On Saturday, while I was at Readercon, Tracy and Nurit took Abbie to a groomer's so that he could enjoy the freedom of having slightly less fur during the hot summer months. He was not happy about it, and the groomers decided to call off the appointment after clipping his nails and getting peed on in return. They also noted that, while he panicked, he was breathing very rapid and shallow. This is kind of normal for a panicky cat, but when he hadn't stopped his all-too-rapid breathing after several hours safe at home, Tracy decided to take him to the vet.
As it was after hours on a weekend, Abbie went to the 24-hour place up in Woburn. The vet determined that his breathing was inhibited by unexpected/unwanted fluid in his chest which keep the lungs from fully inflating. They stuck needles in and drained out 300ml of fluid. We don't know what it is yet, since the vet has to send it to a lab, but that's a lot. The vet said they usually drain 80ml or so out of cats like this. Abbie stayed overnight at Woburn with a lot of oxygen and care.
The diagnosis, the vet said, could be one of three things, only one of which she could reasonably test for: heart problems what lead to heart failure, which she didn't believe to be the case because the tests she could take of the as-of-yet unidentified fluid didn't show anything like that. The second would be a lymph obstruction, and the third cancer. To hell with best case scenario, you can't pick one of these as the better of anything, because none of them can be cured. His chest will continue to fill with fluid no matter how much they drain. That's no kind of life for a cat. (And at around $1700 a trip, that's no kind of life for my finances.)
Abbie was doing well enough on Sunday to be released on his own recognizance ("Hey, that's a cat!") and we brought him home. He licked my fingers as I petted him in the cage, and gave headbutts and was very happy to get home. He looked at his food dish but did not eat. He had some water. He did not mooch the lamb that Tracy was eating. This is when you know something is Wrong, but he was also coming off of heavy sedation.
Today, however, I don't know what the fuck happened. It feels like he's experiencing the same kind of rapid deterioration that Martha had. Even though he hadn't eaten, he threw up at least five times over the night, little spots, some of it whitish stuff I'd never seen him hork before. He meowed at me this morning, the kind of meow that is never any good. I put him on my bed to keep him in the room, but he hopped off and sat outside my door. Then he went into the living room and stayed there.
Since then, he's moved around the living room, but I can tell he is losing energy quickly. He drank a bit of water when we placed the bowl right in front of him, but then retired to his living room box (he's got a little cave underneath the plants) to lie down, head either flat on ground or resting on his paws, occasionally getting up to switch sides.
He does not acknowledge pets on the head. He does not headbutt. He does not groom himself. His rump doesn't automatically raise up when you pet it. These are all bad signs. He perks up every now and then, eyes back open in their wide kitten style, but he lays his head right back down and the little white membranes start to show. He is going.
This afternoon and evening I lay on the floor next to him and gently held my hand over the unshaved part of his chest to feel his breaths. Sometimes they grew so shallow and so faint I thought he had passed. I told him it was okay to go; I told him I loved him, I told him so many people around the world loved him, I told him he had saved my life and sanity on several occasions, I told him songs would be sung of his deeds. I told him that he was the best cat I've ever known, and that is the god's honest truth.
He gave me eye-blinks as I kept a vigil, which is a deep part of cat language. I gave him eye-blinks back. And once, as I was petting him, he reached his head up and licked my hand. He's a licker, he is, and he did that the very first time I met him. The family we got him and Martha from dropped a six-week-old kitten in my lap and said she (we thought he was a girl back then) was the boisterous one. I gave the kitten a scratch on the head and it immediately licked my hand. Remember, you don't pick cats; cats pick you. And Abbie had done just that. I was his guy. From six weeks to sixteen years and three months, I was his guy.
He is currently in the living room still, alternating between his cave box and the floor. The doors to the room are closed. Tracy has brought his floor model air conditioner to keep the room cool. Sonya, Tracy, Nurit and I periodically go in to check. He has begun to shy away from human contact rather than show indifference. This is another sure sign. When Sonya was young, her mother told her about this. She said that when cats know it is time, they will go off to find a quiet place under a tree, and they will curl up and go to sleep peacefully. Over time, she said, they go into the ground, and they turn into flowers.
That sure beats the Rainbow Bridge story by a country mile.
I have been aware for a long time that I am the owner of an elderly cat, and that some day--sooner than later--would come when he passes. And that he would probably do so after a bit of medical froo-frah. In some ways I have been expecting this. I thought perhaps we'd end his days with twice-daily insulin shots; thankfully he never came down with diabetes. I also thought he would live for another good two to four years. Up until this weekend he had not shown any signs of serious illness. At his last check-up three months ago, the Porter Square vet said he was doing remarkably well for his age except for his kidneys. We put him on a special diet and he seemed to do all right.
And that's what gets me. It all just came on so fast. When I left him on Friday, he was doing fine. So that I could close up and head out to Readercon, I lured him out of my room with his favorite treats. He did his usual OH YES PLEASE dance, eyes kitten-wide to look as cute as possible, and he ate about three or four while I petted him and told him what a good cat he was. He licked my hand, rubbed against my wrist, and purred. I had no idea that 72 hours later he would be dying. On Saturday, as I pondered his fate in Woburn, I realized that if he died while in care at least my last memory of him--and his of me--was a good one.
We have no idea how long this has been going on. The fluid could have been building in his chest for a long time, or something could have--what? popped? The Porter Square vet wouldn't have seen it anyway because they don't have an ultrasound. And although Abbie is a chronic complainer, often telling me all about his problems during the day, cats often don't like to show their pain. I don't think he was putting up a front, but he definitely wasn't showing any outward signs of trouble.
Abbie does not have long. I do not expect him to last the night. If he does, however, a travelling vet is coming by tomorrow morning to look him over. I do not think I need to explain what the outcome of this visit will most likely be. One can hope that perhaps it's just been a spate of serious weakness-while-recovering and with an appetite booster he'll be up and eating, but that is a desperate hope. And besides, if he does perk up, he'll still be terminally ill. What kind of life will that be? How many more weeks would he live like this? Death is going to happen. It is inevitable. It's always inevitable, but one only seems to take notice when it's close. As in, I know this is the very last night of Abbie the Cat's life. And I am devastated.
He had a good life. He had the sun, he had his favorite chairs, he had your food. He never knew malice or hate. He never lashed out in anger. He was such a calm, chill cat, he would let you step over him and not even flinch. He made friends with almost everyone he met. Dogs and people with vacuum cleaners were the big exception. I have never known a kinder, more loving, more loyal cat. I was his guy; he always wanted to be where I was. I have also never known such a big people food moocher, but he could get away with it because he was just too cute to ignore. Most of the time.
I will probably tell lots of stories about him in the next few I-don't-knows. I am not going to lie; I will not be able to handle this alone. Sonya is here, Tracy is here, Nurit is here, we are all feeling very very low, but the one thing I cannot do is disappear. There's too much to life right now to disappear.
Sonya and I are beginning our search for a place together (and if you know of any 3br apartments in Camberville with hardwood floors, onsite laundry and a lot of space for books, please let us know) and we were always concerned about how Abbie would take to a move at such an advanced age. But now I know he will not join us as we begin our lives together. He represents a very important part of my life--nearly half of it, fer crying out loud. I got Abbie when I first moved out on my own. He came with me as I found my way, as I lost it sometimes, as I learned often painful lessons, and finally as things got better. Now I am about to embark on a new chapter in life. I am deeply saddened and disappointed that he will not join us in this new chapter after being such a big part of things for so long.
But we're making sure wherever we move is cat-friendly.
There will be other cats. But there will never be one like Abbie the Cat, the 20-pound behemoth, the Beast, Chunk, Abs of Marshmallow, Catus Interruptus, Jingle Cat, Inconvenient Cat, Dipshit McGee (a one-time use; he had earned it), Triangle, His Nibs...
...but most importantly to me, Buddy. My buddy. Good night, Buddy. I love you.