January 21, 2007

Nature's Course: It's a Bitch


Austin Texas, 2007


Being with a companion animal that has been sick off and on for over a year takes its toll.

I never got a full night's sleep without disruption. I frequently woke to vomiting on my bed or on the carpet in my leased home. I often put aside what I wanted to do for what I needed to do to comfort her. I was always "tuned" to her frequency, mindful of her whereabouts and watchful of any change in her symptoms.

Most of the time, she was busy with the normal business of being a cat.

Aimee slept 18 hours a day, ate, pee'd, poo'd, asked to go out, asked to come in, claimed my lap while I watched TV or nudged my arm for attention while I worked on my laptop.

Occasionally, like every six weeks, she'd have a minor bout of inappetence and vomiting. I'd research a homeopathic remedy, dose her and she'd rally to resume her daily routines.

Even before her health began to deteriorate, she had the habit of walking on my head in the wee hours. I hated to be awakened like that. She clawed the bed clothes to crawl under them. I hated that. She had a queen sized pan yet still managed to scatter litter all over the utility room. I hated cleaning her mess. And regrettably, as often as I made room for her on my lap or under the covers, I also pushed her away.

Over time, work and worry overwhelmed my enjoyment of her presence. Resentment and guilt short-circuited my pleasure in her company. I began to look forward to the day when she was gone.

When I learned that Aimee was suffering a chronic degenerative disease, I was sadly mistaken to let Nature take its course.

Nature's course is not a straight line, gentle or kind. Nature's course is uncertain, painful, messy and violent. It's a bitch.

This is why conventional vets choose pharmaceutical treatments that suppress symptoms. This is why pet lovers decide on euthanasia. We cannot bear to watch as Nature takes its course.

And so when the continuum reached its inevitable end, I was torn between resentment and guilt, torn between the gentle healing arts that might prolong her life for a time and the intervention of veterinary science that would swiftly end her suffering, and dead center between a rock and a hard place.

Aimee hated to travel. She yowled incessantly 20 hours when Stuart drove her from Galena to Austin in 2000. She yowled incessantly even 5 minutes to the nearest vet's office. Also, she always fouled her carrier by urinating and/or defecating; such a humiliation to a fastidious cat.

I didn't want to put her through that in her final hour.

Just as I intended to give her a good quality of cat life in her last days, I intended to give her an easy, peaceful transition.

Also, I didn't have a vet for conventional veterinary services.

Having forsaken pharmaceutical science for homeopathy, we had not seen a vet since May 2005 when Aimee received her last wellness exam and "booster shots" against rabies and Feline Leukemia.

Anticipating her time was coming, I had drawn up a list of mobile vets who provided in-home euthanasia. I had not yet begun to winnow them.

Harrumph. Hubris. Like I could "time" Nature's course.

On Monday evening, January 15, almost overnight, Aimee went from frisky to fragile, from racing around the yard to violently ill. She stopped eating, drinking, peeing or pooing. She began eructating copious, clear, watery vomit.

I gave her Nux Vomica 30C.

On Tuesday, January 16, she continued to vomit. She appeared to be disoriented, going through the motions of her daily routine. Foraging for food, then turning away in distaste as though the smell repulsed her. Asking to go out. Forgetting at the patio door why she was there.

When there was no improvement in her condition, I gave her Veratrum Album 30C. She soon stopped vomiting and summoned the strength to go to her litter pan.

It didn't look good.

She deposited a huge mass of diarrhea. No urine. Her gait was wobbly. She stopped and hunkered often to gather her strength. Her color was awful. Then she hunkered behind Stuart's chair throughout the evening. When it was time to sleep, I carried her to bed.

The worst came in the wee hours of Wednesday, January 17.

For one who wanted to avoid drama in the final hour, it could not have been more dramatic.

We were in the middle of an ice storm unprecedented in Texas weather history. All Central Texas had been inundated by frozen rain for 48 hours and was now sheathed in ice. Roads were closed. Bridges were impassable. Schools, churches, government, businesses, emergency clinics - the whole place shut down.

At 2:00AM, her vomit went from clear mucous to yellow bile to the darkest, foulest-smelling fluid one could imagine. Until dawn, she sat frozen on my bed, hunched in on herself like cats do when they are ill, like humans do when we are trying to keep it together with our total being.

As soon as it was daylight, I emailed or called every mobile vet on the list. Everyone was housebound.

Then I started on the local clinics. Nobody answered. Only voice recordings that directed me to the emergency clinic, 20 miles away. I could not get there.

Aimee still tried to move about. Her muscles were weak. More and more, she was turning away from me rather than seeking comfort. Moving only a few feet at a time, she made her way to Stuart's chair and sat, still and grave as a statue. She could barely hold up her head.

I spoke to two mobile vets. One was frozen in. The other was uncertain. We'd have to wait until weather conditions cleared.

At about 11AM, the vet at the Caring Hands Clinic in nearby Bee Caves phoned.

She was only in the clinic for a brief time. She could offer euthanasia. Her service was limited. She did not have an assistant. My cat was "not current on rabies shots." She could not risk a scratch or bite. She would have to "gas her down," then administer the lethal injection. I could not be present.

I chose to take Aimee to the clinic. The silence of her last car ride was eerie. That she did not yowl told me how very ill she was.

At the clinic, I produced a vaccination record from May 2005, only 18 months before. I understood that, without assistance, the vet might prefer to use the anesthesia chamber. I'd like to be there.

The vet stood her ground. For liability reasons, I could not be present.

Her way. Highway.

A split second decision. Homeopathy - wait and watch. Euthanasia - end her misery. Rock. Hard place.

I chose to hand Aimee over to the vet and let her release that last precious breath - prana - into the etheric plane without me. I regret that.

I'll always feel that I lost my nerve. I lost my courage of conviction. I will always regret that. This was not what I wanted for her or for me. But it was merciful.

And so life goes on.

Four days later, for the first time in many years, I have slept all night without a cat walking on my head or puking on my bed. I do not smell the harsh ammonia of cat urine wafting from the utility room into my kitchen. I have vacuumed most of the cat hair off my furniture. I am no longer discomfited by the demands of a cat.

I miss Aimee a lot.

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