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Unforeseen Outcome


“I wish there had been something to find when we first met,” I said, “but there wasn’t. I looked. I felt. There was nothing, no response from Murphy. I don’t like to lose, but winning at all costs isn’t worth it if Murphy pays the price. I can take his leg, take parts of his lungs, fill his veins with chemo, radiate his body and maybe, if we’re lucky, we can prolong his life a little. But what kind of extra life would he have? Not having a treatment option is our fault, not yours.”

I refrained from mentioning the twomonth delay, the opportunities missed for an early diagnosis. What purpose would it serve? Besides, there was a lesson here for me. If dogs could verbally communicate the subtleties of disease, vets might be less vulnerable to clinical red herrings. When alarm bells ring, we must resist the seductive power of an easy diagnosis. Observation and touch were all I had, and I worked hard to silence intuition.

“Undiscovered” is not the same as “overlooked.” Sometimes, the real culprit bides its time. And sometimes, the only constant I can guarantee, to client and patient alike, is the sincerity of my intent, even when I cannot guarantee a cure.

Names and identifiers have been changed.



Nick Trout is a Diplomate of the American and European Colleges of Veterinary Surgeons and a staff surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston. facebook.com/DrNickTrout

Photograph by Dennis Hoyne

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