Monday, August 20, 2007

Daddy's Pretty Girl

[Unabashed emoting warning.]

The vet in the emergency room yesterday morning said improvement, if there was to be any at all, would be noticable within 48 hours. I accepted that as a sensible plan. Skids, whom I'd started to suspect a while ago was smarter than she liked to let on, knew better than either of us. This morning, her face said it all: no more. Laying still, looking nearly lifeless except for the movement of her chest, her mouth not opening to accept the medicine of the 48 hour plan others were trying to impose on her, it was one final magnificent act of "I'm the cat here, I'm in charge."

It's a curious thing. I'd long feared the day this decision would have to be made. How would I really know when enough was enough when she couldn't tell me what was going on inside? And would she understand in her heart why someone she'd trusted nearly her whole life was now having her injected with the chemicals that would call it a life?

I should have known the answer all along. I wouldn't be making the decision at all. She would. My job was to listen, and to respect her right - everyone's right - to decide when they're tired of fighting. She was not surrendering. She was taking charge.

She gave me no fight lifting her into the box that would serve as her final carrier. At the vet's office, they were properly compassionate and reserved. Again, no fight being lifted from the box to the table. Did I want to stay during the procedure? I didn't want to, but I said yes anyway. I owed her that. The last face she was going to see was going to be mine, not a technician's. The last voice she would hear would be the one she'd heard countless times before, stroking her head, between her eyes just the way she liked it, telling her one last time she's daddy's pretty girl as she drifted off to her eternal sleep. (This time she didn't have to head-butt me to get me to do it.) I assured her God would take good care of her, even better than we were able to, and that she should behave for Him and not wet His couch.

With the second injection I turned my head slightly, and I think the doctor saw it, because she gently told me they don't close their eyes.

Finally the doctor held a stethescope to Skids' chest, and said softly, "she's gone."

She's in heaven now, probably trying to find who in God's household she can tap on the hand with her paw and get something to eat. Whoever it is will surely find it as adorable as I did and give her anything she wants.

Rest in peace, sweet girl. And know, always, that I am really glad you were here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Another Damn Growth Opportunity

Today was a day of great emotion - what I once heard someone call "another damn growth opportunity" - and to be open about it, I'm drained. Though I normally try to write with a point in mind, be warned: today I can't promise one. Points are for words of the mind; these are from my gut. If this reads like a reaching out for the patience of people who have been kind, well, maybe it is then.
We frequently hear how things happen in threes, and the coincidence factor of today's trifecta is high. It's the day my grandfather died back in 1970, my first experience at losing a loved one. It's my grandmother's yahrzeit, the date on the Hebrew calendar on which the anniversary of someone's death is observed. (In the solar-based English calendar, she died on September 2 in 1984. In the Hebrew calendar, the corresponding English date is different every year. Supposedly that's somehow because it's a lunar calendar, though I've always suspected it's really totally random dates picked out of a giant yarmulkah at some secret underground bunker in Tel Aviv.) And, closest to the surface, today was my father's unveiling, literally the ceremonial unveiling of someone's headstone or, in our case, plaque. My cousin's daughter, a rabbinical student whose grace and humility while accomplishing big things have her well on her way to following in her mother's footsteps as a truly magnificent human being, led the ceremony, making it even more personal and emotional. Look up in the sky tonight and find the brightest star you can. There's a good chance it's my dad smiling.
Knowing there'd be plenty of feelings to feel today, I figured I'd probably want to write tonight. What I didn't expect was that it would be something else, something unrelated, that has me at the keyboard, feeling slightly tenderized and looking for catharsis. Specifically, a trip to the emergency room - with my cat.
Readers may remember Skids, the small furry person who's kind enough to let me live in her home and sleep in her bed. This morning I took one look at her and knew something was really, really wrong - laying on the floor, still and in kind of an odd position, breathing heavily and crying out, especially when touched. When she struggled to take a couple of steps it was with the gait of an injured drunk. Hardest of all, damn it to hell, she was unable to give me any clue as to what happened and what was hurting. A phone call to a vet emergency room, describing what we knew and saw - they said maybe a stroke, a possibility with some of the other conditions she's experienced. Bring her in, pronto. Cat carrier? Forget it. The only thing she'd let us put her in, and that with a good bit of heart-wrenching yowling, was a cardboard filing box lined with a towel.
Drive to the vet, about 20 minutes, asking over and over for the serenity to accept what I can't change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Not knowing what her thoughts through the pain might be, but feeling like a loving, merciful God would understand them as a prayer more pure than any clumsy words I could verbalize. Arrive at the vet. Physical exam, the doctor suspicious of the way Skids' spine was. X-rays might provide some guidance. Might not. I say do it. Some insights come out of it - a couple of disks, the pads between the vertebrae, blown out. Not sure how exactly, but if they're not in good shape (and Skids is nearly 16) a harsh movement like jumping off a table the wrong way could put them over the edge. And, love her though I do, Skids is not the most graceful cat ever created. Ok, what now? Morphine to relieve the current pain, and a prescription of prednisolone, the kind of stuff baseball players get in trouble for taking, to (hopefully) build up some strength where she needs it. Benefits, if they're going to happen, should come in a couple of days. If it doesn't take, I know I've got to put my love for her first and do what's best for her, and hope to God she understands somehow. In the meantime, keep the food, water and a shallow litter box (easier to step into) where she doesn't have to go far to get to them.
Tonight we saw she moved a little. She seems to have eaten a little and there are signs used the litter box. She lays, staring and motionless except for breathing, and didn't give me a hard time taking her medicine. Same with her hydration (kind of like an i.v. except it goes under the skin rather than into a vein) though I'd prefer she'd have given me her usual resistance. I wasn't sure how I was going to give it to her in her current state, but was more sure than I've ever been of anything in my life that I had to try.
I'm grudgingly coming to accept that it's not right to keep a suffering pet alive a little while longer out of our own sense of fear, and though that point may not be far away we're not quite there yet. In the meantime there's still fighting left to do. 

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Waiting for an Opening

Today's nice weather let me spend the morning and afternoon doing overdue work in the yard and garden. There's nothing like several hours spent communing with nature to remind you of what's really important. For example, it reminded me of why I chose a career at a desk in an air conditioned office.
As the peace and focus cleared the cobwebs from my brain's ceiling-corners, I found my thoughts wandering to great advice I'd received over the years. Not the standard stuff - don't stick your finger in an electric outlet, never draw to an inside straight, etc. - but rather real things too easily forgotten once the starting gun goes off on Monday morning. I've compiled some for sharing. Since I don't make nearly the good use of these that I should, perhaps someone else might get some benefit from one or two of them. Other than the first two, which are my favorites, they are given in no particular order.
Item 1: Keeping Things In Perspective
Some years back, I was driving and my father was in the passenger seat, and we were trying to pull out of a parking lot onto a busy highway. Getting impatient waiting for a break in the traffic, I said something like, boy, this is going to be hard. My father, who, as I've written in previous posts, was very good at keeping things in perspective, said, "There's nothing hard about it. If there's an opening, you go. If there's not an opening, you don't go." I don't know about you, but for me this was an epiphany. It was the greatest driving advice I ever got, but it's really about so much more than that, about going with the nature of things instead of frustrating myself trying to hammer it into conforming to me. I'm still working on it.
Item 2: Responsibility
Even more years back than Item 1, I got up in the middle of the night and walked into the kitchen in the dark to get a glass of water. My bare foot hit the side of a floor-mounted cabinet and I broke the little toe. The next day, the doctor patched it up, explained to me what I needed to do to take care of it, and finished with words I still think about after almost twenty years: "...and if you ever go walking barefoot in the dark again, you'll deserve whatever happens to you." I can't tell you the number of times I've seen someone else, or myself, making certain choices and I'd say to myself, man, you are walking barefoot in the dark.
Item 3: Time Management
I could not compile a collection of wise words without including my grandmother. Like everyone, I'm pulled in a lot of directions most of the time. I often stop and repeat to myself the words of my grandmother. (A grammar school education didn't prevent her from being one of the smartest people I've ever met, a summa cum laude graduate from Real Life University.) With unadorned wisdom, she'd say, "You can't have your butt in two places." (Ok, that's not exactly the way she put it, but this is a public forum.) There's a Yiddish saying that translates to, "You can't dance at two weddings." I like my grandmother's version better.
Item 4: Common Sense
A friend from Alabama once told me that during hot weather people in the north would frequently say to her, "Well, you're a southerner. You know how to deal with the heat." She said, yes, southerners know how to deal with the heat. We go where it's air conditioned. For some reason, northerners feel a need to go mano-a-mano with 90 and 100 degree days.
Item 5: Humility
I'm not proud of this, but between the ages of 18 and 21 I spent a lot of time hanging around stage doors asking for autographs. This one day, through a series of happenstances, I found myself at the dressing room door of a well-known actor who was particularly hot at the time. It was an army-themed show, and when I knocked on the door, he opened it wearing his fatigue pants, shirtless, and smoking a cigar. Having read countless newspaper stories about actors throwing hissy fits because their dressing room was not the right color, or didn't have the proper flowers in it, etc., I was struck by how modest the star's dressing room was, only slightly larger than a residential bathroom. As he signed my Playbill, I said, with a teenager's blissful ignorance, "A big star like you should have a bigger dressing room than this." Rather than having a security guard wrestle me to the ground for my insolence, he was very gracious and said nonchalantly, "It's just a place to change your clothes." I try to remember his demonstration of the difference between seeing yourself as a star and seeing yourself as an actor who other people think of as a star. Especially when I find myself in a metaphorical dressing room that's less than stellar. It is, indeed, just a place to change your clothes.
Item 6: Guarding Your Flank
Another from my father. He told me never to get a tattoo of a woman's name. I never did. This advice might have helped a good buddy of mine who, as a Marine stationed in the Philippines, made two poor choices: the woman he married, and having her name tattooed on his arm. Years later, getting rid of her was a lot easier than getting rid of the tattoo.
As for me, I'm still working on what sage advice to give my own sons. So far, we've got "patience keeps you out of trouble when you're driving," and "spreadsheets are our friends." When the situations are there and the ideas come, I'll give the advice. Till then I'm not going to force it. If there's an opening, you go. If there's not an opening, you don't go.