Little Warrior Page4

We pretty much let her do what she wants these days, but I have to watch her more closely. When cats are ready to call it quits, they tend to go off someplace to die alone. That’s not going to happen here; we have a nice little casket and an empty hole in the backyard waiting for it. It may not be rational, but I want to know where her body is, even if the life is gone. I want to be able to visit that spot. I need that.

It’s now been 20 days since the diagnosis of the cancer in her mouth. We’ve settled into a routine of drama-free waiting and watching. I believe it is known among doctors as watchful waiting, although with people one is waiting to see if the cancer grows, and thus needs (often risky) treatment; with Samantha, there is little we can do, other than switch drug regimens.

She can no longer groom herself, so the beautiful coat of fur she once had has grown a little grimy; I try to brush it out, but a brush is no substitute for the cat’s daily self-grooming routine – that perfect coat doesn’t happen by accident.

She’s taken to spending more time under the bed, but she’s still an affectionate and loving little animal. And she still has plenty of fight in her; she’s 6 pounds of fury when I give her that pain killing medicine.

The Japanese earthquake just rocked Japan, and the world. Thousands of deaths; hundreds of thousands made homeless; endless suffering. They seem to generally take it in that Japanese stoic style; no looting, no panic. How can the death of a single cat compare to all that? It can’t of course, because all real suffering is ultimately private and individual.

They will sob over the loss of a husband, a wife, a girlfriend, a child; a baby. And suffer they will. But no one will suffer over the total body count, or the final grand tally; those are useful numbers for statisticians, policy makers, economists, and journalists, but they have little or nothing to do with real suffering. Somewhere in Japan today someone is crying not because of the epic scale of the disaster, but because, among it all, the waves, or the fire, or the earth, took their little pet.

The end is near. Sammy is spending a lot of time under the bed now, retreating from us in way that the vets said she would. She still seems to have a healthy appetite, but is having trouble getting the food down. She seems to drink less water, and is using the little box very infrequently. She’s still an affectionate little animal, sitting in my lap for prolonged periods of time, and enjoying a good brushing. But we think the tumor has grown.

When should a pet die? When they are in discomfort? What does that mean? My vet said we should only keep her alive as long as she “was joyful approaching life”, but that’s a pretty high standard: I’m often not joyful in my approach to life. She can still eat; she can still move around; she can still jump in my lap. Is she in pain? I don’t know. Almost certainly she in pain when she eats, but at other times? At what point is “putting an animal down” merciful, and at what point is it taking the life from a still living animal? Can I make an objective decision on this? Almost certainly not, but it’s not a decision I’m going to leave to anyone else. She is certainly not her old self, but she is certainly still alive. Do we kill old people in nursing homes who are clearly in pain and beyond any meaningful enjoyment of life? No, of course not, but perhaps our approach with animals is kinder.

If you’ve ever taken care of an older person, you know that life revolves around the not very glamorous tasks of making sure they can get to doctor’s appointments, picking up prescriptions, and helping them work the remote control for cable TV and movies. Also, checking in to make sure they haven’t fallen or had some other accident or sudden set-back. Taking care of a sick, older cat is not too much different, except that they don’t watch much TV, Animal Planet excepted.

To a large degree, even when you have very good vets, you have to become your own pharmacologist, in terms of what works for your pet. Our vet prescribed 3 daily doses for pain, at 25Mg each, but we found that made her spend most of her time under my bed. When we took her off the drug completely, she reverted to her old, normal behavior; in retrospect, the painkiller was such a powerful drug for a seven pound cat that it’s amazing it didn’t knock her completely catatonic. Any good vet will tell you that one of the signs of a dying animal is that they retreat from life, and start hiding, and this is true, but you have to make sure that it’s the disease, not the drugs that you’re using to fight the disease, that are causing that behavior. Just like with people, drugs, though often necessary, always have serious side-effects, and often those side effects are to make the patient a zombie. If you doubt this, take a tour of a nursing home.

When you first discover an illness, you don’t worry about things like drugs, dosages, and the like. Because you’re sure that some cosmic mistake has been made; it simply isn’t right, or just, or part of the plan, that something you love could die before its time. Of course, you read about death and illness all the time, you see it on TV, and in the movies, and are very familiar with it in novels. But those things are not real.

The idea that this living, breathing thing in front you could no longer be alive is just not right, but it will soon become very real. At first, you think you’ll correct this cosmic error by saturating the dying thing with love; nothing could possibly be allowed to die that so clearly is loved.

The cruelest part is when you realize that, yes, this living thing will die, and nothing in the world you can do will stop it. You can pray, you can provide drugs, you can go to the vet every other day, and you will delay death, but not for very long. The thing in your lap; the warm, soft, breathing, loving thing, will die. You will fail to stop that death. It will die and you will have failed in your responsibility to stop that death.

Watching an animal die is the opposite of watching a pregnant woman; you watch her belly grow with the expectation of bringing life into the world. In this case, you watch an animal shrink in size as it gets closer and closer to death.

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