Monday, January 12, 2015

No Dignity For the Human

As you might have read yesterday, I had to put my cat to sleep.  Before you get sad and start thinking about leaving comments about how sorry you are, I'll tell you that it wasn't as tragic for me as it would have been if she was only 5 or 10.  Or if she had cancer.  Or she was injured.

She was 18.  Which in human years is unimaginable. And she had a good life, even at the end.  She was allowed to sleep in a chair she'd been forbidden from her whole life, on a sweatshirt that smelled like k-ster, her favorite person in her senior years.  She was fed top notch food.  And given treats that were clearly the highlight of her day.

Let me share with you the ridiculous story of the end of her life.  I'd like to share the bumbling experience I had at the vet.  Bumbling.  Because not once, not ever, can something go smoothly, normally or just quietly.  Everything must have a twist of "we've never seen this before" or "well, that's never happened before" or someone always has to be involved that doesn't need to be.

It's never simple.

Because I thought she was going to die almost a year ago, I had already spent my time being sad for her and thinking about what it would be like when she was gone, so the final weeks were not particularly sad for me.  If may sound awful, but when it was time, it just needed to be done because there was no way she'd bounce back this time.  She wasn't eating and all she did was drink, which with failing kidneys was a sign that she was getting no nutrients.  No medication was going to solve this.

And it didn't need to:  She'd lived way past her time, given the fact that she probably would have been put outside and left to be a stray cat if I had not taken her when I did.  She did her job and did it well.

For about a week after Christmas, I knew she was deteriorating.  She was getting skinnier and and had no energy.  Food sat in her bowl.  Chicken broth was a wonder for one day but even that lost its appeal.  

So, being prepared even as death approached, I started thinking about what we would do with her.  I wanted to bury her somewhere here in the yard, but it was December.  The ground was getting colder by the day.  And that would mean we couldn't dig a hole.

I spent my evenings first wondering where I would put her and second, wondering if I should dig a hole early, in anticipation of the end, since it would  be frozen pretty soon.  Maybe she'd go on her own just before the ground froze. 

I really wanted her to go on her own.  But, she was persistent.

I knew I wanted her in a spot that I would see often, but wouldn't possibly be a space I would want to expand my garden or greenhouse at any time.

I spent a lot of time debating this, rather than being sad that her final hour was drawing near.

Because that's what I do.

Eventually, it was time, so I had k-ster call the vet while I was at school and I ran home to get her between school and a meeting.  I knew I didn't need to bring her carrier because she was so feeble, she wouldn't try running anywhere, so I scooped her up in a fleece that she had in her bed and put her on the seat.

I couldn't help thinking about the day I got her, when I didn't have a box or anything and I thought a young kitten would just sit beside me on the seat.  I had had cats my whole life, so I don't know what I was thinking.

Instead, she went bananas, running around my car, having explosive diarrhea everywhere on the 15 minute drive home.

Welcome, Gwennevere.

I was pretty sure she wasn't up to those antics this time around, but I kept my hand near her for most of the ride just in case.

When I walked in, it was 4:30 which is the busiest time of the day for the vet because everyone is running in after work.  The waiting room was pretty crazy.  I almost always see someone I know.  Dogs, cats, people, noise everywhere. 

I stood at the door, with her in my arms, while people looked at me and finally I convinced a kid to open the door for me.   I signed in, one handed and then sat down with her bundled up in my arms.  I couldn't believe how long I sat there before a tech was free to notice me.  People looked over and made frowny faces. 

I wasn't sad because I was so distracted by the commotion and wondering how this would go.

Since k-ster had called, the tech finally noticed me, she knew right away who I was, so she called me in, very solemnly, and we wandered through the secret maze that is the animal hospital.  I could not stop thinking about how odd the whole thing was, instead of how sad I was supposed to be.  I had imagined going into one of the regular exam rooms and seeing my regular vet. 

Instead, we were in the inner sanctum, in a hideous blue room I'd never been in before, with animal prayers on the wall.

Way to set the scene.

And the tech was very sad for me and solemn and asked if I knew what I wanted to do with her.  I knew I wanted to bury her at home, so I had to sign an official form that said "home burial".  For a cat!  Very funeral homesque.  She asked if I wanted her wrapped in the fleece and I said yes, but then picturing walking through the waiting room with a weird bundle, I asked if there was a box or something I could put her in. 

Except in my last minute confusion, I asked if there was "a box we could put me in."

She said they'd see what they could do.  Then she told me a doctor I didn't know would come in, so I could just sit there until then. 

They'd see what they could do?  Had they never put down an animal before?  Don't some people bring home pets to bury?

As I looked around at the prayer for cats and the prayer for dogs, I noticed a prayer about a rainbow bridge.  Basically, all pets are waiting there and when they see their human come, they cross the bridge together and live in bliss.

But this particular poster had a major mistake.  They had typed the same part of the sentence twice in a row.  So, instead of being sad for my cat, I was correcting grammar. 

Good thing they didn't leave me a sharpie.

Eventually, a doctor I had never seen before came in and asked if I wanted to be present.  I told her to take her out back to do it and then I'd take her home.  And she said "now you'd like a box?" 

Well, yes. 

Does anyone in the waiting room really want to watch me walk out with a mysterious purple bundle in my arms?  Thinking back to  my entire life going to this vet, I knew that not once had I seen someone walk out without an animal carrying a bundle instead.

Then she said "now you didn't want her pawprint?"  I didn't even know what that meant, so I said no and she said "oh, they were supposed to ask you".  In my weird mind, I pictured her handing me her paw, like a rabbit's foot keychain, even though I'm sure it would have been a stamp of her paw on paper.  At that point, I just wanted this madness to end.   I didn't need it. 

I think we have her pawprint in some concrete she scuttled through in the back yard anyway.

So, she took her away and instead of being sad, I thought about how weird this whole thing was:

I was led to a blue room with a prayer that had a glaring error.  Has no one ever pointed this out?

The tech and the doctor seemed surprised I wanted a box and they would "see what they could do".

They "forgot" to see if I wanted her pawprint.

And then I got to thinking more about where we were going to put her.  And lamenting the 20 degree weather we were having and the 4 degrees it was supposed to be that night.  We hadn't dug the hole.  And k-ster would be out of town the whole next day. 

But,  I did decide where I would bury her.

When that would happen became the next question.

It seemed like an extraordinary amount of time before she came back.  I guessed they had trouble finding a box.  What she brought was exactly what I would picture.  Instead of a banana box, or a liquor box,  it was a brand new box that clearly was designed for just this purpose.  It had a lid and handles cut out for carrying.  Surely, an animal hospital of this size has a supply of just this kind of box.

So, she handed me the box, said she was sorry, and off I went.

Not through a secret door out back.  Not under cloak and dagger, escorted to my car.  Not hush hush.

Instead, I wandered through the labyrinth alone, with a box in my hands.  As I entered the very full waiting room, I wondered how to carry her.

Do I carry it like a football, under my arm?

Do I carry it like a tray, in front of me?

Do I smile and act like I'm bringing home a box of food?

Do I look super sad and start weeping as I come out?

Is she now an it?  It she a she?

Does anyone have an idea what's in the box?

Do I have to pay for this?

As I pondered the last question, of course a parent of one of my students was sitting right in front of my with her slaphappy dog yelling 'BONJOUR MADEMOISELLE!!!  HOW ARE YOU?"

"Fine, thanks,"  I said as I put the box with my now dead cat on the counter, so I could inquire about payment.  Was I supposed to tell her what I was doing?  Did she know?

Seriously?  Is this how it's supposed to be?

So, now I found myself whispering to the tech, "ummm, hi, umm, am I supposed to pay for the euthanasia?"

For a moment, I had a fantasy that this is the one free thing at the vet.  That they understand people's attachment to pets and that whipping out a credit card through tears it difficult, so maybe they don't charge.

Ha ha ha ha h ah ahhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa haahaaaaa.

"Oh," she said "they didn't have you pay in the room?"

In the gaudy blue room with the grammatically incorrect poem?  "well, no, they didn't" .

"Oh they were supposed to.  Yes, it will be $50".

"Ok great" I said as I handed her my card.  Really?  It's great that I'm paying $50 for this wild ride?

Then she handed me my receipt, again telling me how sorry she was.

So, I scooped up my special box, turned and looked at the waiting room, and out I went.

And I put her on the seat next to me thinking how easy it would be to forget what it means and just leave it there.

I spent the 15 minute drive home thinking about what to do with her.  I had a meeting, k-ster had go somewhere and we would both be gone all day the next day.  There wasn't a hole for her yet and no one was going to do it that night.  Or the next night.

And she would soon start to smell.

So, knowing it would be frigid that night, I decided the box had to stay outside.  But not in my car.  And not outside on the ground because something might find her.

So, into the greenhouse she went.  My theory was that she'd freeze right away in the extreme cold and even if it was sunny the next day, it wouldn't get warm enough to thaw, based on what the weather was predicting.  One more night would be fine and then we could bury her.

My frozen, dead cat, in my greenhouse.  I thought with a smirk.   Not ever a smooth process.  Ever.

I know you're wondering how the ground thawed enough that quickly.  Through the wonders of modern life, we used my father's backhoe to dig the hole.  That was the quickest way to get a good, deep hole where nothing will dig her up.

So, she will forever be near the greenhouse, one of her favorite places.  In a spot I have no intention of ever using for garden space.  Under some bushes.  Where she can always watch what's going on.

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