Kerry and I went out for a nice evening's gaming with a a friend last night, and also checked over his jack russell, Max. I've known Max for years. Lovely little dog, he sits under my legs when I'm playing games, and I absently tickle his ear when I'm rolling dice (Yes, yes, I know I'm a nerd! I'm fine with it, so there)
Anyway, Max has been ill for a while, and last night was also a 'check up'. It had been on the cards that he might be needing to be put to sleep, by friend had phoned me last night and told me that Max was doing much better, so Kerry and I took some wine, a nice board game, and looked forward to an evening's gaming.
When we got there, we checked Max over, and sadly, he was much worse. He needed to be put to sleep. And so that's what we did.
Then I came home and wrote the blog below. I was in a funny frame of mind - mentally, I'd been set up for relaxing, fun, gaming, and then suddenly had to shift the gears round in my head and turn into caring vet mode. I was sad, and upset that I'd in some way betrayed Max - all those times I'd been tickling his ear, or his belly, then one night I came round and killed him. Unfortunately, this seemed to warp my fragile little mind, and I'm sorry to say that the blog post that came out of it wasn't very good at all. I deleted it after I'd written it, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it was intended to be an exploration of how performing euthanasia affects the person performing it. I wanted to explore the idea of what it might mean for human euthanasia, and how doctors may cope with it. Instead, it turned into a self-pitying 'poor me' polemic on how I don't like putting animals to sleep - fair enough, you might say, but it wasn't really what I was trying to say.
Secondly, it didn't feel very respectful to Max to be whinging about how unhappy -I- was.
Thirdly, I'm a bit of a drama queen. Anyone who follows me on twitter or facebook may be familiar with the intermittent angst-ridden 'waah! this happened' type of post that I like to squeeze in between puns just to throw everyone off track. What can I say? I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I'm miserable, I want everyone in the world to know! Thanks to the magic of the Internet, that is now possible. Ahh, technology :) This behaviour is not something I'm proud of, but it's part of me and there it is.
Fourthly, it made me sounds like a suicidal nut-job. This is not the case, honestly! I was just having a 'black dog' moment, if you'll pardon the pun (there I go again!)
So, I've decided this morning to reinstate the blog, in a slightly more rational, and hopefully light-hearted, frame of mind. I've chosen to do this for several reasons...
(Oh for God's sake! Get on with it!)
Firstly - well, the blog was at least partially successful in that it gives you an insight into the mind who has just put a well-loved dog to sleep. Well, my mind, anyway. Morbid chap that I am, I always find it slightly awkward meeting a friend's pet, because there's a little voice inside me that wonders if I will ultimately be the person who puts them to sleep. Yes, I'm a lot of fun at parties.
Secondly, I thought it might help to comment on some of the things I said in it. I'll add in some further thoughts in italics as we go - the great benefit of arguing with a past self is that they can't answer back. Take that, Nick from last night! Ha ha!
Thirdly, did I mention that I'm a bit of a drama queen? The blog from last night, poorly written and rambling though I feel it was, does reflect a piece of my personality that is, in it's own way, just as valid as the normal, handsome, well-adjusted fella that I am this this morning.
As you read the blog, especially the self-indulgent 'pity me!' parts of it, bear in mind that the guy below has got a pretty good life - a nice house, a lovely wife, great friends. How many people in this world have as much as him? Don't feel too sorry for him, he thrives on that sort of nonsense. Anyway, on with the show!
It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got, and all he's gonna have. - Will Munny, Unforgiven
I'm not a cowboy. I've never held a gun, and I haven't really got the swaggering gait required. We do seem to have collected a number of horses here, but neither my wife nor myself use them to round up cattle, or escape from Red Indians (or Native Americans if you prefer...calling them that doesn't change what we did to them though...). I have never been part of a posse. But there's a part of my life that resonates with the gravelly-voiced Clint quote above. I've never taken the life of another human being, but by any definition, I am a killer.
This is a selfish post. It's selfish because it's about me - or, at least, about vets. I've talked about the act of putting an animal to sleep several times in this blog, but tonight I'm not thinking about them, for a change. I say for a change because during the process itself, it's all about them. The animal comes first, and rightly so. I feel guilty even writing this, because I am aware that I am alive, and all those many that I have seen, have killed, no longer have a voice for anything.
The more perceptive amongst you may have realised by now that this one isn't going to have many jokes in it. Sorry about that. Scroll down a few, I'm sure you'll find one. If you've all tuned out by now and I'm just talking to myself, well that's just fine too.
Most of these blogs are precipitated by an event in real life. Tonight, my wife and I went round to my friends house to play a board game, and check over his poorly dog, Max. Instead of playing the game, I put Max to sleep.
So tonight, I want to consider the effect this has upon me, upon the vet. Upon the instrument of the animal's destruction. I'm aware that to some of you - those of you who, mistakenly in my opinion, believe that humanity is something special, something quite apart from the rest of the natural world - may feel I am being melodramatic. They're only animals. All I can tell you is that this is how it makes me feel, and that, to me, the difference between humans and animals is not as great as is commonly regarded.
Except, young Nick from last night, it's not quite as simple as that, is it? I stand by my assertion that humans are animals, but, much as it pains me to admit it, a human leaves a much bigger hole behind them than an animal. This is probably because we're humans (well, most of us). What I'm trying to say is - human euthanasia, though I wholeheartedly agree with the idea in principle, would be much...well, messier, than animal. No-one's ever going to conspire to murder a dog in order to gain their inheritance, for instance. Humans leave a lot more clutter behind from their lives, which would makes things much more complicated that I suggest above.
Still, personally, and as an aside, I would be happier having the occasional person bumped off deliberately before their time than the current situation, where every single one of us is dragged on and on until our bodies litter ally stop working. Ugh. Anyway...
Early on in our career, vets learn (much as in many other professions with unpleasant tasks, I suspect) to suppress it, not to think about it, to joke about it, and to reassure ourselves that we are doing the right thing, that we are relieving suffering. Most of the time we are. Some of the time we aren't. We do it regardless, because we know the alternatives are not good.
Here is how the act of killing another animal makes me feel - a little sad. That's it. If it made me feel any worse, I wouldn't be able to function on a day to day basis. So, I feel sad, and usually professionally proud that it went well, that no more suffering was caused than was necessary.
At least, that's how it makes me feel most of the time. In my darker moments - moments like now, for instance, it makes me feel...well, it's a hell of a thing, to kill an animal. Taking away all those moments, for ever. In my very dark moments my mind conjures up a special hell for people who killed, who are confronted with all the lives that they have taken, and all the person can say is that they were doing their job, that they were relieving suffering. It's crazy, I know, because I'm pretty sure that there is nothing after death just as there was nothing before birth. Pretty sure. I think of the times when I haven't been entirely sure of the decision, and I have allowed the owner to influence the outcome. I think about the times when I knew it was the wrong thing, and I did it anyway, because there was 'no choice'. (Here I'm skirting around the issue that I sometimes do it because it is the easiest, and not the right, thing to do.) I think about the times when it was the right thing.
This may sound like I don't believe in euthanasia, but that's not true. I passionately believe that quantity of life is nothing if there is no quality. What is the point of continued existence, if all of that existence is pain? My wife once was peripherally involved with the case of a dog, rushed into emergency surgery, that was found to have a bleeding inoperable tumour on its liver. The vet in charge informed the owner, and sadly recommended euthanasia. The owner absolutely refused, and made the vet stitch the dog back up. He came and collected his dog, and took it home. It died overnight. That single case tells you all I rationally believe about the continuation of life. It is a concern to me that most of the patients I treat will have better deaths than my own.
No, this post is nothing more than a single, selfish lament. A long drawn out 'why me?', railing against the choices which have lead me to be the one responsible for the deaths of so many. I want to say that it isn't good for the soul, but I don't believe that such a thing exists so I'm stuck with simply saying that it doesn't feel good.
I'm running out of steam, (I think I mean 'wine' - I certainly found an empty bottle next to the laptop when I came down this morning!) and I think I'm glad for it. Other concepts flit through my mind - the idea of death as simply a loss of time. The process of dying. The culpability of the killer. But I find myself unwilling or unable to explore them as I thought I would.
I'm not sure I'll even publish this post - it seems very out of my normal writing style. Perhaps I'll re-read it in the morning. If I do, and if you're reading it, then rest assured, normal service will be restored soon.
I -did- mention that I was a drama queen, didn't I?
In the meantime, I can think of no better way to end this morose rambling than with the save words of Mr Eastwood, who says more with six words than I can manage with this whole blog. After the opening quote, his sidekick, the Schofield kid says 'Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Clint looks into the middle distance.
We've all got it coming, kid.