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From Valley Cottage Animal Hospital
by Jessica E. Downing, DVM

Part Of the Medicine

If you were to look at Mr. Honara you would see a Vietnam veteran wearing a baseball cap and sweats. While you wouldn’t mistake him for Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick; you wouldn’t be afraid to look him in the eye either. And, as an Army Master Aviator for twenty-one years, he would look right back at you and size you up in a minute.

I did not know him at all the night he and his wife brought Sadie to me. Unfortunately, I knew Sadie’s condition all too well. Sadie was nine years old. She had been fine all day. That evening, she did not eat dinner. By 10pm, she was having difficulty walking. In the exam room, I looked at Sadie. Her gums were pale. Her belly felt like Jell-O. “I think we had better take an x-ray,” I told Mr. and Mrs. Honara. Sadie’s x-rays told her sad story. She had developed a splenic tumor which then ruptured. She was bleeding internally.

I discussed treatment options for Sadie. The odds were not in her favor. Splenic tumors are often malignant. Mr. and Mrs. Honara opted to keep Sadie with me overnight. I would watch her closely and keep her comfortable while they considered their options.

Sadie took a turn for the worse the next morning. Despite pain medication, she looked uncomfortable. She could barely lift her head. I called her family.

Mr. and Mrs. Honara and I knelt before the cage where Sadie was lying. She was letting go. Mrs. Honara had tears in her eyes. Mr. Honara and I debated whether it was too late to surgically remove Sadie’s bleeding tumor. “Sadie will probably not make it through the surgery at this point,” I told Mr. Honara. “Well,” Mr. Honara reasoned, “I’ve been on three suicide missions and I’m still alive.” He continued, “I don’t gamble with money, but I’ve gambled with lives and won. Does that make any sense to you, Doc?” I turned to the nurses, “We’re taking Sadie into surgery.”

Sadie received a blood transfusion as she was placed on the operating table, and while her spleen was removed. As we carried her out of the operating room, I told the staff to call Sadie’s owners. To my surprise, they told me that the Honaras had never gone home. They were sitting in our waiting room. Later, Mr. Honara would tell me that every minute that he waited, was a minute won in the battle to save Sadie. I gave them the thumbs up sign as I walked up to them. Mrs. Honara hugged me. I took them to visit Sadie. This time, as we knelt by her cage, Sadie lifted her head and wagged her tail.
As we had suspected, the biopsy indicated that Sadie’s tumor was malignant. Her owners opted not to pursue chemotherapy. Instead, they took her home and spoiled her. The holidays came and went, including Mrs. Honara’s birthday. She told me that having more time with Sadie was the best gift she had ever received.

An urgent call from Mrs. Honara one morning indicated that Sadie’s cancer had spread and that she was bleeding again. The cancer was now in her liver. Sadie was hospitalized so that she could receive another blood transfusion. Despite our efforts, Sadie continued to bleed. She was weak and unwilling to move. Mr. and Mrs. Honara came to visit Sadie, planning on saying goodbye.

I swear that our patients know when their family walks through our hospital doors. Sadie was no exception to this phenomenon. Sadie knew her family had arrived before she saw them. She pulled against her leash as she was walked into the exam room where they waited for her. Sadie was ready to go home. That was two days ago. Sadie is home, eating and active. Both the Honaras and I know that Sadie’s time is precious. Mr. Honara told me, as we conversed over the phone, that he read an article about the healing power of love. He said, “I think love is part of the medicine.”
Love is part of the medicine. It was the driving force behind Sadie’s surgery. It was the reason why Sadie ran to greet her owners after she had been too weak to walk. It is the reason why when Sadie tells her family that it’s time, they will say goodbye. For me, it was a combat helicopter pilot, who saved lives through his own daring actions that brought to light this most important fact.

In today’s world, we are fortunate to benefit from the wonderful advancements in medicine. And, as time goes on, new advancements will replace the old ones. The one constant is love. After all, it is the reason why medicine exists—to make the ones we care for better when they are sick; to take away their pain when they hurt. Medical advances are the products of our brains; but the miracle of medicine is born from the heart, from love.

In Loving Memory of Sadie (12/2004-02/2014)

Dr. Downing has been a general practitioner and emergency veterinarian at the Valley Cottage Animal Hospital since 2005. As a co-owner of the hospital, Dr. Downing oversees the emergency side of the practice. Dr. Jessica Downing grew up in upstate New York. She completed her veterinary education at the New York State Veterinary College at Cornell University.

Dr. Downing’s professional interests include emergency medicine, ultrasonography and surgery.