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GRIEF TO LOVE
A Most Important Lesson
© Marcie Fallek, D.V.M., C.V.A.
I learn so much from my clients.
Annie had started losing control of her urine and over the months the situation was deteriorating. The carpets were becoming continually soaked and concurrently her hind legs were growing weaker and weaker. My heart sank as I fully understood the situation and saw the writing on the wall. My mind went into automatic pilot and I withdrew into an emotional vacuum. This was the point, where I would normally talk to my clients about quality of life, and the fairness of it all to their dog.
My dear friend Bruce just happened to call me, as I was filling the washing machine with yet another load of urine saturated quilts. It is always a pleasure to hear from Bruce. Unfortunately, it is usually way too infrequently, only about every six months or so. How fortuitous that he just happened to call me now! I told him, what was going on with Annie and how I was cleaning up urine constantly. The place was a mess, I was a mess, totally exhausted from doing so many laundry loads, cleaning the floor, cleaning the dog. While I was in a regular conventional practice, I rarely if ever saw a client that would have gone so far: the dog would have been euthanized long before this stage. I was totally worn out. Taking care of Annie had become a full time job, and most people do NOT have the endurance for this hospice work, either physically or emotionally.
“MARCIE!!!!,” he chided me. “This is not about you. This is about ANNIE!!!!! Forget about yourself! This is about your baby!”
And Bruce would know! My mind flashed back to when his dog Kit was sick. Actually, more than just sick: Kit had collapsed while walking on the street in Brooklyn and Bruce had to rush her to a veterinary hospital near his house. They discovered she had a hemangiosarcoma, a very aggressive malignant tumor that had started in her spleen and had already metastasized to her liver, heart and her entire abdominal cavity. The tumor had ruptured and her belly was filled with blood. The veterinarian called Bruce and asked permission to put her to sleep on the table, the standard protocol. I don’t think that I knew of a veterinarian that would NOT have made that phone call. There was little hope that Kit would even rouse herself from the anesthesia, never mind last for any time at all, with tumors in all her major organs, and her body severely anemic from the blood loss. “Are you nuts? ” Bruce screamed at them. “Sew her back up---I am coming to get her!”
Although Bruce was a busy theatre and film set designer, working on major films and on Broadway, he told everyone he was taking time off. He drove Kit to Virginia from Manhattan, to her favorite spot in all the world---- the top of a mountain, in a secluded area, surrounded by woods and rolling hills and hundreds of acres where Bruce and Kit and his other two dogs had spent many happy summers, while Bruce wrote manuscripts in his friend’s cabin. Bruce scoured the bookstores and internet, searching for holistic treatments, anything that would bring his beloved Kit, his Heart, as he called her back from the brink of death. He had high hopes she would make it. She would be cured. Bruce is the wonderful eternal optimist who has always been an inspiration to me. He gave her coffee enemas, force fed her goat’s milk, found all kinds of weird and wonderful supplements and Native American prayers that he chanted to her. Well, darned if that dog didn’t live very happily another month, against all the odds, and was able to die peacefully surrounded by her family and her beloved trees, Although she didn’t beat the cancer, this was a victory in itself. How much more wonderful to die like this, instead of on the surgery table in an antiseptic veterinary hospital, with strangers, who really didn’t see her like anything more than a case of metastatic cancer.
His words shook me to the core. OF COURSE!!! I had been like a terrified horse running blindly out of control down a road I didn’t want to be on. Everything shifted- my world changed course. I was positively euphoric. His words resonated with the truth in my heart. The shift from being tired and depressed, full of negative thoughts and the fear of death, the fear of my impending loss, fear of the future was gone. My heart was filled with love, and I was infused with an energy that I didn’t think I could possibly have, given my exhaustion and debilitating schedule between working a seven day week and taking care of Annie. Everything came into focus and for the first time in a long time, I felt so alive! Everything had been a blur before. I had been in a daze of hopelessness and fear and negativity. I loved that dog with all my heart –and suddenly it WAS about her. I just wanted her to be happy, and comfortable. “I” was gone. I would look deep into her eyes and try to read her needs…. Did she want to sleep, to be stroked, to lie out in the sun?
I went out and bought rubberized flannel by the yard, to cover the carpets. I bought every type of doggie diaper that was made, to see which worked the best. She had long ago turned her nose up at the raw frozen organic dog food that she had eaten for years. So I bought her a leg of lamb and roasted it with garlic and rosemary. I had never made leg of lamb in my life. But she seemed to like it. I cooked new recipes I tried everything and anything.
Most people, when their beloved companion animal is failing, and facing death, lose this precious time with them. I have to say, looking back, this was one of the most meaningful times of my life. I was euphoric. So much so, that I felt guilty. So I sought out my spiritual therapist whom I see occasionally, when there is great need to discuss something.. I asked him, WHY I felt so happy! The best friend I ever had, my companion for 16 years was dying, why did I feel so good?? Henry smiled, “your heart,” he told me “is open—your love is flowing.”
We spend so much of our time and our lives, closing our hearts out of fear: fear of being hurt, fear of being rejected, fear of being misunderstood. This was the first time in my life my heart was TOTALLY open. There was no more ego, ego in the sense of being differentiated from the greater whole. The sense of mine and thine was gone. This was the bliss that the sages and saints of old felt, when the little “I” the ego was gone. We are all part of everything. I was love and I loved that dog and I would do ANYTHING for her.
Disclaimer: The case histories that I write about are chapters from my upcoming book, and are based on actual animals that I have treated. The names of some clients and patients have been changed to maintain their privacy. The facts are written as accurately as possible, based on my medical notes and phone and/or in-person interviews. Some minor details of setting or other non-medical facts may differ slightly due to lapse of memory after so many years. I apologize in advance for any such errors.
Marcie Fallek, D.V.M., C.V.A.
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