By Gina Spadafori
September 17, 2009
Heather was diagnosed Tuesday with a soft-tissue sarcoma, based on X-rays and ultrasounds. Almost certainly malignant, but without cutting into her, we can’t know, and I’m not doing that at this point in her life. (She’s almost 13.)
That news was delivered by my primary-care veterinarian, the amazing, compassionate and utterly freakin’ brilliant Dr. Bill Porte (that’s him on the leftÂ in the picture, with Dr. John Kim, as well as McKenzie and her puppies). Dr. Bill started his working life as a ladder-climbing MBA at Ford Motors, but he could not extinguish his dream of being a veterinarian. His wife said, “What are you doing? Go for the dream!” and they moved to California where he went to UC Davis. One of his professors was younger than he was:Â Cardiologist Dr. Paul Pion, who went on to save millions of cats and found the Veterinary Information Network.
Dr. Bill is now the Director of General Medicine at the VCA Sacramento Veterinary Referral Center. Even more important, there’s not a patient, client, staffer or veterinarian who doesn’t adore the man, which means when he asks the specialists to take a look and offer an opinion right now, they do.Â And so it was that the diagnosis (bad) and prognosis (bad) was the considered opinion not only of our own primary-care veterinarian, but also of a veterinary-school-quality A Team of specialists.
I love my pets’ veterinary hospital.Â From the front desk — hi Angie! hi Michelle! — to the wonderfully skilled certified techs, including one who is also a “Heather,”Â to the veterinarians all,Â this place has really hit its stride from a rather rough beginning (in my opinion) when they opened the massive and impressiveÂ facility a couple years back, consolidating most of their regional specialists in one place.
Many’s the time I walk out wishing I could get care like this — an immediate appointment (I waited six weeks for an “urgent” appointment for my own back issues), friendly, efficient front staff, excellent nurses, and GPs and specialists who work with each other constantly and seamlessly.
My veterinarian calls me. My own doctor I can’t get on the phone, don’t even try.Â (OK, gotta say here that my doctor does the best she can under the restraints put on her by the system she works in. I don’t blame her at all. But our healthcare system is screwed up beyond almost all hope, even for those of us who DO have health insurance.)
“Cost of such incredible veterinary care?” you say? Yes, it’s high end in veterinary medicine. But compared to what I and my insurance company are paying for care that’s not remotely as caring, competent and convenient,Â it’s a complete and utter bargain. And yes, I carry pet-health insurance to offset the cost.
Swell, but I’ve still got a dog with a terminal prognosis. Yesterday, I almost put her down. And without the long-standing, trusting relationship built over 20-plus years with Dr. Bill, she would probably be dead today.
Tuesday after her day at the hospital, we decided to give her a new pain-control medication. It did not go well, and Wednesday morning I had a dog who had no interest in food or even raising her head, and who urinated on herself.
But then Dr. Bill offered that it might be a drug issue, and by noon, when I got home from work to take her for her last car ride, I had a dog who greeted me at the door, tail wagging, who ate my entire lunch ravenouslyÂ (grilled beef salad and Bunny Grahams) and who bounced into the hospital as if she were a visiting dignitary, not a dog with a date to die.
Angie ripped up the euthanasia forms, Dr. Bill adjusted the meds, and Heather ate a full dinner last night and re-assumed her normal spot on the bed afterward.
Yes, I’m running a doggie hospice. But while I will not take more time at the cost of her suffering, I will take all the time I can get without her suffering.
And so, another day begins.
Special note to Sacramento-area folks: Since our Dr. Marty Becker likes flying more than I do, we’ve gotten into the routine of having our sorta quarterly ‘where the heck are we? what the heck are we doing?” daylong meetings here in Sacramento, where we are graciously given the conference room at my veterinary hospital for the day.
This led to talks, and those led to this, officially:
Dr. Marty Becker will be at the VCA Sacramento Veterinary Referral Center on Sunday, Oct. 18Â to sign books. (Me, too!) I believe there will also be tours of the facility — it’ll knock your socks off — and a chance to meet the staff.Â I’ll have more details later, but mark your calendar now.
Heather won’t be there — it’s just too much for an almost 13-year-old dog — but I’ll bring Faith, since I never turn down such a wonderful opportunity to socialize a puppy.
Christie’s mom: Christie offers an update on her mom over on her personal blog. Since it’s exactly what she wants to say, I won’t paraphrase here . Just jump over. And say a prayer for Kathleen McKenzie and her family.