There’s nothing like helping someone else with their health problems to distract you from your own. Since returning from my vacation and getting back to work, I’ve been dealing with patients and caregivers, whose daily challenges dwarf mine by comparison. I know I’m not doing so badly when it’s easier for me, with my radiation-fried, constantly painful right shoulder, to carry a wheelchair down a flight of stairs (it was folded in the middle) than it is for a man my age to do it, someone who is generally stronger than I am, but is exhausted by the demands of caring for a family member with chronic health problems.
On the homefront, I’ve also been dealing once again with a pet who is getting old and is not well. One of my cats, an aging black male Persian named Jett (two ‘t’s,’ named for Joan Jett), developed hyperthyroidism a few months ago and now appears to have an eye infection. He’s been on medicine for three months now for his thyroid. Anyone who has a cat who has ever tried to give it medicine will know what a miserable undertaking this is. Twice a day, I have to squirt 1 ML of liquid medicine into his mouth and make sure he swallows it. A milliliter isn’t much liquid, unless you’re a cat that only weighs about seven pounds. He was down to six pounds, from his usual eleven, so he is gaining back some of the weight his overactive thyroid has planed off him. Now something is wrong with his eye, which is swollen shut, and until we get to the vet tomorrow, I’ve been gently wiping away the drainage with a moist cotton ball.
Jett is not and never has been much of a cuddler. I adopted him after he’d been in a home for four years where the other cat picked on him, and the husband just didn’t like him. He was purchased by this couple as a purebred kitten, with papers and a disgustingly twee name, which I changed. Instead of trying to groom him lovingly, they sent him to groomers regularly, with the result that he never really learned how to groom himself and turns positively violent when I try to groom him. Yet he has been so good these past few months, enduring my ministrations reluctantly but with good grace. But I am starting to be afraid now, afraid that he is approaching that time when I will have to contemplate when to let him go.
Last November, I had to decide to let my 16-year-old dog, Foxy, die. It wasn’t any one thing. He was just old, increasingly arthritic, in pain all the time, starting to demonstrate some confusion. Medications were no longer helping him. I had to carry him down the stairs, help him onto the bed, guide him to the door to go out, which he could still see but seemed to forget how to find.
Animals do not complain. They endure miseries and illness and pain that would turn most of us humans into whining wretches. It’s much harder to figure out what’s wrong with them. It’s requires a level of attentiveness, close observation, love and patience on our parts that most of us do not bring to our relationships with humans. And when they are too old or sick to be restored to health or just reasonable comfort, we are called upon to make that awful decision to let them die. We have to set aside our own desires, our selfish but understandable wish to keep them with us as long as possible, and call up every morsel of empathy we can muster to face reality and decide what is right, fair, generous and loving. There is no hospice care for pets, no visiting nurses to help guide us gently through this process. If we are lucky, we have veterinarians who are compassionate and perceptive, and can help us know when the best thing for our pets and ultimately for ourselves is to let them go.
It’s never easy. Many people who have lost a pet, especially when they have had to decide to euthanize them, never want another pet again, never want to go through that heart-ache again. I’ve never felt that way, but I understand it. But I’ve learned that, although my grief seems to come in equal and painful measure to how much love and joy I felt for my lost fur-kids, the experience of having loved and learned from them far outweighs my loss.
The day that I had Foxy put down, I got home and wanted nothing more than to lie down and snuggle with Jett and my other two kitties. They are all typical cats, in that they do not submit to being forced to do anything, including cuddle with me. Fortunately, though, they usually decide to cuddle on their own. So, it didn’t take long that evening for all three of them to join me. Jett is usually the most reticent, never a lap cat, generally just paying me a brief visit for a head or chin rub, then going about his business. But that night, he was the first to come visit. As I lay on my back, weeping quietly, he stretched out on my chest, tucked his silly, football-shaped head under my chin, and purred loudly as I stroked him. The other two came and tucked themselves on either side of me, but Jett, who’d lived with Foxy the longest, stayed with me the longest, his head against my neck, his steady purr thrumming through my heart.
So now, I will do my level best for Jett, and hope that I can get him through this bump in the road. But if and when we come to the end of it, I’ll do the right thing, the kindest thing, the most loving thing. Again. Because I owe him that.
Please click on the post title or the comment link below to post a response.