Bad news is burdened with the other facts. Bad news talks about the 90% that failed to make 3 years. Bad news says the pain will only get worse. Bad news wants you to understand the truth. Bad news says get ready. Bad news reveals that even though we don't know how long we have, we know where we are going. Once you get past denial and grasp the reality of a terminal diagnosis, you realize there is no good news. All of the news comes from the same bucket. Not good, not bad. Just news.
The staff here has been amazing. I have never been treated with such attentiveness in a medical setting. Doctors, residents and students, all have answered every question with thoroughness and patience. They have listened to every story I've told, kindly nodding and smiling and acting as if this dog, our family, was their only concern. They are careful, consistent and compassionate. I wonder who they are. Outside of this building, in their own lives, how do they process their days? What brings them down this path? Perhaps I will ask next time.
It is a difficult job. This place is often the last resort for treatment and hope. From the waiting room I see the pets come in. Some walking, some carried. They are old and young. Patches of missing hair, surgery scars, ragged breathing and wide eyed, many are in final days.
The emergency patients are rushed in with their grief stricken humans and I step aside to allow them the space to process their panic. The staff is efficient and quickly moves them to a private room to await whatever news they will receive. I understand their fear. I respect it. I know we will be there too, in the future, weighing impossible options and making impossible decisions. I try to imagine getting ready to go to work here every morning.
I leave Bella with a heavy heart. This is becoming a new normal. She will again stay overnight for treatment.
Later, I receive a phone call from Doctor Connell (Resident, Oncology), the news this week is that after prepping Bella for her radiation treatment, the machine broke down. The radiation machine. Like a cranky old copier, it just quit. In the fog of my brain, I attempt to process this information. I blink uncomprehending. I feel something, surging, welling up in the core of my body, a loud silent NO! We have waited 3 weeks for this day, this treatment. We weighed and declined other treatment options in favor of this option. This was supposed to be the treatment that finally said, "Take THAT cancer!" How is this possible?
I take a deep breath and push the panic back into the dark reaches of my subconscious self where such things are kept, to be dealt with at another time. The man who fixes old radiation machines lives in Canada, I'm told. He will be here next week. Hopefully he has the right parts and can do the job quickly. We will be rescheduled.
I manage a small bit of empathy for the bearer of this news. I realize that this puts a major wrench into their clinical trial. I am sure that behind the scenes there were some choice words spoken, some worried phone calls placed. It is a setback, not just for us, but for all the students and educators in this program.
I arrive to pick up Bella and am greeted by another young person, Doctor Sadler (Senior Veterinary Student, Class of 2018) who is very composed and apologetic. I find that my humanity has returned and I accept that these are things out of our control. We have a quiet conversation where I am brought up to speed on the procedures they performed on Bella and her new medication schedule. I am allowed as much time as necessary to communicate whatever thoughts and questions I can put together. They are so incredibly patient with me. These child doctors, likely the ages of my own children, are so stoic and calm, it feels like a role reversal.
I am reunited with Bella and it is bittersweet. I am taking her home knowing that with her treatment delayed, her only pain relief will be in the cocktail of pills that I prepare for her each morning and night. Her cancer will be growing, unabated and time is not on our side. Worry is useless here, but still my constant companion. Bella knows nothing of my concerns. She is happy to see me, happy to be going home, happy to be alive.