In the background of last week’s events–failed tattoos, house-hunting, manuscript finishing–there was what we hoped was a minor emergency going on with my furry assistant, Zeus. He’s nine years old now, and, until recently, the picture of contentment and comfort. We’ve given him a beautiful life. When he’s happy, which is often, he tends to dribble saliva: this is normal for him. What isn’t normal was when this quirk became a condition, and suddenly, last Saturday, he began to heavily drool: developing thick strings of mucus that clung to his chin and crest. We rushed him to veterinary emergency. (Warning, and learn from our example: get pet insurance–we did not and constantly regret it.)
They did X-rays on him, checked his teeth, which were pretty good for an adult/ mature cat, then noticed a bunch of stool in his colon and suggested he was constipated. We were told to change his diet to wet food and given a stool softener, then instructed to bring him in tomorrow for another X-ray. We brought him into our usual clinic instead, since they were open Sunday morning, and our vet did a re-examination and decided that he was probably still suffering from stomach upset. Now the greatest problem with veterinary medicine is that your patients cannot communicate their pain, sources of pain, or symptoms to you, so much of their diagnosis is done by process of elimination. Days later (Friday) and Zeus’s drooling had not improved. We took him into the vet again, for another examination and full X-ray panel (we’re over $2000 now; AGAIN, GET PET INSURANCE). This time, seeing that his colon was empty, they did a really thorough examination of his mouth.
I got the call no one wants to get. Three vets had discussed his case and concurred that there was indeed an abnormality on the right side of his tongue. “Is it cancer?” I ask. Of course I’m given the standard diagnoses and list of other, improbable could be conditions, and we’re still hopeful that when he get’s his biopsy and results next week that I am indeed proven wrong and that some mercy is given to this utterly sweet, innocent animal who has never done anyone or anything wrong–not even scratched anyone. However, mercy is capricious and rarely guaranteed. We’re bracing ourselves for the worst. We’ve already had the unpleasant discussion on how much we’re willing to invest in Zeus’s health. It’s appalling that we have to commoditize a living creature and determine a price on his life, and yet here we are. We also have to come to terms with how Zeus’s quality of life outweighs our need to hold him here for our satisfaction.
We decided that if it comes to his sore being a malignant tumour and not something benign (could still be an infection or a canker–and we’re praying that the antibiotics I requested clear up that weird sore in his mouth before the biopsy appointment), then we’ll give him one good shot at surgical removal and treatment. Anything more, and we would be forcing a spry, loving creature into a life of chemotherapy, possible tongue removal and egregious pain. With mom, I’ve watched how agonizing that type of existence can be for humans. Imagine how terrible it is for creatures who can’t rationalize what’s happening to them.
My partner, who’s a farm-boy at hand and who’s never seen animals as more than servants to man, was finally hit with the realization that he loved this furry little soul as much as I do. “I’ve never loved an animal before,” he sobbed, then we sobbed. Some people still think it’s ridiculous to cry over a cat or dog. Those people haven’t experienced the magic of an animal connection. Both primal and beautiful, it’s a unity of spirits beyond language and species. As cat and man we should not be and yet we are a family. Zeus has sat on my armchair as a source of inspiration and love through the creation of all four (five, really) manuscripts: he’s a part of my creative process, a part of the work you’ve read. Once you’ve experienced that connection between human and beast–which is surely divine–it’s hard to let go. But I will, if I must. I’m sad, and broken, though it’s not the first time I’ve fought with a loved one against this Monster, Cancer. And so, into battle we march.
All my love,
P.S. This week’s piece is Branwen, the Witch of Winter, and it’s fitting for the duality of life–pain/ pleasure, beauty/ ugliness–that we all know. Look for her in Feast of Mercy, Part I.