New Year’s Eve 2017
I woke up in a motel 75 miles from home, with a dead dog and a nasty head cold. I was on call for two hospitals that day, and there were eleven patients I had to see and some who would need surgery. I sat up in bed and nudged Lucy with my foot. “Time to get up, LazyBones.” She didn’t move. I reached down to shake her awake and felt how cold and stiff she was.
Lucy was old for a bulldog. We’d had nearly ten good years together, and I’d begun to fear she would die soon. I wrapped her in an old sheet I got from the housekeeper and placed her on the back seat of my Jeep then drove to the hospital. She lay there all morning as I rounded on inpatients, saw a new patient in the emergency room, and scheduled surgery for the day.
I took her to the crematory between operations. The gentleman who operates it out of his home in the country was kind, but not overly solicitous. He told me that the fee was based on weight, and took Lucy into the back of the shed which served as his office. Returning a moment later, he informed me the cost would be forty-two dollars.
I handed him my credit card, and burst into tears as he handed it back. He hugged me lightly and gave me a handful of tissues for the road.
An hour later, I was elbow-deep in the tangled intestines of an elderly woman who was suffering from acute ischemia of the gut. She was already gone in shock on arrival to the hospital, and without surgery would certainly have died.
It was a busy day. I removed a gallbladder full of stones and a rotten appendix. I inserted a chest tube into a pedestrian who’d been struck by a car, and drained an abscess resulting from intravenous drug abuse.
I met with the family of a very ill and severely debilitated man who were struggling with whether to place a feeding tube and keep him on a ventilator, or “let Nature take its course.” They felt he’d “had a good life” and decided not to continue aggressive treatment. The breathing tube was removed, medication supporting his blood pressure was stopped, and I sat with them as his heart ceased to beat.
I went back to the motel, put a frozen dinner in the microwave, and changed into sweats and a T-shirt that- like most of my clothes- were covered in dog hair. Exhausted as I was, it was hard to sleep without Lucy curled up at my feet.