There is a song that plays on TikTok videos that asks “can we skip to the good part?” It often accompanies stories about pregnancy/childbirth, reunions between family and friends, or any other kind of journey that involves fast forwarding through the waiting for the “good part” at the end. Although it can be difficult to wait for something good, waiting for something bad is naturally worse; yet sometimes we almost wish we could “skip to the bad part” if it is inevitable.
We felt this agony of waiting once my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and had a six week hospital stay before his death. It seemed unbearably cruel for the days and weeks to drag on while he was in pain. I tried to live in the moment and stay in the present and, at the time, I wrote an essay called “Rest in the Waiting” while sitting in his hospital room in February of 2020 (link below for original essay and quote from my friend Jerusalem Greer from which I stole the title!)
Now, again in February – which we have officially declared to be the worst month – we spent last week waiting for what did turn out to be “the bad part.” Obviously incomparable to a death in the family, but hard nonetheless, we have had two sick fur babies with totally unrelated issues. Finn – our biggest boy – has been losing weight and not eating so we made an appointment with our vet last week to get him checked out. However, the morning of that appointment, we woke up to Noah, his “little brother” and littermate, yowling and seemingly paralyzed.
It was 6:45 and our vet’s office opened at 7:30 so we drove into town and spent an agonizing half hour in the parking lot until the staff began arriving to open for the day. Another thirty minutes passed before our veterianarian arrived, in which time Trever and I alternated sitting and pacing helplessly as Abby, who has always been Noah’s girl, tried in vain to comfort him as he cried, writhed, and panted. We had no way of knowing if he was in pain or panicking but suspected some of both.
After an x-ray and a physical exam, our vet determined that he did not have an injury, fracture, or tumor of any kind. He had likely had a saddle thrombus, a blood clot which lodges in the base of the aorta, blocking blood flow to the back legs. The doctor thought it was also a possibility that he might have some inflammation or infection that caused the issue, but that was not as likely of a scenario. In any event, after he was examined and calmed somewhat the decision was made to administer steroids, antibiotics, and some sedation to see whether his condition might improve. We decided to come back later that afternoon for our appointment for Finn and reevaluate the situation.
When we returned that afternoon, Noah was not any better; however, he did not appear to be in pain or distress so we made the decision to leave him to be monitored and treated. After Finn’s exam, there was no glaring reason for his weight loss and loss of appetite, but bloodwork showed slight elevations in his liver enzymes. It’s a chicken and an egg situation with cats and livers. Are their enzymes elevated because they have not been eating? Or are they not eating because there is a liver function issue which has raised their enzymes? Regardless of the cause, he was also mildly dehydrated, so he received fluids and an order to eat by whatever means necessary. We said goodbye to Noah for the day, and took Finn home.
Some people would rather put off a difficult decision until absolutely necessary, and can exist in denial until finally forced to face facts. Others just want to – for lack of a better phrase – “get it over with.” Those people – such as myself – tend to live out the worst case scenarios in their mind so as to better be prepared if faced with actual bad news. Striking a balance between living in the moment, yet preparing for the future, whether good or bad, is the constant challenge of our mental well being.
The “catastrophes” – pun intended – began on Tuesday, so throughout the week, we waited. We did our research, second guessed everything we were or were not doing with both animals, and received updates from our veterinarian. We visited Noah once a day and the office was wonderful to accommodate us being there. It was difficult to go on with life as normal not knowing what was next. We didn’t have a deadline or an if/then situation with Noah. It was simply wait and see.
Despite some miniscule improvement where he appeared to be moving one of his legs mid-week, Noah refused to eat or drink. They offered him every type of food imaginable and rehydrated him at one point with subcutaneous fluids but there was no visible signs that his condition would get better. His hind legs were cold to the touch and his little paw pads were discolored. The girls visited him on Thursday and spent time trying to engage him and just cuddling him.
On Friday, Abby and I went for a visit, fully prepared to leave him for the weekend and hope for some improvement. However, we knew immediately that things were dramatically worse. They let us have a private room and a blanket and he simply laid on the floor. Occasionally, he might try to move and became visibly agitated, mewing and crying. He never purred, even when Abby laid down with him. He just seemed weary and tired of fighting.
As we began to realize that Noah was declining drastically, we spoke both with the head tech who had been taking care of him and the other doctor in the office; unfortunately, our regular veterinarian was at a conference. They suggested we do a round of bloodwork to check for any other health issues. When that came back, his kidney numbers were off the charts. A physical exam revealed a preexisting heart murmur was now “significant”. With that information and his behavior and his physical condition, we knew that there was not going to be a miraculous recovery. He would be unable to walk or have control over his bodily functions. We couldn’t be sure that he was not in pain. He was weak from not eating or drinking. It was time to let him go.
We made the phone call for Trever and Sarah to join us, and Noah was sedated with Abby by his side. She talked to him and petted him even as he was moved onto the exam table and the final injection was administered. Our sweet little cat passed away peacefully around 5 p.m. on Friday, February 11th.
Although it was an extremely difficult week, I do not regret those days. We hoped, we prayed, we begged, and we waited. We didn’t skip to the bad part even though that would have been easier emotionally, physically, and even financially. We are still waiting through this latest crisis with Finn. Thankfully, he has started eating a little bit and we will monitor his situation through the weekend.
Waiting is a part of life; how we do it is up to us. But waiting, while it is stressful, can also be sacred. RIP Noah….thank you for being a loving companion, providing us with eight years of wonderful memories, and letting us wait with you.
Karri Temple Brackett
February 12, 2022