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.

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