Loss: The Strictest Teacher

January 24, 2018
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I always have loved animals. Ever since I was toddler, when I asked my mother if I could keep one of the feeder goldfish we fed to my dad’s carnivorous Tiger Oscar. I never wanted to be a vet though. It would be too hard, I reasoned, to euthanatize someone’s pets. That changed though, once I saw firsthand disease inside of a pet.
“What was Rose’s blood test come through? Was it good?” My mother asked.

“Eh, so- so.” My aunt answered, instantly causing my heart to plummet. “Her liver enzymes are high. She has to go in for an x- ray on her liver.”
I can’t help it. The tears, I was holding back started to fall. If only I had known, that the blood results would have been the start. If only I had known, that the rest of the results would have been much worse.

Rose was still a young dog, ten months into her seventh year. Her black coat and white chest were beautiful, not a speck of gray among her dark fur. Always wagging, always happy. She was such a good girl. It’s hard to think of her, where she would never reach eight. It was as if Death himself, choose her as his victim, and snatched her prematurely into his dark clutches away from our loving hands.

I researched. My way of contributing, as if my knowledge alone, could give her a fighting chance. The results of all my research on her symptoms showed the same, cancer in the liver. We wouldn’t know for sure, until the x- ray came in, as how her liver looked would be defining symptom.  “It could just be a severe internal infection.” Our vet, Dr. Spindel, stated, refusing to show any emotion. “Or it could be something like cancer. Enlargement of the liver is a symptom for multiple things.” The x- ray showed just another symptom for liver cancer. Another tally on the mental list I had created. “The best way to know for sure is to do an ultrasound.” Dr. Spindel said, not coldly, just with a blunt statement of fact.

I wish the ultrasound never had to happen. That morning was a disaster, with the story my aunt would tell us later. Rose cut her tongue open in her sleep, her blood staining the bedspread and my aunt’s car. Later, the vet who would take over Rose’s case would reason that she had a seizure. Unfortunately, the day became so much worse. “The inside of the liver is showing multiple tumors. Most likely a carcinoma,” Dr. Weaver, the vet who did the ultrasound began.
“What if they are benign?” I said accusingly, speaking out. “What proof? Have you gotten a definite answer about what the tumors are?” I spoke angrily, as if Dr. Weaver was to blame.
“Well, from my experience, cancerous tumors look the way Rose’s do-“
“That don’t mean jack!” I screamed, “That isn’t proof, that’s an assumption! How dare you-“
“Nikkola!” My aunt barked, “Take a walk, now.”

I rose from my chair, defiant, angry at the world. I knew better than to argue though, so instead I lashed out at the other people outside of the small room , which was now our prison, until I reached the bathroom. When I look back, I shouldn’t have angrily spoke out about the evils of the world. I should have stayed and listened, so that I could support my aunt and Rose.

Once I returned, my mom and my aunt decided that it would be best to start the cancer fighting shots. Dr. Weaver explained that she would get a more definite answer from the lab and then would help us decide what was best for Rose’s cancer. She spoke with an unwavering voice, only to waver slightly, once she saw my hate-filled gaze.

When we started to leave, Rosie darted in front of us, wagging her tail and looking back at us, as if to say “Aren’t you coming? Let’s go home?” We got her settled at my aunt’s house, gave her the medication and watched as she fell asleep. That would be the last good day with Rose, before the cancer turned her into a shadow of herself.
It was that night, once I lay awake in my bed, staring at the ceiling of my bedroom, that I realized I wanted to help Rose. It was then, that I realized that my true calling wasn’t what I originally thought I wanted. No more would I want to be a marine biologist. What I wanted was simple; I wanted to help pets like Rose. I wanted to be a vet.

I continued to research, watching while Rose slowly died in front of our eyes. She was no longer active, she couldn’t control her bowls or her kidneys. She ate for a week, but only after adjusting her medication to a steroid, and discontinuing the shots. My aunt agreed that palliative care was best. Dr. Weaver said she had months to live. “I have one dog, which was even worse than Rose, and he is still alive to this day.” She said, smiling. “His diagnosis was almost eight months ago,” She was supposed to be able to come to the beach with us in Thanksgiving. Rosie didn’t get even a month after her diagnosis in late August.

My desire to make the playing field even for all animals continued to grow. I researched. I looked up ways to treat liver cancer in canines. By the time Rose would die, I knew more about the liver and its functions within the canine organ systems, than I ever dreamed of knowing. “Did you know that liver cells can regenerate? A dog can have over seventy five percent of its liver removed and it the liver can come back.” I might say at dinner, even in a conversation about something other than Rose. “A dog’s liver has more functions than a human’s liver. It connects to a lot of different organ systems in a dog,” I might say, when my parents and I were going grocery shopping. My family would smile at me, and indulge my thirst for knowledge, understanding that it was my way of denying that Rose was dying, but would not comment.

My mom and I would often discuss Rose at night. It made me feel better, to talk to someone. Aunt Cindy refused to acknowledge it and was already so upset.
“She isn’t a fighter,” my mom said, with a look in her eyes that would become a staple whenever she talked about Rose’s disease.
“Mom, “I whispered, even though it was just us and our dogs. It was as if saying it too loud would make my realization occur. “Rosie isn’t going to be at the beach with us this year, is she?”
I knew the answer, but hearing my mom nod her head while crying made me realize. Rose wasn’t going to be with us. No matter how optimistic we were, Rose wasn’t going to survive this. She had survived so much. When she was just a puppy, she nearly died of a severe infection. My mom and my aunt had fostered her and her three siblings. My parents would adopt Rose’s sister, Angel, and Aunt Cindy would adopt Rose. We are a close family, so Rose wasn’t just my aunt’s dog, she was everyone’s dog.

My aunt would make multiple emergency trips to the vet.  The most notable would be would be three days before Rose would leave us. Like the morning of her ultrasound, Rose began to bleed again. The bleeding was stopped and her prescriptions of painkillers, sedatives, and steroids would increase. However, we would once again bring Rose in as an emergency, after she began to not be able to walk, and began to lose more weight, practically overnight. My mom and I were prepared to make sure my aunt didn’t stay with her. We were sure that it was the day; we would have to put her to sleep. The vet on call gave her some fluids and said that she still had a lot of time. Only later would we find out from Dr. Spindel that we should have never left the clinic with Rose.
It wasn’t until three days later, a week before her birthday, that Rose would die. She didn’t die peacefully. If we had euthanized her at the last vet visit, three days earlier, she wouldn’t have died in my home. My aunt had dropped her and her other dog off at our house, as she had a business trip she couldn’t get away from. Rose began to plummet.

My dad would wake me up, and have me come attempt to give Rose her oral medication. Rose was vomiting, but we couldn’t take her to the vet, because I had a doctor’s appointment. We got the Rose to lay down and the vomiting slowed. I gave her the medication, kissed her, and gave her a big hug. She licked me, and I didn’t care that she had vomited. My dad and I planned to take her to the vet after my appointment, and were aware that it was most likely her last appointment. We never got to take her to the vet, the lick she gave me was her last lick. 
When we came home, Rose was already gone.

I remember crying and calling her name. Denying, begging for her not to be dead. She couldn’t be. Not my sweet, sweet Rosie. Not the pup I had held in my hand when I was eight, hoping that she would beat the infection. Not the dog that was willing to give you kisses, hugs, and cuddles, no matter how she felt. Not an essential part of my family.

But she was gone. It didn’t feel real, not for a long time. Not when we received her ashes from the crematorium, not when you walked into my aunt’s house and there was two of every toy, but only one dog. Not until Thanksgiving, when as I lay on my foldout bed in our travel trailer and instead of three dogs beside me there were only two, my dog and Angel. There was no Rose. Rose, the sweet puppy who fought off an infection that everyone believed she would die from, was no longer on this plain with us.

Losing Rose taught me several things. One, being optimistic doesn’t always work. We were told to be hopeful, hopeful for Rose to live longer than a couple weeks. That wasn’t the case. Two, that old adage, “Things happen for a reason,” is true. If Rose hadn’t died, I would have never found out what I wanted to do as a career. As much as I wished she hadn’t died, I know that it taught me several things about myself. Three, fearing death is pointless. When I was a child, I feared euthanasia. I feared that it would take away the non- human members of my family. I figured that if I couldn’t accept euthanasia, I couldn’t be a vet. Watching her die her slow death, didn’t just hurt her. When she suffered, my entire family, myself included, suffered. It was agonizing. Euthanasia would have let her “go gently into that good night” as Dylan Thomas would say. She wouldn’t have died in agony. She wouldn’t have had to “rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

I love Rose still. It has been only several months, but I know that the pain of losing her will always be there. Just like losing my grandparents and the other members of our four- legged family that have left us because of old age. I still love them, just as I still love her. Losing Rose was an essential part of what made me realize my dreams. Her memory will have a tribute for what she has done is great, saintly even. Once I open my own vet clinic, I have several ideas for the name of it. All of them pay tribute to Rose, which is what she deserves. No matter what I call it, Rose’s memory will be major part of my career.

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