Watching Myself Die
Some years back (in 2003) we took in a stray cat. Why do they always seem to show up in late fall, just before winter sets in? It had been hanging around (and getting fed) for some time and one day it showed up with two large protrusions on its hips. They looked to me like they may have been tumors. Anyway we took it to the vet and it turned out they were cysts. We had him treated and took him in.
In the spring of 2011 he started slowing up and sometimes began to appear “confused.” He would take a minute to figure out which direction to go. When he stepped into his bed he would put one paw in, then hesitate as if trying to decide what to do next. By late fall, early winter he had begun losing weight which reduced him to the proverbial skin and bones.
In order to try to arrest his decline Diane began feeding him different types of food, specialty items, treats and so forth – whatever he seemed interested in eating. This seemed to arrest his decline somewhat. Perhaps the “crisis” had passed. But about 10 days later he seemed to deteriorate more. We took him to the vet and found he was dehydrated. We had his blood tested and he was x-rayed.
Turned out he had been shot prior to our taking him in and he had several pellets in him The vet gave him several injections of fluid to rehydrate him and he was started on antibiotics. This perked him up for several days. A second crisis was passed. But a few days after that he had stopped drinking and eating. We eye droppered water to try and keep him hydrated but it didn’t seem to be much use.
Finally on the 17th he had become very weak. When he tried to get up and walk he could not. He would stagger a few steps and fall over. He did not, and had not during the past months, appear to be in any pain. Diane, who has experience in these matters, decided he wasn’t going to make it. We took him to the vet who killed him with an overdose of anesthesia. He died peacefully at 8:10 PM. I just didn’t have the heart to put a bullet in his brain.
What is the point of the above? Those of you who have given care round the clock to someone, or, who work in a hospice program, know the experience I have described. In spite of our business, and observing dying in others, including relatives, I had never actually gone through it on a daily and hourly basis over many months. It struck me while the above was occurring that what I was observing was what was going to happen to me.
Unless I am run over by a truck, assassinated or contract a fast moving fatal disease this is what I will be going through, perhaps not in 5 years, possibly in 10 years, probably in 20 years and almost certainly within 30 years. Knowing something intellectually and actually going through it on a first hand basis over months are not exactly the same thing.
Right before taking him in to be killed, he still had the strength to grip my finger. He had always liked his paws rubbed on the pad and would grip your finger when you did it. His eyes were wobbly though and he could no longer wink which he had in the past when I winked at him and said “wink.” By the way, he was a good cat for us. His name was Charlie and he was a gray Siamese. We gave him 8 years of life since he almost certainly would have died had we not fixed him up and taken him in. He paid us back by being a good lap cat, purred nicely, was very friendly, didn’t tear stuff up and was really part of the family. He had been in 17 different states with us over the years – more than some people. He always hid behind the couch when the camper was moving.
I can only hope when my time comes, it is as easy and painless as his was and that I get treated as well as he was. Regarding the health care system, it is quite evident that a large share of the costs occur at the end of life. He may only have been a cat, but the analogy is certainly real enough.