Friday, December 28, 2018



I spent nearly 7 years caring for their medical needs.  After 20 some years in private practice, I was in a whole new world of veterinary medicine. Apprehensive at first, it wasn't long until I dove into Shelter Medicine.  I knew I was lucky.  The shelter whose medical department I supervised prided themselves on caring for the animals that came through their doors, regardless of their malady.  If they were sick or injured, it was refreshing to know that the first option on the treatment list wasn't necessarily euthanasia.  That's not to say that euthanasia didn't happen.  It just wasn't the only thing that happened if the animal was sick or injured.

We saved countless lives.  The team jumped into action time and again as each new case burst through the door.  Some were simple, and some were deeply complex.  A lot had happy endings that made myself and the team joyful at the part we played in making that happy ending come true.  Some endings were indeed sad though. 

My heart broke time and again.  My heart swelled and healed time and again. 

The hardest goodbyes weren't always the ones that we had spent so much time, energy and effort on.  Sometimes the hardest goodbyes were the ones that came in off the street seriously needing to be euthanized because of the injury or illness that had drained them to the last of their reserves.  I looked into their eyes and saw desperation - they wanted to be held, they wanted to be loved.  They wanted to be released. I oftentimes gave them all of that.  And cried.  Not because they died, or even that I had to kill them.  No.  It was because they had gotten to that point very obviously alone.  And no one deserves that.  While I was certainly grateful that I could be there for them for those last few moments, it was those animals that took the deepest cuts out of my heart.

I was given platitudes by the ton.  At least you gave them love in their last moments.  At least they didn't have to suffer anymore.  At least now they aren't hurting. At least now they aren't in the gutter on the street waiting to die alone.  

All of those things may be true.  No one, however, asked if I was okay.  No one acknowledged the pain it caused me.  No one let me know that it was okay to feel the pain I was feeling. No one said - I know it hurts.  I know it causes you pain.  No one asked how it was affecting me.  No amount of classes on compassion fatigue - that simply gave me the knowledge of what that was and told me to go run or exercise somehow or find some way to let it go and move on - fixed itThe message was clear - be glad you could help, and move on to the next one in need.   I would move on to the next one and feel the last however many animals whose pain I was absorbing.     It would just compound even further. 

Those deep wounds took its toll on me.    I didn't know until now how vital simply acknowledging another's pain, my painis.  How much healing could take place if that pain was recognized and called out.   

Faced with pain that seemed to wax and wane, but never quite go away, I withdrew.  Finally, I walked away.

I am in another world now.  A world where detachment is taken to an entirely new level. My connection to the animal is nearly severed.  My involvement with animals is solely as a cog in a wheel.  It took me a bit to realize it.  That's what I am.  I am a tool to advance to the next level of care - whatever that level is.  Sometimes that's wholly simplistic- I am simply providing daily care with a couple of pills here and there.  Then I move on to the next.  Sometimes it's as advanced as catheters, lab work - that I never see the results of - x-rays - that I never see the interpretation of - and other sometimes more invasive procedures.  Then I move on to the next.  I never get to see who these animals are connected to.  I nearly never get to see what the outcome is.  Except when I'm asked to put a catheter in for euthanasia. 

I am beginning to realize it is putting me too far away.  Too far away from the animal.  I may be right next to him, petting him, but I am not connecting to him at all.  I do the necessary thing, and move on.  And there is an endless river of animals to move on to.

This a choice I have made for myself for the now.  I know it is not sustainable.  I am also seeing that this will likely be my exit from this world.  

Nearly 30 years of caring and I am about to walk away.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Disappointed again... naturally

I cried last month.

Truth be told, I've cried most months of my life.  Something will be emotionally important in some way - like a song, or a movie - and I will cry.  It's not always out of sadness.  It can easily be from happiness and joy.  It's your body's way of letting those emotions spill out and evening out the chemistries in your brain and body.

Last month's tears were tears of disappointment.

I hadn't been riding my bike for a bit.  Then we moved and I was even less motivated to ride my bike.  Where we've moved to though is flat.  Seriously.  FLAT.  It should have been my dream come true place to ride.  I told myself I was settling in.  I was putting our house in order.  Waiting for the internet.  Waiting for the plumber.  Waiting for the electricity to come back on after a power pole replacement.  Waiting for the internet (it finally happened).  Waiting for the plumber - again.  Waiting for the furniture delivery people.  Waiting for the plumber - again.  Waiting for another set of furniture delivery guys.  Waiting for the plumber - who finally fixed the issue.  Waiting for the painter - to fix the issue caused by the plumber.  

I had to be home to wait for these people.  So I couldn't plan to ride.

Then I planned a route.  I had to make sure not to go into THAT neighborhood - they seem to shoot people a lot there.  I didn't want to cross the hugely busy thoroughfare.  With some creativity, I came up with a route.

Then I aired up my tires.  And dusted the bike off.  And lubricated the moving stuff. 

And planned to ride.

And then I did.  Six weeks after moving here,  I rode.  It was a nice flat ride and I was even willing to deviate from my planned route to just explore other neighborhoods.  I didn't get chased by dogs.  I didn't have garbage in the streets to note on Facebook.  It was a simple, pleasant  4.25 mile ride.

I put the bike away and planned to ride the next day.

Eight weeks later, I realized, I was never going to ride again.  

So I sold my bike.

Yep.  Sold it to a UC Davis student who was beyond grateful to now have transportation to school that she could also do road bike rides whenever she wanted to.

Driving home after delivering my bike I cried.  I realized the disappointment I predicted could happen back in 2015.  I said then that I was afraid I would disappoint when I embarked on this adventure.  I was right.

I disappointed myself and I fear there is nothing I can do to make it up to myself. 

I hope to find a way.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Sound Of Grief

Her intense grief reverberated throughout the forest and across the canyons.  I had talked with her only moments before, holding a secret inside. I knew what she did not know in that moment and I held on to the secret that wasn’t mine either to have or to share.  I gave her a little bit more time with her hope. Her hope that she would not have to grieve.

She reached out and stroked my dog.  She thanked me for coming and helping in her most trying time.  She called me a hero.

I certainly didn’t feel like any kind of hero. I came to this search with the same hope she had. He hadn’t been missing that long.  There was still a chance that he would make it. Still a chance that he was waiting for us to find him so he could go home.

I drove through the night, knowing it was going to rain. I  drove hundreds of miles and a half dozen hours. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know him.  That has never mattered. What has always mattered was that someone was missing and I was a resource that could help find him.

I spent the better part of a day looking for him. It was only one out of several days that many others had already been searching for him.  It rained, and I worked hard to stay upright as my dog and I searched along steep, slippery slopes in our effort to find him. The search was over with one simple phrase over the radio from another team - we have a visual.

The sound of a heart breaking is a singularly horrific cry.  Her agony was palpable in the rain, echoing achingly amongst the trees. It penetrated deep into my soul.  It’s not the first time I have heard it, and it probably won’t be the last. It cuts deeply every time.

He was found.  And he could go home.  Finding him doesn’t bring closure.  It gives answers and likely begs more questions, but it doesn’t bring closure.  

It certainly brings heartbreak.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Necessary Detachment

“Wow, I found a recipe book!  It has a woman’s name on it.  Her name is K….”
“NO NO NO NO!!!” I yell from across the field.  “DO. NOT. SAY. HER. NAME.”  I yell to my teammate.
As I look at the chaos around me, some recognizable, but most, not, I say to myself, I cannot know her name.  I will never be able to finish this assignment if I know her name.

“We had a small aircraft go down in the foothills.  There were no survivors.  NTSB and the Sheriff’s Office have been on scene, and some remains were recovered, but they’d like it if your dog teams could assist with recovering as much as possible from the site.”

Wow.  I was excited.  My first plane crash!  I never in a million years thought I’d ever get to work a plane crash!  I gathered my gear, my dog Thumper, and headed out the door to the scene, an hour’s drive away.  I felt my excitement grow as I got closer.  I imagined the scene, much like many movies I had seen, in my head. I thought; “This will be awesome!”

The pilot of the small aircraft had become disoriented in the fog and ended up upside down.  Thinking he was right side up, he powered up, trying to gain altitude.  Instead, he powered right into the ground.  He, his wife of several decades, and his dog were all killed on impact.

This day, this event, this view, was not awesome.

The scene was atrocious.  Parts of the small plane were everywhere.  The engine had traveled the furthest distance out, and other parts of the plane were all over the hillside, including in the trees.  The damage the fuel had done to the ground and trees was evident as well, covering the grass and the oak trees with a light red hue. 

We surveyed the gruesome scene. None of us, all a part of a volunteer search and rescue team, had ever seen anything like this before.  I wasn’t sure what I expected, but what I saw, and, subsequently, what I experienced, deeply affected me.

I got Thumper and set him out to searching.  A large, jovial mixed breed dog, Thumper was unique on our team. His only search discipline was cadaver work.  I assumed he would be right at home in this environment and we’d make swift work of what was hastily turning into a very nasty job.   Normally a very enthusiastic searcher, his quick, happy movements changed rapidly.  Within a few short minutes, he gave me a tentative alert.  When I asked him to show me, to pinpoint the source, he just turned around, facing the scene and looked at it and then at me.  I got the message loud and clear.

The scent of death was everywhere.

This was going to take longer than I thought.

I had to work this scene unlike any other.  There was so much for him to find, all I could do was watch Thumper work and when he’d dip his head, turn and look at me, I’d check the spot he sniffed.  Sometimes, I could retrieve what he found, other times, another searcher had to because Thumper was moving too far away.

For a long while, there were no recognizable parts. Thumper’s head would dip, and I’d pick up a fragment of bone, or a piece of flesh, its origin unknowable to my eye.  There were pieces of flesh hanging from trees, as well as scattered all over the ground. We found definite skull fragments and surrounding brain matter.    Sometimes, I would intently stare at the slightly larger bone fragments, trying to see if I could decide what they were. 

All the while, in the back of my mind, I knew I was picking up minuscule parts of two humans, but there was no human form so I could keep on going.

“Wow, I found a recipe book!  It has a woman’s name on it.  Her name is K---“

I am hearing this from behind me as I look at the latest thing my dog, along with a teammate's dog, has found.

I am screaming NO! NO! NO! NO! because we are looking at the first piece of flesh that has form.  That is instantly recognizable.  That makes the dozens upon dozens of the little pieces I have been picking up into a human being.

It is an older woman’s hand, up to just beyond the wrist.  It is her left hand.  On her ring finger is a beautiful gold ring with a gorgeous ruby in it, surrounded by diamonds.  A wedding ring.

In the back of my mind, I have known, from the start of the day that we were there to recover as much of this man and woman in this plane crash.  I have known all along that this was a married couple.  I have known that this couple had a family and that this family is grieving and this family deserves answers and to have their loved ones back for proper burial.

In order for me to pick up this hand, the woman’s hand with a wedding ring on the ring finger, I cannot know her name.  I cannot have a human attached to this hand.

For if I know her name, as I pick up her hand and place in the bag I am carrying, the bag that I have been slowly filling with other parts that used to be she and her husband… that hand suddenly has a face.  That face becomes a person.  That person becomes someone’s now deceased family member.  And I am here seeing her in a way no one should ever have to see her.

I cannot know her name or I will not be able to complete my assignment.  The ear, the foot, the eye, will no longer be able to be discovered by me, or picked up by me.

I cannot know her name, because I will not be able to be out here the next time …

Sunday, July 17, 2016

One of Us

In my life, because of Search and Rescue, I have proudly worked closely with Law Enforcement.  I was sworn  to serve and protect.  To defend the constitution of the United States.   I have worn a badge on my chest and carried a gun on my hip for more than a decade.  I have been a part of a department that has lost deputies to senseless violence. I have screamed at the news of their deaths, and mourned at their funerals. 

I only have a tiny taste of what it's like to be a police officer or a deputy, but I have a mighty respect for the job that every officer does.

And here's the thing.  They are your mother or father.  They are you brother or sister.  They are your son or daughter. They are your neighbor.  I am them.  They are me.  You are them.  They are you. 

These men and women that don the uniform do it because they care.  They care about their mother and father.  They care about their sister and brother.  Their son and daughter.  Their neighbor. 



They are a member of the community in which they serve.  They CHOSE to serve.  They do the job that you can't do.  That you won't do. 

Because of you.

For you.

So when one of them is shot at… When one of them is attacked…. When one of them is killed….

Don't you get it?  It's one of US!  It's one of your own community.  It's your mother or father.  Sister or brother.  Son or daughter.  Neighbor.



Friday, July 15, 2016


More.  Faster. More. Faster.

That's the everyday background mantra.  Get more done.  Go faster.  If you go faster you will get more done.  Don't stop.  Can you do one more?  

I get it.  I get the pace.  It makes sense for what we do.  

It bleeds over into my every day life.  I woke up this morning and so many things rushed through my mind.

So much that needs to get done.  Feed the herd.  Laundry.  Vacuuming. Poop scooping.  Dishes.  The list goes on.  

And there was my ride to do.

So much to do that I froze.  The animals almost didn't get fed because I had so much that needed to be done I couldn't do any of it.  (Don't worry, between Velcro the cat and Kaeden, no meal gets missed around here.)

If I didn't ride, I'd have more time to do....

If I didn't ride.

It would have been easy to not ride.  So much I wouldn't have to do - putting on the super rider suit is its own involved chore.  

I wanted to ride.


I needed to slow down.  Slow something down.  

So today I chose to ride slower.  Not that I ride fast to begin with. Today I was conscious of my speed.  I wanted to control it.  It was MY pace.  I could choose to go faster.  I could choose to go slower.  

To be honest, I didn't realize what I needed from my ride until I got underway.
I even changed the Pandora Station I listen to to Sia.   There's really no riding fast with that station.  (For the record, changing your Pandora station while riding is difficult at best.)  

Not being obsessed with going faster or beating a time made today's ride more mindful. I paid more attention to me.  Everything from my hand position, to my legs, to my feet, to my breathing.  To my thoughts.  To the words in the songs I was listening to.

                        "The fire used to burn, all the words used to hurt
                          But you're not like us, you are different
                          I couldn't see that that was a compliment."

I took the time to contemplate the meaning in this song I had never heard before.  It's about realizing your own strength despite what others think or say about you.  

I haven't had time to think about a song in a while.

As I rode, I felt almost like I had slowed time down.  I was looking for that anyway.  I didn't want the ride to end because that signaled that the next thing could get done. 

But did it mean that the next thing HAD to get done?

Today maybe the laundry will get done.  Maybe the vacuuming will get done.  


747 miles this year.
1302 miles since I started a year ago.  This is my 1 year bike-iversary. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Look at ME

This will likely be one of the most raw entries I will ever do.  Forgive me as I travel down this rabbit hole.

I went to the doctor today.  I went for a very specific purpose.  It was not an annual physical, although it has been a year since my last physical exam.  I had a mole that I wanted looked at. 

A mole.   

The doctor did indeed look at the mole.  He stared at it intently.  He asked a couple of questions and agreed that it did look odd.  Of course, if I felt that it had changed, we absolutely had to investigate it further.  He talked to me about what that looked like.  I agreed that having it removed and biopsied was a fine idea with me.

As he typed away at his computer, I said I had another question for him.

He said, ok, but first...

He asked about the hysterectomy I had about 10 years ago. (Yes, I had a hysterectomy. No they didn't take my cervix.  Yes, it had been 5 years since my last pap smear.  Yes, I should get one.  Next year, he said.)

He asked about my gallstones. Any issues?  (No)

He asked about my last mammogram.  (Yes, I am overdue.  I would like to schedule it.)

He confirmed my age (48).  He advised that at 50 I would have to have a colonoscopy.  (Great. He also shared a tip he had received from a patient about taking the prep for the colonoscopy - Adding Sprite to it and drinking quickly.  Thanks.  I'll remember that in 2 years.)

He asked if I was taking the cholesterol medication he had prescribed last year.  (No.)

He reminded me that my blood work, from 13 months ago, revealed high cholesterol (that he never talked to me about.  I got an email that said there was medication  prescribed for me.  And then an email asking when I was going to pick it up.  And then an email saying it was going to be shelved).   He then said he wanted to check my ASS score.  (Yes, I am sure that's NOT what he said, but he said it several times and I don't know what it stands for, but that's what I heard)  It is a risk assessment to determine my risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years.  It involves several things (like??) and he would put the information in and it would tell me what my risk was. As he typed away at his computer he talked about how the paradigm has shifted where cholesterol meds are concerned and this score is more important than just the blood levels. 

He finished typing and said 

Your risk is... Oh.

Very low.  1%  

He gave me permission (thank you) to take fish oil - Omega 3s to be exact - instead of starting on medication.  

He talked about my BMI.  (40.08) 

Which makes me obese.  (Thank you.  I missed that.)

So we need to talk about weight loss. (I heard you at last year's visit.  I really did.  I bought a road bike and I ride....)

Okay.  Good.  (But I wasn't finished)

There are several programs available that you can take advantage of.  (But I am riding several days a week and hiking at least one...)

Okay. Good.  (Again, I still wasn't finished)

I would recommend taking advantage of one of the programs we offer.  There are even some that are free online. (Since I've been riding, I feel better and ....)

Great.  Check out what we have. (I have been trying, I really ha...)

I know you have.

And he stood up.  I guess we were done.  At no point in time, aside from looking at the mole, did he put his hands on me.  Listen to my heart and lungs.  Check my lymph nodes.  Look at my throat.  Look in my ears.

Why would he?  I was only there to have him look at a mole.

He saw a number.  Well, a few numbers.  Made a judgment.   And told me I needed to fix it.

If it were only that easy

(For a humor break.... On the way out the door, he asked how my sister was doing.

I was totally confused.  I have 2 sisters.  I have never shared anything about them with him. But he was concerned about one of them.  I looked at him a bit longer and said, um, fine. It wasn't until later that I realized he was asking about my wife - until recently, he was her doctor.  In fact, he was her doctor first.  

Okay, maybe that wasn't funny.)

So I made an appointment for my mole.

I didn't make an appointment for a pap smear (I can do that next year... he said so).

I didn't make an appointment for a mammogram.  (I WILL - stop yelling!  But it was never mentioned again)

As I walked out, he handed me a pamphlet that outlined their weight loss programs.  

I walked out of the office, feeling like I had just been punished for trying to take care of myself.

He never saw me.  To be sure, he was in the room with me.  He smiled at me and he saw my mole.

He never saw me.

I drove to work, trying to decide if I was angry or hurt.

After work, I drove home, still deciding if I was angry or hurt.

At home, I shared the experience with my sister wife (relax... it's a joke.  She's just my wife). She was indignant for me.  She defended me, something she is very good at.  She asked if he actually paid attention to the patient in front of him (me) instead of the numbers on his screen.  

I tried not to cry as I said it's not like I haven't been trying.  I have done so much in the last year - I am riding as many days a week as I can, though the last 3 months, I've been off my game a bit, but ...  

Was all I have been doing for naught?  My own doctor didn't seem to lend any credence to whatever actions I had been trying to take.

Have I been wasting my time? 

I was angry.  And I was hurt.

Did I need to do one of the programs in the pamphlet?  One is a meal replacement plan (that costs money) that is 800 calories per day.  800 calories.  Yes.  I will lose weight on that. I might lose my mind too.  

I went online to look at their (free) online weight loss help program.  It involved a lengthy series of intimate questions that I answered honestly (and I already know I am an emotional eater).  With each revealing answer, I was given cute little statements like "ask people for help"  and "when emotions drive you to want to eat, take a deep breath and get busy doing something else".  Oh.  Okay.  Why didn't I think of that? 

Here are some numbers
My BMI is over 40.  (Which is actually less than it was a year ago)
My blood glucose is 80 (nope, not diabetic)
My weight is 237  (yep it's up from last entry here, but down from the last Dr's visit)
My BP is 105/78 (yep, that's good)
I have ridden almost 1200 miles since I started riding 10 months ago in August.  1197 to be exact. 

I feel better.  I can do more than I used to.  That has to count for something.  Right?

I don't know what my answer is.  The thing is it has to be my answer.  It can't be your answer.  It can't be my doctor's answer.  It has to be my answer.

I am trying.

And I think I am finding a new doctor.