Re: Dedicated to Millie
I am writing this letter today to explain my point of view in terms of the euthanasia incident that occurred with Millie on June 20, 2008.
This is NOT about blame. I know the medical people at xxx are high caliber.....So I’m not here to attack anyone, just to help you understand why it is so important that I feel we all be here today.
Over the past 18 months, through our website and several others, Millie had touched many hearts, many who either wrote or called our rescue to let us know how she impacted them. For instance, one person from the midwest adopted a senior from her local shelter and named her Millie. Another from California called GSRNE to thank us for all we did for her. Another from Virginia has a dog with DM and writes that she has been encouraged by Millie's story. One drove up from Connecticut just to meet her. Being able to show a pictorial diary of an old debilitated dog living a full happy and comfortable life, being treated with dignity and respect, has had a ripple effect out there in the world, and many more people will laugh and cry, and then perhaps, foster or adopt, their own seniors, and that will be part of Millie's legacy.
I decided to euthanize Millie that Friday morning because when I came home from work, I found her in her bed unable to steady herself in a sitting position. I was warned that the DM can move fairly quickly in the later stages, and so there it was. She looked mentally frustrated, gave me an unusual LOOK I had been told would happen, and I knew I couldn’t allow her to go on another day. I had been up all night working and awake almost 24 hours by then. Chris Harriman, one of GSRNE’s board members, had stayed overnight with her to help with her while I was at work, and thankfully she was ready to support us both down that path to dog heaven.
.... I felt that anyone anywhere could handle the job, as long as I could be with her. But then I was asked to hold a few minutes, and then I was told there was a vet who could handle it, to bring her right in, which we did.
Once at the hospital, we walked into the room and I placed Millie on top of her bed on the table. The vet tech handled all the paperwork and payment up front with Chris, and then xxx walked in, syringe and needle in her hand. I stayed with Millie at her head, stroking her and loving her up. The vet had a hard time getting the iv in, and Millie struggled. But I was actually glad that she fought, told her how proud I was of her, and told her to come back to me as an earth angel to help me watch over other homeless seniors, that she would make a good protector of them because Millie was a warrior. I knew things would be over quickly, seconds to minutes.
Millie's body quickly became limp, Dr. xxx listened to her heart, and told both Chris and I that she was gone. She and the tech left the room, told us to take our time, and then Chris and I sobbed like babies. I kissed her all over, making jokes about how I loved every part of her body but I wasn't about to kiss her stinky butt, and made Chris stay down at that end, as we were laughing and crying and making jokes with our 'dead' Millie. At one point, Chris noticed that Millie's eyes still looked like 'she has a spark in them'.
I had brought a blanket that her sponsor, Nancy, had sent to her over the winter. I brought it to send it with Millie to heaven, and covered Millie with it as she 'slept'. But when Chris mentioned the sparkle in her eye, we both thought the same thing, 'let's make sure'.
There was no stethescope in the room. So I put my hand under the blanket and felt her chest, and thought I felt her heart beating, really fast. I whipped off the blanket only to find her chest expanding and contracting. I put my hand to her nose, and there were normal warm breaths of air on my palm. Chris confirmed everything very quickly and then I lost it. Looking back at the times on the digital photos since then, we were about 15 minutes into her supposed 'death', and I couldn't put thoughts together. I became inconsolable, because as a nurse, I knew there was little chance of getting another IV into her, and horrible visions of botching my precious dog’s body started to creep in.
Chris remembers me opening the door and yelling, 'My dog is NOT dead, she's not dead, come back'. We felt we were being ignored. I had heard someone say earlier that this was the time that everyone goes to lunch, and wondered if that's where they all were.
Finally, a tech came in with a stethescope and she calmly said, "you're right. I'm sorry. I'll be right back."
Nobody came back right away, and we couldn't figure out why not. Chris was steaming in a corner, and we took turns pacing. I kept my hand at Millie's nose, feeling her warm breathing, and the other hand on her chest, feeling a heart beat that was NOT slowing down. It was all so confusing. At this point, I had gotten control of my sobbing because I thought I better not upset Millie, but inside, total panic.
I opened up the door for a second time, and looked toward the desk. Again, nobody came, and everyone at the desk seemed to look away. So I yelled out something along the lines of, "My dog was euthanized here. Do you understand she is STILL ALIVE? The drug your vet gave did NOT work. We are STILL WAITING for someone to come back and finish the job."
Not long afterwards, a second unknown vet came with a tech, syringe in hand. She listened and confirmed she was still alive, and reassured me that she was in no pain. She then proceeded to tell me that it was now going to be even more difficult to get an iv in because she probably had a low blood pressure. And she was right. It seemed to take forever, as she poked and poked her chest area with a huge needle. I stayed at Millie’s head and tried to talk us through it, asking her who she forgot to say goodbye to. I went through the list of all her dog friends. I took her down memory lane. I kissed her head and neck all over again, and thanked her for giving me some bonus time with her...
Finally, a final injection, she listened, and said she was gone. She handed me the stethescope. I asked why I was still hearing heart beats. She listened again and mumbled some technical term I can't remember. Then the next listen, there was nothing. I watched her chest fall for the last time with one final breath on my palm, and then it was over.
Nobody had an explanation for us. A fluke. On no sleep and under terrible diuress, unable to put a single thought together at that moment, I accepted it. In fact, I actually felt bad for Dr. xxxx, thinking how traumatic this must be for her, too, and consoled her too, when she made her final entrance with an apology. Chris, on the other hand, turned to her and said, "she is a lot more forgiving than I am, and I'm very angry." I had no room for anger, on top of confusion, shock, and immense grief over not being able to protect my dog as she made her way to heaven.
I trimmed Millie's fur off at the very end, and through my tears, I inadvertently cut a large chunk of tissue on her neck. I noticed that she did not bleed, and said THANK GOD it was after the final injection that I did this, and now I continue to have the 'what if' nightmares that don't seem to let up yet.
I still have horrible insomnia, with visions of all the chaos in that room. During my worse moments, the needle is not a needle. It is a sword, piercing Millie’s heart, over and over again. And although a big part of me believes that Millie didn't have awareness of pain, the chaos in the room, the way we were ignored during and after, and the awful medical procedure is a lot for me to bear. Millie and I were enmeshed with each other through my nursing care of her, and I had worked extremely hard to make sure she was kept safe and comfortable, with a peaceful ending for both of us. I realize it was not intentional, but that peaceful ending was snatched away from all of us.
And it's not that I can't handle horrible medical procedures. [Removed at the request of Donna] But none of my past experiences helped prepare me for what happened in that room with Millie, because our bond was very tight. My best peace of mind is that she is now dead and free of pain.
I looked at her photos recently. I see her awake and alert, engaging with Chris and I. She even drank a bowl of water before her injection. She seemed calm. Chris and I were calm enough to take some final photos of her with each other, and I wanted to take after photos to remember how peaceful she would look, sleeping peacefully on her comfy bed with her blanket ready to cross the bridge. But now I look at them as a time reference from the time recorded on the digital photos, beginning to end. There was approximately half an hour between the first injection, and her final breath, and it surely felt it.
Quoted from Millie's chart:
"6/20/08. Dog here for PTS. Not doing well. Very emaciated; recumbent. Elective euthanasia. Butterfly catheter IV RF. Euthasol 5.5cc IV slowly. HR with RR still present. Euthasol 4cc intra-cardiac."
MILLIE WAS EUTHANIZED BY HEART STICK.
GSRNE has many missions. One, the most obvious one, is about rescuing homeless animals. Millie was dumped on the streets probably because she was old. GSRNE took her in because nobody else wanted her. And ironically, she has helped us accomplish some of our other missions. We like to think we set the tone for how dogs should be treated as family members, no matter how old or how sick they are, they deserve respect and dignity, all the way to heaven. Hopefully, her photo journal has helped get this message out to the public. The other part of that is education, and ironically, here we are, dealing with something nobody likes to talk about with their dogs. Well, I’ve been talking about it, on three different websites. This incident hurt Millie, me, Chris, and all of German Shepherd Rescue of New England. It has also hurt hundreds and possibly thousands of people who have followed her from as far away as Australia and Canada. One of those websites has had a documented 7,829 views. Another, has 700 members, with those members having many friends and family members talking about euthanasia now. And I’m not going to put this to rest, and so I ask you today, what are your plans to help insure no other dogs or loved ones will travel down this path of **** that I found myself on with Millie? And I encourage you, as veterinarians who are given the God given priveledge of mercy killing, to not only find ways to educate your patrons about euthanasia, but to also do some sensitivity training and euthanasia education with all of your support people at xxxx Hospital, as when some are understandably too busy, they can play a key role in terms of communication and support during times of chaos and emotional turmoil.
Help me turn this negative incident into something positive so that we, as a society, can benefit from what we’ve learned from it.
Donna Joseph and Millie and GSRNE and friends
GSD - Quynne, born 29 sept 2004
MalteseXPoodle - Buddy, adopted Jan 2004 - RIP 14 May, 2009 9-11yo
Galah - Birdie-girl - adopted in 1999 when she was approx 12yo