Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Melted heart

I'm fairly pragmatic about my job. I realize that I can't save all helpless animals and that it costs money to provide medical care. In most situations, euthanasia - while never easy - is something I am comfortable doing, especially when it needs to be done.

Let me start this story out by explaining my frame of mind. I worked all night Tuesday. It was a 16 hour shift, and I did not sleep. Instead of coming home on Wednesday morning and sleeping in preparation for that night's work, I had to run errands and burn time while waiting to get get my rabies vaccine (#1). So, I did that. I didn't end up home and in bed until past noon (with a moderately sore arm). I slept for about 3 hours, then went back to work. It was crazy last night. I worked 16 hours straight without sitting down. I had 2 dystocias, a cat pyometra that I took to surgery, a hit by car, a cockatiel with a persistently bleeding toenail after the owner quicked it while trimming nails, and the usual vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, painful/shaking, etc. thrown in for good measure. It was nuts.

In the midst of this, a good samaritan brings in a cat that showed up at their front door. My heart broke almost instantly. It was a tomcat tabby, sweet as pie. He had been burned over a great deal of his body. His ears were just ragged nubs. His whiskers were melted to tiny little stubs. He smelled of rot and burnt flesh. His temperature was 106 degrees. His entire belly was a raw, crusted, dying burn. He had burns at the commissures of his lips. His fur was gone. Despite all this, he was sweet and calm, allowing us to work on him.

In any other circumstance (i.e. not full-blown exhaustion), I would have done what needed to be done. Euthanasia. Poor tomcat would require at MINIMUM twice a day surgical debridement of his burns, prolonged antibiotic and pain therapy, and ongoing care. It's not something our clinic, as small as we are, can afford to do for cases with no owners.

I persevered though - placing an IV catheter, administering pain medications, starting antibiotics, and gently washing the wound. Crusty kitty (as we took to calling him) responded well, started grooming his wounds, and becoming more alert. A feline leukemia/FIV test was negative.

He spent the night with us.

It was only this morning, before leaving, that I realized how naive and foolish I was being. Sweet tomcat had burns over half of his body. He smelled of dying flesh and feces.

I knew what I had to do. We spent a companionable ten minutes in petting mode - while tomcat tried to gingerly roll around and enjoy the attention. In the end, he went very peacefully, one minute grooming himself, the next asleep, and then gone.

What I keep telling myself is that maybe it was some sort of freak accident. Surely, a human wouldn't have burned this sweet cat deliberately?

It's how I sleep at night.


Life in vet school said...

It was a freak accident. His house caught fire and he woke up everyone in his family and saved them all. But he got disoriented from the smoke trying to leave and got burned before he finally got out, and then his family was taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation, so they couldn't look for him. That's what happened.

I'm glad you took care of him overnight, even though you had to euthanize him in the morning, and that he got to have another few hours of being around people, and getting attention and petting.

Hermit Thrush said...

I will never forget the first burned cat that I saw, working in a shelter. It was a kitten and ended up being adopted by the shelter veterinarian.
It makes it so much harder when the injured strays are sweet. In five years working as a vet tech, the only animal that I ever rescued was a kitten that came in with a degloved rear leg totally infested with maggots. He licked my hand and purred as I picked the maggots out and cleaned the wound. Then the vet decided to euthanize (being a stray) and gave me the syringe filled with euthosol... I couldn't do it. But there were so many others that I remember reading your story. It really is heartbreaking.

Hannah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.