When I first read Jilly’s new theme, I had a thousand and one ideas. And then the week took a downturn, and sudddenly I had none. I wrote line scraps, a few words here and there, but nothing substantive formed.
Our cat’s health took a turn for the worse this past week. I could not tap into the feeling or idea of vulnerability. I was frustrated, helping to clean up our cat’s piss and liquid waste from the living room floor, waking up too early to feed him and quiet his yowls for food.
Barsik started becoming ill at least a full year ago, if not earlier. He was vomiting regularly, and when Eugene took him to the vet, Barsik was diagnosed as having a UTI. We gave him medicine, and he got better–until he started getting worse again. The earlier medications that we had given him weren’t working. Then we moved into our new apartment, and he started to have terrible liquid diarrhea. We changed his diet and put him on the healthiest, organic, vitamin-rich food we could buy. And again, the vet prescribed medication, but this time it didn’t work well at all. Barsik is eating, but he’s losing weight fast–he can’t keep anything down. He is down to half of what his weight should be. Despite regular feedings, he is starving to death. And this past week, he’s been so uncomfortable using his litter box that he’s started eliminating in the living room instead.
Yesterday’s visit to the vet revealed our options. We can cut him open to see what’s going on, or try one more round of medications. And if the medications don’t work–and they should work within the span of two weeks–he will need to be put down. No living creature should have to starve to death.
I never thought I’d be one of those people who talked about her pets excessively. I like animals, sure. They’re cute. Whatever. But I never, ever thought I’d feel a special connection with an animal. Still, Barsik is different. When Eugene and I first met, Barsik took a liking to me. He sleeps curled up next to my head almost every night, and he hops up onto my lap to give me kitty hugs and kisses first thing in the morning. Not only is he a beautiful cat, with those intense, hypnotic blue eyes, but he’s also gentle.
Of course, illness has changed his personality. He cries excessively at night from hunger, and his eyes are no longer a calm, steady blue–they are wide and wild with desperation. When I pet him, I feel every one of his bones.
Illness and death are no strangers to me. I have watched several family members grow old, their bodies succumbing to that mysterious, magnetic pull of time. I have witnessed the sweet, soothing drip and spread of morphine. I have listened patiently to frenzied hallucinations, sudden and sure glimpses of a world beyond our own. And finally, when their bodies lie too still in the bed, I have felt the almost tangible sigh of relief escape from the living. Death is the easy part.
So this month, the vulnerability is not mine. It is Barsik’s. I understand he’s “just a cat.” But no one with the capacity to experience both pain and hunger should have to navigate that expansive, confusing terrain of illness and dying alone. Eugene and I are his faithful hospice, cleaning up after him, mixing medicine into his food, giving him hugs. I’m no longer upset. This next round of medications could very well work–he could live for another few years. I have hope. But if the medicine doesn’t work, I’ll at least know that we did everything we could, and that his last few weeks with us were spent as a comfortable transition into his next adventure.