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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Farewell to My Best Friend

I had planned today to give my thoughts on the Lieberman-Lamont race that’s been the top news in my home state of CT, but life, or more accurately, the end of one, interfered.

If the blogging is light today, it’s because it’s hard to type with tears rolling down your face. In the wee hours of this morning, I had to say good-bye to my best friend. I guess most people’s best friends are of the human variety – this one was a cat. An amazing, wonderful cat. And undeniably a best friend.

When you bring your new kitten home, I have a word of advice. Choose his or her name carefully. And if you choose to give your new addition the moniker of the Norse god of mischief, well, just be ready for the consequences.

We brought Loki and his two littermates home when they were barely eight weeks old. Immediately, Loki made it obvious that he intended to earn his name. He was into everything. He looked more or less like a grey-and-brown, fuzzy tennis ball with a head and tail. He had this little round belly, and he was into everything. The reason for the round belly became quickly obvious – this cat loved to eat like none I’ve ever seen. Great moments in Loki’s food filching career include the time that I left the taco bell bag on the dining room table, and went to get a couple of paper plates. When I came back, my little walking stomach was waddling away from the dining table, dragging a burrito almost longer than he was between his paws. Loki wanted to eat anything I was eating. French fries, corn, olives (he loved black olives), and most recently potato salad – all were fair game to Loki. And if you left an unattended plate of food anywhere, he’d be there, stretching a fuzzy paw onto the plate to try to grab some. If you caught him, he’d look at you with this wide-eyed “What?” expression.

Every night that I’ve been home for almost twelve years now, Loki has slept curled up with me, his front paws wrapped around my arm in his own particular hug. Often, he’d sleep with his head on my pillow. When I picked him up – and he loved to be picked up, he’d rub his cheek on mine. And he had this unique meow that he used only when he wanted me – weirdly, it sounded like “Mom.”

At two, Loki developed an ulcer in his eye. In very rare cases, the medication used to treat that leads to diabetes. My cat was one of those cases. So Loki has been on insulin since that point. He won two ribbons in a charity cat show the year he was diagnosed – one in the “brown tabby” class, and one in the “disabled cat” class – they used my Loki as a chance to talk about diabetes in cats, signs, symptoms, and management. Management was easy with Loki – at shot time, he’d come and find me, flop over on his side, and wait. In recent years, after we almost lost him to a diabetic seizure, I think most of his eagerness came from the can of moist cat food that always accompanied shot time. The second that shot was done, he’d run for his dish and wait. When we got back from grocery shopping, and put bags on the table, Loki was there, rooting through them to find anything good. He'd taken chunks out of more than a few loaves of bread. ‘Will work for food’ could have been his motto.

He had another seizure a month ago. We’d always considered every day with him “bonus time” after the first seizure – my husband found him when he got home from work with that one – barely breathing, and almost room temperature to the touch. My husband performed feline CPR when he stopped breathing, raced him to the vets, and insisted they treat him when they thought he was already gone. He wasn’t – I brought him home the next morning – same old Loki.

Bonus time was not without minor issues – Loki’s eyesight wasn’t what it once was, and he’s always been a hairball factory – long hair and Loki’s apparent aversion for regular self-grooming meant a constant battle of the brush. He hated the brush. He’d grudgingly endure until he’d had enough, and then he’d whack me on the hand. Done. And in the summer, he usually got a buzzcut to avoid mats. Self-cleaning was not high on the list of Loki’s priorities. And there was the abscess of one of his fangs, the removal of which meant that he was a little drooly lately.

Whenever I was around, the only place Loki wanted to be was where I was. Lying on the couch, I was almost never without my fuzzy friend, stretched out on my chest, his head on my shoulder. When I was sick, or sad, or angry, Loki was my ever-present nursemaid or mental health worker. People think cats are aloof - not this one. Loki loved nothing better than he loved cuddling - with the possible exceptions of pounce treats and black olives.

When I got home last night at around seven, my husband met me in the driveway. “I think something’s wrong with Loki,” he said. We’d recently bought some glucose gel to keep on hand in the event of another seizure – the corn syrup and honey we’d used in the past had proven to be effective, but seriously messy. I thought we were likely to need that. But this wasn’t a glucose issue, and it quickly became apparent that something was very, very wrong. Loki wouldn’t stop meowing, and he was parked in a corner, lying down. He vomited this clear, frothy stuff. When I checked him quickly for any sort of bite from one of our other cats, or obvious problem, I found nothing. I cracked out a can of his food, and tried to get him to eat. He didn’t make his usual mad dash when I picked up the can. When I placed the food in front of him, he sniffed it, looked at me, walked a short distance away, and uncomfortably laid down. Something was very, very wrong.

I called the vet, who agreed to see him, even though they were officially closed for the day. Blood glucose was fine. Eye pressure was fine. Hydration fine. Temperature, fine. We were sent home with the advice to bring him back in the morning if there were no improvements. There weren’t. As the evening went on, he vomited again. Started breathing a little heavy. By 11pm, there was no waiting. He’d been unable to find a comfortable position, although the one that suited him best involved having his head on my leg. He later camped out on my husband's lap. He was quieter then, but still not comfortable. Right around midnight, he vomited again – only this time, it was blood. We called the vet’s answering service, and raced him down to the emergency vet clinic. I told them the same things I’d told my vet. Loki had been missing a few jumps lately; with the weird gait he had now, I thought he might have fallen. He would eat anything – string, plastic, you name it – maybe he swallowed something. I have other cats, maybe there was a bite I missed.

They started treating him – they were going to keep him in the ICU until the morning. IV fluids, test for Ketones, electrolytes - X-rays if none of the other tests showed anything. They’d call me with any “big” issues, and I should plan on picking him up at about 7:30 am. It was 1:00 am or so when we left. I thought his being there would provide some reassurance, but there was one thing that filled me with dread. Before the vet took him, Loki did something he’d never done at the vet's. He curled up on the table, grabbed my arm, put his head on my shoulder, and “hugged” me. I just had this creepy feeling that he was saying goodbye, and I was crying on the drive home.

When we got home, I took his Insulin out of the fridge, and went to the phone to call the vet – I hadn’t been able to remember the name of the new Insulin we had for him when I was there, so I told the doc we’d call with it when we got home. The vet’s number was on the caller ID – and I knew that couldn’t be a good thing.

Within minutes of my call, we were on the way back to the vet’s. X-rays had revealed a large mass, and what looked like a myriad of small masses, in his lungs. Reviewing the X-rays, and talking with the vet, it was clear that there was only one thing I could do for him. Surgery wasn’t an option. Try and treat it with medication, and we’d cause complications with the diabetes. And very likely, no treatment was going to work anyway. He'd been fine at 6:30 pm, and now only seven hours later....

We walked back into the ICU, and there was Loki. He was obviously glad to see us again, but when I looked at him, there wasn’t any doubt what had to be done. His eyes were dull, and he lacked his usual enthusiasm for all things chin-scratchy. He looked tired, and pained, and generally un-Loki.

I told the vet I wanted to be there when my cat left us. I didn’t want him to be alone, in an ICU, with strangers. She put us in a room, and my husband and I were left alone with him for a time to try and say goodbye. Loki seemed to revive a little – he curled up in my arms on the table, and gave me one of the “kisses” that were so uniquely him. He paid attention to my husband, too. When she came in, the vet explained how things were going to go, and said we could pet him, we could hold him – she just needed to be able to access his catheter. I tried to figure out how best to do this, and then Loki made the decision himself. As she picked up the needles, he curled up, “hugged” my arm, and laid his head down.

A moment later, my best friend was gone. I know I made the only choice I could have for him, but I can’t seem to stop crying. I came home, and immediately, there was no Loki to greet me at the door, as he had every time I came home. There was no Loki stretched out sideways, taking up an impossibly huge portion of a King-sized bed, as I laid down. There was no Loki hugging my arm when I tried to get some sleep. And there is no Loki now, trying to get my attention by lying across the laptop keyboard. And I miss him more than I can possibly explain.

Some people may not understand how much one cat could mean. All I can say is I’ve lost my best friend. This little fuzzy wonder brought more joy than I could ever put into words, and in the end, the only thing I could give in return was letting go.

Somewhere, he’s running around in a room filled with catnip and pounce treats, with some sort of automatic canned food dispenser at the ready, and a big pillow in a sunny corner just perfect for sleeping on.

And I’m left trying to fill the hole in my heart.