[I wrote this one night after coming home from the clinic where I work]
"You would have had to..."
The doctor was talking through her surgical mask and I couldn't quite hear her. But I knew what she was talking about. She was talking about innards, guts. And I knew the diagnoses: gastric torsion. The stomach twists. No one seems to know why, or at least, no one agrees. It happens to large dogs for the most part. And unless you act quickly they die.
Which is what had happened to the dog on the table. A standard poodle, black once, in his youth, faded now to grey in his old age.
I wondered what sort of dog he was. His condition upon arrival gave no indication of personality; he was nearly comatose. Was he the usual reserved and proud example of his breed? Was he a happy dog? A somber dog? Did he like to play fetch? Was he loved?
He was not one of our patients so we had no history, no connection to him or his people, not even a date of birth. He was being kenneled. His people had dropped him off as they had so often in the past, without incident. They would have to be told. The kennel people would do that. An unenviable task. Telling someone their dog has died while in your care.
I did not know this dog. He was a stranger to me. And I am not particularly fond of standard poodles. But I spoke kindly to him, held his cold paws in my hands while he was prepped for surgery; his shaved abdomen washed with blue soap and treated with betadyne. I hoped some of the warmth from my hands might seep into him. I do not think he heard my words.
I made a cage up for him with clean paper and a soft fleece to lay on, knowing his stomach would be tender. I left a towel to cover him with, wanting him to be warm. But of course, he never needed these things, dying midway through the surgery, alone in a strange place where none of the voices he heard were familiar. Was it better he died with us? With someone? Would he have had a better chance if his people had been here? Or had he already given up?
The girl who brought him in cried and I guessed she knew him well enough to have feelings for him. He was a frequent guest. I wondered, would his people cry for him as she did? Or would they simply accept his death stoically and tell themselves he was just a dog.
His name was Jack.