Today I slept in too late, piddled around the house doing unimportant chores, read a trashy book, and took a nap. I wrote some for work, and did a bit of client stuff, but mostly I was hopelessly stagnant. Jason is in the next room diligently practicing guitar, and I’ve spent the last hour looking at RSS feeds and wondering how to act like a real person tomorrow. In keeping with the ideas of March, I’ve decided to stop browsing the internet, and instead write about why I wasted this day. This post will be long and sad, but also honest and maybe cathartic. So here it is.
Today was wasted somewhat intentionally; I thought I would give myself time for recovery after an awful weekend of unrestrained weeping. Misty, our beloved kitty girl, the focal point of our home and Instagram feed and hourly conversation, is sick.
Let me back up a little bit. For awhile now she has been on a very gradual decline, so slow that at first I dismissed it as the paranoia of a fretting cat mom. Then, the week before last, her once voracious appetite came to a full halt. No amount of trickery, pleading, or pagan ritual could get her to sample even the smallest bite of her favorite food (Grammy’s Pot Pie by Merrick). She also hadn’t pooped in a few days, which was terrifying, since Misty loves to poop. This is a cat who took so much pride in her massive dumps that she would lay like a starfish afterwards and bask in triumph, daring anyone to top her skills.
We assumed she was merely constipated, which can happen in older cats. We brought her to our local vet, who ran a series of tests and pumped her full of anti-nausea, antibiotics, antacids and every other anti-discomfort chemical known to medicine. They also gave her an enema to clear what little poop was in her system.
At the end of the appointment, when we were preparing to bring her home, the doctor came into the waiting room holding an iPad. On it were pictures from an X-ray. “How cool!” I stupidly thought. “I’ll get to see all her magnificent, tiny little kitty parts. They must be so small and adorable!” I also marveled at how hip our vet was, using an iPad to show off my cat’s perfect little kitty organs. Then I saw that inside one of her lovely little lungs was a shadow. A mass.
The office was about to close, so the vet began talking very quickly about ultrasounds and surgery and chemotherapy and feeding tubes. They handed us some appetite stimulants and told us how to administer them, all the while pretending not to see the torrent of mascara and snot that flowed down my face. It’s so lucky that level-headed Jason listened to their instructions, because I could only think about her precious little kitty lungs, and the hateful, horrible mass.
We received more bad news: her gums were infected, and the enema might cause her to poop herself for another 12 hours, and the sedative may cause strange behavior. Then they handed us our cat and locked the door behind us.
On the walk home, Misty – stoned out of her mind and desperately afraid – released a wave of watery feces in the cat carrier, then laid down in it. At home she stumbled around like a zombie: her mouth agape, her pupils dilated, and brown enema fluid running down her back. We sat up with her the entire night, cooing to her through desperate tears, and hoping our words of love made it through her stupor.
None of us slept for another 24 hours, but eventually we rested, and she seemed to rally. We put her through the ultimate misery that is a bath, and she moaned in agony as we rubbed the caked poop from her feet and tail.
After this, we all felt some hope. She began eating a little, purring in my lap, and scratching up the furniture. Jason and I were weighing our options for next steps, but mostly we just rejoiced to see her eat and snuggle and play, if only a little.
Then, this weekend, her appetite disappeared again. She seemed utterly depressed, refused any food or water, and only wanted to smoosh her thinning body against me and sleep. So, with a heavy heart, we brought her back to the vet.
They recommended we do an invasive and costly biopsy to determine the exact nature of the mass. Given her age and its shape the lung mass is almost definitely a tumor, but the vet wants to learn more about it. After the biopsy she could recommend wether surgery, chemo, or some other treatment would be a good next step.
The thing is, we’ve decided we don’t want to put Misty through all that. She is old, and even if we could give her more time, it wouldn’t necessarily be the best quality time. We’ve watched human loved ones live out the remainder of their lives on chemotherapy, and the experience has left deep scars. We’re terrified of subjecting her to a difficult end.
Besides these fears, we can’t care about cancer right now; all we can think about is the fact that she’s starving before our eyes. She lost half a pound in a week, and her skin now hangs off her skeleton in a way I never would’ve thought possible for our furry little foodie. The vet gives us stomach medicine, and steroids to help with her inflamed gums and the inflamed mass; the steroids also increase appetite. She says this will buy us some time. She says to call if we change our minds about the biopsy.
The pills we give her are working, and she is eating again. She demands food be brought to her, she scratches the furniture, and she curls up on my lap. I should be delighted to see her somewhat restored, and it does give me intense relief to see her eating. Still, I can not help but fear that we are living on borrowed time. I can’t convince myself that everything will be okay, yet I can’t go on weeping in my sweatpants forever.
Jason and I tell each other, and the vet, that we don’t want to hold on to Misty longer than we should. That when she’s ready to go, we want to let her go. The vet assures us that her quality of life is still high, and we shouldn’t give up.
She gives us a quantitative way of deciding if Misty’s life is still worth living. We consider a list of factors, such as wether she enjoys affection, or has difficulty moving, or if she’s eating. We check a mental yes or no for these questions, get a sum total of positives, and if the number exceeds a certain value then we don’t euthanize our beloved pet. Once these quality of life factors decline, we will have to find it in us to give her a peaceful death.
Typing these words brings back the sick feeling that’s persisted since I first saw those X-rays. Because the truth is, the idea of letting her go is loathsome to me. This may all sound pretty dramatic, considering she’s only a cat, and an elderly one at that. But I’ve had an irrational, unstoppable affection for Misty from the beginning.
We found her in a shelter, left there after her previous owner died. She’d lived there for months, in a plastic cage, using her litter box for a bed. Somehow, incredibly to me, nobody else wanted to adopt her. I suppose they saw an overweight, miserable, middle-aged lady. There are heaps of energetic stray kittens at the shelter, and they are impressionable and needy and adorable. Misty was set in her ways, lazy, and sad. We didn’t even see her at first — she was hiding in her litter box — but when the food cart came around she perked right up. We saw her lovely white beard and bright green eyes, and we were hers.
We’ve lived with her for 3 years now, and even though she’s a cat, she is family. In the microcosm of our apartment, she is a commanding presence. She weighs in on important decisions, such as when to wake up, when to stay pinned to the couch, when to quit working, and when to go to bed. She sleeps with her butt in my face almost every night, Jason knows just where to scratch her under her chin, and I’ve memorized all her favorite treats and toys. All I can think is how empty our lives will feel without her.
It seems wrong to begin mourning her while she’s still here, but I can’t seem to hold it back. I see her tiny white paws poking out from the coffee table now, and ache to think of them not being there. This little crisis also reminds me that the rest of my life will be full of losses, big and small, and today I just can’t face that thought.
In the course of writing this post, it’s dawning on me that I’ve been obsessing over the future — over the pain that may be coming — rather than living in the moment, where she’s here and okay. I’ve stopped taking care of myself and my work to let the full force of my sadness wash over me. It’s what I had to do today, but tomorrow I want to take a break from sadness.
I want to do what I’ve done every other day of Misty’s life; feel grateful that we crossed paths with such a determined and delightful little creature. I want to bask in her impossibly soft fluff, the warm smell of her, her quirky habits, and her affection for Jason and I. And when she’s ready, I want to give her the best possible goodbye I can.