Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2010/10/something-precious.html.
My original intent was to resume the blog with a post in the normal theme of game dev interest, but in the meantime, our family has experienced a disruption that has given me several thoughtful moments.
My wife and I have been married for almost 20 years, and for almost 19 of those years, we've shared our home with Arrow, our cat. As you might imagine, she has become a fixture of our relationship, having outlived career choices and other cats. (We lost a younger cat, Dusty, to breast cancer a few years ago.)
I'm not saying it's been without its tribulations. She occasionally gets it into her head to poop in odd places, especially if we leave her litterbox for too long. She loudly wants breakfast on days I'd rather sleep in. She's knocked over and broken any number of things I wish I still owned in one piece.
But she kept Doni company while I was serving my country. She's a loving animal that we both care for deeply. She makes our apartment a home. Most importantly, we voluntarily took this little being into our care, and she is very much a part of our family.
Last week, there was an accident, and she suffered a broken humerus. It was a completely separated fracture, too high on the leg to splint. The emergency consult at the 24-hour vet clinic didn't paint a hopeful picture. The leg was useless weight that was only going to cause her pain, and her age did not make her a good candidate for orthopedic surgery. Osteoporotic bones do not take pins and plates well, and the mending would have been long, painful, and not guaranteed. There was every chance we would have to put her down.
I'm the man of the couple. There are cultural expectations that I will be the strong and practical one. Right or wrong, my culture has left an imprint on me, and I strive to be the strong and practical one.
This wasn't the first time I've dealt with end-of-life concerns for animals in my care, but none of those prepared me to deal with something as central and long-lasting to my life as this cat. I did OK at the clinic. I reassured Doni that we would make the best decision for Arrow and consoled her when she blamed herself for the accident. I was even supportive for the vet when she had to deal with what turned out to be a DOA cat brought in by a tearful owner.
We got Arrow home with a referal to a surgical clinic for the morning, but not with a lot of hope, before I reached the end of my emotional rope. Doni was out of the room, and I hadn't put Arrow down yet. I sat down with her and had a good cry.
Until that dam broke, I hadn't really been aware of how backed up my grief was. I didn't see much chance that a close friend who relied on me for everything wouldn't have to be killed in the morning on my say. That hurt, and I selfishly took several minutes to wallow in the pain. I'd like to say I thought it would make the goodbye to follow easier, but there wasn't any kind of purposeful intent like that. I just hurt.
Early the next morning wasn't any easier. Arrow still wanted breakfast, and she had stumbled to the food bowl. Watching her try to walk was misery. She'd try to step forward onto the useless leg, it would crumple, and she'd fall on her face. Then she'd try again, and finally she got there, only to fail to figure out how to eat or drink from the dishes.
Later that morning, as we sat in a consult with the surgeon, we felt pretty dismal. When he mentioned amputation, I almost smacked my forehead. I carefully didn't look at Doni, whose face I could just imagine picturing her first personal pet being maimed, but hope surged in my heart. Of course, there was a rollercoaster of emotions left to experience. Doni had to be convinced, blood work had to done to make sure Arrow was likely to survive anesthesia, the procedure had to be completed successfully, she had to convalesce without infection or further injury. Further, was I grasping at comfort for myself or thinking of the best for my tiny charge?
The next morning, the blood work had come back positive, and I gave the order to proceed. Knowing she was cut open that afternoon, with the intent of making a part of her into medical waste, was a lot more distraction than I thought it would be. I didn't get much work done that day.
That afternoon, I got the call that she was conscious and enjoying some morphine derivative or another. My relief was palpable.
Arrow is home now, in many ways normal, but in some important ways, not so much. She still loves a good lap, but we have to be careful of her staples and the cone of shame. She's pooping in some new odd places, but I'm pretty sure that's caused by having to flex completely different muscles as she learns to get around on three legs. Bunny hopping for the litterbox, leaving a trail of poop pebbles, is funnier than it has any right to be.
And she still wants breakfast. Some things are just constant.
All of us have come out of this ordeal closer together. We were lucky. Lucky she's healthy for her age and could survive surgery where some cats would not. Lucky to find a good surgeon where we might have stumbled on a quack and not known in time. Lucky we have decent jobs to pay for the not inexpensive surgery where many families might not have had the wherewithal in today's economy.
Years ago, we accepted something precious into our care, a tiny life that would depend on us for everything it needs to continue, and depend on us to make the best decision when the chips were down. This week, I feel like we lived up to our responsibility. I feel good.