Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Final Drive


            Chris and I woke early. The plan was to go vote, Chris would drop me back home, and I would start my errands. “I’m going to get Orbit today” I said quietly on our drive back to the house. Chris already knew, but I needed to say it out loud again. I was still wrapping my head around the bizarre trip I was about to make.

            Tufts Veterinary Clinic is in North Grafton, a 45 minute drive down 495 and through a mess of back country roads. Over the course of a day and a half, I had made the drive three times. It had been about two weeks since my last trip. The final leg of the drive is through a beautiful stretch of Route 30, looking out over fields flanked with trees in all the shades of fall. You can always see at least five sets of dogs being walked at any given moment. Under any other circumstances I would have wanted to spend time there.

            On a Friday morning, Orbit just wasn’t being herself. Usually she would be trying to join me in the bathroom, bedroom, or kitchen. She would meow constantly, looking for some extra attention or maybe a little more food on her plate. This morning she was lying on the floor in our office, not really moving around. She was responsive, but she was acting as though her sister had just beaten the crap out of her: lethargic and downtrodden. I went to work, but I couldn’t shake the sense something was wrong. Finally I called my vet and set up an appointment for 4 o’clock. I got home from work and couldn’t find her anywhere. In the basement, I found her curled up in a box with an old rug. Once again she was lethargic and only mildly responsive to my attention.

            Orbit’s usual reaction to the cat carrier is to fight, tooth and nail. She has managed, in the past, to place a paw on every corner of the opening to prevent being shoved in. This time, I simply picked her up and placed her in the carrier. Closing the door, I knew something was seriously wrong. I took her to the vet who planned to keep her for about an hour as they drew labs and did an x-ray.

            They had her 20 minutes when they called. “You need to get her down to Tufts. I’ve already called their emergency department.” As I retrieved her and made my way to Tufts, I couldn’t stop thinking “She’s my healthy one. This isn’t possible.” The vet was suspecting heart

 failure and kidney failure, but no matter what was really happening Orbit needed to get somewhere to help her in a significant way.  Forty-five minutes is a long time to be in a car with a cat. I was used to her caterwauling and trying to tear her way out of the carrier. After numerous moves over the span of her eleven years, the scratching and unnatural sounds she made became a little irritating. This drive, however, she was silent. She tried once during the drive to dig her way out, only scratching a handful of times before curling up again. During the brief flurry of activity, I actually encouraged her to try and fight her way out.  After she stopped, I couldn’t stop crying. We arrived at Tufts and they took Orbit into the back while I checked in. After trying to get them to spell my last name correctly for the fifth time, I finally handed them my driver’s license. They were kind, and asked me to have-a-seat-someone-will-be-out.

            Waiting rooms are their own kind of hell. Some young woman came out and got more details about Orbit, then slipped into the back again. The same woman came out with another doctor, a little older but she obviously knew what was going on. She took me right back into the ICU/Emergency room. Orbit was in a cage with a solid plastic front. She was still lethargic, but breathing a little more slowly. It had never occurred to me that this was how an animal would be put onto supplemental oxygen. They explained that she had gone into kidney and heart failure and they would need to give her diuretics to remove the fluid built up in her lungs, but carefully so the kidneys wouldn’t completely shut down. She would have to stay the night, and likely the whole weekend. I returned to the front to give them a deposit when Chris arrived. We returned to her cage to say goodnight. She raised her head a few times while we petted her, and once we were out of the building I dissolved into tears. I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. The rest of the night, I couldn’t concentrate; I fell into fits of crying.

            The next day, Chris had plans that kept him busy the whole morning and afternoon. I decided I wanted to make sure Orbit was improving. The covering doctor for the weekend was kind, and talked to me about how she was improving, but still not really recovering. I spent about 20 minutes with my entire upper torso in Orbit’s cage. I was petting her, and as I put my hand down, she placed her head on my hand. It’s how she would always fall asleep with me when she crawled under the covers. I knew she was so tired. I wanted her to fight. I warned the doctor that if she started recovering, she would likely get very aggressive. Instead, everyone commented on what a sweet cat she was. 

The sick thing is I knew that meant she wasn’t going to make it.

            That evening Chris and I returned home from going out for dinner. There were two messages on the answering machine. Both were from the vet. I returned the call. Yet another doctor:

“Her heart rate is dropping dramatically, and her breathing is getting faster.”

“Do you think we should come down?”

“I think that might be a good idea.”

            On the drive down, I had made up my mind. We walked in, and were brought back to Orbit’s cage. They had her on a heart monitor and had IV fluids dripping in. She was lying flat, a heating pad underneath and blankets on top of her.

            “We need to stop this. Please.”

            The doctor disconnected the heart monitor and the IV. She picked up Orbit, and I took my cat into my arms. I carried her into a small room. As the vet exited she said “Take as long as you need.” Orbit was lying prone in my lap and lifted her head a handful of times as Chris and I cried and petted her. Mostly I just remember her pressing her face into my stomach. Finally, I asked Chris to get the vet. We said our farewells and it was over. I held her for a little longer, and gave her to the doctor. We decided to have her cremated, which we were told would take a week or so.

            Which lead me to this drive. It was hard to come home with an empty cat carrier. This was worse. A long drive, whose only reward is a cardboard box with two stickers, one stating “Oak Small Classic”, the other “Individual Cremation Prepared for: Owner: Bussiere”. How could my sweet kitten be in this box? How could she be fine one day and fatally ill the next? I took the box, stepped outside and into my car. I wept. And then, I knew it was time to take her home.

            Chris and I have an idea of where we’re going to bury Orbit. There is a sunny hillside she loved to watch from our sun porch. It’s a hillside full of chipmunks, wild turkeys, and, hopefully come spring, either some flowers or a plant. I still miss her every day. I keep expecting her to come around a corner, tail held high and fluffy. Her sister has started talking more. I wonder if she just never had the opportunity to get a word in edgewise.