My friend who died was so sweet. He would lay in my lap while I watched TV. He was learning to fetch like his dad Sparkle. He was a great cat. About four days ago he started feeling different to me. His energy was different. He wasn't bouncing around as much and his skin was kind of loose. I could feel his spine more clearly than I had been able to feel it before. I thought it was something new, a recurrence of the cold/flu thing they keep getting. We gave him fluids, vitamins, and a strong antibiotic, but then yesterday, in this small window of time between interviewing potential housekeeper/assistant gals, I knew that something more serious was going on and just grabbed him and headed for the emergency hospital.
The nurse said he looked jaundiced, yellow, which would mean his liver was failing. I couldn't believe it, I thought it was something simple that would improve with the right drugs, the right diagnosis. I'd never noticed he was yellow. How can you tell if someone who has black skin is yellow? She pointed to the spots above his eyes, where the fur is sparser and I could sort of see it had a yellowish tinge. The head of the hospital, the main vet, came in and immediately said he looked jaundiced as well. She said, "You have a very sick kitty here." She asked if he had been exposed to anyone with FIP. FIP??? FIP, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, a death sentence, the black plague of cats as far as I'm concerned. It couldn't be. My cats are all indoors, no other cats get near them. I told her I didn't think it was possible, it just couldn't be FIP. I thought maybe it was an infection as a result of his surgery, his being neutered recently. She said she would take him back and see if she could draw out any fluid from his abdomen. Fluid in the abdomen means FIP.
I sat there in disbelief. I was sure she'd come back and say she had jumped to conclusions that all we would have to do is hospitalize him, put him on IV fluids, give him the right antibiotic. But when she came back in she was holding a syringe filled with yellow fluid. Oh my God, it's FIP. She told me that his liver was shutting down which explained the jaundice and that his kidneys were probably shutting down as well. There was nothing she could do. She told me she though we should put him to sleep. From just looking funny to having to decide to kill him in three short days. How was this possible? This is so hard to write.
I kept asking her if she could be wrong. There had to be some mistake, it couldn't be FIP, it couldn't mean that he was going to die and all of my other cats had somehow been exposed. I kept asking her what she thought and she told me she was as certain as she had every been of it's being FIP. She said she was 100% certain and she felt that it would be cruel to keep him alive, that the best thing to do for him would be to let him go now before he would be in terrible pain. I told her that I'm not used to vets being so direct, they usually hedge when it comes to decisions like this, they want you to take the responsibility, they want you to make the decision. I told her I wanted another opinion, I wanted to talk to my regular vet.
We paged Valerie and Michael, our at home vets, the ones who come with the mobile hospital. The ones who had just neutered this cat. Valerie called us back and spoke with the doctor, then spoke to me, she agreed, it sounded like classic FIP. If I took him home he would suffer and expose all of the cats who hadn't already been exposed. I couldn't leave him at the hospital because he would infect all of their other patients and the doctor wouldn't let me. She told me it wouldn't be kind to him anyway. I couldn't think.
I asked for time to say good-bye. I sat in one of the rooms, held him in my arms and cried and cried. I didn't want to upset him. I worried that my crying would scare him, that he would pick up on my fear and pain and feel it himself. I stroked his head and tried to make him smile. I told him I loved him and I was sorry. I told him he would be in a better place and that I would miss him. I told him how beautiful he was. I kissed him. I sat there forever holding him and crying. I overheard the doctor telling her staff that they would have to bleach everything I touched. I felt scared, I felt infectious. I signed papers and then finally I kissed him and said good-bye. I was too much of a fucking coward to be there when they put him to sleep. I couldn't do it. I staggered to my car crying. I drove away, rolled up the windows and screamed and screamed. Why was this happening, what had I done wrong that this little innocent cat that I loved should have to die?
I cried and cried and cried and cried, but I had to go to the store and buy bleach to put in spray bottles with water to wash everything at home that he had come in contact with. I had to buy mops. I had to buy new cat beds and cat boxes so I could throw his away. I had to be home by six to interview another woman who had asked if she could come late, and I was supposed to be buying something that my boyfriend had asked me to buy him for his birthday, and meet him at 6:30 to have dinner and go to a movie, but I was in shock and I was traumatized. At the pet store this stupid man behind the counter couldn't understand me. I was trying to communicate with him but it wasn't coming out right. He kept trying to get me to laugh and joke around with him and finally I just blurted out, "Look, I just had to kill my cat. I'm not doing too well and I just need you to help me here." He said he was sorry and walked away.
When he came back he brought a friend of mine with him, the manager Elaine who I've known for a few years. As soon as I saw a friendly face it felt like a port in a storm and I started telling her what happened and started sobbing. They got me the things I needed and helped me to my car. I drove home and then had to interview this woman. Scott was angry because I was late and he had to wait while I interviewed this woman. I don't think he was getting it, but he did after I cried about it all night. He did his best to comfort me, he was kind and loving as always, but I think you have to passion for animals as much as I do to really get how horrible it is to have something this desperately painful and scary sneak up on you and whack you over the head. What will happen to my other cats? How many have been exposed? How did this virus get in here in the first place? What if the doctor was wrong? What if I could have saved him? Did I murder my cat?
I was in so much pain I thought about cutting myself, something I've only done a couple of times, only lightly and years ago. I could go into it here but I don't want to, I have my theories about it, why I think it's compelling, why I find hurting myself comforting in some way, but I'm aware of the affect talking about this will have on your impressions of me. How insane I will look. How dark and private these feelings are.
I've lost at least six cats in the last year, maybe more, I can't face it. I love every one of them dearly, and yet this one hit me harder, probably because it went down so quickly, and because I looked him in the eyes and had to make this choice, and I'm angry and I hate myself because it seemed like an easy out for me. I never take the easy out, ever. I know it was the logical choice, I know I was thinking of sparing my other cats lives, but he had been with all of them all along so they've already been exposed, who knows who here is harboring this deadly virus, who may break with it next? I know that the vet said it was the kind thing to do for him, but how do I know that? Every time this happens I come face to face with my patched together beliefs. He'll be there in my version of heaven, waiting to greet me when I come to join him, or his life and death will be a literal black mark against me when I'm judged or when I assess myself when I cross over. Why did he get sick, why did he have to suffer, why, why, why?
I remember at the theatre last night I was crying and talking about dying and living and hating life for being so compelling, so beautiful and so damned painful at the same time. I was aware that even when everything is so miserable, dark and sad, that in a minute I could see a little girl peeking at me from around Scott's shoulder and be inspired to live. A face, a hug, a blade of grass, there is so much that is beautiful and colorful and alive and worth being here for, but it is so unbearably painful at the same time, and sometimes I feel so alone in this. So alone in how acutely I feel things. There doesn't seem to be enough medication in the world to make it all feel less hurtful, but even if there were, would I want to feel less than this? I don't know. I feel guilty for living, guilty for going on, for having an ice cream at Thrifty's when my friend has died. I miss my Father, I worry that Mom and Scott and Beau will die. I look in the mirror at all of these grey hairs that weren't here before. At the store I listen to this beautiful woman tell me I should buy Renova to stave off the signs of aging and tonight I watched this DVD about Jerry Garcia and his friend. I thought about how beautiful this blue grass music was that they were playing and how they were only just beginning, how much more there was that they could have created. I thought about how much more he could have learned, how much more he could have mastered if he could have lived fifty more years, if we could all live fifty more years, and I just don't understand mortality. I don't get it. I know that it's the dark that makes the light that much more beautiful and that sour and bitter make sweet. That pain and joy, love and hatred, life and death are all intertwined pairs, but I still don't get it. I just fucking don't get it.
Horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible day.