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An account of a year the author spent inside Angell Memorial Animal Hospital
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Rita Moore sat on the curb out by the guard booth and the forbidding brick wall that marked the entrance to Angell Memorial. Clad in a gray sports coat and bright green pants, she hunched over her Bible, absorbed in Leviticus.
Brum stepped from the shadows of the building’s overhang and into the hard sun of a Tuesday afternoon. Some colleagues had been good-naturedly jibing him about his unenviable client—by now, notorious for her waiting room demonstrations—and his willingness to attend to her curbside. Brum smiled, but the entire matter was gnawing at him as he walked down the driveway toward her. How could he make her understand? What could be the resolution of Myra’s case?
Traffic growled and rattled by. Some cars rolled into the lot, a dog here and there peering from the passenger window. Brum greeted Moore and squatted like a baseball catcher. He summarized Myra’s condition. Moore seemed to pay attention. The kidneys seemed slightly better, Brum said, and the septicemia was somewhat improved, also, but they were not out of danger. The remaining cancer was inoperable; the dog was dying, he said.
“You treat,” Moore insisted. “You treat my dog, Doctor.”
“I don’t think so,” Brum said somberly.
Now she was crying. “I did this; I did this to my dog. I waited too long, too long to treat. I squeeze too tight. I didn’t give the pills on time.”
“No! Stop it! Stop!” Brum made a striking motion, as if speaking to someone deaf. “You can’t keep hitting yourself. Stop beating yourself up!” He paused for a moment. “Do you know what causes cancer?”
After a moment, she uttered a quiet “No.”
“No. None of us do. It’s the food. It’s the air. We don’t know. If we knew, we’d win the Nobel Prize.”
“Treat—can’t you treat cancer?”
“No, not this cancer. Maybe at one point, but not all of it, and not now. What we have to do is decide what to do next.”
Euthanasia, however, was out of the question to Moore, and medically not much was left for Brum to do. The dog would leave intensive care in a day or two, he told her, then be transferred to the general wards. She could probably take Myra home Saturday, though it wasn’t the solution he thought best.
He gave Moore a sad good bye and started back up the incline of the driveway, quiet at first, then wondering aloud whether he had been too hard on her. He was angry at himself because nothing he said had really registered. “You know what the worst part of this is? The worst part is that I’m going to have to sit here and watch this dog slowly die.”
He was back inside for five minutes, talking to a staff member near the front desk, when a building supervisor stepped over. “Hey, Dr. Brum,” he said, “that girl you were with—is she OK?”
Brum looked over. “Why?”
“Well, she’s out there laying on the grass crying. What is she, some kind of nut?”
Soon after, when Doug was home, his wife told him it was time to stop. He simply couldn’t keep running outside to console this woman, getting so involved. He was already emotionally drained from overwork, and this was not helping matters.
“It’s been four times you’ve gone out there for Mrs. Moore,” she said. “She needs help, yes, but not from you. She needs professional help.”
That Saturday Moore brought Myra home. On Tuesday the dog was back, obviously dying. That evening she succumbed.
It took a couple of days before Brum, relieved for Myra’s sake as well as his own, could get word to Moore. When he finally did, Doug sensed that she took it well. She cried some and blamed herself, but she seemed to have understood death was coming. Then she drifted off, back into the city’s faceless populace, more alone than ever. Doug Brum went back to work.From Booklist:
Boston's Angell Memorial Animal Hospital has served many famous clients, including Elvis, Mafia bosses, singer Tracy Chapman, horrormeister Stephen King, and convicted murderer Pamela Smart (the subject of Sawicki's successful 1991 true-crime tale Teach Me to Kill). Angell Memorial is an unusual institution: a large, sophisticated, multispecialty practice and training facility for new veterinarians that is also a subsidiary of the not-for-profit Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Sawicki spent a year behind Angell Memorial's "Staff Only" door and tells the facility's story largely through experiences of a half dozen veterinarians, interns, and support staff, as well as several clients and patients. (He pays more attention to dog patients than to cat patients--perhaps because his own Angell Memorial patient is a golden retriever.) There are echoes of Tracy Kidder in Sawicki's approach, of the late James Herriot in his interest in human behavior as well as animal ailments, and for serious animal lovers, something of the sense of urgency of TV's ER in the health crises he re-creates. Will fascinate pet lovers--as well as young people who hope to become veterinarians one day. Mary Carroll
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