by Mary Fernando
She is the first person I have spoken with who has actually killed.
“Unlike a lot of people, I do kill,” says Dr. V. As a veterinarian, she does indeed kill as part of her job. “There is how I end a life and what it is like.”
She starts with the latter.
“As one of my duties it is a bit of a double edged sword - it is so sad. Euthanasia literally means good death in Latin- I have to concentrate on that. it is my job to stay professional and not show grief. It can build up over time.”
Veterinarians have a very high suicide rate. One of the contributing factors is the result of facing grief over killing animals they are attached to while not being allowed to express their grief. It is their job to stay calm and comforting when they need comfort themselves.
She then moves onto the how she kills. She is describes both how to kill and what you see when death arrives. Not just for the animals in her practice, but for all living beings.
“I front load sedatives and anti-anxiety meds, so the animal is still with it enough to know their owners are there, but not as aware of the insertion of the IV catheter. We use pentobarbital at 300 times the dose used for anaesthesia. In 30 secs to a minute the syringe is fully injected and in 15 sec to 30 secs they pass.”
“I believe that is when the soul leaves the body. Breathing is slower and slower and then it stops - and I get a feeling - it is a deep stillness and you can almost see an emptiness.”
“I know what to expect and I warn my clients. The eyes will stay open. Even if you try to close them, they open up again. The animals will urinate and defecate. When calcium is released from the cells, sometimes you will see muscles contraction and the most scary thing is when the diaphragm contracts it looks like breathing. But it isn’t.”
“If this was an overdose of sleeping pills, it would be just like this.”
Listening to her, I think of the many dogs I have had over the years. How their pain and suffering was relieved by vets just like her. And how it must have worn each of them down.
I also wonder if any of us can kill - and watch this stillness - the emptiness - followed by the open eyed release of bowels and bladder and the breath that is merely the release of calcium and not life. Can we watch this and not be gutted to our core?
As a doctor I have seen death marching in - sometimes slowly and sometimes on a rampage - and I have seen death arrive. I have heard people say that it was a mercy, for the best. I have said that myself. But here’s the thing, the arrival of death is always frightening. There is no way that you can wipe out a life lived without that. Even if it is for the best.