Friday, September 18, 2009

Mucking and grinding.

The world is a difficult place when I'm sad. Radio and TV shows go on merrily without me, and their stupid antics and stale jokes seem lost on me. Usually, when I most want to be isolated and left to do my own reacting, the world reacts for me. This past week I have been to two Phillies games and this weekend I am going to two Dave Matthews Band shows. Some would say that they are a necessary distraction, but had I known the sadness that I would have experienced last weekend, I would have put the tickets on Ebay and been done with it.
Now however, I am forced to deal with the world and they with me. So, screw them if I'm cranky or sad. Their day to day drabble is meaningless by comparison.
Generally, the world goes on without me, and that makes me feel slightly less significant, but I suppose in a world of 600 billion people, I should have felt that way anyhow.
I'm not a "reach out" type of person. I'm more of a "reach in" type. There are probably books and seminars about such things, and I couldn't care less.
I remember when my ex and I separated. She thought it might be a good idea for us to see a counselor. It's almost never a good time to see a counselor, but I half-heartedly agreed. I remember the counselor asking each of us what we did after the separation.
My ex said that she went back to live with her parents and consulted with family and friends in order to deal with the situation. When the counselor turned to me and asked what I did, I shrugged and told her that I didn't do anything. I assumed my regular schedule of events and generally went about my daily business, taking time to cry or deal with whatever I had been dealt.
The counselor looked at me quizzically and said, "You went through this alone?"
I've gotten a lot of nice e-mails, blog comments and phone calls from friends and strangers who sympathized with my loss. I appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers - I sincerely do. For the past few days I've been trying to put it into perspective. When they're struggling to get through a round, the girls of the LPGA call it "mucking and grinding." That's me.
The ex and I moved into this condo in October of 1990. We brought Kitty home in March of 1991. So, up until Monday he'd been here almost every day that I've been here, and not having him around is a bit of a lifestyle adjustment. No longer do I have to open the door cautiously for fear that he'll dart out into the darkness. I don't have to check his litter box or make sure his food and water bowls are full. I don't have to share my yogurt or chicken breast. I'm no longer shocked by his sudden leap onto the bed at 3:00am that forces me to make room for him. I don't have to wake up to his friendly purr and slalom around my legs every morning. I don't have to lure him out of a hiding place by saying "Fancy Feast." And I don't have to listen for his subtle cry to come in off the patio at night. All of those things had become habit over the length of time it takes one to enter Kindergarten and graduate high school.
But I'll get through it. Already the days seem a little easier and even though he isn't here, I will pass through a time when it would have been impossible for him to be here regardless of his health and I will have learned to appreciate the time we had together and the special memories I have.
Sooner or later I'll go out and find another cat because the place is way too empty without another mammal inhabiting it. And just as soon I'll be back to whining and complaining about something or other here that will bring us all back to reality.
Not now, but soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

His last day.

February 11, 1991 - September 14, 2009

We picked him out of the Gloucester County Animal Shelter over 18 years ago. Or, I should say, he picked us. I had my eye on a 7-year old who needed rescuing, while my wife was over with the kittens. She picked out a little 8 week-old black ball of fur who attached himself to her sweater and refused to let go. The kitten went home with us.
I remember my first vet visit with Kitty a little over 18 years ago. The ex and I had taken to calling him Kitty Cat, since we couldn't come up with a name. The receptionist was filling in his info for their file, and she asked me his name. I sat dumbfounded for a second or two and, feeling too embarrassed to say his name was Kitty Cat, I responded with K.C. So, as far as the vet was concerned, his name was K.C. I don't know if they ever figured out that it stood for Kitty Cat.
K.C. died today. His kidney ailment had progressed to anemia, and his blood work numbers were off the charts. The vet called me last night with the figures, and it was pretty dire. His creatinine number (the chemical that indicates the renal failure) was 11 now, after being 4 last October. Creatinine is a waste product deriving from the breakdown of creatinine phosphate, a substance derived from the cat's muscles. The kidneys which act as the cat body's purifier, once damaged, will not be able to excrete this waste product, thus high levels of creatinine will be found in the blood.
Normal creatinine levels in cats are between 0.6-2.4 mg/dl. When a cat develops high creatinine levels it is most likely that its kidneys are not functioning as they are supposed to.

Normal toxin levels are around 45, and his were greater than 130. The machine didn't read high enough to come up with a number. Normal red blood cell count is around 30% and his was around 12. Once the number gets to 7 or 8, cats pass out.
The intravenous fluids that were initially proposed might have stabilized his kidneys and hydrated him, but it would do nothing for his anemia, and in the end, it would be the anemia that would kill him if he didn't starve to death.
He hadn't eaten any substantial amount of food in about 5 days, and today was no different. I lured him into the kitchen with a can of Fancy Feast, and he "ate" some. I say "ate" because all he did was lick the food rather than chew it. When he was finished, I scooped up the remainder and put it back in the can to see how much he consumed. I estimated less than half an ounce. He wasn't going to survive on that for very long.
So, I gathered myself (after spending most of the evening and early morning in tears) and called the vet to arrange to bring him in. We scheduled an appointment at 11:40, which gave me enough time to take him outside and give him one last walk in the sunshine (above). My friend Patty stopped by and took a final snapshot of me and the boy.

Usually, I could get him to purr when I picked him up and held him like that. Recently, that had been harder to do.
It's nearly 4:00pm now and the place is empty. I've already gotten up a couple of times to look for him, figuring he must be on the doorstep waiting to come in. I stop myself with an eerie feeling like I expected him to be there when I call or run to me when I came home. He won't, of course. Maybe he can hear me somehow, so I'll keep calling for "Kitty" when I come home at night. Try and stop me.
He had been away from home before. Once for his teeth-cleaning and once before for a mysterious illness that required an overnight stay and some IV medication. Early in his life, he was diagnosed with a digestive disorder, and I had to crush little pills and try to get him to eat them mixed in with his food. Failing that, I decided to change his food and the digestive disorder went away. Go figure.
Similarly, I tried to slow the development of his kidney disease by feeding him low-protein food and fish rich in Omega3 fatty acids. That, along with a paste that contained potassium limited the development of the disease for as long as possible. Eventually, the disease wins. It always does.
The thing about owning pets is that eventually, we know they will perish. Cats that get into their teen years are considered old, and one thing or another contributes to the decision I had to make today. Fortunately, he wasn't in any pain, but I couldn't go on watching him stagger around and not eat food that he used to wolf down. Most days, he was sitting in the same spot when I left for work as he was when I returned. There were quality of life issues involved. Both his and mine.
Over the years we developed a communication method that sometimes was kind of spooky. When people tell me cats are aloof and strange, I always say that maybe the problem isn't the cat. Animals (not just cats) respond to attention and affection, and I found that talking to him like a person and paying almost constant attention to him contributed to the friendship we developed over the years. When I was away from home for any length of time, I always thought about getting back to see Kitty, and he would always reward those thoughts by running to the door to greet me. It takes a lot to get a cat to do that, but he was special.
The end came quickly. Before I signed the "permission to euthanize" paper, I spoke to the vet once more to see if I was indeed doing what needed to be done. She assured me that the progression of his disease would continue regardless of any treatments and that his condition would only make him more miserable and confused. It's a difficult chore to sign over the life of a living creature, and his ignorance of his fate made that all the more difficult. I imagine that he was thinking his friend would help him, but I could not, and that was as agonizing as the ordeal itself.
Somehow I had the feeling that he knew. It was strange for me to be home during the week (yes, he knew weekends from weekdays) and my walking him around the common area this morning must have seemed odd to him. Once we got to the vet, he hid in the back of his carrier and I had to pry him out. Then he sat with his head in my arms as though he was begging me not to let them take him. I sat with him and cried.
She injected him with a barbituate that is essentially a drug overdose designed to calm him and stop his heart. Once the injection went in, he immediately relaxed and he took a final look at me. I told him, "I'll see you soon," which is what I said to him when I left the house. His pupils dialated and his eyes glazed over. I stood over him stroking him for a minute and started crying. My friend was gone and he wasn't coming back.
They're going to cremate him and I'll have his ashes in a couple of weeks. I'm not sure how I'll deal with having them around, so maybe I'll keep them here or maybe I'll sprinkle them under his favorite bush.
Either way, he will always be in my heart and thoughts.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

More on the cat. I don't care - it's my blog.

The local colleges have something they call "continuing education" or "adult education," something like that. What most of them lack is a class called "Pet ownership" which could provide more continuing education than any computer awareness course or some pottery class could think about.
I took the boy to the vet today. He has had a kidney ailment that they call Renal Failure for a few years that has progressed slowly, mostly thanks to my low-protein high-omega 3 diet that he has been on. But, as with most diseases, the body succumbs. Now it seems his has as well.
The progression of his kidney ailment has contributed to anemia. The anemia has contributed to his lack of appetite and the ensuing weight loss. He's down to 6.5 pounds now, which is mostly skin and bones.
By the way, that photo is one of my favorites (including the one yesterday) and hangs over my desk at work. I have no idea what he is staring at, but it seemed interesting at the time, I'm sure.
So, I wondered why he would be disoriented (seemingly dizzy) and wind up peeing on the rug instead of the litter pan (bad). The vet said that cats, as they age, have issues like that. The kidney disease is something akin to being drunk, and his odd behavior can be chalked up to a combination of age and failing health.
Fortunately for him, he is in no pain, but I do need to get him to start eating again. One side-effect of anemia is loss of appetite, and cats generally forget to eat. Strange, but true. The other is the disorientation thing, which makes him pee on the floor. Continuing education.
He'll be spending Monday night and possibly Tuesday night in hospital, where they'll fill him with intravenous fluids and try to get his kidneys functioning again so he starts building red blood cells and gets back to eating and to acting less like a piece of furniture and more like my little boy.
Afterward, it will fall on me to deliver the IV fluids and more or less nurse maid him for the rest of his life.
Such is my lot in life.
And his.