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11:40 pm: Merlot

We put Merlot down this morning, ending her fight with squamous cell cancer of the jaw.

As redmed notes, we had around 55 days from the diagnosis of “days to weeks” in which to say goodbye. Let us not discount the value of having time to say goodbye.

We also got the advantage of a slow, inevitable building to our decision to end her life. At first she was just acting weird and not eating very much. Things picked up slowly – with bloody drool being the least of our worries (even when she drooled on my face one morning while I was asleep). Towards the end, we had gotten used to the blood stains on the carpet and the truly horrifying blood spattered walls of the closet (“cancer cave”) where she would lurk unless we encouraged her to come out and sit with us. She couldn’t eat dry food at all, and we felt awful for giving her nothing but dry food once we realized the state of her jaw. Towards the end, she was getting subcutaneous fluids every morning, pain drugs every third day, antibiotics every week, and eating baby food when she decided to eat. She had dropped from perhaps 12 pounds to just over 8 pounds in under two months.

She carried an oder of rot, and she couldn’t clean herself. Her little paws were matted with blood from trying. I took to bathing her nightly, for which she seemed grateful.

The decision point, for me, was when I saw her gagging on her own tongue. She hadn’t been able to get it in her mouth for a while, and the tip of the tongue was black and chapped. My dad had pointed out that animals can’t complain. “A bird will drop frozen from a branch before it utters a word of complaint,” and so on. Looking at her struggling to swallow, I finally got it. She hadn’t eaten in days. She was going to end her days choking on her cancer – unless I helped.

We both sat with her for a while this morning, then wrapped her in a towel and set out for the car. We stopped to play on the grass outside the apartments for a bit, and she made a token effort to eat grass. Of course, with a broken, swollen, useless jaw and no teeth … it was a bit tricky. Still, there was rolling – belly to the sky – and little feet kneading the air. Once in the car, I finally understood something that my mother said at my grandmother’s funeral: Go slow, hearse driver, go slow on that last ride.

The vets have been unfailingly compassionate this whole time. We got the “hard sell” on putting her down perhaps a month ago … and after that they did their best to care for her gently and according to our wishes. We could have put a feeding tube in her gut … or amputated her jaw … but we were going for palliative care, and that was exactly what we got. All of the techs, and most of the vets, have gotten to know us over the past two months.

We had entertained vague notions of having her die peacefully at home, but it wasn’t going to happen. She was suffering more and more, right there in front of us.

When we arrived and told them what we wanted to do, they immediately put us in a private room. We signed the paperwork and paid – which I thought was a nice touch. Nobody wants to wait around to pay the bill after something like this. Then they took her and set up an IV line, brought her back, and let us sit with her for a bit. Eventually, the vet came in and talked with us, then fed the pink juice into her IV line. I’m in awe of this chemical. As soon as it hit, she stopped purring and just laid her head down. Her little heart stopped almost immediately … though we had to close her eyes for her. We sat for a while more, until the vet came back in and asked if we were ready to say goodbye. We were – and now we’re down to one cat.

She’s been a good companion for 13 years. Merlot joined us only a year into my relationship with redmed. She was always the friendly one with us and guests … welcoming anyone with a free hand to scrub her belly and hold her on their lap.

I don’t know what happens to cats after they die. My philosophy says that if the specks of consciousness that make up the two of us happen to meet again, that we won’t recognize each other – except perhaps by a habitual pattern of kindness. I hope that we did well by her – I hope that she had a good life for a cat. I regret the times that I yelled at her to be quiet … and I wish that I had been able to explain things a bit better to her when she was scared or disturbed at yet another relocation.

While I’m sad, and while I’ve come to loathe the phrase – things are going as well as can be expected.

Thanks for listening.

Originally published at chris.dwan.org. You can comment here or there.

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