Thursday, 2 August 2012
Usually I’m pretty good at seeing the positive side of life. I like to think I’m a glass half full kind of person when I’m asked questions that require clichéd replies. This week though, I’ve been forced to conclude that sometimes life is just crap.
We’re cat people, husband, teen and I. As you’re reading this on the internet I’m assuming you’re not averse to the delights of the feline yourself. That you’ve had a few laughs at the kitties that resemble Hitler and have delighted in at least one or two of the endless cute pics that stream onto our screens, almost unbidden, on a daily basis. If there were no kittens, the internet would only be half the size, and a lot more work would get done.
Our first cat was a majestic, magnificent lion of a creature. He was king of the local cats and master of all he surveyed and we adored him, right up to the day he stupidly ran in front of the car that killed him on the street he’d roamed confidently for the previous 8 years. The pain his death caused us was shocking in its intensity, particularly for teen, whose cat he really was. Teen had chosen him when he was just 9 years old himself, had named him Tweety (in the vain hope that we’d buy him a bird he could call Sylvester) and had been the go-to-person for all Tweety’s trials and tribulations. His death broke all our hearts but most particularly teen’s.
So it was with some trepidation that we dared to love again. This time it was Luka. He was a teeny, tiny little thing, as timid as his predecessor had been brave. He never left the house by the front door, and he never went further than the confines of our garden when he went out of the back one. He was the perfect next cat for a family who’d lost their previous one under the wheels of a car. And he was a people cat. From the day we brought him home, probably a little early, at 6 weeks, he liked nothing better than to be with us. I don’t want to be a cat twat here, but I’m afraid I’m going to be – like most cat owners, we thought Luka was a bit special. He loved to hang out with whichever of us was at home – he was a bit bonkers, a bit unpredictable, totally adorable. He didn’t seem to favour any of us; it was almost like he wanted to share himself equally between us, with a little bit more attention for teen, in whose room he’d lived for the first few weeks. And then things changed a little.
I had my second surgery – the proctectomy (you know, the rectal removal, the sewn-up anus; I think I’ve mentioned it a few times), and when I got back, Luka seemed to love me almost as much as he loved teen. More than that, he became my little stoma assistant – my bag puss. He didn’t change it for me or anything – he was a cat – but it was like he tuned in to something. He took to sleeping with me at night; he’d snuggle up along my thigh, his head on my tummy, just next to my bag. And in the early mornings, some time between 5 and 7am, he’d walk up and down my body, sometimes leaping on my chest. Almost every time, I’d curse him – ‘For fuck’s sake, I’m trying to sleep … what the bloody ..?’ (I’m not good much before 11) and he’d just keep going until I’d think to feel my bag and realise it needed emptying. I’d get up, and together we’d go to the bathroom, where he’d sit on the sink – always in the same spot – while I ran the tap for him to drink from as I emptied my bag. Then we’d both go back to bed, resume our sleeping positions and head back to the land of dreams. Sometimes, instead of coming back in with me, he would go into teen’s room and spend the rest of the morning nuzzled up to him until he woke, but most often he came back with me. He wasn’t totally committed to anyone though; obviously whichever family member woke up first would be the one he’d follow downstairs, being ridiculously cute in return for food. That’s what cats do – we know this. Food over everything.
So when Luka stopped eating last week, we realised something was wrong. But it was hot, and sometimes cats just decide you’re a complete bastard for feeding them the food they’ve been perfectly happy to eat for the preceding 6 months. So we duly changed brand and tried again. And again. To no avail. Then he started sitting in places he never usually sat. He stopped following us into the bathroom, no matter how fast and loudly we ran the tap. Then, on Wednesday morning, he was asleep snuggled up to me, husband and teen were both out working, and when I got up, Luka didn’t. He just stayed there, on the bed, listless, lethargic and not himself at all. I took him to the vet. For three consecutive days we took him to the vet, and then on Friday night, we were all at home, back from the vet for just an hour, having let them take bloods from our little fluffball, when the phone rang and the vet told us our cat was in acute kidney failure and they didn’t know why, but we needed to bring him down at once so he could go on a drip. He might be curable, the vet said; he was in such good spirits considering the numbers (so high the machine couldn’t read them) and that he hadn’t been eating or drinking. The next morning, the numbers were higher, but because he was so young – just 18 months old – they thought it was worth trying to save him. It was the weekend now so we had to take him to the expensive 24 hour vet in Hampstead, which (for those who don’t know) is a very posh (and expensive) part of north London.
When we picked him up, Luka was delighted to see us. Then, when we put him onto yet another vet’s table, he turned his back to us, clearly not impressed. It was like he didn’t even care that we’d taken him to Hampstead. The vets there were nice, as were all the vets we saw, and they suggested an ultrasound to check how bad his kidneys really were. We have no insurance and as any pet owner knows, this stuff is not cheap. It makes you realise, again, just how amazing free healthcare for humans is. What a valuable and extraordinary thing one of our governments once did for us, and what a terrible thing our current government is doing in trying to destroy it. Every dressing, every injection, every consultation for our cat cost us money. If we had to pay anything like those costs for my NHS treatment, we’d have gone broke years ago. In truth, I’d probably be dead, thanks to the one surgery we’d have decided we couldn’t pay for. But that’s not the point here; the point here is Luka was so young, and he looked so well; how could we do anything but keep paying out of hours Hampstead prices to try to save him? We said yes to the ultrasound and went home and waited. And waited. Five hours later, with husband at work, the call came, and the news was not good. The vet said that if Luka had been human, he’d need a double kidney transplant. Urgently. That the state his kidneys were in, he must have been born with the condition that was destroying them, and that to continue any kind of treatment would be unfair. That if we did, and he survived, he would only have a few weeks left anyway. Weeks that he’d have to spend in hospital, on drips, and, the vet told me, ‘he doesn’t like it here. He’s not happy.’ Of course he wasn’t. He didn’t like leaving the house, he didn’t like not having one of us there to hang out with. Tears streamed down my face as I told teen the news.
Of all the things I was imagining writing about when I started this blog; all the adventures I was going to have with my new bag, my new life, I didn’t even consider that one of them would be watching our beloved, far too young little cat be put down. But later that night, when husband got back from his gig, that was what we were going to do.
A friend pointed out that it’s a privilege to be able to do this; a gift to our pet of huge generosity, and something we couldn’t do for a human we loved. She was right, of course, we’ve all watched people we love dying; raging, in agony, terrified. There are regularly court cases in the news where people whose lives are unbearable due to illness or injury want the right to end it - deserve that right, and yet our legal system won’t allow it. With a pet, we can do that one last kindness, and we don’t have to fly to Switzerland to do it, risking a prison sentence on our return. It’s a wonderful, unselfish thing to do, but it’s still hell.
At 10.30 on Saturday night, we spent a beautiful half hour with Luka. He was so happy to see us and we nuzzled with him, played with him, kissed and cuddled him and one thing we can be sure of is that he was happy. Which was both wonderful and awful. Perhaps if he’d been skinny, clearly racked with pain and uninterested in anything around him, it might have been easier for us, but then it would have been horrible for him. The vet had explained that because he’d had the condition all his life, he was more able to cope with it, hence his relatively perky demeanour. In the end though, the time came. Teen held him, the lovely vet injected him and quickly, peacefully, heartbreakingly, he was gone. We sat there for a while, reminiscing, laughing, crying. We came home and did the same into the small hours. And when we woke the next morning, he really was gone. And we really are so very sad.
This happened last Saturday. In the intervening nights, something has woken me at the right time to empty my bag. It could be anything doing that – my brain, the instinct borne of nearly 2 years with a bag, the ileostomy fairy - but I like to think it’s a bit of Luka left behind. And that life isn’t completely crap.