Yes, Virginia, There Is Goodness in the World

In a sad world, kindness and love can make any day Christmas

Posted Nov 07, 2019

Yes, Virginia, There Is Still Goodness in the World

I had taken a deliberate hiatus from this blog for a very simple reason: sadness. In my profession, veterinary medicine, the demand for writing is limited to medical records, full of succinct phrases and acronyms describing clinical signs and potential diagnoses. The writing I do outside my work, published or not, has always been a creative outlet springing from my heart with passion and joy.   After my last blog, however, about the brutal murder of a child I had known, I have had a difficult time finding that joy.  

I still go to work every day consciously choosing to be happy and positive. It is truly a choice to do so, and some days it takes more effort than others. During four years of chemo, it took not just effort but sheer Sicilian stubbornness to put a smile on my face each day. I knew, however,  this was what I had to do for the sake of my patients, clients, colleagues, and family.  

My morning routine during the most difficult of days was to drag my aching body—with its dangerously low white blood cell count and the gut-wrenching fatigue and nausea only twenty-seven rounds of intravenous poison can give you—out of bed. The half-mile trip to my office was like a never-ending trek in the Australian outback; I dreaded every inch I drove. Once there, however, like the clown in the opera Pagliacci, I “put on the suit.” I put on my lab coat and hung my stethoscope around my shoulders and wiped the pain out of my bald head. Although between clients I huddled in my office under a blanket, each time I entered the exam room I smiled and  thought: “Ridi, Pagliaccio!”

Yet, since my last blog, I found it harder and harder to be the positive person I strive to be.  I still managed to do so, always forcing myself to see the glass as half full. Such optimism is essential when married to a man as I am that not only sees the glass as empty, but broken, and with shards of glass in his fingernails. The accumulated pool of optimism, however, was not great enough for me to write. I need joy to write, not just a make-up clown smile hiding tears, but real joy.  

Of late, that joy had been hard to find.  I could no longer ignore all the atrocities in the world, all the vitriol, the hostility.  I discovered there were websites that profited by fostering hostility—by posting fake stories and photos they knew would enrage people, just to get them to click a link. I saw a two-party government where the only thing the parties can agree on is fostering hate for the other. The news I read each day was full of horror stories: parents murdering their children, teenagers killing their classmates, strangers killing churchgoers and shoppers.

I still trudged each day into work with my clown-smile, forcing myself to be positive, but I had begun to wonder if there was any goodness left in the world.  Last month, I had just finished reading a news story about the discovery of thirty-nine bodies in a container truck in England when my staff called me into an exam room.  I put on my Pagliacci smile, hung the stethoscope around my neck, and went about my job.

 On the exam table, I found a very, very sick five-year-old dog named Bella with her distraught owner, a young man in his mid-twenties. Due to her telltale clinical signs, her diagnosis was simple: she had an infected uterus and was in septic shock. She needed aggressive treatment and then surgery, or she would die.  He timidly asked me how much all this would cost. Unfortunately, because she was critically ill, this was going to be expensive to treat, about two thousand dollars.  

He started to cry. The estimate was a figure he could never afford, not with the circumstances he was currently in. He wasn’t irate.  He didn’t expect it to be free, unrealistically expecting all this medical treatment to fall out of the sky and expensive drugs to materialize out of a magician’s top hat. He didn’t play the guilt card, as clients often do, accusing the veterinarian of caring more about money than animals, when nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, he quietly and tearfully, told me he would have to euthanize his beloved dog because he couldn’t afford the surgery and he didn’t want her to suffer.  

I left the room and walked toward my drug safe to draw up the euthanasia solution.  His sadness, though, touched me.  

Here’s a news bulletin:  we veterinarians do not like to euthanize. We hate it. We realize it is part of the job and ending suffering is important, but we hate having to euthanize an animal that we can save, if only we or our clients had bank accounts like Jeff Bezos. That day, I was intently feeling his sadness and the lack of joy in the world. As I reached for the safe, I just wanted to find any other way that we could help this dog. There just had to be a way to bring this to a happy ending, and maybe in this hostile world there can be one tiny molecule of joy.  

As I fumbled for the safe, I thought about one of the weird things in my life that had unexpectedly brought me so much joy:  my celebrity pet deer Dillie.  This blind, frail creature had come into my life by sheer happenstance fifteen years ago.  Through the years, without ever leaving our acreage, she had touched the hearts of millions of people across the world.  Her improbable and sometimes ridiculous celebrity had introduced so many wonderful people into our lives.  Did she have one more miracle of love inside those tiny hooves of hers? With all the hostility in the world, could there possibly be enough good will to save sweet Bella?  

I went back into the exam room and told the young man I was thinking of a way that we could save his dog.  I was going to reach out to the pool of Dillie fans across the world and our great clients and see if we could make a miracle happen: raise enough funds from total strangers to save his dog.  He was so grateful, but I warned him that Bella might not survive even with a miracle. He understood, and said his goodbye to Bella.  

She was so sick, she couldn’t lift her head to say goodbye. Instead, she weakly thumped her tail.  

Photo by M. Butera, DVM
Bella, on admission to the hospital.
Source: Photo by M. Butera, DVM

As we put in the IV line and started treating Bella for septic shock, I put a message on Dillie’s fan page telling everyone about the miracle we were trying to pull off.  Immediately, our phone started ringing.  The first donation was from a former employee, Sherry, that had helped me force-feed and treat a comatose Dillie the first day she had come to my emergency clinic. Then we received donation after donation, from all over the world, from as far away as Australia.  Those that couldn’t afford to donate called to say they were praying— just as needed!  

We had Halloween decorations up around the office, but the way our phone was ringing for Bella, I felt like we were in a Christmas movie. Yes, Virginia— there is goodness in the world. These people weren’t strangers at all.  We were all just one great big family, brought together by the love of animals and compassion for the people that loved them. Within two hours, we had enough raised to cover the entire bill. When I called the owner with the news, he was floored. He never thought in a million years that so many people cared.  

After a night of treatment for the septic shock, Bella had her surgery.  Despite a belly full of pus and bacteria, she breezed through it— how could she not?  She had a world praying for her. The day after surgery, she was eating and ready to go home.  

The miracle had worked.

Despite all the sadness today, all the injustice, all the pain, there are nuggets of goodness and kindness to be mined. Just like the gold mining shows on television, we have to sift through tons and tons of dirt to find that tiny mason jar full of gold, but sift we must. The treasure is worth the effort.  

We each have to vow to be that gold. We have to reconnect to our humanity and kindness and service to our fellow man. We each must decide that hostility and hatred will not take root in our own hearts so one by one we are converting the soil to treasure.   

As I come into my office this morning, I look out the window to a grey Ohio winter sky. There is bleak and then there is Buckeye bleak. The first snow of the season is on the way, and we might not see the sun again until May. But, never mind. I smile as I write this because I am remembering  Bella’s thumping tail and the warmth of the wonderful people that came together to help a stranger and a sweet dog.  

I know now I cannot let the sadness of the world stop me from being kind and joyful.  I don’t have to put on my clown suit anymore and pretend to be optimistic. I see the love and kindness, that little mason jar of treasure, all around me, thanks to the wonderful people that made a Christmas miracle happen on Halloween.