Another day, another dying cat.

I have the reputation in my family as "the person you call to come and get the dead bird on the patio"...  this is because I used to take care of the rats in my high school biology class with Mr. Holzer, and several years later I had a summer job at the U of Illinois "Biologic Resources Lab" where all the experimental animals for the entire campus were housed.  I was on the rodent floor and spent every day moving animals into clean cages with fresh food and water.  I looked after mice, nude mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, chinchillas, rabbits and inexplicably: turtles, frogs and two sloths.

An unpleasant part of the job was finding animals that had perished, and with the hundreds of animal cages that happened almost every day.  (At that job I learned how to distinguish what type of animal had died by the smell alone.  I could tell a dead mouse from a dead hamster just by odor.  This, I was disappointed to learn, was not a skill potential employers were interested in.

But because of that job, I became the de facto animal coroner for my mother.  Hence the phone call every time one of her cats murdered a mouse.

Then after med school, when I reported having to dissect cadavers and later pronounce people dead, I became the angel of death for all pets in my mom's view.  Any time an animal was super sick it was on me to make the call.

In December my mother, who at that time lived alone in Pittsburgh, was discovered by her visiting nurse in a very confused state, initially thought to be due to a stroke.  (It wasn't a stroke.  Or a seizure.  Or a UTI.   My own theory is that her confusion is due to a combination of depression and  diabetes for which she was taking either no medication - thanks to Dr Oz for convincing her to use his snake oil supplements instead of metformin - or the wrong dose.

So I went out to Pittsburgh and discovered her cat Bonnie was skeletal and lethargic as my mother had been too sick or confused to take her to the vet.  I talked to her and then I and my youngest sister took Bonnie to be euthanized, which was very sad as I'd known Bonnie for many years.  

Selfie with Honey the Cat.  Her eyes reflect oddly for a cat.  If she were a human that would be how nuclear cataracts might look... as far as I recall.   :-(

Selfie with Honey the Cat.  Her eyes reflect oddly for a cat.  If she were a human that would be how nuclear cataracts might look... as far as I recall.   :-(

Now my mom is too sick for her current place and is moving to a place with a higher level of nursing where she can't have cats.  So I drove out last weekend to get Honey, a 13-year-old tortie. When I got there Honey looked trembly and poorly groomed.  I drove back to Chicago with Honey hanging out in the back seat (being in the car doesn't seem to bother her much) and took her in to see the vet.  She had a battery of tests and unsurprisingly has bad kidney failure.  But she still eats and drinks and walks around so I talked it over with the vet and we're going to switch her to a kidney health diet and I'll give her SC saline once a week and check her again in a month.  He thinks she could have up to a year left if she responds to treatment.  Poor baby. 

Okay, anyway, here's the point.  Just because I had a job where I had to inventory dead animals, and another job where I had to declare people dead, that doesn't mean I like doing that!  Or that it doesn't affect me.  I cried for a week after finding one of the neighborhood squirrels dead after being struck by a car.  (I of course wrapped him in a towel and put him in a box before disposing him in the manner suggested by the local animal control officer because yes I called her because dead squirrel.)  I realize this makes me a crazy person and that I will be one of the first to die in the coming apocalypse, but it is what it is.

Anyway, I mean, maybe other people are different, but I never got used to telling people they were going to die or go blind.  What I did learn how to do is to not be emotional about it in front of the patient.  I mean, it's happened that I teared up with a patient if I was tired or some such and not braced to resist crying. But my old mentor in medical school, Dr. Byron Ruskin, once told me (I think wisely) that when a patient is frightened and getting bad news, their job should not be to comfort their doctor.  I think nurses have it a little easier in this regard.  Nurses work so closely with patients that if they cry with a patient it's seen as a form of comfort and support.  But our job as doctors (at least when I was practicing) is to comfort our patients, not the other way around.  I think that is scary to the patient.  I once saw one of my doctors very upset about my illness and I felt terrible.  I didn't want that guilt... that my situation was wrecking my life was bad enough.  It shouldn't make my doctor cry too, especially when I knew he had done his absolute best for me.  He'd saved my life at least once.  Some patients just don't respond to treatment or get an unintended side effect.  I understand that.  It isn't worth ruining someone else's day.

On a tangential note, it occurs to me that I've also seen a lot of naked people as a doctor.  That doesn't mean I want to see you naked.  Or that it won't bother me to look at the rash on your butt you are trying to show me four minutes after I've met you at a social event.  What I can do is look at your naked body and go into that weird doctor mode where it doesn't emotionally affect me. The same goes for you telling me a revolting story about the time you had that armpit abscess drained just as I take my first sip of creamed soup.   I can go to doctor mode and then make a point of never interacting with you ever again.

This is an image from a children's book I picked up in Norway.  The scene depicts the main character's pet cat Mimmi's death after being struck by a car.  Awwwww...ahhhHHHH!  Culture shock, right?

This is an image from a children's book I picked up in Norway.  The scene depicts the main character's pet cat Mimmi's death after being struck by a car.  Awwwww...ahhhHHHH!

 Culture shock, right?

What was the point of this entry?  Uhhhh...  oh, right.  Don't call me to take away a dead animal (or person) because I hate that.  

Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Word: dør
  Pronounced: (due-r).
   Translation:   noun: door
   verb present tense: die (to die= å dø))

Exercise: Use "dør" in a sentence:
Example: Katten dør.
   (The cat dies)