Now at the end of Murphy’s life I write again about veterinarians. This is Part 2 of four parts. See Entry 6 for the first article.
Murphy is my beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She’s 13-1/2. And she’s dying.
I got at least 10 years longer with her than I expected. She had a lot of health issues early on, mostly bad vets, vaccinations, some odd things and many that are just the stuff of an exuberant, fun-filled life.
Somehow Murphy got old, and now she’s dying. They say splenic tumor but they’re wrong. It’s advancing old age complicated by bronchitis. The thing we went in for, before they found the tumor in December. Not quite two months ago.
Back to vets.
I won’t say anything about Murphy’s first vet, except that he’s the reason she had so many illnesses for the first two years of her life. Obviously, I figured that out and switched vets much earlier than that, but it took a long time to work through Murphy’s problems. She and I suffered through that. The damned vet didn’t.
Our second stop was the West Seattle Animal Hospital, where we met Dr. Glenn P. Johnson, medical director. It was a combination of frustration with our first vet—who couldn’t bother to see us when destructo puppy chewed up a used inhaler for migraine medicine—and a back injury that took us there.
But in the rotation of vets we didn’t see Dr. Johnson again. We saw another vet there, and Murphy had an infection that we couldn’t figure out. We suspected something like stump pyometra, an infection that spayed dogs can get. I wanted to do an ultrasound to pinpoint the problem. The vet told me that the mobile radiologist had one opening—and the vet was taking it for her own cat.
I understand the emotion and situation, but, really, when honesty is crass and unprofessional it really isn’t the best policy. It was clear I couldn’t trust the vet and I left that clinic and embarked on a tiring search for a great vet, which included alternative care and a host of things that helped Murphy get well. And so did I. But that’s another story.
Last year my neighbors were dealing with their own dying dog, an aging girl they wanted as long as possible. They, too, had tried various vets, who told them that the dog was very old and who didn’t support them in their choice of daily subcutaneous fluids to support her.
Again we see the paternalism that is rampant in our culture, particularly in the veterinary community. Ironically, they’ve caught up with the technology used in human care, but still cling to the ‘doctor knows best’ mentality that a lot of human doctors are finding isn’t respectful—and costs them money because people will just find someone who will listen and work with them.
Vets aren’t yet desperate enough to be human in their practices, so we’re left with the ones who are naturally that way and respect choice.
How We Got Back to A Former Vet
So when my neighbors heartily recommended Dr. Johnson—for his empathy, his patience with aging animals, and his skill—I decided that he was someone to check out.
And then Murphy coughed on Christmas Day, on her Cavalier brother’s tenth birthday, and I knew she needed to see someone the next day.
Going to our long-time favorite vet was out of the question: it takes a whole day just getting there and back, and we just needed vet care closer to home. I called the next morning and asked for Dr. Johnson. We saw him that day.
I liked him the minute he walked through the door. I appreciated his concern and thoroughness, his matter-of-fact approach. I choked back a laugh as I realized he had matured since we’d last seen him and realized that Murphy and I had, too: it had, after all, been 12 years.
After a thorough exam he suggested blood work to diagnose an infection. While I disliked spending the money, I had to appreciate the perspective of someone who hadn’t seen us in years and who wanted to be thorough. It made sense. When the tests were in we quickly put Murphy on antibiotics.
What Happened When It Got Complicated
Dr. Johnsons hesitated on the heart medication, didn’t think her heart was the issue.
But Murphy had been diagnosed with heart disease in October, kind of late for a Cavalier. Coughing was a symptom that she might need medication, so I was uneasy. I got it into my head that we needed a chest x-ray to prescribe heart medication.
Now I work was a professional intuitive, so I’m clearly open to information from outside sources. I became convinced that we needed a chest x-ray for her heart and that’s as deep as I went into it (a lesson in listening as closely for ourselves as we do for our clients). When Dr. Johnson called me back Wednesday afternoon after we’d missed each other several times, he promptly agreed. Not only did we do the x-ray a few hours later, but he carefully re-examined Murphy and heard the cough, which he hadn’t heard on our first visit.
“Is that the cough?” he asked, nodding at my confirmation. “It sounds bronchial,” he said, but he couldn’t hear any fluid in her airway. He picked her up, had her x-rayed, and then walked us out.
I was impressed, but the next few days turned me into a confirmed believer. It started with an early morning phone call, in which he carefully reviewed the radiologist’s overnight report on Murphy’s chest x-ray. A bit of fluid in the lungs, confirming bronchial issues, but no heart issues. However, Murphy had an abdominal mass, what they suspected was a splenic tumor, possibly cancer.
That meant Murphy was dying unless we operated on her, and maybe anyway. I was stunned. Part of me couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Another part honestly felt compassion for a man whose job involved delivering bad news, especially unexpected bad news. And admiration for how well he was doing it.
He was kind and thorough. I picked up the report that afternoon, so I could read it and understand it. The following week he met with me to look at the x-ray and discuss treatment options. He spent a half hour with me. Didn’t charge me. I ended up deciding we needed an ultrasound to get more information. To figure out what to do. That will be Part 3 of my four part series on vets.
The Bottom Line
Dr. Johnson took the time to treat Murphy and me. Both of us. He was thorough, honest, compassionate. Realistic. He balanced the cost of potential surgery against Murphy’s current illness and age. He didn’t urge surgery. He said to evaluate it based on her current condition, that it had to be my call. That was respectful. He has since seen Alki, my other Cavalier, and Grace the Cat. Same thorough care.
We are full circle at our house. We are back to a vet we saw when Murphy was a puppy. As it turned out, we didn’t have to go far from home: the clinic is 10 minutes away. We just went a long way in between: on a search for a vet who would offer support, advice, and expert knowledge balanced with consideration for the family bond between people and their animals.
A vet who would help us explore our choices, and be wise enough to support them. No bullying about what they wanted you to do.
What else can you ask?
Sure, it’s a whole lot easier for a vet to just tell you what to do, so you don’t have to second guess yourself about making the wrong decision. Yes, we make wrong decisions all the time. That’s human. Thank goodness, though, we’re not adding the paternal ‘do what I say’ toxic attitude.
We’re doing the right thing: exploring our options, choosing what works for Murphy, for me, for our family. I’m grateful we have a vet we can count on.
Next time: the radiologist. And the alternative vet.
© 2012 Robyn M Fritz