Dear Human Hospitals — Veterinarians Have Found a Way to Say Goodbye to Dying Family Members. Why Can’t You?
During COVID, veterinary hospitals have had to close to the public. The human public, that is. Curbside medicine, where the pet comes in for treatment, but the owner remains outside, and telemedicine have become the new normal in my daily practice. Bringing pet owners into the hospital to sit in waiting rooms and be in an enclosed exam room with veterinarians, talking moistly, is a long way off. Until there is a vaccine and herd immunity, it is not going to happen, and it may never happen again.
The veterinary profession has been grappling with one exception, and that is humane euthanasia. Veterinarians take a lot of pride in this service: bringing peace to the pet and the pet owner, and ensuring that this procedure is executed compassionately. Most veterinarians could not in good conscience deny pet owners permission to be with their pets as they died during COVID. Veterinarians have handled the process differently, with some allowing one family member into the building, wearing PPE during euthanasia; some hospitals using an outside entryway and a long IV line to allow for a socially distanced euthanasia; and some doing the euthanasia outside. Veterinarians are problem solvers and the MacGuivers of the healthcare world. Whatever the method, the goal is the same, to protect the safety of veterinary teams and to allow pet owners to be with their pets as they take their last breaths. To let them hold their pets, saying things like, “You are such a good dog. I love you”, (as they aerosolize their potentially virus-laden tears and body fluids all over the place). Veterinarians are experts in zoonotic diseases and public health. They have figured out how to euthanize pets during COVID, using a balance of science and empathy and care for their patients.
I know that the human health care system is different. I know that the risk of a COVID positive visitor coming into the hospital could have serious consequences that must be avoided. I admire everything that human health care workers have done during this pandemic, and I can’t imagine how difficult this time must be for them. But, after three months, I don’t understand why hospitals can’t find a safe way to allow family members to visit hospitalized patients.