Wednesday, February 19 2014
During an unexpected morning snowshower, I started to worry about the weight of snow accumulating on the solar deck overhead, so, after shoveling hundreds of pounds of snow off the laboratory deck, I climbed up to the solar deck and shoveled it off as well. After the snow stopped falling, there was an additional three inches of snow covering everything. That was just enough to justify shoveling out the driveway, a job Gretchen helped me do.
Gretchen has been increasingly worried about Marie (aka "The Baby"). She's been losing a lot of weight and seems to have increasing problems with balance that might be a consequence of the rapidly-growing tumor on one of her haunches. She also drinks a large amount of water. With a view to finding out if the Baby is suffering or if anything can be done to improve her health, this evening we took her down to the Hurley vet, driving through somewhat treacherous conditions to get there. The vet assistant weighed the Baby and determined that she'd gone for nearly seven pounds down to a little over four pounds since October. The vet came in and felt her kidneys (which I didn't even know was possible) and discovered one was down to the size of a Lima bean (which, judging from his surprise, must be small even for a cat kidney). On the plus side, he said that he didn't think her tumor was metasticizing or causing any serious health problems. In terms of proactive things we can do, the vet suggested getting blood work done and putting the Baby on regular infusions of subcutaneous fluids. But we've tried that with her in the past and we know she hates it. As an alternative, he suggested we bring her in to the vet every so often to have them do it. But we know people who perform such heroics on their ancient cats, and we've always said that we didn't want to be those people. No cat wants to be poked and prodded on a regular basis, and in a case like this, where it might only buy us a few more weeks with an unhappy cat, what would be the point?
The vet and vet assistant left the room, giving us a chance to discuss the matter further. We were both alarmed by the rapid weight loss and evidence of failing kidneys. This is precisely what happened to Wilma a few months ago, resulting in Wilma dying overnight in a cage at the emergency vet. Knowing the Baby will surely die soon and wanting to avoid the trauma of acute kidney failure, Gretchen and I gradually arrived at the consensus that we should euthanize her tonight. I hadn't expected this to be the outcome of today's vet visit, so I was a little emotionally unprepared, but logically it seemed like the right thing to do. Gretchen suggested that it seemed I might be the more resistant of the two of us to actually having the euthanasia performed. That might have been true, but Gretchen spends much more time in the living room than I do, right next to the Baby's little station on the coffee table (consisting of a folded towel, an electric heating pad, and a swan-shaped ceramic bowl full of water). If she thought the Baby was going downhill fast, I was onboard with pulling the trigger.
The Hurley vet is really good at euthanasia. He doesn't judge and he says all the right things. He agreed with us that now would probably be a good time for it and that if he really thought she was doing okay he would attempt to argue us out of it. Thankfully, the woman from the front desk came in while we were waiting for the sedation shot to kick in and had us do all the dirty transactional stuff before the really distressing phase kicked in. The Hurley vet told us he performs euthanasia every day. It was hard to fathom how thick his skin must be to be present for so much human misery. At least the subject of the euthanasia is spared the misery. I was holding the Baby in my arms when the vet injected the lethal dose of pentobarbital, a thick pink fluid. I could feel the Baby's heart beating against my hand as the fluid went in, but within a second, the heart had slowed and then, a second later, it had stopped completely. Gretchen carried the baby out of the veterinary office wrapped in a towel. (It's interesting to note that the last dog the Baby interacted with was a black Lab mix named Cole, whom Gretchen had allowed to approach and sniff the Baby while she was mostly inside Gretchen's jacket.)
Though tears had been streaming down my cheeks before and as the Baby died, I felt much better on the drive home. It was as if a burden had been lifted. It's never existentially comfortable to make a decision about the time and place of death of a creature you've grown to love. Indeed, I'd second-guessed myself about the decision to euthanize Sally. With the Baby, though, I could tell the decision had been a good one just based on how I felt afterwards.
Back at the house, I went out onto the east deck and shoveled a path to the picnic table through three feet of compressed snow that had fallen off the roof, icicles snapping off as I hit them with my head. By recent standards, with temperatures in the 30s, tonight would be a warm one. But it would be colder outside than it would be in our house, and we needed to keep the Baby in a cold place until we could get her buried. For the time being, that place was beneath the picnic table out on the east deck.
As I had for Sally, I then went and assembled a Facebook gallery of pictures of the Baby, an activity that serves the dual purpose of helping me deal with the loss while also announcing it to friends. It's an emotionally-charged activity to do a Google image search of this site for images of the just-departed and then to assemble them into a captioned series, and as I worked I occasionally burst into tears and even sobs. I gave the Baby's birthday as "September 30th, 1986," precisely 20 years before the day we'd adopted her. We'd been told on that day that she was "20," and though that now seems absurd, it's a great myth to cultivate.
a walk down memory lane with Marie (aka "the Baby")
Painted in 2007 on a postcard and mailed to Gretchen at Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks
The Baby and Stripey enjoying woodstove heat, 2007.
With Clarence and Julius (aka "Stripey"), circa 2007.
With Eleanor, circa 2007.
Creekside, 5 miles south of Staunton, Virginia. With Eleanor the Dog. January, 2008.
Creekside, 5 miles south of Staunton, Virginia.
At Creekside south of Staunton, Virginia.
From left: the Baby, Gretchen, Eleanor (with her second ACL repair) and the immortal Sally, January, 2008.
The Baby and Stripey enjoying the old totaled Honda Civic as I took it apart with a reciprocating saw. April 23, 2008.
The Baby and Sylvia the wallflower black cat, April 23, 2008.
In the Laboratory, August 4, 2008.
In the laboratory with Eleanor and Sally, August 1, 2009.
Painted January 17, 2010.
Ramona with the Baby, March or April 2012.
Ramona from Charlottesville was visiting in June of 2012.
The Baby is at the top, then (clockwise) Stripey, Sylvia, and Eleanor.
Photo by Ray, December 15, 2013.
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