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dog sick caring best friend

Caring for my best friend


Like many of my colleagues, I became a nurse because of my desire to help people. I wanted to relieve suffering, offer comfort, and restore health. I wanted to make a difference.  

Over the last 30 years, nursing has given me all the rewards I was seeking in a career. I’ve always known that my work matters to people. What I didn’t know until recently is that people aren’t the only patients who can benefit from a nurse’s care.             

Determined to beat the disease

Two years ago at age 12, my sheltie and best friend, Meghan, was diagnosed with spontaneous chronic renal failure. I was sick about it. I mustered all of my nursing knowledge and skills, and I was determined to help her beat the disease.

By speaking to veterinarians and reading, I learned as much as I could about canine renal failure and its management. I prepared special meals for Meghan, making sure they adhered to her dietary restrictions. I created a chart for tracking important information, such as her fluid intake and medications. Applying my nursing knowledge, I did all I could to help her.   

Good times return

Fortunately, Meghan responded well to treatment. She returned to her energetic self, and we were able to enjoy more good times together. There were more walks, more hours of shared contentment, and more comical canine antics. But there were also setbacks. Twice, Meghan was hospitalized to receive I.V. fluids. Each time, I learned more and made new adjustments to the treatment plan. As a nurse, I could understand the medical jargon and ask questions. More importantly, I understood the answers.

The vet suggested that I give Meghan subcutaneous infusions of fluids to help support her renal function. I hadn’t administered parenteral fluids in years, but my technical skills quickly returned when the veterinary technicians taught me the procedure. I mastered the technique, but I needed someone to distract Meghan and keep her calm during the infusions. My mother, a retired nurse, immediately volunteered. Together, we administered the infusions, sometimes daily. The supplemental fluids helped Meghan. She was as spunky as ever, and she enjoyed a good quality of life for nearly 2 more years.

Letting go  

Then, Meghan’s symptoms returned. Her appetite diminished, and her energy ebbed. Even hospitalization for I.V. fluids didn’t help. An ultrasound revealed that her symptoms were unrelated to renal failure. Meghan had cancer, and her prognosis was poor. It took all the courage and strength I had to let her go. I miss my dear Meghan more than words can express, but I take comfort in knowing that, although I lost her to cancer, together we triumphed over the renal failure.

I know that many others care for their ailing animal companions with equal diligence. I also know that I would not have had the skills or confidence to give Meghan the care she needed if I were not a nurse. I cherish my time with Meghan and often recall the last weeks of her life.

I’m a nurse

One memory stands out. I was waiting in line at the pharmacy when a customer approached the clerk and requested an over-the-counter drug. When the clerk placed it on the counter, another shopper commented on the drug. “It’s not for me,” the customer said, “It’s for my dog.” She then explained that her dog had renal failure and described the infusions of supplemental fluids she administered regularly. Those within earshot looked amazed and impressed. The customer said, “I’m a nurse.”

I left the pharmacy feeling proud of my profession and grateful that nursing knowledge and skills can benefit people and pets alike. I salute this nurse and all my fellow nurses who apply their professional expertise to bring healing and comfort to their beloved animal companions.              

Anne Durkin, PhD, RN, is an Associate Professor of Nursing at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

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