Every weekday morning I walk out of my bedroom into the kitchen. The cries of hungry cats form an unwelcome chorus. Jenn and Penelope are still sleeping and it’s my responsibility to feed the beasts as quickly as possible. Last Monday I noticed one cat, Lila, failed to show. I assumed she was sitting on the porch enjoying the crisp morning air or sleeping in the back bedroom. Instead she emerged from the living room, hobbling as if overnight her years were doubled. My heart raced and I watched carefully as she took painful steps down the hall and entered the back bedroom.
I carried her back into the living room. The only other time Lila was sick was an infection or allergic reaction which caused her to lose balance and stumble drunkenly. Watching her back legs and the unnatural gait I sure this was serious. A round of antibiotics would be insufficient.
Jenn had a doctor’s appointment that day and wouldn’t have a chance to bring Lila to the vet until the evening. For the first time in several years I called out of work.
I sat in the living room, fear amplifying every thought and emotion. I waited for Jenn to wake up. I read and responded to email while casting glances to my left where Lila lay curled into a snow white ball. When Jenn woke up she found me and said “There’s blood on the sheets.”
Tima, our beloved tortoise shell cat, began sleeping with us every night once we learned her time was fading. Exactly three weeks to the day our vet had told me what the signs of Tima’s deteriorated health would be; loss of appetite/stops eating and bloody discharge from the mouth. Half way through the vet’s one to six week estimate for Tima’s survival she started bleeding.
I went into our bedroom and saw the spots. In the future when I hear the phrase “From bad to worse” January 13, 2014 will come to mind. “I’ll ask the vet about it when I take Lila” I said.
Two hours later I had Lila’s diagnosis. The joint fluid in her back legs was nearly gone. The vet moved her legs carefully and explained how easily it seemed her bones could be dislocated. I left the vet with two steroids to get her through the next few days and directions to start Dasuquin, a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement for animals. “Just get her on it immediately and you should see improvement in a week” he said. I hoped he was right.
When I asked about Tima he reiterated comments from our initial conversation. The decision was ours. We could euthanize now or wait until Tima was in pain. I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t want to go home and tell Jenn I thought today was the day. I didn’t want to wait until Tima was in agony. I didn’t want to do it too early, losing the few precious days we had left.
That afternoon Jenn and I talked and wept and talked some more. I found myself gravitating to the bedroom where I checked the sheets for more blood. If the spots multiplied I would take her immediately. I noticed several smaller spots and told Jenn I would make an appointment to bring Tima in Tuesday. Clearly she was getting no better and we didn’t want her to suffer.
I called the vet’s office to make the appointment for late in the afternoon. “The doctor’s last appointment is 2 PM. He has a meeting and will be out of the office.” Too early, we’re not ready. “How about the next day?” I said. “As late as possible.” 5 PM was the latest appointment I could make. I decided I would work Wednesday afternoon, come home, and spend a few minutes with Tima before bringing her in.
Tuesday evening I dug a small grave in the backyard. Penelope stood by asking about the hole I was making. “It’s for Tima. She’s not going to be with us much longer. She’s very sick and going to die.” I said. “She’s going to live in there?” Penelope said.
“No sweetie, she won’t be alive anymore.” I said. I had no words or explanation to differentiate living from non-living suitable for a four year old. She repeated her questions and I repeated my answer. I kept digging.
The bleeding stopped. We’re not sure what happened. Tima is still eating and doesn’t show signs of pain when pressing against the side of her mouth. She’s still with us. But the illusion of a miracle is shattered every time I look out the kitchen window and see the mound of dirt hiding an empty grave. I know the days are few before I cast my eyes up from the sink and look out into the yard and see a barren spot of earth where a piece of my heart rests.
Lila is better though not her former self. After the steroid she can leap and walk with ease. A pharmaceutical mask of her true condition. Without the pills she is climbing, not leaping, up on the couch and walking gingerly from room to room. The change was fast, Dorian Grey-esq. When we’re away from home my mind conjures thoughts of Lila’s painfree leap to a tall shelf followed hours later by a plunge to the ground resulting in dislocated or broken bones. The bleak and dark thought of bringing two cats to be euthanized in one day is more than I can bear.
Tima and Lila never liked one another. Other cats have their buddies or uneasy alliances with each other, an aspect of nature Jenn and I can only observe but never understand. Not these two. Their feelings for one another have never wavered. Why these two? Why now?