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Our time in the sun

September 6, 2010

Our time in the sun is limited so make the most of it each day.

Jasmine

My cat Jasmine, of nearly seventeen years came to last page in her life’s story Sunday, September 5th, 2010 around 8:30 am.   She had hyperthyroidism which we had been treating actively since 2007, and this led to chronic kidney disease.   In August 2009,  she had fallen quite ill, requiring hospitalization and all of the considerable wisdom of our vet, and some intensive home therapy to enable her recovery.    Still, she did recover and most of this last year had seen her in good health if not quite as active as she once was.

In early August, we noticed she was trending down and took her to the vet again, this time to find a liver infection and involvement of the kidneys.  Several weeks of at home care with antibiotics and coaxing to eat and drink and she recovered for several weeks.  It was clear that there weren’t many chapters remaining in her story, but hope is that which allows us to press onward despite the knowledge that everything has an end.

A week and a half ago she was weakening – weight loss was evident and her ability to jump on to the  couch or bed to visit with us and to request a midnight or 4 am meal service was impaired.   Another trip to the vet showed that the liver values had recovered to almost  normal, but the kidneys were still elevated.   We supplemented with sub-cutaneous fluids and I began to chart the total water and food consumption on a whiteboard so that I could more objectively understand the trend.  It was impossible for me to maintain any sense of perspective otherwise as the emotional roller coaster followed the course of good and bad days.

Last Monday, it was hard to deny the end was in sight, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to concede and take that last trip to the vet’s office.  Much of the last week was spent enticing her to eat, helping her to get around, and adding  sub-cutaneous fluids daily to keep her hydrated.   She seemed at peace sleeping on the couch next to us as I worked online each evening.   After I eventually did retire to bed, I would get up every couple of hours to check on her, having provisioned a towel bed for her next to the food, water and re-located litter in our laundry room.    These were placed in close proximity to reduce the amount energy she had to expend to access them.   Clearly, I deluded myself into thinking this was a recovery strategy rather than a clear sign that the remaining pages of the story were but few.  Chalk it up to cognitive dissonance

Saturday morning would have been the last logical time to have made the trip to the vet and yet I could not do so even though I knew by then there was no hope for recovery.   Saturday night was difficult as her systems shut down.  I sat up at hour intervals  holding her on a towel, interspersed with odd hours of restless attempts at sleep.

About 6:46 on Sunday, I could see there were but an unknown number of minutes left and I sat on the couch with her on the towel in my lap waiting on the inevitable to come with a conflicted emotional mix of anticipation and dread.   A few small spasms ran through her legs as I held them and little after 8;17 am, I asked my wife to call the emergency vet hospital and see if we could get their help to bring this to an end.   Uncanny in coincidence, she had just hung up with them when I felt the rapid, steady heart beat under my palm abruptly cease, leaving only the pounding echo of my own pulse.   There was a moment of doubt, uncertainty – was she really gone?

Within a few seconds it was clear.  Her body was suddenly rigid, eyes glazed and unseeing – dull and lifeless.   It was as if she were suddenly just a facsimile of a cat – something plastic, covered with rubbery skin and synthetic fur.   All those subtle involuntary little movements and reactions that occur when we touch were gone.

I’ve dispatched wild animals that were still alive after having been hit by a car, and I’ve witnessed people dying in hospitals so while this wasn’t my first experience with death, it was poignant.    Outside of certain professions, we don’t experience this routinely and perhaps that is good, lest we become calloused and indifferent.   Experiences as this are a reminder that life here is limited and is perhaps an opportunity to reflect on our beliefs and how we should live to prepare ourselves for when our time in the sun is over.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2010 4:16 pm

    Sorry to hear about Jasmine. I remember how hard you fought to save her last year.

  2. Vijay permalink
    September 6, 2010 4:38 pm

    I was thinking of my first dog,which passed away suddenly unlike the suffering faced by Jasmine.Being a sensitive person by nature I could not cope with the situation for days,but the five pups to which it gave birth controlled my emotions.

    Since then I have learned to overcome such situations and whenever I go back home,I see an eagerly waiting pomeranian and a labrador runnning towards the gate 🙂

  3. Tim permalink
    September 6, 2010 7:32 pm

    I’m really sorry to hear that Mark. It’s always tough losing pets, and I too have had them pass in my arms.

    Oddly coincidental, my childhood dog is named Jasmine and she is turning 17 this year.

  4. September 6, 2010 8:05 pm

    Tim,

    Thanks for the understanding thoughts – much appreciated.

    Vijay,

    Yours too. I was undecided about blogging this, but I wanted to be honest and this has been a significant factor in my life as of late. Your comment on suffering is also appropriate. All in all, I think it was peaceful, yet knowing what I do now, I would have made some different choices. Of course, she was this ill a year ago, and had I made such a decision then, we would not have had this last year together.

    Life is full of lessons – most appreciated more fully in the safe harbor of objective perspective.

    Thanks for sharing your personal experiences as well.

  5. Lee permalink
    September 7, 2010 2:48 am

    Mark, I’m sorry for your loss. It’s a hard thing, and there’s no way around it.

    Better times, old friend.

  6. September 20, 2010 3:39 am

    sorry for your loss, man.   life passing in your arms is a necessary yet brutal reality.

    a smart cat once told me to never regret passing up a chance to chase a mouse.   instead, chase that mouse.   you never know when your last mouse-chasing day will come.

    17 years was a good life.

  7. David Churbuck permalink
    September 29, 2010 12:58 pm

    Beautifully told and wrenchingly sad. My heart is with you.

  8. Matt Kohut permalink
    October 10, 2010 12:36 am

    Mark, I have been behind on my reading and only just now had a chance to see this. It’s never easy to lose one you love. I’ve lost so many pets and it only gets worse with each one, not better, but that’s because of our capacity to love. I am so glad you were there at the end, as painful as it was, and I am so so sorry for your loss.

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