Hannah's Hospice: The Final Chapter

Those of you who have been following Hannah's story know that in the last month or so, we'd really started to see her quality of life fading. Unfortunately, the past few weeks did not bring any positive change in Hannah's life. Her decline was evident in the little things, like her needing us to encourage her to eat, or her unwillingness to take her beloved pill pockets in the morning. The cough and labored breathing caused by her laryngeal paralysis and lung tumor also steadily progressed, and she stopped going on her multiple morning "tours" around our yard, choosing to just do her business and come inside instead. Periodically she would show us glimmers of being herself, but they were very short lived. During our most recent trip out to Cape Cod with Hannah, Patti bought her a new squeaky toy and she played with it like the old days for about 30 minutes, but then stopped and showed little interest the next day. Her walks got shorter and shorter, to the point where we would just go a few houses down and then back again. We could tell that Hannah wanted to be the dog she'd always been, taking long walks and playing with her toys, but she just didn't have the energy to do either as it started to take more and more effort to simply get up and around the house. Patti and I knew the end was near but because she would still look at us with her beautiful face and deeply expressive eyes, we continued to hold out hope that the final decision would still be some weeks away. Patti and I talked at length daily about her status. Patti really struggled as she did not understand what Hannah's progression of clinical signs would be, but I knew too much and I knew we did not have much longer with Hannah. 

On our way home from the Cape that weekend, Patti said to me that she really doubted Hannah would be coming back with us the following week. That was the first time she had said anything like that to me and all we could do at the time was nod and try not to break out in tears driving home down the highway, looking at Hannah in the backseat through the rearview mirror. Once back home, Hannah stopped eating and would sit at her bowl like she wanted to eat but could not. That was huge for us as she had always loved to eat and go for walks more than anything in her life, and now she couldn't do either. I knew that at this point, I'd exhausted all of my options for palliative care for Hannah. I'd tried everything I could to keep her with us and comfortable for as long as possible, but no amount of medication could keep her with us much longer. I've always been thankful that we have humane euthanasia as a treatment option in veterinary medicine, and that feeling didn't change when Hannah's time approached. I knew that all I could do for her at this point was allow her to go peacefully and without pain. At this stage in Hannah's journey, this could not be about us or our feelings about our sweet dog, but rather about her and only her. It was clear that her quality of life had faded and that brought us to tears every time we looked at her. 

Hannah went upstairs with us that evening, but we both knew what we needed to do within the next day or two. In the very early hours of the morning, Hannah made the decision for us when she woke up in severe respiratory distress. I could not let that level of respiratory distress continue a second longer, so I sedated her so she could be at peace while Patti and I said our final goodbyes. I had prepared myself for this day, but it still hit us both like a ton of bricks and I knew this would probably be one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life. This is when being your own dog's vet really sucks. Patti and I cried with her while she rested comfortably under sedation and we said our final goodbyes to one of the best dogs ever. The trip to the office later that morning was almost more than I could bear, as I had to take Hannah's body with me to the office. As I drove, the pain of losing her just a few hours ago was overwhelming. Thankfully I have one of the most compassionate teams anyone could ever ask for and they knew to just give me space, keep me busy seeing appointments, and let me grieve in my own way. 

The house seems very empty now. Although we've been a household of two for many years now, we never really saw it that way. Hannah was definitely the third "person" in our home and she made it complete with her helicopter tail wag, her ears that crinkled when she was excited after pooping, and just her pure joy in living each day with us. Time will heal us both, but right now we are both struggling more than we ever expected. We try to focus on all the joy she brought into our lives but find it difficult when we are hurting like we are. As a vet, I know all too well that this is all part of loving a dog and having them be part of your family, but that doesn't make it any easier when it's time to say my own goodbyes. She was a very special dog who will be missed by all who knew her. 

Goodbye my love. Your shining spirit will be with us forever.