I am now in a daily relationship with my vet, Dr. Kraabel, at the Lien Animal Clinic. And while I wouldn't wish this experience of caring for a dying pet on anyone -- if you do have to do it --- these are the people who can accompany you on the journey. No, they can't cure liver cancer -- but they can offer all sorts of drugs --- and they can say when drugs are not the way to go. While chemo is possible in some cases -- and surgery in some cases, Dr. Kraabel was honest with me concerning Otis's profile. (His wife, Dr. Fritzler, also wonderful, works at the clinic but she not Otis's doc - she sees El Duende). Here's what I like most about Dr. Kraabel whom I've come to know much better over the last two weeks.
1. He is a storyteller. I've learned about other cats he's cared for, about his experiences putting down his own pets, his philosophy on end of life issues. When I'm sitting in his office with tears covering my face, he talks to me in a way I understand and this allows me to remember and reflect on his words once I'm back home and calmer.
2. He is courageous enough to say "I don't know" when he doesn't. Which of the several drugs that he gave Otis yesterday is responsible for making Otis more responsive and happier than he's been in weeks? Dr. Kraabel gives me his best guess -- but admits that there is a lot of guesswork involved at this point. My doctor is human and willing to try several treatments to see what works for my particular cat.
3. He does know how to listen and let me talk. Science was never my best subject (although now I find some sciences fascinating) but I do know my cat. As writers, we are trained to observe every detail. I first noticed changes in Otis before the blood work verified what was wrong. What I don't know is which of my observations may be of use. Dr. Kraabel lets me talk and tell him whatever I need to. He makes me feel heard and not like a crazy cat lady -- not that there is anything wrong with crazy cat ladies ... I just don't want that to be my profile.
4. Honesty in the face of hard facts. Things look pretty bad for Otis; in fact, they suck. And yet, knowing statistically how much time he has left and that he is now on hospice care -- well, there is a minuscule amount of comfort in knowing what you're facing. A modicum of control - or false control.
5. Respect and compassion. Yes, I'd love someone to blame for Otis's condition. Can't the doctor just wave his stethoscope and make the disease disappear? Surely, there's more Western medicine can do? But this is liver cancer. If Dr. Kraabel had a cure he wouldn't be running my neighborhood animal clinic - he'd be world famous because there is no cure for this. And instead of his dismissing Otis and seeing my beloved pet as one of the ones he can't save, Dr. Kraabel does everything he can to make certain Otis has what he needs in his last weeks.
There is not much I'm thankful for these days when it comes to watching my most beloved pet getting sicker and sicker, but having a doctor that treats both of us with understanding and dare I say love - is one thing that makes this journey a little bit easier.