“Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.” -Winnie the Pooh
Last Monday we had more euthanasia cases than I have ever had in one day. I love firsts. And mosts. The first time I did a Tru-Cut biopsy. Yesterday. True story. The most cases I’ve had in a morning. A couple months ago – 25, including phone consultations and prescription refills. Would have gone faster if I hadn’t stopped to run to the desk and add tally marks to my notebook page all morning. I couldn’t help it. It was so fun.
Monday though, Monday was rough. On the whole team. Stephanie came up beside me while I was entering medical notes into the computer on the third euthanasia of the morning. “Please tell me you don’t have another terminal case for me,” I said.
“No, I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“Ok,” I said, “hanging in there. You?”
“Yeah, ok,” she said, and we regrouped and had an even sadder afternoon.
As Kelly and I were standing over our last patient of the day, in her own backyard, her beautiful spirit free of pain, and her beautiful body appearing so peaceful, her friends and family left behind in shock and heartbreak, we had to be strong. They needed us.
Euthanasias at home are even more heart wrenching than euthanasias at the hospital. You see the layers of Real Life.
Another coworker joins her friends and you realize her late fiance was close to the family and so was she. Everyone has gathered again to say good-bye, and your husband has come to help with carrying afterwards, and the lines between professional and family completely blur.
It happens in the hospital too, but if you need to stop and catch your breath, you can. If you look up during a home euthanasia, you see the yard the pet loved, or a family picture on the living room table, and you just stay immersed in the grief with the family.
And you want to fall apart with them and grieve for them so it is not so heavy for them to bear. Because there is so much sadness, you sort of absorb it like a sponge, but you have to carry the stretcher and you have to get back into your own pickup, and you have to get the pet and your team back safely and take care of the details of the body care and the rest of the things that you actually can shield her family from.
And you want to scream like you yourself have lost something so precious, but you hold it all in – all you let through is the tears and the hugs, because they need you to be strong so that, just for this short time, they do not need to be.
Tonight my family was walking up to the building we thought our oldest’s daughter’s volleyball game was in. I heard a scream like the one I had internally screamed at the end of that day of euthanasias. I turned just in time to see a horrified child as her balloon floated gently up out of her reach and into the sky, becoming a pinpoint as she wailed. The only ones in the area were her family and mine. I caught my own sob before it became a wail to match that poor kid’s cry, and went inside.
The receptionist let us know we were at a building a block away from the game. Hand on the door, I stopped and turned back.
This one I can fix. I can fix this one, I thought.
In my ever eloquent manner I said, “Balloons.” The receptionist looked up with a kind but confused smile. “The balloons. Were they from an event in here? I mean, there’s a kid…” I stopped and pointed outside to the little girl still howling toward the sky. “A kid…she lost hers, I mean…” I looked outside again.
“Oh, yes, we have more balloons! I will call her teacher!”
“Thank you!” I said, relieved. We left the building and headed up the block.
Mom was trying to get the screaming little girl into the car. Her baby sister was already in her carseat, wide-eyed and wisely clutching her balloon with both hands. Mom looked frazzled. For the second time in the span of a few moments, ever as eloquent as I am extroverted, especially when making split-second decisions to be so, I decided talking to a stranger was more important than protecting myself from the discomfort of talking to a stranger.
I turned back around and approached the car. I said to Mom, “Wait! Don’t leave yet. They’re coming. I mean, you know, they’ll be here soon. With another balloon.”
Mom stopped. She smiled the biggest smile I had seen in a long time, sighed and said, “Thank you.”
“You are welcome,” I said and my eyes filled with tears. Hers did too. Her daughter still had a great supply of tears going, but she had stopped crying and looked cautiously optimistic.
I know how hard it is to see someone lose something precious and want so badly to just fix it. To make things right again.
As we turned, almost out of sight, I saw a teacher run out with a balloon. This one was green! That one had been pink! I stopped and held my breath, watching and waiting. The little girl squealed with delight and jumped into the car, with as tight of a hold on her new balloon as her sister had on hers.
I remember what that first moment of panic feels like when you accidentally let go of a balloon outside. My balloon string slipped out of my fist once after a visit to Grandmother’s Restaurant as a kid. Once. My kids have each done it once. Never again. You never want to feel that loss again. When it happens to someone you care about, you want the hurt to stop as soon as possible.
Sometimes you can make that happen, and when you can, it is the best feeling there is.