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A Vizsla, an Osteosarcoma and an Emergency Vet all walk into a bar…

Jan 04

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I have sat here for at least an hour staring at this blinking cursor and wondering where to begin. So I will make it easy….

My Hank, my angel, my “heart dog,”….is gone.

And there is a huge, gaping hole inside my chest where my heart used to be, but he took it with him. And I am left with this persistent feeling of cold air sucking into this wound and filling my heart space to the point I feel physical pain….and a feeling of breathlessness takes over until I remind myself to breathe again. I couldn’t get out of bed for the entire day after he was gone (which I have only ever done ONCE before and it was because I was so sick with the flu that I literally couldn’t move).  I didn’t want to get up and walk downstairs because that meant I would see his empty bed where we said goodbye. It meant I would see his harness and leash near the front door yet he would not be there for me to put it on. It meant that I would be reminded that our house no longer contained the best part of it…the part that made it our home…… our Hank. For that entire day I didn’t ever get out of my pajamas, I didn’t shower, brush my teeth or my hair. I just had no desire to do any of it.  And I cried, actually sobbed, all day. Hank had been my shadow, my companion, my protector, my soul, each and every day for 9 years. And in the past year since his diagnosis, my entire day revolved around care taking for him. And I LOVED this job- giving him his pain meds five times per day, giving him a daily rub/massage, getting him out for his walk, preparing his meds and meals for when I was at work, or taking him to work with me.  And now he was gone. My heart was gone. And despite the many, many emotionally and physically painful things I have endured in my life, this pain is a type of pain I don’t think I have ever experienced.

He was doing great until the week leading up to Christmas. I had just worked 5, 12-hour night shifts in a row and when I came home on Wednesday morning, Hank was crying when we got into bed. It didn’t last long, so I didn’t think much of it. But when I went to bed with Adam on Wednesday night, he did it again and Adam confided in me that Hank had been crying a lot during the night. It also seemed as if his tumor had grown exponentially during that week. I could never really “feel” it when I ran my hand down his right hind leg, but by now it was easily a large and visible swelling. Thursday night and Friday night, Hank woke me up twice in the middle of the night crying, restless and painful. I would get up, give him an extra dose of pain meds and lay with him in his bed, running my hands over his body until he fell asleep. I can still feel his fur under my fingertips if I close my eyes. We also noticed that he was pretty much functioning on two legs multiple times during the day, yet he still somehow made it on his walks. He needed help getting up out of bed and was actually accepting the help, which for him, was not a good sign.

On Christmas Eve, we took him to my mothers for a family dinner and I remember looking at him at one point and seeing something different about his eyes, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was. And I started having a sinking feeling that we were getting close to the end (but denial was hitting me hard so I tried not to think about it). He just didn’t seem himself. Except of course, when I gave him close to half of my lobster dinner 🙂 That night, he woke me up three times and I never was able to get him to settle enough to go to sleep. The last time he woke me up was around 5 a.m on Christmas morning. I laid down with him and cried. I reminded him that he needed to tell me when he was done and I promised him I would listen. Up to this point, when I would cry and say this, he would snuggle his face into my neck, wiggle and thump his tail on his bed as if to say “Mom, I’m OK.” But on this morning, he just looked at me. No wiggling, no wagging, no snuggling. And there it was….I just knew.

Christmas Eve at Grandma’s

We spent Christmas morning opening gifts and hanging out in our PJ’s like most people do. It was a nice distraction from what was weighing on my mind. Adam and I had breakfast and talked about Hank- I told him my thoughts and we both cried even more. Mid-day, we decided to take the boys for a romp around the lake. Despite his pain, Hank hopped along like he usually does, sniffing and galloping around with Scout. I watched them and tried not to think about the fact that this would be their last walk together. I sobbed most of the time, but tried to find joy in seeing Hank in his favorite place. Outdoors and free.

Christmas night, he never slept. He cried the entire night and I was up with him every hour. He started to refuse his meds and by 2 a.m., we were both exhausted, so I put a Fentanyl patch on him out of desperation to take his pain away. It did nothing. Adam got up and went to work and I told him that this was it. We could not let him be in pain any longer. And then we had our last day. It all happened so fast.

Its hard to know how to spend a final 12 hours with something you love so much, especially when there is a deep, dark abyss on the other side of the impending loss that is very uncertain. I figured I had prepared myself so much for this time, yet really had no clue about the effect this was going to have on my family and I. I tried to enjoy the day as much as I could. He actually ate breakfast. We cuddled by the fire. And then I took him for his final walk….just me and him. He ran around to his usual critter holes, but there was an obvious decrease in his energy that day. I watched him hop along in front of me as I had every day for 9 years and tried to burn the image into my head. I even took a video so I never had to lose that memory. He ate snow…one of his favorite things. Then we went to the park and laid in the grass. He barked at some kids. And then, he rested his head on my leg and we sat for a while; I cried quietly to myself ….he finally seemed to rest. I ran my hands all over his body, his face, his velvety ears. I felt his scar. I rested my hand on his chest so I could feel his heartbeat. I kissed his muzzle and his head. I whispered in his ear. Then we walked home slowly.

Our last day in the park

Later in the evening, my mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephew came over to say their goodbyes. We toasted to Hank with Champagne, ate guacamole and all sat on the floor around him. My mom cooked him a hamburger, he helped us finish the tortilla chips and I let him have a Jello shot that was leftover from Christmas. I drank wine….. a lot of wine. They left and Adam’s mother came over. She laid with him on the floor and he loved every minute of it. Then Adam’s daughters got their chance to say goodbye. Kendra, the oldest, whom I have seen cry once before since I have known her (3 years), collapsed on Hank’s bed and sobbed as she held him. I could barely keep myself together as she did this and I came to realize just how many people loved him. He was just as important of a family member as any one of us humans.

Everyone left except Adam and I. Then it was time. And this was going to hurt.

Our last picture

My overnight ER nurse and one of my bestest friends, Eddy, came to the house. He was gentle and calm. He placed an IV catheter in Hank’s vein while he laid on his bed with Adam by the fireplace. I scooted over to Hank and put his head in my lap as Eddy gave him an IV dose of Fentanyl and a sedative to help him relax. For the first time all weekend, I felt him truly let go…he wasn’t in any pain. I held his head in my hands and pressed my forehead to his as hard as I could as if to be able to tell him how much I loved him by osmosis. I thanked him for taking such good care of me. I thanked him for bringing me to this place in my life where I was finally happy and safe. I thanked him for the unconditional love that only a dog is capable of giving and told him how much I was going to miss him. I whispered in his ear one final time how much I loved him as Eddy gave the final injections. I clutched his head as I felt him slip away and in that instant, I could not cry enough to get rid of the instant pain and emptiness I felt. And then he was gone.

Eddy carried his body to his car and I watched him drive away. Walking into the house was suffocating without Hank’s presence. Adam and I held each other all night and cried and all I have to say, is thank God for him. Thank God for this amazing man who loved my dog as much as I did. And when you are a veterinarian, you typically have a complex that no one will ever take as good of care of your pets as you would or love them as much as you would. Adam proved me wrong and if he hadn’t been there, I probably would have stepped into traffic that night.

It has been a little over a week and the grief is still indescribable. I still cry every morning when I get home and before I go to bed. I cry at night when I can’t lean down to his bed and kiss him. I cry when I drive to work and don’t see his face in my rear-view mirror. I cry when I look at Scout and see a dog that is completely different without his buddy. I cry at work when I walk by his empty kennel.

I have brief moments when I try to remind myself that we fought the good fight. That it was the right choice to let him go when we did and that he is finally free of pain. And I was lucky to have him as long as I did after his diagnosis; we did get him through to his birthday and Christmas after all. But those moments are quickly dashed by all the emotions that go along with grief. Anger that as a vet, I couldn’t save him. Emptiness, loss of purpose, depression, complete lack of motivation to do absolutely anything. More anger. I know time heals a lot of pain, but at the moment, it is fucking terrible and all I want is to have my dog back. The dog that reminded me daily why I became a veterinarian- because people suck. And what better way to spend my life than to make it my purpose to advocate for and to take care of those that take such amazing care of us. To love an animal is to live, and without him (or Roscoe, or my horse Little Bit, or my cat Lulu), I don’t think I would have ever made it. I am hoping that with more time it will get better and I hope the next time I write it will be from a place of acceptance and peace. I know I will get there. But today is not that day.

So goodbye my darling boy. I will meet you at the Rainbow Bridge. And I can’t wait to whisper in your ear how much I love you.



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24 comments so far

  1. tinsch
    10:37 am - 1-4-2017

    Lindsey, I am so so sorry. I am at work reading this and I am sitting in my office crying to myself. I look down to see Manni at my feet and I just know that nothing will ever fill the hole they leave. It’s good that you have so many memories and pictures and I hope with all my heart that these will be of some comfort to you in these excruciating days.
    You are in my thoughts,

  2. Katie
    10:47 am - 1-4-2017

    I am so sorry to read this, my heart is so heavy right now and I’m sitting on the couch silently crying a hell of a lot. Nothing fills the hole they leave, and you can tell Hank was such a special boy to you, and loved you so much. I’m glad you have so many happy memories with Hank, and that he made a final birthday and final Christmas. It still hurts now, but one day, maybe months away, maybe decades away, those memories will be comforting rather than painful.

    Sending you love, and I hope Hank is enjoying waiting for you at the rainbow bridge xx

  3. otisandtess
    11:06 am - 1-4-2017

    I am so sorry for your loss of Hank. You both gave it a good fight, and he is truly a warrior.

  4. 4myty
    11:33 am - 1-4-2017

    I too am choked up reading this. I know the exact feeling you are describing. It just plain hurt. Hurts so bad, you think it will never gat better. It will, I promise. It takes time. Give yourself that time. Don’t let others put a time limit on your grief. Eventually, you will think of something funny, cute and comical he did and a smile will come to your face. The hole in your heart will always be there to some degree, but it will grow slowly a bit smaller as it fills with precious memories that you and Hank created together. ❤️ Lori, Ty and gang

  5. megstamum
    11:53 am - 1-4-2017

    I am so sorry for the loss of your brave and beautiful boy. My heart goes out to you in your grief.

  6. Sara Keeler - Martin
    12:41 pm - 1-4-2017

    Linds, it’s so early and i’m reading this somehow with Dragos knowing it would happen, and he’s right next to me. I’m so sad that the one person who deserved him for life, and the dog and deserved years and years to run around on his new 3 legs is gone. I have memories of him myself of course. Being goofy and so protective of you; and all of the ways you’d describe his silly antics. I’m so happy you had someone there the way we had you. It’s the biggest blessing there is, and all thepighnthis i onewnall of your little moments of pain and why. I know that emptiness. I’m going to do what o can go see if i can somehow get Hank into your dreams. He’s probably got 25 girlfriends who’ve never seen a man with legs like his before so he may be a bit busy 🙂 I want you to know, animals are beyond blessed to have you. I’ll never trust another vet in my life, but considering the way we met i am honored to know you. You’re one of the most beautiful people around and in my eyesnjank was your angel and especially when you needed to feel safe 🙂 Love you, I mean that, and Hank is there maybe not visible, maybe adjusting, but he’s there. One thing i did was think of and ask for a sign. They came to me in dreams and all over in summer, it brings me so much comfort.,I’m happy you have such beautiful people to care for you, love you, and that hank had such a good life – – vet as a mom, can’t ask for more, and your love runs deep – he knew that! He’s just getting outnofnone car and stepping into another – John Lennon, Love you and Hank both; I didn’t get to say goodbye but I will today ❤️

  7. hester
    1:55 pm - 1-4-2017

    I am so sorry – and I relate to every word. It has been 2 months for us and I still have not been able to update my blog.

    Wishing you solace in this most difficult of times knowing you gave him everything he needed, including the gift of letting him go.


  8. benny55
    3:19 pm - 1-4-2017

    Too many tears rifht niw to try and get my thoughts together. Crying to hard.

    Thank you for giving Hank the gift of loving him enough to release him. He told you he was ready and you listened. He knew you would.

  9. dobemom
    3:27 pm - 1-4-2017

    My deepest condolences as you grieve your heart dog, I ache for you and your family. Wishing you peace in the coming days.

    Paula and Nitro

  10. Hally Hanawalt
    3:34 pm - 1-4-2017

    Lindsey, I am so sorry for your loss. I have enjoyed reading the stories of your journey with your beloved Hank. This cancer is a horrible thing as it takes our babies before their time. May you find peace knowing you loved him and he loved you. The love you shared shines brightly in your photos.

  11. teri
    3:57 pm - 1-4-2017

    My heart is breaking for you, I’m so sorry. I hope you find some peace. Weeping with you and the rest of the tribe. Hugs.

  12. murphsmom
    4:23 pm - 1-4-2017

    When we love hard, we grieve hard. Your love was and is boundless and Hank knows it.

  13. Deb
    5:21 pm - 1-4-2017

    Oh my goodness. I am crying here at work. I am so sorry. I understand the feelings you described and know the pain. You are not alone, not that it helps. I am just helpless. I want to give you a big hug and comfort you. We lost Bandit in November and I still miss him everyday, but sometimes I can smile at the goofy things I remember him doing. I pray that day comes to you very very quickly. Deb and Baby Bandit.

  14. jerry
    5:35 pm - 1-4-2017

    With many tears and a broken heart, all of us here send our love and condolences to you, doc and Adam and Scout, your whole family. We are so very, very sorry.

    Your story of Hank’s life and cancer fight touched us to the very core of our being. Every animal is special and our members’ even moreso, but few people have put the journey in such eloquent, unforgettable words that you have. We cry heavy tears today knowing that he is gone, and that you are grieving the loss of such a remarkable boy.

    If there is anything, anything at all that we can do for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are never far and ready to listen and lean on if you ever get the urge to call the helpline OK?

    With much love and many, many condolences,
    Rene, Jim, Wyatt Ray and Spirit Jerry

  15. linda8115
    9:38 pm - 1-4-2017

    I sit here crying as I read. Your journey with Hank has deeply touched us all. I know the hurt you are feeling is all encompassing and reaches your soul. The void is deep and so very hard. Fly free new Angel once again healthy and whole where you will wait to see your pack again in what is a blink of an eye. Sending you healing light and hugs on these hardest of days.

  16. Erica
    12:00 am - 1-5-2017

    I’m so sorry. Fly free sweet boy, hopefully Hank and my Sully will make fast friends at the Bridge. My deepest condolences on your loss. Wishing you peace.

  17. mysweetted
    1:21 am - 1-5-2017

    Lindsay, I’m so sorry. Everyone here has been so kind and has echoed everything I would have said, except that I’m so FUCKING PISSED that another sweet soul has lost this battle and left another sweet soulmate behind. I want (need) to go somewhere private and just scream or throw something or….. I don’t know what. I lost My Sweet Ted on 30 November and everything, EVERYTHING you put into words above conveys how I (and most likely WE) feel. Christine posted a note a few days ago about her sweet Otis and Tess and she nailed how I feel also, but for her it’s times 2, and I can’t even begin to imagine that pain. I’m just so very sorry for your loss and I know you will see your sweet Hank again.

  18. graciemama
    2:32 am - 1-5-2017

    I read your blog as I was sitting in the exam room with my Gracie. I had to put my phone down and have just now returned to finish your story because I too know this love. I have grieved many times in the past and I will in the future as well. For now, I grieve with you, for you and the loss you feel…that emptiness. I am so very sorry. Hank was obviously loved very much. May your memories of him serve as a constant reminder of that love and may you find comfort and peace in the blessings he brought to your life and the life you provided him. Hugs and prayers being sent your way.

  19. bcullom
    4:03 am - 1-5-2017

    Gut wrenching tears are flowing, so beautifully written about your very special Hank….. So many of us absolutely understand every single emotion you shared in this last few days with your boy, the fear, the denial, and lastly, the knowing.
    May you remember all the joy he has brought to your life in these last 9 years, and I do know that with time, your heart will eventually heal….
    Keeping you in my thoughts and heart,
    Bonnie, Angel Polly, Pearl, and Zuzu

  20. Michelle
    3:09 pm - 1-5-2017

    I am so sorry to read about Hank’s passing. I cried reading this. It’s been over 3 years and I relived every emotion losing Sassy again reading this. I know those promises we make and keep releasing them from pain. The pain of them not being there. Not hearing their special hop down the hall. The quietness of them being gone. No reason to give a pill to someone.
    The total pain and wanting them back. I get it all. It does get easier with time (I know cliche) it doesn’t make it easier and there will be those bad days where you just want to lay in bed and never get up again. Eventually the smiles of the memories will over take the tears. No one can say when and only this part of the journey is ours alone.
    We have support but no one can take that pain that is in our hearts away.

    Run Free Hank until you meet your mom again.

    Michelle & Angel Sassy

  21. mom2shelby
    9:04 pm - 1-5-2017

    I had to come back to read this as I couldn’t start reading it without losing my sh!t with tears. what an unbelievable love story you and Hank shared. You wrote this with such grace, dignity, passion and love… the truest love felt. It was like reading my own story at times as I would nod in agreement.

    The pain is unimaginable. I didn’t think I would ever see the light of day when it didn’t start w/a bucket of tears. I didn’t think there would be a day when I wouldn’t soothe my soul with wine to numb the pain. I didn’t think there would be a day I looked forward to waking up to tackle another day.

    Dogs are selfless; their love unconditional. It is not fair we don’t get more time with them.

    My heart goes out to you in your pain and know that the entire tripawds community sends are deepest love and sympathies.

    Until you and Hank meet again … that meeting will be the greatest gathering.

    Sending you love and hugs!
    Alison with Spirit Shelby in her heart (and little Jasper too)

  22. traceym
    12:54 am - 1-6-2017

    What a beautiful testimonial to your love for Hank. I cried also.

    Run free of pain, Hank, knowing you will with your family again.

    Tracey & Tai

  23. Liz
    1:54 am - 1-6-2017

    My heart breaks for you. I lost my doberman Zoe on December 27th just 2 months after her diagnosis. FUCK CANCER. I wish I had something more poignant to say but I’m crying too hard right now.

  24. midnighter94
    5:36 am - 1-13-2017

    Oh Lindsey. I just now read this – I’ve sort of been having a hard time being here lately …the losses have been getting to me. I am sobbing. I am so incredibly sorry. You write so well, you take us into your world, and we all feel your pain so clearly. I’m glad that you were able to celebrate another Christmas with Hank, and that he had a peaceful passing.
    Hugs to you, Adam & Scout from me & Murphy

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