This is Spot, my best friend for four years. She had originally belonged to my mother, and as a consequence I had known her since she was adopted as a kitten twelve years ago. At that time I was still in high school. She and I had always been friendly, but it wasn't until after I had moved back from college that we became close. The time came that my mom wanted to find a new home for her because they weren't getting along, so I accelerated my plans to move out and started renting a house in town. I couldn't stand the thought of her exiting my life.
That was four years ago. I had been uneasy about taking sole responsibility for her, and I wasn't really looking to have a pet of my own. The circumstances had forced me into that situation. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was to be the start of the greatest relationship I've ever experienced. Slowly but surely, Spot worked her way into the core of my heart. I thought she was adorable. Every time I saw her, I was just that bit happier. All the time she and I were jointly discovering new ways in which we could interact that worked for both of us, such playing catch or watching movies together.
She had the perfect temperament for my personality. She loved to be around wherever I was about half of the time but wasn't ever clingy. She was not vocal or demanding. The only time I would hear her voice was when she would produce one of her adorable squeaks, usually an indication of her excitement at my being there like when I would get home from work. She would almost always come running to the door when I opened it if she wasn't there already and act like she hadn't seen me in years. She seemed to be comfortable with me holding her for as long as I cared to do so, and I would hold her in front of windows she couldn't normally see out of. I didn't have to regulate her food, she always used her box, she was intelligent, and she was a very manageable ten pounds. She was great.
April 9, 2015
It suddenly struck me at the end of June that I wasn't putting much food in her bowl anymore in the mornings. She had also quit eating for the few minutes between filling her bowl and cleaning her litter box as had been her routine for years.
Wednesday (July 1): I decided to start measuring exactly how much she was eating to see if my concerns were founded in reality or simply imagined. I had also picked up a higher quality food as a means to entice her if necessary. She ate 0.9 ounces that first day and 0.5 ounces the next day. Friday she ate nothing at all except for the treats I managed to feed her, but I noticed that she was having difficulty eating them.
Saturday morning (July 4): I called the vet but received their answering machine which announced their hours. The machine stated they were open Saturday mornings, but since nobody picked up I assumed they were closed due to it being the July 4th holiday. I watched her closely and with much anxiety that day and night. I had a hard time sleeping, knowing that something was wrong and that it's hard on cats to go very long without food. She wasn't moving around as much as normal, just periodically finding a new location to lie down.
Sunday afternoon (July 5): I started to become very concerned. She had more or less stopped drinking in addition to eating. I had also noticed that her breathing was becoming abnormal; it was more deliberate/dramatic than normal even though she was more or less acting like her normal self. I also began to notice how bony her spine had become when I would stroke her back. I called the vet's "emergency" number out of concern; I knew that I didn't know enough to judge how serious of a problem this was and needed a professional opinion on what to do. The vet indicated that one more day would likely not make a significant difference based on the symptoms and that I should bring my cat in first thing Monday morning.
Monday morning (July 6): I saw Spot drinking a little bit of the cold water I had set in front of her after I finished my morning shower. This made me feel better. I waited until the indicated time and took her to the vet not knowing what to expect. I was hoping it was something simple like a tooth ache or infection, but being a worrier I feared bad news. The vet examined her and didn't find anything wrong with her teeth, and her heart sounded normal. She took a thoracic xray as a result. Bad news. Spot appeared to have pleural effusion. The vet couldn't give an exact cause but speculated that heart failure or cancer were the two most likely causes, neither of which was particularly encouraging. It was devastating news. The vet was going to hold her and give her fluids to rehydrate her as she was rather dehydrated. Additionally, samples of the fluid in her lungs and her blood would be taken for analysis at the university lab up state and local hospital respectively. I left her in the vet's care and went to work, though I visited at lunch and after work was over. The fluid sample had been taken, and it looked clear to cloudy in color with little bits floating around. They managed to syringe feed her a little, but not much--Spot was having none of them poking around in her mouth. That night was particularly hard for me, as I was sure I was going to lose her. I feared cancer.
Tuesday (July 7): No lab results yet. They continued to hydrate her during the days, and I continued to visit at every opportunity. I felt bad about leaving her there in that cage, but I couldn't help her at home. She seemed dull when I'd first spot her until she recognized me--then she'd squeak at me. =) She seemed better to my eye.
July 7, 2015
Wednesday (July 8): Still no lab results. The vet drained some of the fluid around her lungs, but this time the fluid had blood in it. It was bad news, but I continued to visit at lunch and after work. I stayed until well after they closed and left when the staff was leaving. She clearly wasn't feeling great but didn't seem to be in pain.
July 8, 2015
Thursday (July 9): Still no lab results. I left work an hour early and indicated I'd be taking the next day off entirely. At the vet I discovered that the sample had become lost in the mail somehow. The vet had not taken the blood sample on Monday as she was sure the fluid sample would be more useful, so there was no data to go on. I requested that she perform the blood test, and she indicated she would get right on it after I finished visiting. More fluid drained, still bloody. I asked if it would do any harm for me to take Spot home with me overnight, and they indicated it would not. They don't run fluids anyway at night since nobody is there to supervise their administration. I took Spot home, and she cried off and on all night. It was immensely depressing and heartbreaking to watch, but she seemed a lot more normal and lively at home than she had at the vet.
Friday (July 10): The blood results came back and showed a number of markers that were off of normal values, but most were expected due to her not eating or drinking much. Some, such as her creatinine level, were concerning and indicative of early kidney failure. She was definitely getting worse. The vet suggested that I should begin to consider euthanasia and be ready before pain begins, but since my reaction clearly indicated I wasn't ready she suggested I keep her overnight again. I took Spot home. I noticed that Spot appeared to be afraid of falling asleep or was too uncomfortable to do so. She was really exhausted. She would sometimes nod off for a second before jerking back into wakefulness.
July 10, 2015
Saturday (July 11): Results from the university lab finally came in. The fluid had predominantly consisted of lymphocytes. My vet and the university staff had also chatted at my request, and they offered a third possibility--FIP, an adverse and untreatable reaction to a common virus that is inevitably fatal. She could offer no words of hope nor a definitive diagnosis due to the limited data available. I asked about her eating, and she told me that Spot was too weak for a feeding tube due to the needed anesthesia. It would almost certainly kill her in her weakened condition. By the mid afternoon I began to worry and panic about how I couldn't feed her like they could at the vet. She would drink occasionally though. I called a number of friends and eventually ended up in contact with the university up state and had made an appointment for that night. If I was going to have to possibly consider euthanasia, I knew I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I hadn't absolutely tried everything possible. I needed a definitive answer for what was wrong at the very least. I asked my dad if he wanted to go with me, and away we went three hours northwest. I checked Spot into the university pet hospital around 11:30 PM, paid the applicable fees and deposits, and away they went doing tests.
July 11, 2015
Sunday (July 12): They called a few hours later with their initial findings, and they weren't good. Spot definitely was suffering from heart failure; there was no tumor. It was ironic as I had initially feared the possibility of cancer, but had it been cancer instead of heart failure it would have been much more straight forward to treat. They had transferred her to an oxygen cage and began medications to help. Ultimately though, heart failure wasn't going to be a fixable problem and they had to walk a tight rope between hydrating her and promoting fluid removal via drugs without accelerating her kidney failure. Their blood results had confirmed the high creatinine, and they agreed with the kidney failure diagnosis as a result of the primary cause. It was likely causing her nausea which combined with her general exhaustion from heart failure was likely why she wouldn't eat. They asked me if I wished to authorize further treatments and tests which I did. I visited her a couple of times during the day. Sunday night my dad had to go back to town, so we both drove back with my intent being to return in the morning solo. Ten or twenty minutes from home, they called me to inform me that Spot appeared to have developed an arrhythmia. She was getting worse.
Monday (July 13): The cardiologist had been consulted and imaged her heart for the second time with ultrasound. A more generalized physician had performed the initial ultrasound the day before. All four chambers of her heart had expanded and her upper chambers had thinning walls. There was no hope for a cure, but they had an intravenously-administered drug that might help her heart function better. I asked them to try it. She was also being medicated orally with a pill to help increase her blood pressure--it had started to fall to low levels, further aggravating her exhaustion. Secretly I was of course hoping for a miracle, but practically speaking I knew it just might help Spot feel better. I visited as much as I could, but as before they didn't want her out of her oxygen cage more than she had to be. She seemed to be in better shape than she had been at home even though she was continuing to not eat.
July 13, 2015
Tuesday (July 14): Spot was not responding well to the medication. Her kidneys were shutting down, and she wasn't producing urine like she had been. This was the end of the road for what they could do for her. The only thing anyone anywhere could do that they couldn't would be dialysis. Even so, they made it clear that it wouldn't be a cure. They indicated to me that even with their treatment, they estimated that my friend had no more than a couple of days left. There was just nothing they could do. I asked them to get her ready for me to take her home that afternoon which they did. They had to state that medically they couldn't advise it, but the message had been made clear to me--there was no saving Spot. Even so, I asked again about feeding. They indicated that a feeding tube was the only real possibility and that the anesthesia would almost certainly kill her as my local vet had said. Same story for an enema to remove her rather-severe-by-this-point impaction.
After getting a quick meal at Wendy's, I stopped by the pet hospital and picked up Spot for the three hour trip home. There was a group of older gentlemen behind me talking about the friends they had lost over the years. It was unpleasant but in some way fitting. Spot cried off and on on the way home which melted my heart. At one point, she fell behind the cat carrier she had been laying down on, so I pulled over at a gas station. She wasn't even trying to right herself. I put her into the front passenger seat on a towel again, and this time she laid down and stayed there for the rest of the trip though occasionally crying. At night, she crawled up next to me and slept by my side.
July 14, 2015
Wednesday (July 15): Spot spent the day at home. I had a coworker come over again to help me give her more of the medicine they sent me home with to keep her blood pressure up. She was really tired. I couldn't bring myself to consider euthanasia, so I kept her overnight again. Like the night before, she crawled up next to me even though by this point she could barely walk more than six feet without becoming exhausted and taking a break. I had to roll over and face away from her and felt bad about doing so, but I have some nerve problems that make it difficult to get comfortable in bed. I didn't know it yet, but this would be my last night with her.
Thursday (July 16): This was Spot's last day with me. She was clearly exhausted. I took her to the vet for one last checkup to get a handle on her condition. I asked them to draw her blood one last time, but it just wasn't happening. Spot was simply too dehydrated. I tearfully made an appointment as I had put off many times before for the vet to stop by at 3 PM and took her home. Spot was barely responsive. As the time approached, however, I just couldn't handle it. I'd know where she had died in my home and be reminded of it constantly. I cancelled over the phone. As the afternoon progressed into evening, I talked with my dad and tried to gain some clarity, but he eventually had to go. I was going to keep her one more night lest I accidentally rob her of some of the painless time she had left.
July 16, 2015
Around 7 PM, I called the vet's after hours number. Spot was starting to get vocal and cry in a way she hadn't before. It seemed like for the first time she wasn't just tired or nauseous but rather that she was starting to genuinely hurt. This was the time. I couldn't hardly believe what I was doing, but I put her in my arms, drove her to the vet on my lap, and then picked her up one last time. I brought her inside the building and the vet administered an anesthetic agent while I was still holding her. She fell asleep within a couple of minutes, but I couldn't stop holding her. It was five or ten minutes before I could stop crying and put her down on the exam table. The vet recommended I not stay for the next part. I was out of the exam room and talking to the vet who was trying to console me for a short time. She told me about a cat she had saved who was a tuxedo like Spot. I looked back at Spot on the table, breathing slowly still after being unconscious for ten or twenty minutes now. Given her handling of the anesthetic, I couldn't help but wonder if she would have survived a feeding tube if I had insisted early on. But it was too late now. Even if she could eat again, her heart was failing her. The vet said she would wait until I was gone before proceeding, and I tearfully left.
This was the last time I ever saw my friend.
It might be tempting to think I was being selfish in keeping her going for so long, but it's important to understand that my enjoyment of her wasn't my motivating factor. She had given me so much and never asked for anything in return. She trusted me completely and shared her affection without any expectations. I felt like I owed her any possible chance of getting better no matter what. Anything less would have been a betrayal. Ultimately I couldn't save her, and it has left me feeling like I failed her. The only thing I had to provide for her, her health and safety, in the end I couldn't. I know these feelings are common, perhaps even normal as a part of the grieving process, but knowing a thing does nothing to reduce the emotional impact of the feeling. I miss her. Today is day 33 without her.
A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a pair of kittens to see if it would help fill the void. My dad had told me that after his cats had died of old age, the kitten that wandered into his life a couple of weeks prior had been good for him. The vet had also wisely told me that time would heal the hurt but adopting an animal would help heal the heart. I'm not sure it has been such for me. I feel weird when the kittens are places that Spot used to be, and they often make me miss her more than enjoy them. Maybe it's just too soon.