So my vet tells me that he had one cat do chemo for intestinal lymphoma, and live 3 more years, and another die 3 days later. We don’t know if that’s what it is, he goes on, but an insanely expensive test would help us confirm. I don’t think so, I reply. I’ll go with the steroids. He’s 13, and I’m looking for relief. Well then if it was me, then I’d just do this test, he replies, that one’s only $325. SIGH. He’s a good man, kind and gentle. You can see it in his eyes, but he’s also oddly nervous. His hands seem to shake a little and his eyes dart. Or am I imagining this? I don’t think I am. Maybe he’s shy, its been a few years since either of my cats have seen him, and I don’t remember noticing it or not. What I do notice this visit is his well-cultivated tan. I know a beach tan from a spray tan, and his was weeks in. I, on the other hand, am particularly pale and sunless this year. Still, this is the same man who came to my house years ago to put cat Clarissa down. I’d spent two nights lying on an icy kitchen floor where she lay wasting away, and couldn’t have her endure the stress of a ride to the vet as her last memory. Instead i put her out in the sun, on the fire escape, where she loved to lie, and got her two favorite treats – cream, and rose petals (she couldn’t get enough of them). My boyfriend at the time arranged everything with the vet, for which I’m forever grateful, and I saw the later was profoundly moved – or perhaps just appropriately grave – when I fell apart after the injection.
So $640. later, I leave with faith and antibiotics. After a week of watching my beloved boy go from his mister happy, rambunctious self – a cat who used to wolf his food down, and eat nearly anything – now barely manage a lick here and there, I need the hope. The anti-nausea shot and subcutaneous fluids seem to help, he eats a little, and drinks, and gets a little burst of his old energy. Sick with a summer cold, I go to sleep feeling a little less worried and sad only to wake and find all our effort vomited up in small glistening heaps strewn across the floor. I start to wonder why he’s on antibiotics as the bacteria test supposedly came out clear according to the doctor’s follow-up call. And while I know that supposedly this type of antibiotic can reduce inflammation – the central issue here, as Roman’s general diagnosis is IBD, evidenced by chronic diarrhea – I still wonder if its benefit outweigh the negatives as antibiotics increase nausea and diarrhea. And the outcome of the fancy expensive test I did consent to was, as I went in there expecting, that steroids are the next step, according to that update as well.
I call the vet’s office, and as they did a few weeks back, when my Gigi got poisoned – or so it appeared – by eating some of my geranium plant, they immediately suggest going to an emergency vet. I don’t understand this new protocol, although given how little I use their services, maybe this has been standard practice for a while. But to what end? Avoiding malpractice concerns, or for those visits that will prove less lucrative/worthy of their time. It set me off to hear it again. No, I declared. I want to talk to my vet who just treated my animal, discuss these questions, and get him in there again for another round of fluids and anti-nauseous shot. And pick up the cortisone/steroids. HE NEEDS TO EAT, and you should be doing the follow-up. My nerves are frayed. We make an appointment for the next day. I spend another nite entreating him every 15-20 minutes to eat. Returning to his little bed over and over again with a new, perhaps more enticing option of cat food to no avail. Following him around when he does move, doing more of the same, creating a veritable buffet of bowls on the kitchen floor.
I take him in the next day, apologize to the receptionist for being a bitch, we have a laugh, and another vet, his wife, co-owner of the practice, skims Roman’s file says, misses a couple of things, calls him a she, and perfunctorily tells me I really ought to do the ultrasound – the insanely expensive test to rule out the cancer. I say, you think so? Pretending to be sincere, yet also falling prey, as I tend to, to her guilt tactics. She has that “we’re just telling you what’s best for your pet’s health” tone that nearly all vets do, and it too is both false and yet sincere. She called him “bubula”, which was pretty sweet but I also heard her get nasty with an underling. Another $175.
The good news is, at the moment, he’s stabilized, and seeing that grin as he bounced on the bed to greet me, obviously feeling much closer to his old self than he had for a while, was a heart-bursting moment. But its band-aid therapy. And I’l take it, with deep gratitude, as long as he feels well. I will not watch him waste away though, so when this fails, I will have to face the music, and get that vet over to put him down at home.
Dealing with all of this has had me thinking a lot about how we deal with aging and illness in this culture as well as my ongoing distrust for doctors of any kind in the current system. Also, after my dad suffered a major setback recently, a fall and concussion that involved over a week of Intensive Care, and the further impediment of his mobility. Which for a man of 83 who has had Multiple Sclerosis for 40 years, is pretty serious. The difference between his living at home, as he’s done, under my mother’s care, or going into a home. These choices, or the lack thereof, just reveals the dysfunction relationship our culture has to life, death, community, and suffering.
As my 50th birthday creeps up on me, I keep thinking I need to think hard about how I’m going to experience being a caregiver, and eventually a patient. Weighing the agency I have in that against the fear of helplessness. I wrote about my vet experience in such tedious detail in part because I simply needed to share it, but also because we tend to avoid the details, not because they’re tedious but because therein lies so much of the isolation and pain. Several times during the course of writing this post, I’ve been interrupted by my Roman who is clearly feeling more energetic, and every time, I stop to engage him. My instinct is to do everything I possibly can to minimize his suffering and perk up his spirits. That’s the choice I’ve made for how I’m going to deal with his demise despite what the vets might say. But the doubt, the worry, the guilt and pressure are exhausting. Shouldn’t “medical care” seek to accommodate and alleviate stress, rather than exacerbate it? All that said, my boy is back to his old self, a little more rickety, and my vet helped make that happen. Maybe compassion attracts compassion?