Dr. Lund brought Kali in to us, wrapped in a blanket, and handed her tenderly to Jen. I snuggled in close, and Jen cradled Kali in her arms, like a newborn baby. Dr. Lund quietly backed out of the room, and we sat with Kali, scratching her head, petting her whiskers, and singing softly to her. She began to unclench; her brow unfurrowed and she went limp all over as the sedative lured her down into Dreamland.
We hadn’t seen her look so peaceful and calm in weeks. Even in sleep recently, she’d been tense and furrowed.
We continued to sing to her and pet her pretty little face, even after she was completely unconscious, taking solace in the knowledge that her last sensations were of how deeply we treasured and adored her. Dr. Lund came and retrieved her for the final shot, and Kali was gone.
We were back in New York City after a couple of days in Providence and Boston. We had booked a Zipcar to drive some belongings up to our new Providence apartment, and Jen had job interviews lined up in Boston. With these new opportunities on the horizon, though, we were still worried. Kali’s brother, Dubby, had taken a bad turn just before we left, and we wound up having to take him to Cat Practice in Manhattan, on our way out of the city. We thought it was somewhat routine, but he had chronic health issues, so we took no chances with him.
The morning we got back, we thought we’d be able to pick him up that afternoon and bring him home. We were excited for him to meet the new apartment, with its staircase for him to run on, and skylights facing up to tall trees with their birds and squirrels. We knew he’d love his new home.
I got to my desk, and within minutes had a call from the vet’s office. He was having trouble breathing, and they suspected he was having heart problems. They wanted to know whether I could get him and take him to a cardiac vet specialist. I said I’d work on it and get back to them. Alarmed, I tried to call Jen. She was apparently in a tube somewhere on her way to work, because I couldn’t reach her cell. When I got off the phone, there was already a message from Cat Practice. Before I could listen to the message, the phone rang again.
“Mr. Dietsch, this is Dr. Shaheri. Can you get here immediately? Dubya’s in cardiac arrest.” I grabbed my coat and ran. Luckily, Cat Practice was very close to my office. I called Jen en route; she had just reached her desk and several unheard messages from Cat Practice. I told her she needed to come immediately.
I got there in about 5 minutes. They led me to the exam room. Dubby was having a seizure, breathing rapidly and shallowly, wild-eyed, in deep pain, and terrified. The doc was going to tap fluid from his chest to relieve the pressure on his heart. Bereft and afraid, I retreated to the waiting area. One of their in-house cats, Miss Kitty, approached. She climbed in my lap and stayed with me a while, keeping me company while I waited for Jen and further news.
A while later, the doctor came back out. Dubby’s heart had stopped and she wanted permission to resuscitate and intubate him. I knew Jen was underground again, so I consented. Around 10:20, she returned, teary-eyed. Dubby was dead. I went back to see him and spent some time with him, crying over him and petting him. Telling him how much I’d miss him. I returned to the waiting area and Miss Kitty came back into my lap. Other kitty parents were sympathetic but uncomfortable, wouldn’t meet my eyes.
The elevator opened and Jen stepped off. She only needed to see my face to know.
I thought this would be much harder, killing my loved one. I knew it was time, and the right thing to do. When Dr. Lund examined her, she told us that Kali’s abdominal cavity was full of fluid, indicating that her organs were failing. This would explain the rapid decline in Kali in the days before her death.
She seemed bad on Monday, when I took her in. But at the same time, she was eating and getting around somewhat. By Thursday, she had stopped eating and drinking water, and she remained on the bed in the same spot all day, shifting position every so often. She was wetting herself and unable to shit. Although she was calm, she was obviously suffering. But brave little girl that she was, she seemed not to want to show us.
Although I knew it was the right thing to do, it still felt like killing. Intellectually, I knew it was right, but emotionally, I was conflicted. In the end, though, it felt like a beautiful moment. We were honoring her life by giving her a graceful, peaceful death. It may have been the most loving moment we’ve ever given her, and in a bizarre way, one of the most loving moments Jen and I have ever shared together.
I expected we’d get shit-faced drunk afterward. And although we had more cocktails and wine than most people put away in a week, we actually drank less than we had each previous night over Kali’s final two weeks, when her decline became so rapid. I think after the end, we were relieved. Relieved for her, that her suffering had finally ended, and relieved for us, that we wouldn’t have to watch her in such misery. We had all been so upset–Kali, too–that she couldn’t get around, and that her quality of life had gone so quickly downhill.
She had an anemia diagnosis about a year ago, and she nearly died then, before we could find the right way to deliver meds to her. (She always refused to take anything by mouth, unless you hid it very well in food. We settled on shots.) The cancer scare arrived on Thanksgiving, when we noticed the lump in her mammary tissue. That was virtually untreatable; we’d have had to remove the entire chain of mammary tissue, along with the lymph node, from one side of her body. This would be invasive surgery with no guarantees the cancer wouldn’t return. Her doctors understood when we said we’d just continue to monitor it to make sure it didn’t worsen or spread.
The anemia and cancer were treatable, possibly for years. It wasn’t until her blood sugar spiked that her condition went downhill. That particular bit of nasty news arrived in July. On Monday, Dr. Lund was so alarmed by it that she suggested we could try insulin. But the prognosis still wasn’t good, even with insulin, and she suggested we might not have any real options other than euthanasia. In retrospect, I think even by Monday it was too late for Kali–that organ failure was inevitable and would happen soon. I know we made the right choice for her at the right time.
When I reflect on the differences between her death and Dub’s, I know whose was more peaceful and less painful and terrifying, and I’m very grateful we had the chance to give our graceful little princess a tranquil death.
The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried.
All photos by Jennifer Hess; all rights reserved.