Today will be okay, I tell myself just before nearly treading on a dead baby bunny with a hornet eating its eyeball. Surely this wasn’t an omen! (Hint: it was.) The power of positive thinking would make today wonderful. (Spoiler: it didn’t.)
First, I had to take a case with the Japanese intern who does to the English language what Picasso did to painting. While managing that, my young patient in ICU tried to die in a new and creative manner (in addition to several traditional ones). Even worse, the only thing more difficult than admitting there was nothing more that could be done for this sweet three-year-old in kidney failure (who now had fluid in her lungs and was struggling to breathe) was convincing her owner of this. Despite our best efforts on both fronts, her dog was dying and she continued to exist in a vortex of denial, hysteria, and misplaced hope in miracles.
Just as I packed up my things and prepared to roll the credits on this horror show of a day, her owner finally admitted that the time had come to drop the curtain on her poor pet’s life. I waited in the wings for two hours while she visited and said goodbye, her parents accompanying for moral support. Turns out it was more moral breakdown than support. Her well-intentioned but misinformed father enabled her delusion that her dog would live a long life frolicking in wildflower meadows if only we gave her one more day (as we had been doing for the past six days). So, after a full day of scenes just as depressing as a decomposing baby forest creatures, several hours of waiting around for a farewell that was long-overdue and yet cancelled on a desperate owner’s whim, and a package and a half of plain rice cakes, I was reasonably sure that each and every one of my few remaining feelings had been used up. Several months of clinics and six very stressful days of supporting a dog in kidney failure (as well as her hysterical owner) had me running on fumes; by 9 pm, I wished I had enough fuel left to accelerate to 60 mph and crash into a tree. As it was, I had just enough left in the tank to maintain my composure (if not sanity) and stumble home, if only I could take care of a few things before leaving.
Cue the death of my favorite resident of the ICU, a sweet, beautiful Collie who looked far too much like my own dog for comfort. Even then, I held it together (more of a generic brand tape hold than a superglue hold) as I finished some notes on a treatment sheet. My emotional well was still dry until, at hour fourteen of the day of the dead bunny omen, I saw the locks of fur that had been saved for the collie’s family.
I lost it.
I feigned an allergy attack, my eyes red and watering, as I hurried to the bathroom. Safely in the sanctuary of the stall, I let loose and cried, cried for the first time in months. Perhaps the well hadn’t been drained by the stress and pressure of clinics, but only dammed up in an unconscious attempt to preserve my sanity? It didn’t matter now, because the dam was breached and the river flowed freely from my puffy eyes.
What am I going to do? How do I keep going? I asked the blotchy face in the mirror. There was only one option to save me from drowning: take a breath, patch up the dam, and do it all again tomorrow.
By the next morning, some unfortunate municipal worker or brave neighbor had disposed of the rabbit carcass.