Saturday, October 22nd turned out to be a crappy day. My husband departed on a cycling ride with his buddies, and I loaded the kids up to soccer in the van. Here I am, the stereotypical mother in a white van hauling kids to a soccer field in October.
Our dog, Jake, had been diagnosed with pneumonia on the day before, Friday morning. The vet started him on azithromycin and a steroid. Had I been at the appointment myself, I would have asked more questions. Instead, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to wait and see what happened and give the antibiotic time to work. His chest x-ray had been clear, Jeff said.
Friday night was restless. Jake cried out which he hadn’t done Thursday night. I asked later if he was OK and Jeff said he was. He said the vet told him to give it time for the medicine to work. We caught this pneumonia early. Jake was drinking a lot of water too. We alternated holding him to our chests as he coughed and slept. I left a couple of messages at the vet’s office Saturday morning because my husband said the vet told him to call over the weekend to keep up-to-date if we needed to. We didn’t get a callback, but I figured out quickly he wasn’t working the weekend.
I am such a fool. I have all this experience in hospital pharmacy and can tell you how to treat nosocomial pneumonia and here my dog is struggling to breathe on Saturday morning, and I didn’t even notice the struggle until around 2:35pm when I recognized agonal breathing. I grabbed a towel and headed out the door back to the vet with him in my lap struggling to breathe.
I cried aloud as I made the 20-minute drive and phoned the vet’s office to let them know I was coming with Jake who wasn’t breathing well. They said to come on in. When I got there, they had no idea who I was and acted lost on expecting me. Rather than helping me with my distressed dog, I was told to wait in the lobby. I held him and cried silently and praying to God to help him breathe. His breathing was labored and audible. This was not good. I should have just left right then for the animal hospital 20-minutes away. I regret that only for Jake’s comfort. I don’t expect the outcome to be any different, but I believe he wouldn’t have suffered as long as he did.
I was ushered into a room, and a young male veterinary medical technician entered with a pen and paper and asked me “What brings you here today?” Still no help on Jake’s breathing, just a condescending attitude, and no sympathy toward our pet. It was obvious why I was there. Was he unable to recognize a dog in respiratory distress? He offered no sympathy and no grace at all. I felt as though he was trying to act important. It was odd and disturbing to me because of the moment needing something more than a cold question and questions that didn’t fit the moment at all.
He weighed him and said, “He’s lost weight. Only 3 lbs.” I shook my head, “Your scale is wrong. He’s about 7 lbs right now.” He took his temperature rather roughly. Jake tried to breathe and fidgeted about. He weighed him again, “Scale was wrong.” He never once said, “I’m sorry, little guy.” There was no sympathy there for this animal who was clearly hurting. I have never seen anything like it in animal medicine. This is my 4th pet to lose and never have I encountered someone who wasn’t at all bothered by what he was seeing and hearing.
And yes, medical professionals can get this way. They can lose sympathy and forget how it is to be a patient or to be the one directly affected by an illness or death. They can speak flippantly about someone going hospice with no real concern about someone’s life. Even Jake’s life was important that day.
Hey, guess what, vet tech? He needed OXYGEN. Could you have thought to make him comfortable for a moment?
So the whole time I was standing in tears, not once was he offered anything to help him. In fact, when the vet came in I could tell by her words and my words we both knew that this little guy had decompensated in 24-hours, still no oxygen to help him. Just the feeling that I was a bit of an inconvenience.
Why is it with humans in a clinic, they would have been immediately made more comfortable?
“I need to call or text my husband. This is his dog.” He is our dog, but was his first. Jake was a gift from his mom 3 years before she passed away from cancer. It was 3:39 PM.
I started fumbling with my phone texting, and they both made a beeline for the door to other clients to give me privacy. I never asked for privacy and was surprised Jake was left with me.
I texted him that Jake was likely dying. That I was angry at the way the tech had treated me. He had no sympathy and was condescending. The vet, I believe, knew it was time. She knew it was an all or none situation. But, the words hadn’t really been said about euthanasia or anything. They just had walked out of the room. She had mentioned that an upper respiratory infection was going around in the office among the dogs in the past couple of weeks. We had boarded both our dogs there the week before during Fall Break. Jake had likely caught it there.
I can still hear Jake breathing loudly and uncomfortable. And tired.
I sat and glanced up. The tech was peering at me through the glass window. He looked like he was “caught” by my eyes and moved away. This happened three times and another young lady did the same thing to me. I was livid. Just a weird vibe and unprofessional. What were they doing? What was taking so long?
He returned to the room. Maybe he was waiting on me to stop texting? I had. I was just hugging on Jake praying. Kissing his head.
He said rather mechanically, “What have you decided.” Flat affect. Flat tone. It spoke I DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOU OR YOUR DOG. THIS IS A JOB.
Excuse me, what? What have I decided? I didn’t know you guys had given me any choices?
“I need to speak with the vet, ” I said. I certainly didn’t want to speak to him any longer than I had to, Mr. Peek-through-the-door-at-me-no-sympathy-or-compassion.
He looked at me with disdain and more condescending attitude, “She is with other clients right now and will get back to you when she can.” It’s all about tone. His tone said that she had no time for me and that she would work me in when she could, and I believe he wasn’t bothered by it at all.
Jake wasn’t here for a routine vaccine. He couldn’t breathe.
He walked out, and I walked out of the room to the front desk to let them know that I didn’t appreciate the way he talked to me. I told the lady he had no compassion and that he had no sympathy. She just listened and apologized. I was torn on what to do. I needed help for my dog. No one was helping me.
And then Mr. Vet Tech peeks out from behind the back hallway to gawk at me again at the front desk. Twice. As soon as my eyes met his, he’d duck back into hiding. What was WRONG with this guy????
I allowed the vet to speak to me one more time in the room, and I agreed to go to the animal hospital because it was obvious it was either that or whatever other option hadn’t been said yet. How about something to help him breathe?
Keep in mind this whole time, Jake is dying. He can’t breathe.
And when I arrived at RIVER at 4:30pm, they worked immediately to make him comfortable with oxygen. There was no delay. There was no condescending attitude. They met me at the door and took him from me and helped him. A small poor little pneumonia filled Maltese that had had an almost 15-year life with us through dating one another and getting married and having kids was on his last few hours with us. This little dog who had stolen my heart without me knowing it until he was almost gone and had slept beside me most nights with the wrong end in my face. The little guy who used to chew on cotton and click his teeth and I just wasn’t ready for him to go. Finally someone cared. The tech cared, the vet cared, the front desk receptionist cared. Not a single person was treating me as though he was there for a haircut or vaccine. They recognized the situation and acted with compassion.
The vet at RIVER was amazing. Compassion is still alive out there. Helping an animal breathe when you have oxygen in the back is still an option. I would have paid. Sending in your most noncompassionate tech who never once said he was sorry or can I help you was probably the second worst thing that happened on the 22nd.
The worst thing was losing Jake at around 8:30pm. Jeff was able to hold him as he slipped away and the whole time their tech wasn’t condescending or unfeeling. He held the O2 to Jake’s mouth as we said goodbye to him, even keeping him comfortable though he was leaving soon as his favorite person (Jeff) held him.
I’ve never had a problem at Animal Clinic East in Chattanooga, TN before, but I have noticed less and less professionalism up front with the staff. I notice I stand there a lot more often than before while the staff ignores clients. It’s not that we expect immediate attention. It’s just professionalism to acknowledge someone and say you’ll be right with them. It is professionalism to notice a dog owner crying and a dog struggling to breathe and offering help rather than pushing her to the waiting room while singing the latest Justin Bieber song overhead. I was falling apart, but apparently, the staff has grown cold to how much we love our family members and how painful these moments can be as a pet owner. What happened to compassion? What happened to, “is there anything I could do to help you with him? Your dog looks to be struggling.” “I see why you are here.” “I’m sorry.”
Is that so hard Animal Clinic East? Please don’t lose your sense of compassion in the middle of someone’s last moments with their beloved pet. Please train your staff on how to be sensitive when they notice something is wrong. Please follow-up with complaints and let them know you care and that you are sorry for coming across crass.
If anyone out there knows of a compassionate vet office, I’d love to find one. Compassion in words and action and in care if a pet is in distress.
RIP Jake 11/01 – 10/16