“I think she needs to go the vet, Mom,” my teenage son yelled upstairs. I was already down for the night, ready to call this day done. I so wanted to pretend I did not hear him.

But, our black lab would not stop throwing up. Brown puke was coming up consistently, like Old Faithful on schedule. And, candy wrappers – whole and intact – accompanied the vomit. Why open the candy when you can swallow the package whole?

Lesson learned: never leave the house for the day with mounds of Halloween candy lying on the floor.

This was not my first visit to the 24-hour vet. I knew exactly how to get there. I also knew from experience that it would be a long night.

We checked in.

“Have you been here before?” the red-haired twenty-something girl asked.

Recalling the last time, I almost chuckled aloud. Little did she know, I knew this place well.

After hearing our story of the Halloween candy bag gone empty, she picked up the intercom to inform the medical staff in the back – “Triage Two” she yelled. I had no clue what that meant, but it did not sound good. I just wanted our dog to be okay. And selfishly, I did not want to miss a whole night’s sleep.

We had no choice but to settle in. The carpet-less waiting room offered no privacy and little comfort for the middle of the night animal-loving visitors. Each were there with their own story of 2 A.M. distress.

The waiting room was already occupied by a daughter and her elderly mother. The duo was trying to decide what to do with their aged, cancer-infused but well-loved cat. They were desperate to keep her alive a few days longer, knowing the end was inevitably coming soon. I could see the vet was growing frustrated. She was pretending compassion, but she just wanted them to decide … now. She had other four-legged patients to attend to. They opted to transfer the cat to another facility capable of a blood transfusion. Case closed.

Then, an elderly couple walked in, carrying a smallish dog wrapped in blood-soaked blankets. This called for “Triage One.” I made up that this dog’s health crisis was urgent, a true emergency. Once the hurting pup was taken back by the vet technician, the couple continued talking to the red-haired gal at the front desk. “How much is euthanasia? How long till we can pick up the ashes?” They were weighing their feared options. My heart sank. Hope was not happening for this couple at 2 AM on a Friday morning. Their beloved companion would probably not walk out of the clinic alive. I could not help but envision the day that I would be asking these same questions. I was relieved it was not today.

Then, crazy lady strolled through the sliding doors of the clinic. The same was true last time I visited the emergency animal hospital in the middle of the night. There is always one colorful pet owner needing attention – probably more for themselves than for their pet. I got comfortable in the cold vinyl waiting room chair. Here we go – I thought. I was ready for the show and in need of entertainment to pass the slow-moving night.

“He won’t stop biting and scratching himself. Must be an allergic reaction,” the flamboyant pet-owner self-diagnosed.

As opposed to calling a numbered triage for this woman, the tech personally came to the front and delivered the bad news. I wondered if they had seen her before. The tech proceeded to tell her that the clinic was now backed up for hours and could not attend to her dog till early in the morning. The tech generously (and perhaps, happily) gave her the names of other emergency clinics where she could take her hysterical dog.

I wondered if this was indeed true. Were they really that busy, or were they trying to get rid of her?

Crazy lady said she already had an appointment the next day at her regular vet. She stood for what seemed like an eternity trying to decide what to do – out loud, of course – as if we all wanted to hear her internal process. Should she wait here, go someplace else or endure till tomorrow when she could see her own veterinarian?

We were then called to the back to get an update on our Halloween-partying lab. Like coitus interruptus, I have no idea what crazy lady decided to do. I missed out on the end of the show.

Six hundred dollars later, our lab was fine. Within hours, she was back to her pre-chocolate binge state. Someone owes my daughter some Halloween candy so I guess I will have to be the one that antes up as opposed to the dog. Why is it always me?

I am still thinking about those we shared the waiting room with that night. Did the beautiful show cat get a well-deserved good-bye for keeping her owner happy for seventeen years? How is that older couple doing since leaving the hospital empty-handed? Will they get a new animal to love into their last years? And how about crazy lady? Is her dog still miserably scratching? And more importantly, will she ever find a person to hold her at two o’clock in the morning as opposed to an exhausted vet tech that turns her away?

My tired eyes awakened my heart that late evening. I saw snippets of life stories in the small, cold confines of an animal emergency room. I was reminded that we truly are one human family. Going about this thing of living the best we know how. Whether trying to keep love alive, having to let go and say good-bye, scratching for needed attention or overindulging in fun-sized bags of M&M’s … our separateness is truly self-made. Life could be so much kinder if we were forced to view our commonalities. For, compassion is available. I guess sometimes it takes an unwanted midnight visit to the animal emergency room to let it surface.