I was diagnosed with clinical depression about six years ago. I “have” what would be considered the most common form of clinical depression called Dysthymia. Dysthymia, by definition is a “low-grade” depression that is always there, but not debilitating. Occasionally, people with Dysthymia experience periods of major or more severe depression. About a year and a half ago, this happened to me.
I was never suicidal, but that statement shouldn’t be misinterpreted to suggest that my depression at that time wasn’t severe. It was a matter of nerve and a modicum of rational thinking. I am afraid of pain. I’m a painaphobe. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to die, because I really did. But I wasn’t going to kill myself because I was afraid that it would hurt. I was afraid I’d screw it up and I wouldn’t actually die, I’d just suffer a lot of pain. Oh yeah, and I was afraid I’d go to hell and well, that would be bad. No, I hoped I’d be in an instantly fatal car crash or that I’d be murdered in some way that would kill me instantly and painlessly or that I’d fall asleep and somehow accidentally bury my face in my pillow and suffocate, instantly and painlessly. I can’t emphasize enough, how important the instant and painless part was.
But even as I was feeling this way, truly wishing to not have to suffer through this torture I called a life, there was always a reason why that couldn’t be allowed to happen. There was always something that despite my incredible despair and anguish, always kept me coming back around and remembering that I had to be here. I would sit in my chair, feet up, television on, me staring blankly at the screen and feeling like I would bawl if only that first tear would come, heaving heavy, heavy sighs and wishing that I’d just… cease. And then I’d hear it. The little pitter patter. The clickity clack of little toe nails on the hard wood floor. And I’d hear the quite sound of his voice as he would jump up to my lap and walk right up to my face with a look on his face that told me he knew I was hurting and he would help me if he could but I couldn‘t die because he needed me. Who would take care of him? Who would feed him? Who would provide him with a lap to lie in if I was to die? And then he’d lie down on my lap. He’d lie down on my lap and sleep and just be. His name is Mischa and, say what you will, but it was he who pulled me through. It was he who made me remember that life is about more than just me. Life is a sum of many parts. I won’t pretend that I have it all figured out and then try to educate you. I’m simply going to say that life is as much about the people in your life (yes, people, even the furry four-legged variety), as it is about ourselves and our own selfish worries and complaints.
Mischa has been with me since the summer before my senior year in high school. He’s a brat and he’s bad and he’s ornery and he’s precious and loving and full of personality and he’s mine. He’s a fixture in my life and I can’t imagine my world without him in it. And that’s why the last two weeks or so have been really difficult.
It actually started about six months ago when he stopped eating, and started vomiting frequently. He wasn’t drinking very much water, and he stopped moving his bowels. After four or five days of this and the vomit becoming nothing more than clear liquid, it was apparent that he wasn’t going to improve on his own and I took him to the vet. One I’d never been to before but was recommended to me. One who turned out to be very cute (and unfortunately, very married, if the ring on his finger is to be trusted).
Without going into too much detail (too late?) Dr. Cute Vet found that Mischa was dehydrated but otherwise showed no outward, obvious signs of illness. They gave him a sub-cutaneous saline bubble which he absorbed almost right away and which perked him up instantly. Blood and Urine tests revealed no abnormalities but after a couple days on a diet of baby food he resumed eating normal cat food (wet now and not the dry he’d had his whole life) and everything seemed back to normal…
Last week I noticed that he wasn’t eating as much of his food as he had previously done and after a few days of half-hearted scolding and throwing away most of the food I’d provided I made another appointment. Monday morning Mischa and I went to see Dr. Cute Vet and it was déjà vu all over again! Ran the same tests. Gave him the same sub-cutaneous bubble. This time, though, they also gave me three cans of a “prescription” cat food. Mischa hasn’t caught on to this or he might refuse to touch the stuff but the food they gave me is feline and canine food. It’s a formula that they typically use when they have to force feed an animal, so it’s very thin but a “whole food” for his nutritional needs.
We came home and I opened up a can of that food, put some in his bowl and without hesitation he went to town. He ate an entire can of this food on Monday so Tuesday morning I gave him a can of his old food in the hopes that he’d gotten over his issue. I came home from work Tuesday and he hadn’t touched it, so I gave him the new food and he chowed down. Tuesday evening Dr. Cute Vet called me to give me the results of his lab tests which were that everything was normal. The next step was to do x-rays which I scheduled for this afternoon. I wish I hadn’t.
When I walked into the building there were three women in the waiting area speaking in Spanish with one of the nurses/office staff. After a minute or two, someone came out of the back with a small-ish breed dog, wrapped in a towel and looking forlorn. He held the dog out to the oldest of the three ladies and then I heard the nurse say, “She changed her mind. She’s going to have him put down.” The dog had been attacked by a larger dog and had a severe wound in its neck. This was explained to me by the other nurse/office staff person who took Mischa and me into Exam room 1. I was grateful for this because I didn’t think I could handle being in the waiting room when the gentleman brought the euthanized dog back to the ladies. The animal’s wound was treatable but costly, and the decision was made to euthanize him instead. This made me angry and it makes me angry all over again now.
Standing in the waiting room, waiting for the nurse to conclude the business with these ladies and get to me, holding the cat carrier bag in my hand and hearing the nurse say, “They’ve decided to have him put down” was like a stab in the heart for me. You see, the day is coming when I’ll have to make that decision for Mischa. To quote Captain Piccard, “There are fewer days ahead than there are behind.”
It won’t be the first time I’ve had a pet that’s reached the end of its happy, healthy days and must, for the sake of humanity, be allowed to slip away from its painful existence. Over my 33 years of life, there have been seven or eight. But when that time comes for Mischa, and it is coming, it will be the first time that I will have to be the one to make that decision. It will be the first time that I will have to carry my beloved companion into the office, hear the tragic conclusion of the doctor’s evaluation and concede that I must, indeed, allow him to be freed from his pain. It will be the first time that an animal that has placed his trust and love and life in my hands will then lie in my arms and look into my eyes as it breathes its last breath.
I am not prepared. My heart is breaking a little right now as I write this and I’m a little surprised to find tears flowing at this very moment. With these last two experiences of his health being less than ideal and having to plod through the experience of waiting, of not knowing, of worrying, I’ve had lots of time to think about the what-ifs. I’ve had time to consider that I might have to make this decision today. This might be the day I leave the house with him and come home without him. I can’t say that I thought I was ready, because I know I’m not. I can’t say I know exactly what I’m going to do.
The good news is that Mischa has continued to eat well on the food they gave me. His coat actually looks better and healthier than it has in the last six months which suggests that the food I’ve been feeding him (highly respected brand though it is) has not been doing it for him. He has become energetic again even spending a little time playing with his toys. In visiting with Dr. Cute Vet before the planned x-rays I was conveying the changes in Mischa’s behavior since Monday and said, “Actually, he seems like he’s doing really well. He’s eating much better. He’s gotten more energetic and he’s even playing with his balls again.”
There are four small-ish, faux fur covered balls with bells inside floating around my house and occasionally Mischa takes to chasing one. Even before the sentence was out of my mouth I realized what I was saying and I’m sure my entire shaved head was bright red as I said, “Well that didn’t sound good at all.” To his credit, Dr. Cute Vet was completely nonplussed by my blunder. It was actually a nice moment of levity following the experience I’d had in the waiting room.
After re-examining Mischa and hearing of his improvements, Dr. Cute Vet suggested that maybe we should hold off on the x-rays and wait to see how he does. If he takes a turn for the worse we’ll go back, otherwise, we won’t bother. And if, God forbid there should be a next time, we will do the x-rays then.
According to the chart on the wall at Cute Vet’s office, Mischa who has lived for 17 calendar years is the equivalent of an 82 year old human, and honestly for 82, he’s looking pretty good. But at 82 years old, things can change in the blink of an eye. The day is coming. I just hope I’m ready.