August 26, 2010
Picking up where I left off last week on the death of my cat…
When my husband arrived at the vet, we were brought into an exam room where they’d set out a plush purple blanket and our cat in her carrier. The assistant briefed us on the process, since neither of us had been present for a pet’s euthanasia before. We signed paperwork and decided what to do with her remains. The assistant asked, “Who’s going to be here when it happens? One of you? Both of you?”
I said, “Of course I’ll be here.”
DH said, “I’d rather not be in the room.”
The irony is that our preferences turned out to be the opposite of what actually happened. The vet was with another patient, and I waited as long as I possibly could (administering hundreds of kisses and snuggles in the interim) but had to leave for work, as a roomful of people that I couldn’t contact were waiting for me to arrive. I wanted so much to stay, but I absolutely couldn’t. DH stepped in and stayed with our sweet girl through the whole process.
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that DH’s first impulse was to be out of the room, given his history of preferring not to be around for others’ medical procedures in general, but I was still taken aback since this seems different. If it were a human’s death, I would imagine that he would be present for a death if that’s what the person wanted, but that it wouldn’t be his preference to be there — depending on who, of course. We can’t really know what a cat would want, but given the possibility that she might have wanted loved ones present in her last moments, I presumed that I/we should be present.
I didn’t have any special desire to be present for her death, but it’s more that I didn’t want to be absent. I didn’t want to leave her alone, and I didn’t want any discomfort on my part to prevent me from doing what I thought was right or from supporting someone that has brought me great joy for almost a third of my life.
No one has ever died in my arms before — which makes me lucky, I suppose. I’m realistic enough to think that there’s a good chance that it will happen eventually, with someone. I have a little curiosity, and a lot of trepidation, but mostly I’m matter of fact, as usual. If I am needed, then I will be there, emotions aside. I kind of hope the day never comes, but knowing that various people in my life will someday die, and that some of them may want me there, I am also kind of looking forward to it. There aren’t many bigger expressions of love in this world than holding someone’s hand (or paw) as they take their last breath.
How do you feel about facing someone else’s death?
August 19, 2010
Based on her age, I should have known it was coming, but it still caught me by surprise a couple of weeks ago when my cat was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The vet didn’t know whether she might be able to live with it for many months, or only for a very short time.
Only a couple of days before the symptoms started, she’d been in perfect health. Remarkably perfect health for a cat of her age. Sure, she’d lost a little weight in the past year or so, but she seemed to be able to do everything she’d always done. She seemed the same.
Then she stopped eating unless we put wet food right in front of her. Even her favorite, tuna, previously an extra-special treat when DH would share a morsel of his own food with her, remained half-eaten.
Then she stopped drinking.
Then the other signs that the vet had warned us about started.
I took her to the vet before I went to work. I had about an hour before a non-negotiable meeting. I thought I’d be bringing her right back home.
She’d lost almost two pounds since the week before, a huge percentage of her body weight. One course of action involved months of invasive treatments, which were more likely than not to fail and which, even for a young cat, would be hard to endure. At her age, it would have been patently unfair to subject her to such treatments. Not the vet’s recommendation, and not mine either.
The course of action we’d been expecting, live out a little more time at home (days? weeks?), evaporated when the vet said, “If you were to euthanize her today, that would be a humane act and I would fully support that.”
I called DH, and “today” seemed like the only logical option. He came to the vet to meet us, and we proceeded. More on that next week.
We said goodbye on the day we did because our cat had been getting worse, and because the vet had an opening. It could just as well have been the next day, or the next. She wasn’t doing well, but she wasn’t yet in terrible shape.
As we waited in the exam room, waiting for the vet and giving the cat a hundred goodbye kisses, I asked DH why it had to be today. What if we brought her back the next day? He wisely answered that it would be selfish to wait, that she wouldn’t get any benefit out of another day and she might experience great pain during that time. We would get a few more hours with her, but they would likely be heartbreaking.
Afterwards, I kept thinking of my mother, who has always held on so strongly to pets, refusing to let go. Many of our family’s pets have lived far beyond what seemed fair to them, only kept around for the humans’ benefit. Even as a kid I knew that by holding on, she was not serving the animals’ well-being, only her own. And yet, as I drove hurriedly to make my meeting, sobbing, I understood my mother’s actions more than I ever had. Knowing when to let go isn’t as easy as I’d always made it out to be. I wondered, “What if we’ve made a horrible mistake and she could have been fine?” even though I knew there was no way. The thing about a definitive decision like this is that there’s no turning back. If you decide to wait, you can change your mind and proceed with the letting go. Once you have decided to let go, at least with death, the decision is irreversible.
Because I had DH there to be decisive and compassionate, I was able to put the cat’s needs above mine. If it had only been up to me, I don’t know what I would have done. Would my mother’s influence have emerged, causing me to wait just one more day, and just one more after that, and maybe one more…? Would I have learned from her mistakes and let go at the right time? Is there ever a right time?
How do you know when to let go? Do you think you do a good job of deciding when the right time is? This could apply to death, to relationships, to dreams, to anything.
August 14, 2010
Via Calliope, there is now a definitive test for Alzheimer’s. It works for those already experiencing cognitive impairment, and it may even work for those who don’t yet have any symptoms. People such as Calliope and Rita Arens from Surrender, Dorothy who’ve dealt with Alzheimer’s in their loved ones have declared strongly that they’d want the test done for themselves.
This week’s question, not just for this Alzheimer’s test but for any test which predicts a negative health outcome:
Would you want to know? For what? When? Why?
For some including Alzheimer’s, having a diagnosis could lead to a different course of treatment, which would be helpful. It would also enable people to make plans for their care, for how their loved ones will interact with them, for financial aspects, for lots of things that they might not be able to deal with properly later on.
Huntington’s Disease is quite a different situation. This horrible disease destroys the mind and body and typically begins in the 30s or 40s. There has been a genetic test available for Huntington’s Disease since the mid-1990s (applicable even to those who have no symptoms whatsoever and may be decades away from developing the disorder), yet 95% of people who are at risk for developing the disease choose not to have the test. There is no treatment, so knowing in advance allows for planning but not alteration of the course of the disease. Most people apparently don’t want to know that their lives might be over very prematurely. A few do.
Then, of course, there’s infertility. We’ve talked quite a bit about having advance notice, which some of us did and some did not (and others perhaps had some signs but didn’t take heed). What if there was a test that would clearly tell you about your fertility future?
I guess I’d want to know about Alzheimer’s. Knowing decades in advance does seem rather frightening, like a huge black cloud looming over your whole life, so perhaps I’d prefer to wait to know in late middle age or early old age.
I have no idea about Huntington’s — I am sure I would live my life quite differently if I knew, so I might want to know. I sure as hell wouldn’t waste time doing things I don’t want to do if I knew that my life expectancy was only a few years. Maybe that means I shouldn’t be doing those things regardless.
As for infertility, of course I’d want to know. One important issue with fertility is that time can be crucial. Knowing that you need to move immediately to certain interventions, or knowing that no interventions will ever produce success, would be incredibly helpful in avoiding wasted time, money, and heartache. One of the worst things about the whole process for me was never knowing if anything would ever work, or if it would all turn out to be pointless.
Definitive infertility diagnoses do have some possible downsides, too. Someone who knows before meeting their partner that they cannot have biological children may approach courtship and marriage quite differently. My best guess is that they will try to spare a partner from sharing their fate, even if the partner might have welcomed the fate if it meant a life together. If I’d known when I was 18 that I’d deal with infertility, I can’t imagine what I would have done with that information.
Knowing the future, assuming it’s the true future, also feels rather unnatural. If someone — whether doctor or fortune-teller — had told me at the outset, “You’ll end up with twins, but it will take 7 years, 11 treatment cycles including 2 IVFs, and $70,000,” I would have done it anyway. I would have done it, but I’m sure that I would have distributed the cycles and costs differently throughout those 7 years. Would those changes have altered the eventual outcome? Second-guessing a prophecy didn’t work out well for Oedipus and it might not be good for the rest of us either.
Most of us already have some kind of window into our medical futures via our genetic relatives. We have a sense of which problems are more likely to be in our future and which ones seem to be less of a concern. The uncertainty is simultaneously frightening and inspiring. If suspecting (but not knowing) that you might have cardiac issues causes you to eat better and exercise more, is that so bad? If you knew for sure that you’d have a heart attack at 43, would you bother living differently? If you knew for sure that your heart would be perfect for as long as you lived, would you bother living differently?
Would you want to know? For what? When? Why?
August 9, 2010
Just returned from NYC. I didn’t go to BlogHer, but I attended the ALI post-conference meetup in addition to seeing Dora and Sunshine the day before (and some other non-blog NYC things, too).
Perfect Moment #1: Sitting in Central Park with Dora and Sunshine. Burrito and Tamale both interested in Dora and both curious about Sunshine, but Sunshine and Tamale really hit it off. Hilarious laughing back and forth, cracking each other up, the rest of us not in on the joke but laughing too.
OMFG that baby is cute.
Perfect Moment #2: At the meetup, seeing Burrito and Lori’s daughter Tessa have their own moment. Burrito was quite taken with the pattern on Tessa’s dress and kept touching the fabric. Tessa was quite tickled at being tickled by a grinning baby.
Perfect Moment #4: Three bloggy friends, Mel, Lori, and Dora had met Burrito and Tamale when they were fetuses — actually, Lori met them at both the embryo and then the fetus stage. It was wonderful for Burrito and Tamale to finally be able to meet these wonderful ladies, but even better considering that these women (and so many others) had been around when babies were just some distant, seemingly unattainable goal, when all I had to show for my years of effort were bruises, medical bills, and empty sharps containers.
Special thanks to my husband for sitting patiently in the corner, wrangling babies, while I did my thing.
L’shana habaah b’San Diego?
August 6, 2010
Here is a photo of a cake seen in my many travels. When I travel, I absolutely see all of the sights and museums that each place has to offer, but I also seek out the local yummies. Some people might explore bars or restaurants, but you’ll find me in the bakeries and sweet shops of the world.
This cake is actually not one that I tried, nor would I ever eat it, because I don’t like cheesecake, but oh it is beautiful. A lot of love obviously went into arranging those strawberries. Since I didn’t eat it, I can’t tell you whether “Strawberry Cheesecake” refers only to the fruit on top or to any flavoring within the cake. Perhaps you’d like to go to this fine bakery in this lovely city and taste for yourself.
Let’s play a game. Want to guess where in the world I found it?
August 5, 2010
Our acquaintances the Moneybags family just came to visit. I don’t care what they think, I really don’t, so I was surprised at some of the thoughts I was having.
Before their visit, as I was at the store buying milk: “I wonder what they’d say if they saw that I bought generic milk to save 20 cents?”
Then there’s my car. My tiny little economy car which offers a stark contrast to their luxury SUV which costs 4 times as much. They actually did comment on my car, how small it is to hold a family of four. “Where do you put your stroller?” In the trunk, duh.
I have a beautiful, special house. Everyone says so. Whenever anyone comes over, I try to tidy up (except in the first months after the twins were born, when visitors were lucky to find me wearing anything that wasn’t pajamas). As I went around the house before their visit sprucing up, some of my favorite distinctive articles of furniture and decor seemed small and shabby compared to the opulent objects in the Moneybags’ mansion. Some rooms are hodge-podge based on what came with the house (like curtains) plus our own stuff, but in others, I have made a concerted effort to pull the room together into a cohesive scheme. I quite like it, but it seemed silly in light of the Moneybags’ professional interior designer who orchestrated every single element of their home.
Did I mention that I don’t care what they think?
I don’t go through life feeling inferior to anyone (except for 7 years when it came to childlessness), but something about having super-rich people in my house got to me. It’s probably exacerbated by the fact that money is a big problem for us right now. Mr. Moneybags earns in a day what we earn in a year. He just bought an extra house; we are barely making our mortgage. He buys his kids $1000 toys. I wouldn’t do that even if I could, but it would be nice if buying them a $10 toy weren’t a major decision (or one that usually ends in a No). I’m sure they have their problems, and I would never for a moment change my life for theirs (or my house for theirs, yuck), but their impending arrival made some of the worries that I’ve had lately bubble up to the surface.
When do you find yourself feeling inferior to others? What do you think those feelings say about you?