January 15, 2013

See You Later Alligator

With heavy hearts, we let our wonderful Matisse go today.

He enjoyed a six-week honeymoon since I first realized that he was nearing the end - enjoying walks, reading pee mail, playing with his toys, eating well and often. But he went downhill very quickly in the last couple of days.

We had consistently tracked his hospice score - happiness, hunger, hygiene, hydration, mobility, more good days than bad days. It was still above 35 but trending lower. When he went down, there was no doubt that it was time.

As I posted in A Buddhist Prayer for a Dying Animal, the drugs we were using to keep him comfortable stopped working. He was having difficulty breathing. His was stumbling and falling inside the house and while walking. Last night, he was restless, whining and confused, wandering from room to room, alternately vomiting bile and coughing up phlegm. I went out with him at 2AM , 4AM, 5AM. At 7AM, he made it clear he didn't want to go out, then he stood in the hallway, just staring at me like he didn't understand what was going on.

I made the appointment at Cypress Creek Pet Clinic. Stuart left work early. Just as we had been a team to give him a good life, we pulled together to ensure that he had a good death.

  Dr. Bouloy let me sit with Matisse on the couch while he inserted the IV and later administered the killing drugs. Matisse snuggled his head against my body. Stuart sat at his feet, touching a leg.

It was a very peaceful, graceful transition.

First he was given a sedative, so he was almost gone when the IV was inserted and the first drug was given - propofol, the drug that killed Michael Jackson.

After the propofol, Dr. Bouloy asked if he could proceed.

I couldn't speak. Stuart said, "It's time to let him go, Pam." All I could do was nod my head and try to contain the anguish I was experiencing. Am experiencing.

In fact, I thought that Matisse had stopped breathing almost as soon as the propofol reached his veins. But his chest started moving again when the phenobarbitol was injected. Matisse took three deep breaths and was gone. 

We spent the remainder of the day getting to and from Canyon Lake where the crematorium is located. I would have preferred to bury him, but we don't have a place for it. Plus Texas - two inches of dust and 20 feet of rock.
I was glad we did this. It gave us five hours to process the death, to talk, drive country roads and make peace with all that had transpired. As hard as it was to come home and not see my dog, I know it would have been far more painful to leave him at the veterinary clinic and come straight home.

The task of making final arrangements for the body gave us some sense of completion. 

Still it almost killed me to leave him at all. Seeing his limp and lifeless body on the chapel alter is not the picture I want to remember. I'm sure in time I'll be okay with the way it was. I'll hold onto the feel and warmth of his head snuggled up next to me before he expired. Right now, remembering how he looked when that wonderful, miraculous, magical essence of Matisse was gone is horrifying. Just horrifying.

He was my boy, my one true and inseparable companion and best friend.  Now I'm missing a limb.

I could not say "good-bye." I just touched his head at the crown where the Buddhists say the soul leaves the body and left him casually so as not to cause separation anxiety, the way I did every day when I went shopping or to work.

"See you later, Alligator."


Olivia Maison said...

I cried a lot when I read this because I know how it feels when you lose someone very precious to you. Brix, our great Black Lab passed away last year. It was the hardest thing ever, especially to my kids who's very close to him. He was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a bone tumor that spreads to his lungs. We took him to Portland vet center but it was too late and there was nothing they could do.

Pamela Picard said...

Thanks Olivia. Yeah, it rips our guts out and we're adults. I can't imagine how tough it was on your kids.