I sat tonight in the emergency veterinary hospital waiting room with my eleven-year-old daughter. We’d left home at 9pm after she noticed her pet rabbit, Bella, lethargic and slumped in her cage.
While the triage personnel worked with Bella behind closed doors, I sat with my daughter, waiting for our name to be called. We chatted for awhile with a man whose yellow lab, Sheba, had swallowed a lamb chop. “Probably needs an endoscopy or surgery, but she’ll be just fine,” he said. “And you?” he asked us.
Before we could answer, a message on my phone dinged an alert: Osama bin Laden was dead.
“Wow,” I said, scrunching my nose. “The New York Times and CNN report that Osama bin Laden’s been killed.”
“Did they say who did it?” asked Sheba’s owner as he paid his bill.
“Nope. The president’s going to speak in a few minutes, though,” I said, scrolling through the update on my phone.
When the man left, the receptionist came into the lobby and turned on the t.v. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said. “My friend just called me. She said the president’s going to make a speech.” I looked at my daughter, whose wide blue eyes grew even larger. I knew she didn’t know who Osama bin Laden was. We’d never talked about him or his role in the September 11 attacks. We’d discussed the events in terms that she and her brothers could relate to: innocent people killed; families torn apart; sadness; tributes; rebuilding.
Still, I was curious. I turned to her. “Do you know who Osama bin Laden was?” I asked. She shook her head no, then looked toward the door leading to the veterinary clinic. I knew she didn’t want a history lecture at that moment. She wanted to know her bunny was okay…that Bella was coming home.
“He was in charge of September 11th,” I said. “I’m not glad when anyone dies, but he told the world he was proud that he organized September 11th.”
She stared at me, then said, “Then why didn’t they get him right away?”
“He’s been hiding,” I said. “It sounds like someone finally found him.”
The receptionist called out, “Bella’s family? You can go back to room four now.”
We walked down the hallway and into a clean room. Pictures of rabbits, turtles, and other small “exotics” (as they’re called) covered the walls. I tried not to notice the two neatly handwritten cards taped to the cabinets, thanking the staff for their kindness and compassion at the end of their pets’ lives.
The veterinarian came into the room, bubbly and far too cheery for a Sunday night. I figured her spunk was driven by one of three things:
1) too much caffeine
2) the intention to distract us from our anxiety over a sick animal, or, most likely
3) the intention to distract us from the oozing zit on her forehead, harshly highlighted by the flourescent lighting.
“I can see what you meant by Bella being kind of ‘slumpy’,” she said. “Her temp is down and she’s showing signs of GI stasis (an emergency situation when a rabbit’s digestive system shuts down). We’re warming her up with water bottles and giving her a little oxygen…”
My daughter’s eyes glistened as she listened. Good God, I thought. Are we being prepared for another death of a pet? We’ve lived through the passing of a dog, two gerbils, two guinea pigs, several lizards, countless fish…and now…possibly…the sweetest bunny in the world?
The vet bubbled on. “What I’d suggest, if you’re okay with this, is keeping her here overnight so we can help get her G.I. tract moving. Fluids, pain meds, stuff to make her insides slippery so she can get things going again. Sound good to you two?”
My daughter looked at me and nodded. The vet went out to get some papers for me to sign and “stabilize” Bella so we could say goodnight.
“Mom,” my daughter said, sniffling, “if they have to do anything like surgery to save her life, I don’t want to put her through it. I don’t want her in any pain.”
“I hear you,” I said, hugging her. “I think, if it all ended right now for Bella, she’s had a really great life, don’t you think?”
“Are you okay, ” I asked.
“Do you love her, Mom?”
“Yes,” I said. “She’s the best pet I think we’ve ever had. She’s wonderful.”
“Did you cry when Chloe [our black lab] died?”
“I did, but not until about a week later. I think I was just in shock that she had to be put to sleep. It hit me later than everyone else.”
She wiped her eyes and blew her nose, just before a young, kind nurse came into the room and walked us through the papers.
“Initial here if you approve us to x-ray Bella.”
“Initial here if you understand the charges for medication, overnight hospitalization, antibiotics, food, skilled nursing care…”
“Initial here if you’d like us to employ a DNR…”
Now my eyes widened.
Do not resuscitate. Wow. Yup. We’re at that point.
I gently explained to my daughter what a DNR directive was. The nurse added softly that they ask anyone with a pet staying overnight to sign a DNR directive. We agreed that, because we didn’t want Bella in any pain, we’d check the box marked Do Not Resuscitate in cases of cardiac or respiratory distress.
“I have one question,” my daughter asked softly.
“Yes?” I said.
“Do they…” she looked down. “Does somebody help her if she’s in distress…or do they just leave her alone?”
“Oh,” I said, looking to the nurse. “I’m guessing they keep her comfortable and stay with her. Is that right?”
The nurse looked right at my daughter. “Would you like to come back to the room where she’ll spend the night? We’re there with her the whole time. If we can see she’s having trouble, we make sure she’s not in any pain, and if she’s showing signs that she’s at the end, we can help her immediately. She won’t be in any pain.”
“Okay, then,” my daughter said, looking at the DNR box. “Okay.”
After we signed everything, the nurse took us back into the clinic. Rows of clean silver cages held dogs and cats. Bella’s cage was straight ahead. She sat, hunched, quiet. Her eyes were closed, her ears drooped down. Uneaten lettuce lay next to her.
“Goodnight, Bella,” I whispered. “We’ll see you in the morning, okay? Rest up and get better. We love you.”
“Goodnight, Bella,” my daughter whispered.
Her eyes stayed closed but her little nose twitched a little. I couldn’t help myself. I asked the nurse if we could pet her before we left.
“Of course,” she said.
We stroked Bella’s velvety fur, told her we loved her, and said our goodbyes, just in case. The nurse closed the cage and walked us out the door. “Call anytime for an update,” she said. “We’re here with her the whole time.”
My daughter and I walked into the small room to get our bags, then burst into tears and hugged one another. We giggled a bit as we wiped our eyes and blew our noses, knowing how silly it sounds to be crying over a hospitalized bunny, yet knowing how painful it is to leave her behind.
Sleep came quickly to my daughter. I think she’s hoping the morning will bring good news…I, unfortunately, cannot sleep. I shouldn’t have googled Bunny G.I. stasis (known as The Silent Killer)…her condition is far more grim than I’d thought. I distracted myself by watching a video of Barack Obama announcing to the nation that Osama bin Laden had been killed by American military personnel. An historic end to a terrorist’s life.
It occurs to me only now: my daughter and I arrived at Animal 911 (yes, that’s the name) at 9pm and left around 11pm on the night that the mastermind of 9/11 was killed. As America celebrates the death of Osama bin Laden, I am praying for the recovery of a life far more important.
UPDATE: The next morning, I called the animal hospital to get an update on Bella. The receptionist put me on hold, and a vet came on the line.
“Mrs. Wolf, I’m sorry. We tried to call you around four this morning. Bella went into cardiac arrest.” She explained the details of the situation, reassured me that Bella was not in pain and that she went quickly. I asked if I could put her on speaker phone so my daughter could hear the details as well. As the doctor repeated the story, we listened, sitting frozen at the kitchen counter with tears running down our faces. When we hung up, she burst into tears and sobbed. I cried with her.
We printed out a photo of Bella and decided we’d pay a visit to the school social worker, Ms. Flores. My daughter wanted me to be the one to share the news. I told Ms. Flores that Bella had died, and I was surprised by how emotional I was. Ms. Flores reassured us she’d be around for whatever was needed, and that she was sorry for our loss.
We left the office and walked toward the fifth grade classrooms. Just before we arrived at my daughter’s door, she turned to me and said in a determined voice, “I’ve got it, Mom.” Her red, swollen eyes said so much. I knew she’d walk into that class, take one look at her best friend, Luci, and fight back tears, waiting for the moment she’d have to utter the words, “Bella died.”
I know a little piece of her died, too.
We’ll bury Bella in the front yard tonight, beside the two guinea pigs, the lizard, and the school of fish we’ve bid adieu to over the years. The sun is shining, and life will go on.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is a journalist, and because of my column on Patch.com, I suppose, in a way, I’m one, too. Wolf states that last night was one he will never forget. I suppose, in a way, I feel exactly the same.