What do you do when every decision seems selfish?
In the past 10 days, Mica has seemed to be on the decline. His usual robust appetite was diminuished, even his sense of smell seems to have disappeared, as he usually has a bit of food still on his once immaculate brick red nose.
His beautiful rudy Abysinnian coat now seems to hang like cloth across his bones. Every bone can be felt. While he was always a slim cat, he's now all elbows and angles. And yet his sweet smiling face remains unchanged.
His eyes, green as grapes, now seem slightly unfocused. Can this be the same fellow who caught four mice just 9 months ago? His back legs are stiff and a bit wobbly. Yet he can still find my leg to stretch out against on the couch. I haven't heard his birdlike "chirrrup" in months or had him tell me off when I'd closed him out of room. But he still purrs contentedly while angling his chin for a soft scratch.
What do you do when you just can't seem to stop crying?
I look at these photos, many not taken that long ago, and I'm astonished at some of his physical changes. In between tears, there have been moments of horrible frustration. Like when he used Petey's bed (or the laundry bag...or my gym bag) instead of his litter box. Knocking things over a couple times a night so I'll wake up and go turn on the bathroom tap for him. Now he follows me into the bathroom whenever I go near it. I have to help him up to the sink, he can't always make the jump. And more often than not, he doesn't even bother drinking, or dips his face too far in and sets off a round of sneezes. I go through yet another bottle of Nature's Miracle, scrubbing away another accident and I'm frustrated that my home is being ruined. Then I get mad at myself for feeling that way.
We've been together through almost my entire adult life. From the time he was 5 weeks and 6 days old until now - 20 years and 6 months later. He moved with me into my first apartment. Curled up on my heaving chest when I cried at losing my first cat Moki and my third cat, Maui.
He was meowed his way from Boston to New York on a late night shuttle flight and learned to make those "ackakakakakaak" sounds at pigeons that dare rest on the air conditioner outside the window. On those dark terrifying nights — after 9/11, when I heard my father was diagnosed with cancer, when I left my job—I'd find calm in stroking his soft fur. He'd give me a "we'll be fine" look and a single raspy kiss on my finger. Petey rarely gives a kiss, Mica bestows them freely.
And now the thought of losing him, it rips off all those carefully layered bandages of mourning. And the pain of losing my Mom, my Dad, my other pets, back to my childhood dog Sam all come back in a blurry collage of pain and memory and loss. I think of my two dear friends who are fighting for their lives against horrible cruel diseases and feel as if I'm mourning for them as well.
I took Mica to the vet yesterday. He was his sweet, gentle self. Never complaining at being poked and prodded. A patch of his snowy white fur on his neck was shaved for blood work and it was determined that despite his unquenchable thirst, he was very dehydrated. A vet tech showed me how to administer subcutaneous fluids, while Mica sat still as a monk, deep in meditation as she first stuck him, then had me try. On my third unsuccessful time, I just broke down. He turned and looked and me as if to say, "we'll be fine." I got the needle in and he got the rest of his fluids. While the vet tech told me that many times a cat will look like a camel with a hump after the fluid goes in, Mica's body was so dry he just absorbed it instantly. He slept last night, curled under my arm, braced against Petey's back. Around 4:00 am, he jumped off the bed and went into the bathroom where I'd placed a second litter box. I'm delighted to report he's now used it twice. Petey's bed, freshly laundered late last night, is tucked away unused in corner. Petey will just have to make do with his favorite chair and my bed.
Mica had his second injection of fluids this morning on the kitchen counter, nibbling away at contraband non-prescription cat food as my pet sitter and I played nurses. He never made a peep, just retired later to his new favorite spot on the rug in the bedroom, facing the bathroom with it's ever-promising spring of water.
I am supposed to fly to Hilton Head on the 29th, and Eric, a friend's son and a fourth year med student, will be staying here while he's on a rotation at NYU. I have no fear of him administering the IV should that continue to be necessary, but would I really feel comfortable leaving Mica , even for just four weeks (one of which is supposed to be spent on a holiday in Mexico)? Is it fair to Mica or Eric to have to worry about Mica waking up Eric late at night or having accidents in the apartment for him to find and clean up? And should something happen to Mica, how could I stand to not be there for that final farewell?
How do we really measure "quality of life?" How do our needs balance one another's? Is it selfish to keep him alive when he's already lived far longer than most cats for many happy years and his passing is inevitable, not curable? Or is it more selfish to let him go, even if he doesn't seem to be in pain and is quite content to pass the day sleeping on the couch?
What do you do when you can't stop crying and no clear decision presents itself to you?