Wednesday, July 09, 2008
"You're Doing the Right thing"
That was what the vet said to us yesterday, as she stroked his bony gray head, her hand close to mine. We didn't know this vet, I just called them because they were closest to our house. And she (and her staff) turned out to give us the best experience we've ever had at a vet's office.
We brought him in, unhappily caged in our purple cat-carrier with the improbable Easter stickers all over it. Getting him in there was horrible. I had opened Piper's closet to get something, and he darted in, all the way to the back, and lay down behind some boxes. He wouldn't come out. I had to tear half the stuff out of there to get at him. He cried and splayed his thin, fragile limbs when I went to put him in the carrier. I shut the door and he cried again and pressed his face to the wire.
I had been home with him all day, watching as he moved from place to place in the house, trying to get comfortable. He appeared to doze but never sleep; he never curled up and crashed out the way the other cats did. Sometimes he followed me around, and I petted him and kissed his head and wiped way the foul-smelling fluid that drained from the corners of his mouth. Sometimes I cried a little, but not as much as I had on the phone that morning when I called to make the appointment.
We had told the vet what we knew - that he and another cat insisted on being outside, that they had both started to slim down and while the other cat leveled out, he just kept going. He would disappear for a couple of days, hang around the house for a few hours, then go back out. Until Friday, when he came in and I picked him up and found that he was not merely skinny but skeletal. He wasn't eating, he didn't want his buddy Mei-Mei to snuggle with him. One side of his face looked swollen. We watched him over the weekend, tried to tempt him with canned cat food, shrimp, and roast beef. But he just got worse, and fast. His breath started to smell terrible, and by Sunday he was drooling something that was not drool.
We had debated a lot over the weekend on what to do. When he was diagnosed with Feline Leukemia two years ago, they told us that some sort of infection or tumor would most likely be what got him. We wondered if we could fatten him up and get him some antibiotics to kick this. We wondered if he was going to die, and if he'd be better off at home, or if we should take him in.
On Monday, when Ryan got home from a teaching conference, I told him that I didn't think it was going to get any better, and it wasn't going to be quick. We had to take Gandalf Mack-Max in and have him put to sleep.
So I called the unknown vet and got an appointment, and after we were led into an exam room one of the assistants came and asked us questions about what we wanted to do with the body (we opted to take him home, in a “biodegradable casket” that was really a glorified cardboard box) and if we wanted to be with him when they did it – things I hadn’t even thought of. I answered between sniffles.
Which is how we arrived at that moment, the vet and I petting him as she softly told me that no, he wasn't going to get any better. Given his FeLV status and the smell, she thought it was a necrotic tumor. It couldn't be cured, he couldn't get better, she said, and we were doing the right thing for him. Gandalf Mack-Max looked a bit worried and made half-hearted attempts to jump off the table, but mostly he lay there with the weary, pained look he'd been wearing for days. He purred and nuzzled my hand.
So I told her we were ready and that I wanted to be with him when it happened. She had an assistant come in and we all held him while the vet tried to put in an IV. His blood pressure was so low she had trouble getting a vein. I knew then that she was right, that the infection was hopeless, and I felt a stab of guilt at our three days' worth of debate. I was sorry it had taken us this long to help him.
The vet found the vein and gave him the first of what she had explained would be two drugs; number one was a sedative, he'd relax and feel calm. Number two would simply be a high dose of anesthetic, which would stop his heart.
I felt him relax under my hand as the sedative reached him. He felt so calm and warm and I started to cry. I told him I loved him. Then the vet administered the second drug. It didn't take long, his system was so wrecked. He was gone in a few seconds.
They gave us a few minutes with him, and then they came and got him ready for us to take home. The kind veterinarian walked us out to the car and said they would mail us the paperwork, we didn’t need to worry about any of it today. She gave me a kind pat on the back and, on impulse I hugged her and thanked her. She hugged me back and said I was welcome.
And then we took him home.