Every time my parents and I visit, at some point we end up breaking out the wine, fruit-and-cheese-and-crackers tray, and scrabble board.
2013, and in particular the past couple of weeks, has been pretty rough at our house.
On January 29, Merlin had what we thought was a stroke. She lost all use of her right front leg, couldn’t (and didn’t really want to) stand up or move around, and was obviously in pain. We took her to the urgent care clinic where she received a tentative diagnosis of heart disease and a blood clot, an appointment the next day for a specialist down in Cincinnati to confirm the diagnosis, and (most important) painkillers for Merlin so that she could rest comfortably.
The next afternoon, the specialist ran a number of tests, among them x-rays and an abdominal ultrasound, which revealed that while Merlin’s heart itself was structurally sound, but that there were masses in one of her lungs and in her abdomen near her heart. So not heart disease, but cancer. And the episode the night before was a neoplastic embolism… a little chunk of tumor breaking off and entering her bloodstream. Pretty advanced cancer. I was crushed. We were crushed. We left the specialist with a handful of medications and the gentle instructions to take a few days to “consider our options”.
We had already pretty much made up our minds that we were going to go the supportive/palliative route only. At Merlin’s age and condition, surgery and/or chemotherapy would have been pointless torture, and we just wanted to keep her as happy and comfortable as we could, for as long as we could. In addition, the specialist warned us that Merlin could have another neoplastic embolism at any time, and that the next one would almost certainly be the last one.
In hindsight, the start of this was not what happened on January 29, but earlier, just after New Year. Merlin had suddenly started limping on a hind leg, and when I brought her in to our vet, they found a lump on her back leg. They said that it could be a bad infection of inflammation, and gave her an antibiotic and a steroid injection. They also told me that they wanted to keep an eye on it, and that I should bring Merlin in again after a few weeks, and that if the lump was still there, they would have to start thinking about testing for cancer.
It seems obvious now that the first neoplastic embolism was in early January, and the second was on January 29.
We thought about our options (while continuing to give Merlin painkillers) and after a couple of days went to see our vet to go over what we needed to know for Merlin’s care. We started her on steroid pills (2 a day, along with 1/4 a pepcid pill) which might shrink the tumors and would certainly ease any pain she was in and kept her in the painkillers (the vet told us that as long as she was limping, she was in pain). We set up food, water, and a litterbox for her in our bathroom. She started to get a little bit better, though she wasn’t venturing much outside of our bedroom, our bathroom, and John’s office. Occasionally she would come downstairs and sit on my lap in the evening.
Then we found out that John’s Grandfather had had a bad fall and broken his hip. And I found out that my Grandma was in the hospital with pneumonia.
John’s Grandfather’s fall and broken hip exacerbated some existing health issues (to the point where the broken hip was actually the least of everyone’s worries) and he ended up going into hospice care.
On Thursday morning, February 7, John’s Grandfather died peacefully.
My Grandmother did end up getting out of the hospital, but in this case, unfortunately, “out of the hospital” does not equal “doing just fine now”.
We went up to Kalamazoo that weekend. Because of the logistics of Merlin’s medications and several other factors, we brought her with us. She seemed to be doing better, but she wasn’t eating much. (This worried me a lot, since “not eating” was one of the things that our vet had told us to keep an eye out for.) She handled the ride up to Kalamazoo like a champ, she didn’t mind being confined to the spare room where we were sleeping. She slept in bed with us, she purred, she got a lot of petting.
And then she didn’t do well at all on the ride home, and started sliding downhill that evening.
Sunday was also when (as far as I can tell) she stopped eating. She was refusing her wet food, and treats, and tuna, and bits of cheese. All favorite foods.
She stopped purring, and didn’t seem to care if we were petting her. She cried when we picked her up. It looked like she had given up.
Tuesday evening, February 12, we brought her to the vet for the last time. It was a hard, hard choice, but I couldn’t stand for her to be in so much pain.
And I miss her so much. The house feels empty without her here. I keep expecting to see her on the bed, or the back of the couch, or sitting on my desk chair…
And at night when I can’t sleep, my brain plays the “what if” game. What if we realized what the problem was in early January? What if we started her on medications sooner? What if there was something else I could have, should have, done? Could her last days have been made better somehow? Did I give her enough of a chance? Would she have improved any if I had decided to wait another day or two? Was she really ready to go? What if what if what if? Was I as good an owner as I should have been? Did she know how much she meant to me? I know that I shouldn’t beat myself up or dwell on things like this, but I can’t help it… because she was my companion for 18 years, and now she is gone, and there is a hole where she used to be.
John’s Grandfather, as per his wishes, was cremated and was interred next to his wife, John’s Grandmother, in a private ceremony.
Merlin was also cremated. John made the arrangements, because I wasn’t able to. He brought her home again on Friday, and we put her urn on the mantle in the living room, where she can keep an eye on things.