“James, I’m for saving life, not taking it.”
I can still hear my Uncle Sam’s words, spoken to me over half a century ago. A little Beagle puppy lay nearly comatose, not eating, barely responding to our presence, breathing with difficulty. Painful as it was, I had asked him if it wasn’t better to end the puppy’s suffering rather than prolong what seemed to be inevitable.
A similar situation presented itself last week. A young man named
Jeremy called about a kitten he had found where he was on a construction crew. As they distributed a pile of concrete pipe for the current job, a mother cat and her kittens scrambled from inside one conduit.
The pile of pipe shifted, and one kitten was caught underneath. Jeremy estimated that each pipe weighed 6000 pounds, three tons.
That the kitten was even alive was amazing. Just where she was lying a depression in the sand beach protected her from the full weight of the pipe. Still, she had problems that were causing her to be unable to lift her head, unable to stand and unable or unwilling to eat.
While we all wanted to do something for the kitten Jeremy had named “Lucky,” finances were limited.
Working Lucky up properly would have called for at least $2000.00 in diagnostics and therapy. She needed an MRI to determine the presence of abdominal injuries. IV fluids, antibiotics, a neurological examination and possibly ultrasound. In short, she needed to be at a referral facility, seeing specialists. If she survived the first 24 hours she would probably require exploratory surgery of the abdomen.
Since that was out of our reach, we did the next-best thing, gave her an antiinflammatory injection, prayed over her, split the cost, and sent her home for Jeremy to administer warm milk by mouth.
The young construction worker did his best through the week, then called Friday to say that Lucky had vomited the milk she ate. He made an appointment for me to examine her again.
While the kitten had gained the ability to hold her head up, she still had no awareness of her surroundings, and was unable to stand. Her abdomen was swollen. “Jeremy,” I began, “I suspect that Lucky has intestinal damage and is leaking GI contents into her tummy. I see nothing on her examination to give me encouragement.”
Together, we decided it was time to let her go.
Another prayer, then an injection. She slipped away quietly and painlessly.
We had done our best with what we had.
We gave her a chance, at least.
I think Uncle Sam would have been proud.
I was certainly proud of young Jeremy.
See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.