Difficult Decisions


Yesterday Noah and I took our sweet 11 year old dog Corrina to the vet.  Our neighbor noticed a growth on her hind leg while petting her and gave us the name of her vet.  I made an appointment and we took her in for a check up and to have the growth looked at. In the 11 years we have had Corrina, it was the first time we had taken her to an appointment together.

We got Corrina at the Washington Rescue League in DC shortly after moving there in 2007.  She was born at the shelter and we took her home as a 4 month old puppy. She has an amazing demeanor and has been a wonderful part of our family.

There were several parts of the visit that felt routine and familiar even though it was my first time there.  The dogs and cats were separated in the waiting room and there were glass jars of animal treats. It smelled of animal and disinfectant.  The technician brought us back to the examining room and began the physical.

When Noah discusses living wills with clients, they often refer to choices available to pets.  As he talks through incapacity, many clients refer to how pets are handled in old age as medical issues arise.  Clients comment that they wish they could choose the options they have chosen for their pet.

Well, walking through this yesterday, did not feel easier nor was it simple. The vet explained that the growth was not superficial. That most likely it is in the muscle and possibly into the bone. The options of getting a biopsy and pathology report were discussed. Clarity on what potential surgeries would look like and what we could expect were clarified.

I sat there listening to all of this, thinking β€œand this is easier?”  Making these decisions for another is difficult. Even in this situation where the rational brain is so strong and clear.  The dog is 11, life expectancy for flat coated retrievers is 8-14 years. Prior to our neighbor finding the growth we had noticed no change in her behavior.  

Noah mentioned to the doctor multiple times that we walk her 2 miles every evening, it became clearer and clearer that at the moment she is not suffering.  She is not limping, there is no change in diet or mood. Yet she has this growth on her leg and the signs of her aging are present. The vet presented us with our options and asked us to make a choice.

When the doctor stepped out, Noah and I re-stated what we have talked about numerous times, no surgery.  The surgery will reduce her quality of life. I was surprised at how hard this was, how I kept reminding myself that this is the right decision.  Even in this circumstance, where our values are clear, it is a difficult decision. We were making it together, completely on the same page. Yet, it was really difficult.

Returning home, we talked to our children about the visit.  Each of them let us know they did not think Corrina should have the surgery.  Before we let them know what we were thinking, they voiced our thoughts. All five of us agree – no surgery.  But it is still a difficult decision.

Thinking about it more as I walked her this morning, I became grateful that Noah and I have living wills and that we have talked about our wishes.  I know what he would want and I know he knows my wishes. These wishes are in writing. It is comforting knowing that I have done what I can to make this easier for Noah and he has done what he can to make it easier for me.