05 July 2010

In Memoriam: Oscar

19 February 1996 - 05 July 2010

Last Tuesday, Oscar and I went to the vet, got some steroids, and hoped that he'd start doing better. On Wednesday, we heard that his thyroid levels were too low, adjusted his meds accordingly, and hoped for the best. But he was already doing better, despite refusing the meds. Having been a social worker for "the aging" (aka: old people), I was aware that sometimes sick people (and animals) perk up for a bit right before they die. So even though Ocs started to ambulate better and even though he joined me for a shower, I was afraid to hope. But by Saturday night when he full-out JUMPED onto the love seat, my heart soared. I hugged him tight to my chest, told him I'd missed him, and welcomed him back. Little did I know.

When he woke up Sunday, he stumbled all the way down the hall, ending his trek by falling in the living room. Throughout the day, he got progressively worse. He had a bad fall in the litter box, in which he managed to flip himself over and ended up doing a face-plant in the litter. By the end of the day, he would only eat if I spoon-fed him baby food, and he would drink only if I brought a water bowl to him, and then he drank by putting the right half of his face in the bowl and drank sideways out of his mouth. He was non-responsive to pets or his name being called, and he was unable to walk or even stand by nighttime.

I called Dr. Kurpel first thing Monday morning, and described my boy's personality and symptoms. She said if I felt like it was time to say good-bye, bring him on in, and if she agreed, we could either do it today when I brought him in, or I could take him home to prepare myself and bring him back when I was ready. She then offered to transfer me back to the front desk to make the appointment, or said I could call back when I was ready. I decided I was ready to make the appointment then. I made the appointment for 3:40 p.m. Then I called Naomi and it was decided that she and Anju would accompany me to the vet's office. I asked Naomi to call the vet and get permission for me to bring Ocs in wrapped in his favourite blanket (a NASCAR blanket I won at Kansas Speedway two years ago). First, he couldn't stand or walk, so he wasn't going anywhere. Second, I couldn't bear the thought of leaving with an empty cat crate. They said it was fine.

Jill came over and got some pictures of Oscar. As Jill said, they probably won't capture the spirti of the Ocs, but at least I'll some more pics. We put him on his window perch, and hoped for the best. If any of them come out decent, I'll share them. Then Fe decided he needed to ham it up for the camera, so Jill got some pretty good pics of him, too. I tried to get some food into Ocs, but he refused food all day. Later, when Oscar and I left, I asked Felix if he wanted to tell Oscar good-bye, and I swear to God (and Naomi can verify this), Felix ran over to Oscar and they rubbed noses. No one will EVER be able to convince me that didn't mean something.

When we got to the vet's office, I made eye contact with Zoe (the ever-so-wonderful front desk woman), and I burst into tears. Zoe immediately grabbed a waiting room chair and said, "C'mon, let's get you into an exam room where you can sit down and be with him." Anju and Naomi came in with me, and I let Ocs lie on the exam table on his blanket. Dr. Kurpel saw him, and didn't even bother with all of the normal vitals. She saw him lying there, only his tail flicking back and forth occasionally, and I told her how the last 36 hours had been. She noted that when he comes in, he's usually pretty relaxed, but he was way beyond that. I replied that the only movement from him had been the tail. She said that, unlike with dogs, when cats flick their tails, it's a sign of UNhappiness - in Oscar's case, most likely pain or discomfort. Oh. Why did I feel instantly guilty?

A couple of times, while we were discussing some minor doubts that I had (He was like this last Monday, then he had five good days. What if we don't do this today and he's scheduled for another week of good days?), he tried to lift his head and just couldn't. At one point, he let out a strangled howl. She later told me that cats really only do that when it's their time to go. Their voice changes and gets deep, and it's a voice you only hear when they're about to go. And she said it was when she heard that that she knew it was his time.

She said that if I was still feeling like it was time to say good-bye to him, she completely supported that decision. I said I did feel that way, and I wanted to go ahead and do it today. She explained the procedure, and asked if I wanted to be with him for it. I told her that Oscar had been with me for everything, and I wasn't leaving him now. She asked me if I wanted some more time alone with him before she started, and I said it was okay - I'd been preparing since last week, really. Although she had explained the procedure before, she thoughtfully explained every step again as she did it. After a few minutes, she came back and gave Oscar the first shot to sedate him. She said she'd be back in a few minutes to check on him. At this point, I asked Naomi and Anju to say their good-byes to Oscar, as I wanted to be alone with him in his final moments.

Dr. Kurpel came back in after a few minutes, and started to insert the IV in Oscar's leg, but he wasn't sedated enough. So she gave him another shot, and we waited another few minutes. Finally, it was time. She gave him the IV drugs, and as soon as it was injected, she used her stethoscope to check his heart, nodded, looked at me, and whispered, "He's gone." She said I could stay in the room as long as I wanted to, she could bring my friends back if I wanted to, she gave me some materials on pet bereavement, and she told me I could call her anytime to talk if I needed to.

Then Dr. Kurpel and I had an impromptu little eulogy-esque type of thing for the Ocs. She said that cats sometimes put on a persona when they come in, but she could tell that Oscar was just Oscar - that he was really sweet and charismatic. And she always told him how handsome he was. I told her about the time that Oscar "buried" a dead bird under Mom's couch, and we only found it after we went looking for the thing that had made the house smell REALLY bad for three days. And how he planted his nose right in my ear at night so all I heard was his rather loud purr. And how he takes showers with me, and now showers will never be the same without him.

Before I left, I talked to Dr. Kurpel about Felix. See, Fe and Ocs were best buds. The very first night they were introduced, they were playing together. They actually woke me up that first night, and I thought they were fighting, but they were playing. And they've been pretty inseparable since; they groom each other, they play together, and they sleep together. So I'm worried about how Felix will react to not having his buddy around. She told me to watch his appetite and make sure he's eating. See if he starts hiding out. Monitor changes in behaviour. She said sometimes the surviving cat will take on the traits of the cat who passed. But, either way, just pay a little extra attention to him in the coming days, and call her if I have questions or concerns about the little guy.

We also talked a little bit about how confused I was about how Oscar went downhill so fast, then made this recovery for five days, then took a VERY sudden turn for the worse. She said that cats are especially good at masking pain and discomfort. But seeing at how quickly and aggressively this thing attacked Oscar, her best guess is that he had either a tumour or a cancer of some kind - that it went WAY beyond the thyroid issue, and anything I could have picked up on just from observing him at home. I just shook my head and sighed. Then she repeated her offer to call her anytime to talk to her if I needed to.

Once again, thank you for all of the support I've received throughout the last few weeks. Thank you for sharing your stories with me. Thank you for making me laugh, for the hugs, and most of all... for just listening to me cry on the phone (you know who you are).