One of my favorite parts of being a veterinarian is that none of my days are the same. Each day I see different cases, emergencies, and creatures. All of my clients are different and great in their own special way. Most days, I go home to my husband and tell him all about my day. I can promise you he has heard some crazy stories over the years. Most days are full of victories, intrigue, and humor. However, there are some days where I have to ask, “Can I tell you about a tough one?” The tough ones are my losses, my euthanasia cases. The ones that no one really wants to talk about because they are sad and uncomfortable. As a veterinarian, I have the blessing to be able to end my patients’ suffering, but it’s tough. It’s tough on the owners and it’s tough on me. It is because of the silence that typically surrounds these cases that I want to take a minute to talk about them. My hope is that it will shed light into that dark moment to bring some comfort and understanding.
When I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, I pictured wagging tails and kitten snuggles. Some of my days are like that, and let me say, those days are a blessing to my soul. But there are some days that are not that easy. Some days, the tough cases come. They come in many forms. Sometimes old age has simply caught up to them. Sometimes a chronic illness has finally taken its toll. Other times, it is a trauma that no one sees coming. Despite what form they take, in the end, I have to have a very difficult talk with you. I have to let you know the time has come - that there isn’t anything else we can do for your loved one. As I am talking, there is a specific moment when I see that the gravity of the situation has hit you. There is a look you get when you realize what I am saying and what needs to be done. At times, there is just silence as it sinks in. Other times there are questions like “Are you sure?”, “What would you do if it was your pet?”, “Did we wait too long?”, or “Am I doing the right thing?” My answers are never easy or what you want to hear, but I promise they are full of love, sympathy, and honesty.
When the decision is made to help your loved one pass with no more suffering, the next question I will ask is, “Do you want to be present while I perform the euthanasia?” This question seems to catch people off guard because they don’t think about that being a choice, but it is - a very important one. If you want to stay with them, I will stay with you. Don’t be embarrassed to cry or mourn - you are having to say goodbye before you were ready. I understand, and I hurt with you. If you can’t stay with them, don’t feel guilty. People handle sorrow in different ways. I will stay with them and tell them how much you love them and will miss them. The process is peaceful and painless. It is the last brave and selfless act of love you will give them.
When they have passed, I will tell you that I am sorry for your loss. It took me a long time to figure out what to say in that moment. When I see the pain of your loss - the loss of companionship, of the time you thought you still had, of your best friend - what can I do? I had to figure out a way to keep myself at a small distance. If I let myself feel the full emotion of each patient, I would break. So, in the end, I will simply say that I am sorry for your loss. My hope is that it will give you a small moment of comfort. Some small piece of compassion. Please know that my heart is hurting for you. It hurts every single time. I’ve learned that you will never “get through it”, but with time, you will find your new normal. You will find what life looks like without your friend. I hope that my words help you accomplish that in some small way. Sorrow will come. It always does. Each person has a different way of feeling it and working through it. Please reach out for help if you are struggling. There is no shame in mourning.
Euthanasia is one of the biggest blessings of my career, but it is also one of the hardest parts. I hope that when the time comes for you, you will be able to remember that it is an act of love - nothing less. I love my job. I learn from every case I see, but I think I learn the most about the doctor and person I want to be from the tough ones.
About the Author
Dr. Heritage Enevoldsen
Dr. Heritage Enevoldsen was born and raised in Amarillo, Texas. She had always dreamed of finding a job that would allow her to minister to and bless people, but also involve her love for animals, so being a veterinarian was just the right fit! She received her Bachelor of Science from Texas A&M University before graduating from Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine in May of 2017. Her goal was always to come back and serve the people of the Texas panhandle. Dr. Enevoldsen has special interest in dermatology, surgery, and dentistry as well as client education. When she isn't working at the clinic, Dr. Enevoldsen loves spending time with her son and husband, reading, and anything to do with the Fighting Texas Aggies. She is a dog mom to her pet, Mark, who is the most handsome mutt you have ever seen.