The last week has been incredibly difficult as I had to say goodbye to my beloved friend and companion, my German Shepard, Lola. Like for many of us dog owners, Lola was more than a pet, she was a faithful companion and loyal friend. She could be found by my side every waking minute I was at home.
Lola’s illness came on fairly suddenly. I immediately sought the care and advice of one of the best vets in the region. I wanted to explore all possible treatment options for her. I was prepared to embrace any recommended treatment, no matter the cost. At the same time, I knew I wanted to the right thing by her. I wanted to make sure she was free of pain. I did not want to keep her alive just to make it easier on me. She deserved to die just as she had lived—with dignity and on her own terms. And so, after long and thoughtful conversation with the vet, and considering all options, I knew the best thing for Lola was to let her go. It was difficult and sad, but peaceful. She did not suffer.
Lola’s death fell near the anniversary of the passing of my “other” best friend, my father. A vibrant and healthy man, my father died in 2015 after battling cancer. At the end of his life, my family and I were fortunate enough to help make important end of life decisions for him. We were able to move him to a wonderful hospice facility, where he peacefully spent his last few days free of machines, comfortable and surrounded by family in a beautiful and calm setting. While it was an incredibly difficult time, I was comforted in the choice we were able to make regarding my father’s end-of-life care.
Lola’s death as well as my father’s, once again reminds me of the importance of being able to make the appropriate end of life decisions for our loved ones. Often, as health care professionals, we are focused on patient outcomes and restoring their health. As an industry, what we sometimes fail to realize is that the best outcome can sometimes be letting a person go. Each year, it is estimated that 30% of Medicare expenditures (over 50 billion dollars) are attributed to the 5% of patients that will die that year with one-third of those costs occurring in the last month of life. Furthermore, most studies show that if the person is sick enough, this type of medical intervention does not have a positive impact. In fact, it can make those last few days and months of life worse.
So whether you are a health care professional or a family member, the reality is that we need to openly discuss end of life options before it is too late. And as health care professionals, we also need to devote resources to offering patients and their families the kind of services and space they need in those final difficult days. It was what I was able to provide my father and what I think all families deserve.
The house is a lot quieter now without Lola. It will take me a while to get used to her not being right there next to me. But, I remain grateful of the time we had together, and I was honored that I was able to make the choice I did at the end of her life.