Remembering a Life

by Matthew Rusnak

“Yes. You should probably bring her in.” This was what the receptionist from the Metropolitan Veterinary Hospital told me. My dog, Goldie, had a bloody nose and was breathing heavily. In addition, she had only one functional kidney and it barely worked at all. But still, she remained smiling. She licked my hand softly as to comfort me, as to tell me “It's okay, you've done all you can.” I hooked the leash on her collar and we walked out the back door of my apartment and got into my car. It was already late, around 11. The cold November air felt especially chilling that night. Goldie climbed into the front seat and then laid down on the floor below the seat. I petted her head the entire drive to the hospital. This was the last time she ever set paw in my car.

            As I drove to the hospital, I thought about all that had brought her and me to this point. I remembered when she first stopped eating. My mother and I took her to the Columbia Animal Clinic where Dr. Sandhu performed several tests on her and then told us to return in several days and he would read us the results. Neither my mother nor I expected anything serious the day we returned to hear the diagnosis. “It's kidney stones, but very large ones. Her one kidney is completely shut down and her other one is barely functional,” Dr. Sandhu said. I remembered my mother and I were silenced. Neither of us believed what we had just heard.

            Goldie started to fade away from me as I continued my drive to the hospital. Her eyes closed slowly and she drifted in and out of consciousness. I petted her side and remembered more. I remembered being given bags of sodium chloride IV's, tubes, and hypodermic needles. I remembered undertaking the task of injecting Goldie with 500 ml of sodium chloride twice per day. I injected her on her side right next to her hind leg. Goldie was so cooperative in the whole experience. She would lie down on her side right in front of me. She never flinched when the needle pierced her skin. I remembered when a bulge would form under her skin when the sodium chloride wasn't absorbed quickly enough. When I touched it, it was ice cold, yet Goldie never shivered. Back in the car, Goldie felt as cold as that bubble of sodium chloride did. I was losing her.

            I pulled into the parking lot of the hospital. Goldie was too weak to walk so I carried her inside. The hospital was empty except for the receptionist. The tile floors were teal blue. The walls were white. I hated that this might be the last place Goldie would see. We were greeted by the receptionist. She was already familiar with Goldie's situation and escorted her to an examining room where the on call veterinarian assessed her health. I was left in the lobby on a bench. My mind wandered to the past again.

After months of daily injections of sodium chloride, Goldie's health improved. It appeared as if we had beaten the odds. She was eating regularly and the quality of her one working kidney greatly increased. Around the same time, I was planning on moving to Akron. Unfortunately, Goldie could not come with me. The cost of having a dog at the apartment I was interested in was too steep and unaffordable. This meant she was left behind with my mother in Olmsted Falls. Shortly after I moved to Akron, Goldie's condition deteriorated. As I sat on the bench in the lobby, I started to hyperventilate. This was my fault.

            The on-call veterinarian came out and told me that her chest cavity was filling with fluid and that her one remaining kidney was rapidly failing. He told me they could keep her there overnight but he guaranteed nothing. “Is she suffering and in pain?” I asked. “Yes, she seems to be in a great deal of pain,” he replied. The veterinarian further added, “It's really up to you. We can either keep her here or you might want to consider . . . you know.” He walked away after those words. I was left to decide my best friend's fate. I sat back on the bench and considered all options and what was best. I had never had to make this kind of decision before. I had no idea what to do.

            I hyperventilated even more. I cried and felt overwhelmed. Goldie was the first dog I truly owned. Nine years earlier, my parents had taken me to a private breeder in Grafton. The breeder welcomed us and took us into the back yard. There, in a little fenced-in area were eight golden retriever puppies. I walked into the fenced-in area and was immediately attacked by charming and fluffy balls of fur. After the fluff cleared, there sat a cute little puppy. She was reddish gold and the most adorable pup I had ever seen. This puppy was the one. The decision I made in choosing her was far easier than the one I had to make in that hospital lobby. My hands retracted away from my face and I knew what I had to do. I told the veterinarian that I wanted her put down.

            The veterinarian pointed me toward a telephone after I told him what I wanted done. I picked up the receiver and dialed my mother. While sobbing, I told her on the phone that if she wanted to see Goldie one last time she should come down to the hospital. She told me she would be down as soon as she could. I hung up the phone, picked it back up and then dialed my father. He was in West Virginia so he wouldn't be able to see Goldie one last time. Still, I felt he at least should have known. Again, crying over the phone, I told him what was going to happen. My father began to cry as well and told me that he knew how difficult this decision was for me. He said that he felt I was doing the right thing and trusted my choice. I said goodbye and hung up the phone and sat back down on the bench. The minutes seemed like hours while I waited for my mother to arrive. All I could do was think more and more about all my moments with Goldie. I thought about when Goldie first swam in our pool. I thought about when she would sleep on top of my feet in bed. I thought about when she would carry her little baby stuffed panda around. I thought about the cakes I would fashion out of dog treats for her birthday. After this thought, my mother walked through the sliding doors and gave me a hug. The veterinarian then came out and told us everything was ready.

            He asked whether or not we would be present in the room. My mother immediately responded with an emphatic “No.” However, I quickly disagreed with her and said that I would at least be in the room. I told my mother that I refused to let Goldie die alone in a room with some stranger. She seemed to understand and agreed and we were led into exam room #1. The floor was sea foam green tile and the walls were a faded white. Dim lighting filled the room and a nurse brought Goldie in through a back door. She told us we had a few minutes before the veterinarian came in to administer the injection. Then she walked out and closed the door behind and my mother and I sat on the floor and held Goldie. She was very weak by this point and could barely move or lift her head. We told her how much we loved her and that she would always be in our hearts. Both my mother and I kissed her head many times. Soon thereafter the vet came in and offered me a pair of scissors and said that some people like to keep a lock of fur. I took the scissors and lifted some of her fur from her back and snipped it off. The veterinarian then handed me a Ziploc bag and I placed the fur inside and zipped up the bag. Then he asked if we were ready. My mother and I nodded and held Goldie even tighter and kept repeating how much we loved her. The needle pierced Goldie's skin and the plunger was pushed down. He then held his hand around Goldie's leg, feeling her pulse until it slowed and eventually stopped. Then he stood up, said “Okay, it's done,” and then left the room. I was still lying there along with my mother next to Goldie. She was gone. I already missed her. Slowly, my mother and I got up and walked out the room. We slumped to the parking lot and hugged each other once more and said goodbye. Nothing else was said.

            I got back into my car and started to drive home. I took one long last glance at the hospital where one of the things I loved the most just passed away. The seat next to me was now empty. I missed her so much. But even while I cried and felt utterly miserable, I knew I made the right choice. And I hoped that somewhere, once again, Goldie had a smile on her face.