When I first started working at the animal hospital it was an overwhelming experience, yet powerful. The first couple of weeks were an adjustment. When I came home my mom would ask me how work was and my usual response would be something along the line of “Great! Nothing died today!” or, “I need a pack of cigarettes.”
At first I doubted I could last. But, I persevered because I felt that I had to.
Sure there was blood, and gore, and death. Some days I just had to emotionally disconnect in order to survive. But, I developed a new outlook, I noticed that the smaller dramas of life didn’t seem to matter as much anymore when you’re helping others stay alive or pass on. The worst day was also the day I found absolute strength to continue to help, with grace.
That worst day, was actually at night. I remember it was a late appointment that was open for emergencies and sometimes we got a few and other times we didn’t. That night I was working with my favorite doctor, Dr. Harris, whom reminded me of my old best friend. I always thought of us as a really great team of healers together. We got an emergency in of a 4 year old Rottie whom the owner accidentally fell on top of and now he couldn’t move. When they arrived I noticed he was a happy smiling beautiful black and tan. The whole family was there and the seven of us crammed into the exam room. We tied a towel around his waist to hoist him up to check his back and we realized he had no bladder control. Bad sign. Dr. Harris poked at his back and then tried to pinch his toes for a response. No response. It was with a great sadness that there was nothing to be done; he was paralyzed, if he was a person he would be in a wheelchair. Surgery would have been thousands of dollars and because he had no feeling in his toes there was no guarantee of any recovery.
They were told it was best to let him go.
I wanted to cry, but I had to remain stoic. I followed Dr. Harris into the back where they kept the euthanasia. I found it ironic that the very substance used to take life, is a bright pink. Of course such a substance is locked away and handled with great care because it instantly kills cells. If you get any on your fingers, those cells on your fingers will start to die. We went back into the room. The three kids said goodbye and didn’t want to be there for when we proceed. Mom and Dad stayed. He was too heavy to put up on the table, so, we all sat on the floor. I tried to tell them how sorry I was, how unfair and what a shitty situation that this had to happen. It didn’t make any sense because rotties can be practically hit by cars and be fine. A simple freak accident caused such devastation. It didn’t help either that he was such a nice dog. It made me reflect back to all the people I knew who died young, how amazing people they were, and I felt jaded because this life is so unfair and the good ones die young. I wanted to run away, I wanted to cry, I wanted to smoke cigarettes till my lungs hated me, but I stayed. I helped hold off the vein as my teammate and mentor sedated him and once he was subdued in a tranquil haze of sedatives, we helped him pass on.
The term dead weight never really made sense to me until I started working with the dead. It’s as if your soul makes you light and when it’s gone your shell is more like an unmovable stone. Thankfully the techs helped me out. I obsessed on the thought of death the rest of the evening as we closed up the hospital for the night. I went to my mentor and I asked her how do vets not go home and drink themselves to sleep at night. She laughed and said that’s an appropriate response. She looked at me and said how that there was no help for that doggie. I told her that my ruminations made me realize that if death was a predestination and we all had a when and where, or, if it was like quantum physics… everything exploding and imploding in on themselves with no rhyme or reason, did not make any which theory more comforting. But after that worst day, all the rest of the deaths that I have had to help with, I do now with a grace that I found after that worst day.
It took a few months, but I noticed new life breathing into me. I became transformed. I couldn’t pin point how or when it happened, but after a late night reflection, I realized that taking care of something that is beyond yourself makes you a more caring person. I finally felt needed in a way that I had never felt before. All the animals needed some help. They needed to be cared for, and in return that caring spread to every single faucet of my life.
Now, I’m not saying everyone should go out into the world and start helping the animals (I mean it would be really great! But I know for a lot of people it’s just not their thing, and that’s okay.) but if you could figure out a great way to care for something else besides yourself, I believe by helping others, it helps you too. Whether is be caring for children, nature, or even just other people. Take care.
I remember reading Eckhart Tolle and his observations on finding enlightenment through the suspension of your ego. One remark that struck me was that the people, whom really find their purpose, as well as, are the best at their jobs, are the ones who in that moment while they are working have a suspended ego. It is not about looking inward and thinking always about yourself, but to suspend your ego is to focus on something outside of yourself. Caring for others, animals, people, nature, things… suspend your ego, and that is how you connect to the universal energies that lie beyond the ego.
Helping animals has changed me. I am so very thankful to have started a new chapter in my life.