It’s a quiz on Facebook. It’s a plot point in every time travel movie. The thought of it might keep you awake at night. Do you want to know the day that you’ll die? Do you want to plan? Have time to travel? Spend all of your money? Say everything you need to say? Or do you want to live your life enjoying the present? I read somewhere that dogs live mostly in the present. They don’t anticipate the future; they don’t dwell too much on the past. They enjoy the sun when it shines, the food when it appears, and the blanket when they sleep. It’s a good lesson, enjoying the present.
Phoebe had just turned 12 this spring and had a really soft cough (I know I know, I can hear the grimacing from those of you who have been in practice as long as I have) after drinking water. My first thought was maybe she had a touch of laryngeal paralysis and was maybe getting some water down her trachea. I switched her to a harness and we went on our way. She continued to hike steep trails for 10 miles at a time and still outrun the younger dogs at the park. On a Thursday she started coughing when she exerted herself at all, like standing up after a nap or after racing laps around the house when I picked up her leash. No big deal, brought her to work the next day to have someone take a peek at her.
Dr. Josh Cruz, who I have known since his two week externship at DoveLewis when he was a baby vet student, was working and he took and look and a listen. He didn’t hear anything exciting. We talked about maybe a touch of aspiration pneumonia, no one was too concerned. As I was clipping her leash on her to leave I asked if maybe we should take radiographs. He shrugged his shoulders and said “Probably. We’ll feel better if we know.” Chantal was around to help out and we took my dog to radiology. When the lateral view came up on the screen all of my knowledge drained out of my head. I remember thinking that her lungs looked “busy”. Good job VTS (ECC). Busy. I don’t know what Chantal was thinking but she thankfully said nothing as I, in full-on robot mode, then took the VD view. I walked back into treatment and pulled up the rads on the monitor and waited for Josh to come back and tell me she had a touch of pneumonia and she should be on some clavamox.
I started to figure things out as I saw the reactions of my coworkers walk by. I didn’t believe it until Josh winced and simply said ‘I’m so sorry’. Mets. Everywhere. Like really bad. Josh switched to Dr. Cruz mode and started talking staging and ultrasound and CT and biopsy and oncology. All I could do was shake my head. No. I don’t need to know. I know it’s bad, I don’t need to know where it came from. Phoebe was blissfully unaware; the least I could do was not bring her down.
In my typical procrastinating fashion, I had a super fun weekend planned consisting of working on lecture proceedings. In one of my finer decision making moments I ditched my responsibilities and took Phoebe to the coast on Saturday. I didn’t want what I knew to put a damper on our time but it’s hard to make a trip like that knowing you don’t have many more left. I could tell she wasn’t as crazy insane as usual, but she loved it. She chased seagulls, dug in the sand, ran through the waves, and climbed the rocks. I watched her through tears, grateful that living in the present meant she was only enjoying herself, not thinking about cancer. On the way home we stopped at Dairy Queen and split a cheeseburger and of course Phoebe got her own ice cream cone which she wasted no time eating.
Arriving home in the afternoon we took a nap together on my bed. She ate all of her dinner. I was on the couch with a book and when Phoebe tried to join me she fell over and collapsed on the floor. I knew instantly. Her face went from the dog I loved to the face of fear and pain. She looked like so many ICU patients that I treat; I knew that look. Half an hour later she was gone. As peaceful as one can hope for, she was gone.
I could not have planned a better last day for Phoebe had I known it would be her last. We lived in the present. We enjoyed the sun and the water and ice cream; she chased birds and smelled all of the best smells. I didn’t stress about work or what was waiting for me. I listened to what dogs are trying to teach us. Just stop and enjoy where you are. I still procrastinate. I still have lecture proceedings that I will no doubt be working on this weekend. But I try to think a little less about what could be and focus more on what is, and what is amazing about what currently is.
Give a little more love to all of your patients. Even the crabby ones. Show a little more compassion to all of your clients. Even the crabby ones. Enjoy what you are doing right now, because it’s an awesome job that we all get to do. Phoebe would approve.