Living in Uncertainty

Today I made my third visit to the veterinarian in five days. 

My little eighteen year old cat had been a little lethargic lately and holding his mouth in a strange manner, so I brought him in.  After the examination, blood work, tests, the thought was he might have an abscess tooth.  Fluids were administered as Ira (yes, he's named after Ira Gershwin and you won't believe how many well meaning vet technicians tell me "she's" beautiful after hearing the name) was dehydrated.  He was also very thin.  The mouth pain had caused him to stop eating the past couple of days and he was even skinnier than usual. 

The second visit was for x-rays on his teeth and to have surgery.  Later that day I got the call from my sweet and wonderful vet, Dr. Baker, that both bottom canines were removed as they were infected and there was bone damage as well, but Ira was currently recovering.  When I picked him up I came to realize things were worse than I thought.  He might not heal, portions of the lower jaw might need to be removed...the phrase "quality of life" was placed on the table.  Ker-plunk.  Euthanasia was an option.  Somehow I hadn't thought of that possibility.  I thought "infected tooth".  Remove it and all will be well.  It's that factors of bone damage and kidney disease that make everything dicey.  It did bring me an incredible amount of comfort to hear her say that she didn't like putting that out there as she and everyone had grown so attached to him in a short amount of time as he looked and acted just like one of the tech's beloved cats that had passed.   

When they brought him to me he practically leaped into my arms (as much as a doped up cat eighteen year old cat can leap) and I just held him close.  The vet talked me through it a little longer, we decided there were still too many possibilities at this point and he was going home to heal.

Ira didn't eat that night, nor drink, though several times throughout the night I saw him huddled over his water dish contemplating the process as if trying to work up the nerve.  I didn't sleep, but lay on the floor in case he wanted to be near me.  He didn't.  He was uncharacteristically solitary. 

Which takes us to today and visit three.  I called the vet with my questions based on the prior night's behavior and euthanasia seemed more likely.  As much as I didn't want to think about it, I was beginning to accept the possibility.

My concerns were, and are, the following:

1.  This is my first pet as an adult.  I've had him his whole life, rescued his little yowling, three month old butt from the humane society in Minneapolis.  He's my responsibility and his welfare is in my hands. 

2.  In the past I've made what some might call "rash" decisions just to get out of the uncertainty of a moment, and I'm learning that no matter how terrifying and painful the uncertainty can be, it's crucial to suffer through it and make the right choice.  I don't want to make a decision too quickly that I can never take back.

3.  This decision is about what is best for Ira.  Not what is most convenient and as pain free as possible for me.  I have to do right by him and so I'm not about to let his life end unless it's truly the right choice.  I don't want him to suffer needlessly, but I don't want to cut his life short if he has a fighting chance.  After all, he's been counted out before and pulled through.

When Ira was taken in for his actual follow-up, things seemed much more confusing.  A vet had been consulted and he was optimistic.  One of the local vets there was not.  If a feeding tube had to be used, too many cats didn't come back from that process.  Further surgery was not recommended.  Others have certainly euthanized in similar situations to mine.  It was not "unreasonable".  That term quality of life got tossed about...this was when the whole thing hit me.  This could really happen. 

The doctor talked me through the process, what euthanasia would be like, how some owner's don't want to be in the room so they can remember their pet as he was throughout life and not at the end.  I could only look down at the floor as I heard this as I started to think I might lose it in front of her and no guy likes to ugly cry in front of a relative stranger. 

In my gut I know it is not time yet, so we continue to wait and hope, hope for that little nudge that tells me how to do right by my dear friend who's been with me through so much and deserves all the care, comfort, focus and consideration I can give.

Joe Hartman