It was during this time that the cat, true to form, began to impart some more of his lessons. The first of which came to me in a near-rabid memory of the old Aesop’s… moral – “One should not be blamed for his infirmities.”
The story of the moral is one of a man and his old hunting dog, a fable I’ve read …oh, hundreds of times now (though only a few different versions). And there was this feverish memory of the fable, especially the old dog’s line “…you should celebrate me for what I have been, not blame me for what I’ve become.,” which replayed over and over in my head for my benefit (to establish a ‘positive’ mindset?), early in the cat’s new care.
It’s safe to say that it became my mantra, along with the useless, “Wait and see…” since I was never without the strong presence of the idea that the cat’s heart could fail any second… If it wasn’t already going in the slowest way possible… Or that at the first moment I wasn’t with him, he’d pass away.
With his heart in a bad way, and his natural proclivity to being over-excited at food, and attention, there was also the matter of keeping him calm. Over-stimulation would lead to arrest, I was sure, and when the cat purred, it was a sound that reminded one of the cold, unknown horrors of life.
But even purring was too much for him at times and just cleaning his chops was enough to send him into an excitable fit.
Outside of “not working very well,” I didn’t have any better description of what his lung(!) was doing. I had the tiny, cat-sized furosemide, the diuretic, the pill needed to pull the fluid away from his lungs. I ran out of this medicine on Monday, February 27th, along with the heart pill.
(I remember the furosemide so well because I stared at that bottle nearly every time I had to use it, wondering if it was working, or even if the vet had given me the right stuff, since they called it “Lasix,” which is one of the human versions. The bottle I had didn’t have any word that looked like that, so I went digging, to use some of the new [yet old] detective jargon I picked up from Hallmark Movies & Mysteries [HMM]. And yes, to ease my desperate mind, I did look up how to give the cat mouth-to-mouth if it came to that.
I looked up a lot…)
I also lived on coffee and nicotine, TV, and distraction, anything that would put me near the cat but distract me enough that I wouldn’t pet him or touch him and he could be calm. Or sleep, and I wondered if that was one of the cat’s lessons, that boring TV is boring*. Since the cat never actually watched anything, he must have included everything.
* – I’m now convinced that Cartoon Network (CN) runs nothing but Teen Titans Go! until “Adult Swim” time.
It’s not-so-easy to say that even as my life became the cat’s life, I was doing as much harm to myself as I could to keep awake, to fight stress, and so on. And undoing a lot of the improvement I had made, in terms of avoiding these things, which also includes junk food, the easy, easy go-to for quick eats, as well as inducing sleep after the cat’s final pill feeding, as that’s usually when he’d sleep… Yes, in the middle of the floor, so he‘d be underfoot.
Even in the grips of stress-induced “everything negative,” I gained some small insight into willpower and the effects of stress on it.
My total devotion to the cat is pretty much where all my resolve went. The first day, (and night, especially, far more Hopelesses, alone in the dark.), I was already smoking again. Easily remembered in terms of time and date, since I saw my regular check-out Lady from Kroger’s at the 24hr gas station (at 5:34am).
With a cruel twist of humor that only the Universe can have, she called me out for “being a fiend” and not even able to wait for Kroger’s to open (though cigarettes still cheaper at the gas station). I didn’t tell her why I wanted them, or why I’d been up for hours already; why make her feel bad?, but I did later have the thought that the scene played out so that maybe I wouldn’t buy any.
It didn’t work because I was under stress, and so-stressed, the first thing that I lost was total frontal lobe-control (brain stuff), which killed my willpower and ruined my decision-making ability. Instantly. Which means easier bad choices and either “insta-quick” decisions or none at all.
What remained were things that had become habit, in this case, remaining non-alcoholic (especially hard with so much of it floating around in all the old murder mysteries), and vegetarian*.
* – I even lapsed on this twice.
So as true with cigarettes, the same true with coffee, and junk food, and TV, and other distractions, because my brain became dominated by these powerful thoughts of loss, losing, and helplessness.
With one week past, the cat proved that he wasn’t going to go quietly. He fought, even when the meds ran out.
And a casual observer would notice when the meds ran out. The cat started a slow deterioration.
So I called the vet to get more. Long story short, including a lengthy time where the receptionist tried to guilt me into thinking that more time had passed than really had (even though it felt like years), they wouldn’t give the cat any more meds without seeing him again. Which would be another large bill, even if it did mean more medicine.
I couldn’t take the cat back to the vet. I made every excuse as to why – moving him would be too exciting, certainly back to the vet could induce ischemia, and as blind as he may/may not have been, he could still see Rattlecage (his corral and nemesis).
But no matter the many of excuses, it was a matter of cost. I couldn’t pay hundreds of dollars every time the cat needed pills and I resented being bullied into it.
Poe held on. He fought even more, my maddeningly constant question to him was, “What are you waiting for…?!”
I hate/d myself for a lot of the thoughts I had during this time, too. By Wednesday, the cat was having trouble swallowing, though all the pomp ‘n’ circumstance of feeding still managed to get him to eat. I was delighted to dry sobbing every time he went back for seconds, but he was eating less.
He wasn’t using his litter box either, and for a time, he wasn’t sure where it was, which only credited all my fears towards his losing his senses. He managed to lumber around to where he was used to it being, a heart-wrenching sight due to his collapse on arrival. Thankfully, his litter box was portable enough that it could be carried around for times like this.
But it was still virtually untouched. All the water the cat lost was probably through his panting. He didn’t eat enough food, even of the wet variety, to poop. Really, in three days, he may have eaten a single serving of food, a huge decrease from his usual “quickly eat everything in the dish, no matter how much.”
Worse, he developed spasms. Well, I don’t know if that’s what they were, but they weren’t the same “sleepies jerk,” nor the (now more frequent) choking scream with doubling over, or the soon-to-come, short-howl of abdominal cramping.
This affected me a great deal because Poe was the first “family” pet that could also be considered “mine.” While I hadn’t watched him grow up, he was my fixture for nine years, and admittedly, there were times he was more like my brother. He certainly treated me as poorly as a brother should =), and I dubbed him a Buddy (only important to a few people) pretty quickly when he started to fail.
The cat was the first pet I’d been around that hadn’t died suddenly. The stuff of my every waking thought, “Was last night the night…?!” during the weeks he was holding on.
There was a longer delay each day for me to get up and go see, to face his final struggle, or burial, or another day of constant attention.
And honestly, it was the thought of his constant attention that got me up. As much as he means to me, and as much as he didn’t give up, I wouldn’t give up on him.
During that time, I handled so much wet cat food that I smelled it everywhere, even in my bedroom. When the cat deigned to eat, it was helpful to keep piling the food up where he could reach it with his tongue, as well as provide some kind of barrier he could use to lap against. Trial and error had given me many plate-shapes to try, which was just as important when it was time to hold the dish(es) to his face. I can’t say I’ve ever put so much effort into proper plate selection and dish arrangement, including plate-stacking for improved “snout-ability.”
The cat had to time his swallows, which became another reason to keep the “consommé” consistency, as liquid food presented a much smaller choking hazard. Plus, as my friend, Kirstie, pointed out, another way to get water into him.
I never thought I’d be able to bear “playing” in wet cat food, having the stuff under my fingernails all the time, or having to emulate the cat’s self-cleaning with warm, somewhat wet paper towels. But, it was surprising how quickly I got over that.
Another sneaky lesson from the cat, when you love someone, a lot of your fears become pointless. Some of them replaced with new fears from events like when fur comes away from his mouth in clumps or to see him lying with his front paws soaking in his water and maybe completely unaware of it.
To say that the cat didn’t make me stronger during this terrible time is a lie. As much as we suffered and struggled together, as weak as I became physically, mentally, emotionally, there’s no part of it that I would have changed, because I was doing something for the cat and I was with him.
Constantly washing my hands for caretaking was making them chapped. As the cat ate less, though had more feedings, there wasn’t much I did for myself so I could continue to try to feed him, even knowing that his excitement may have been painful or could cause choking.
Just eating for a few minutes was taxing for him and he’d quickly trance back out and I wouldn’t go far so I could begin again when he came to.
The cat occasionally rewarded me (yes, “reward” is the right word) with some of his “usual behavior,” including refusing to eat the food because it was the same variety, even if it was fresh from the pack, and appearing out of nowhere and scaring the crap out of me.
The last one was made all the worse by the accompanied sight of the cat climbing up the couch like a breaching, clawed orca and then his lengthy and noisy recovery from the horrendous task. I’d use his down time to retrieve his food/water dishes, ready to feed when he was done wracking.
Writing it all out, it’s hard to imagine that so much time had passed, even now, as there wasn’t much sleep to be had. Scarier, it may have restarted one of my oldest problems, the inability to sleep at all.
Nevertheless, the cat fought on, and as much as he did, I allowed myself to consider taking the cat to the vet, or to another one, to get some more pills and see if a month’s worth might mean recovery (though, outside of balancing the thyroid, still no clear idea of what that might be), …even if that also meant I’d have to get Poe new food from the store every day until he was round (in the good way) again.
But by late Saturday night, March 4th, I was close to cracking.
I may have even, I can’t say. I was living a life beyond exhaustion, something I haven’t yet recovered from, either. I couldn’t really worry about that, though, and I learned a little more about myself.
My saving grace was that HMM was running a Columbo marathon, so I turned up the volume (I saw precious little of it), and it was pretty comforting for something familiar to be present. I must’ve heard “Ah, just one more thing, ma’am/sir,” a hundred times, the anchor that kept me grounded.
Ah, just because it’s gross, there’s no need to recount all of it. In short, the same that was true of the constant wet cat food under the fingernails became true of cat poop.
And it was cat poop got in the most horrible way, too, during shuddering spells that somehow didn’t seem to effect the cat much…, other than to make him cry out, his eyes tear up, and his bowels empty.
I washed a few raggedy towels ‘n’ clothes a lot, some raggedy hands even more. Every time the cat moved, I was there with the spot-cleaner and paper towels (warm-wet for him), and every time there was a “fit,” I thought it was his end at last, so I held him. In the end, you don’t even smell it anymore.
My chapped hands became raw from all the antibacterial soap I was now using, the dry skin cracked and bleeding, peeling away from the knuckles. I didn’t really notice them until Sunday when they began to hurt.
It didn’t matter, though. I won’t let a loved one lie in their own filth.
Sunday was a maddening blur of more of the same, as well as horrible hauntings of what to do or couldn’t be done, since Monday was still the earliest the cat could see someone.
I guess I did finally crack; I was so tired my inner monologue was mostly pictures and I only really remember constantly holding the cat, towels, hand washing, cat food prep, and screams.
Monday night, near 1am, when I had to try to get some sleep, I put the cat in his room with the litter box, placed him on and surrounded him in towels (he was no longer climbing on anything…, or eating, drinking, maybe seeing), closed the door, turned on my white noise machine (a loud fan), and expected the worse the next day. Or, the same day, really.
I got up about 5:45am, absolutely disgusted at how “late” I’d slept. Admittedly, I toyed with the thought of trying to go back to sleep, since I was sure the cat would have passed by now. But I got up, turned off the fan, went to the cat’s door, put an ear to it.
A weak, warbled meow greeted me and I wept. I did. How could he still be in there, and worse, how could I have left him alone if he hadn’t died? Was there no justice in the Universe? I opened the door and the cat was in his treasured Trader Joe’s bag, panting and teary-eyed.
…I picked him up and carried him around through the house. I didn’t even think that I was in my bathrobe and took him to his favorite haunts outside, too. He gurgled and shuddered and even fought to be put down to go play ‘n’ stalk. But, Breakfasttime first!
Within the hour, I was washing him and cleaning him up. A clunky process because a boney cat feels… wrong, like he’s made of Legos, clay, and stoles and none of his joints seemed like they should fit together. Not to mention his lifelong mastery of deadweight! Doubly so for toweling him off.
I tied one of my hair ties around his foot in case that could mean something to a cat in his life, or in mine, since the cat was more to me than a pet. I wrapped him in the freshly cleaned towel and put him back in his bag.
I buried him in his bag, although it was the third incarnation of the original since he liked to tear them to perfection. His favorite thing, along with chewing the heck out of one of my hair ties on the bed.
I chose a nice sun-soaked spot by a patch of evergreens, his most successful* stalking and tanning spot.
* – If you count napping and dreaming about stalking as success, which you know we do.
More feverish memory during the digging, flashbacks of my grandmother yelling, years ago, in dismay, “Poe’s out by the evergreens!” because he wouldn’t come back inside when she called him. When she said this, it reminded me so much of something my mother would say, the way she would say it, and it became an event I wrote about later in parody. (In a work somewhat lost to the ages due to other recent circumstances. =/)
He’s still underfoot, anyway.