Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks

And so we are a one-cat household.

A few months before Dad died, we were coming home from a visit to the doctor in Riverton, a two-hour drive. We stopped at the rest stop at South Pass, a famous landmark on the Oregon Trail that now boasts a ghost town and abandoned gold mines. Dad had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's, and diabetes had already robbed him of most of his vision and mobility. While Mom was getting out of the driver's seat of the Buick I helped Dad out of the passenger's seat; his legs just wouldn't do what he told them to, so I helped him swing them around. When his feet were on the ground he leaned against the door for a rest -- such a little thing, getting out of a car, and yet it was such an ordeal -- and looked up and said, "Is this me for the rest of my life?" I knew exactly what he meant.

And although B.C. couldn't talk, Monday morning when I was trying to get him to eat some pureed salmon, he sighed and looked into my eyes for a long, heartbreaking moment, and I heard Dad's words again. B.C. was saying the same thing, without talking. It was agony. I couldn't do anything for Dad, but I could do something for B.C.

Appetite wasn't the problem, so the appetite stimulants the vet suggested were a moot point. He'd been losing weight continuously, despite showing a lot of interest in food. He just couldn't get much down at one time, and about half of what he got down came back up. And he absolutely refused to drink water. Thursday night while I was on the road, I arranged for Brent to take B.C. in for subcutaneous injections, knowing he was severely dehydrated. Brent visited with our vet for 20 minutes or so, and when they got home, a newly recharged B.C. went straight to the kibble he hadn't touched in weeks and chowed down. It was an anomaly, though... as good as he must have instantly felt to be rehydrated, whatever discomfort the mass in his chest was causing took over again. I took him for another flush Saturday and by Sunday he was back to lethargy and agitation. We started dosing him with pain meds at night.

We had ruled out further diagnosis and surgery... it just seemed impossibly unfair to put him through more. At 12 years old, two long-term anesthesia events and major invasive surgery into the chest cavity (after what he'd already been through, and if the thing was even operable) were pretty much out of the question. Not to our surgeon, but to us. I kept thinking of Morgan's red Molly dog... after several surgeries to remove the recurring tumor on her leg, they finally took the leg off. She died 8 months later of kidney failure. She was 12. Their other dog Rosie, the 15-year-old spaniel, had a 5-lb. tumor removed from her abdomen this spring. She's still kicking, but she's aged a lot, is getting senile and slow, her hips failing. And then there was Grandpa. After surgery to remove a lemon-sized tumor from his brain, he died within weeks, unable to speak or function, flailing and mumbling. Why do we try so hard to keep pets and people alive when there's a merciful, gentle end available? Because we love them. Because we don't want to be without them.

Once the decision was made it was easy. He made it easy. I made the appointment on Tuesday for Wednesday afternoon so Brent could be there. He's gotten more attached to the cats than he expected, I think. That morning B.C. was gurgling and wheezing, although moving around and alert, lolling in the sun by the sliding glass door. He spent most of the day purring in my arms, stretching and rolling when I'd rub his bare gut with the long, invisible scar. Brent picked us up, B.C. wrapped in a towel for the drive. Our regular vet was out (which was probably a good thing; she's been calling from home to check on us, so invested in our boy, and in me) but the woman we got was absolutely wonderful. She listened attentively, talked about our options, and assured me we were making the right decision. "I'd want to come back as your pet." It was over so quickly.

In the month between his first surgery and the end, I'd worried about him every waking moment. It had become habit. The first thing I thought each time I woke up in the night and again on Thanksgiving morning was, "I need to check on B.C." Then I'd remember. I can admit now, it's a relief. I had no way of knowing how much he was suffering, stoic creature, and it was beginning to take a toll. Trying to find things he could eat, watching him for signs of pain, wondering what to do.

I'm peaceful now. I miss his purring and his soft fur and the pleasing sight of him... I like to remember him the way he was before, filled out and fluffy and regal. He had aged so much the last few months, even a year, and lost so much weight. Looking at photos I imagine I can tell when he began to look strained and unhappy, distressed, sometime in early summer. Sitting on the couch, facing the fireplace, it's easy to pretend he's still passed out by the back door behind me. If I'm in bed I can imagine he's curled up on the couch. If I'm in the kitchen I see him curled up in the bed on the hearth. I know the hurt fades with time. I have such good memories, photos, even a recording of him purring and a video of him playing.

And I still have Kitty, who seems thrilled, although without competition for food she's ballooned a bit, become uncharacteristically round and thick. We'll work on that. B.C. bullied her occasionally, and I know she never cared much for him. Since he became so inactive she's gone a bit berserk, zipping around, climbing the cat condo like a gecko, becoming more vocal, demanding we pull her toy string. She knew something was wrong with him, would approach and sniff him once in a while or hiss if he came near. (Although she's always done that.) She's been needy and flirty the last two days. Probably worried we'll take her away, too. Who knows what cats think. Although I'm still confident I knew what B.C. was thinking the last few days. Probably much longer.

But I'm so grateful for the 12 years we got. 20 years, 50 would not have been enough. We know we'll lose them, and we're never ready. We'll enjoy Kitty while we've got her (Brent has named her Fancy, because she is, crosses her knees and lifts her pinky when drinking tea), which could be several good years. And maybe someday, after we've traveled a bit, maybe when our theoretical kid (twins run in Brent's family, OH PLEASE NO) is starting school, we'll rescue a dog from the pound. And I have informed Brent that I refuse to live the rest of my life without another cat. When the time is right, pets will come along. They always do.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


1,111th post. No cause for celebration.

"The real troubles of your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday." - Mary Schmich, from the 1997 Chicago Tribune column "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young"

For the second time in two weeks, I took B.C. to the vet expecting something routine, something predictable and manageable, and brought away with me the probability that he cannot continue to live.

He was recovering beautifully, purring recklessly, playful (inasmuch as he has ever been active), pink and alive. He showed a lot of interest in food (although I admit to tempting him with everything from scrambled eggs to feta cheese and black beans to baked salmon to liver-based Fancy Feast gravy slurries to Cat Sip cat milk to ham and beef baby food), despite never being able to eat much at one time. He didn't seem to be gaining weight, and I feared he was losing. The incision healed without incident, no swelling, bleeding, or leaking, and he showed no interest in it, so we risked leaving the Cone of Shame off since, as all pet owners know, it's utterly discouraging and frustrating to an animal and I feared he would hurt himself running into objects or falling off the bed or couch.

Once off the antibiotics and pain killers, he seemed to be gaining ground, and I hoped his appetite would improve. It didn't. So we made the appointment to get his stitches out and see what else could be going on. The surgeon grilled me and listened and palpitated to her heart's content and decided he might have an intestinal blockage... could we run some X-rays? Of course.

I waited for two hours, admiring cats and dogs that were in for everything from routine shots to hip replacements. One lovely Sheltie actually had no hip sockets. A boisterous yellow Lab had an oozing raw hole in his side the size of a chicken egg. A chocolate Dachshund named Tootsie needed dental work. I spent most of the time with an overweight Doberman named Maxx, who needed his expensive meds regulated. Congestive heart failure, pendulous growths. A pit-boxer mix wanted to play with every other dog in sight, including a golden retriever and his partner, a gorgeous Aussie with shiny, flowing locks. I sat with the sun on my back, making shade for Maxx. Then the tech invited me back.

The intestinal blockage turned out to be fecal matter, but something else showed up in the X-ray. A mass in the chest cavity, clearly pressing on the esophagus. It was visible in the post-op X-ray but was masquerading as a collapsed lung so wasn't identifiable as a potential problem. It could be a twisted lung lobe, a lung tumor, a free tumor, an interstitial tumor in the fatty tissue around the heart. The only way to tell what exactly and whether or not it's operable is a $1,500 CT scan (CAT scan, HA!). The surgery, if it's operable, would be around $4,000. (They go high on the estimates... the first surgery was predicted to cost $3,500 and turned out to be $2,700. We've done $400 worth of X-rays since the beginning.) I asked to bring him home for the weekend to think about it.

Meanwhile, B.C. continues to be his affectionate, debonaire self, purring and lolling, in my lap most of the time. He eats a little, preferably from my hand. But he is not well. He's as tall and long as ever, but painfully thin, bony, ropy. His walk is unsteady, his expression occasionally unsettled. If he's not sleeping on my lap or in the block of sun by the sliding glass doors, he's under a chair on in a corner or in his bed on the hearth.

It isn't the money... it's all the uncertainty, and the thought of making him suffer anything more than what he's already been through. If we did the CT scan and they found an inoperable tumor, they'd want to do chemo. I wouldn't do that to him. (It's hard enough on humans, who understand why they're being made to suffer.) If it is an operable twisted lung lobe or lung tumor, there would be surgery, and he would live another two years at the most (the surgeon was quite clear), unless something else came up (at this point? Probable). Whatever it is, it won't go away on its own, and even if it occasionally shifts and stops constricting the esophagus, he can't live like that.

I can hardly bear the thought of my life without him in it. I'd hate for anyone to have cause to judge me for not being willing to spend endless amounts just for the chance at a little more time, when it may not even be quality time for him. He's had about 12 wonderful years, spoiled and beloved, admired, needed, wanted. In my hands and in my house, he's suffered no abuse, no neglect, no terror, no starvation. Which is more than can be said for a sad percentage of cats and dogs in this world. I wanted 20 years. I also hate the thought of watching him age and the eventual end I won't be able to prevent. My wise cousin Roger posted on my troubled Facebook status, "You are his Power of Attorney - he chose you because he knows he can trust you. Do what he tells you even if it isn't what you want. " And he's right. I desperately wish he could have passed gently in his sleep and I wasn't faced with this choice.

I'm traveling extensively for work the next two weeks... neither Brent or I will be around to spoon-feed him every few hours, syringe milk and water into him to stave off dehydration. He'll suffer. His organs may fail. So that is where things stand... I'm going to call his regular vet Monday and see what she says. If she agrees it's probably best, I'll ask if she can put him to sleep at home. We're only a few blocks from the clinic.

I'll keep you posted, and I'd love your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


13 stitches and a new hairdo.