
When I told Valarie I want to weigh her again (about a week after her last check), indeed felt this overbearing need to weigh her again, she requested that I spend some time figuring out why the weight is such an obsession of mine. I hadn’t really thought of it that way, so I pondered, and responded that I have this fear that she’s just slipping away from me, almost a physical shrinking of her presence in my life, which will of course end in her leaving altogether. I half expected Valarie, in this situation, to say “Well, Silly, quit obsessing because you’re not going to change anything by weighing her!”
Instead, she said that if that is what I need, to weigh her when I want to, then do it. She is used to this, you see, giving the family what they need, to get through the slow decline of their pets and realization of the eventual loss.
And in reality, isn’t this what all pet owners need, this kind of support? Someone to help them think through their feelings, and search for what will help them deal with the reality their pet is facing, whether it be death, or surgery, or hospitalization, or even vaccinations? Pet owners come to us with some measure of fear, in my opinion, no matter what service they are seeking. Even the client with the new puppy is scared, frightened of doing the wrong thing, of not knowing how to raise this pup into a healthy dog that lives a long life, and behaves so that it will live happily with the family. The wellness exam is easy for us to take for granted, I mean “it’s just shots,” but to pet owners this is a scary time when their pets will have to endure discomfort, and the doctor may find something wrong.
Always look for whatever measure of fear these pet owners are presenting (or hiding!) and find a way to support them the best you can…this is what we’re here for, really, so we can bridge that gap of fear and provide care to their beloved pets.
P.S. Remember I said Rosy was glad the holidays are over? Well, check out the photo, and you’ll see why!