I am hoping that writing about this will be cathartic. Healing. If I try to talk, I choke up and cry, so writing it is. I can write and cry at the same time. Don’t read this if you don’t want to; I’m writing this for me. It will be raw.
Our Luigi died on the first of November last year. A quarter of a year ago. He was with us through two moves, since 2004, when we brought him home skinny and attention-deprived, so desperate for LOVE that he nipped Andie’s ankle in the shelter when she stopped petting him.
He was a genuinely nice cat who loved people. He would cuddle up to anyone who visited, laying next to them and rolling into a ball with soft, fluffy tummy available to rub. At night, he would wait until I was done brushing my teeth, then we would proceed to the bedroom petting him the whole way; then he would tuck up next to my ribs and I could always sleep easy with his gigantic purr rattling my bones.
It’s a small betrayal to our other kitties to say I loved him best, but our Luigi-buns was special. We were hoping he would live to be one of those kitties you hear about every so often, still tottering around at 20 or 30 like an old lady with permed hair and a walker. When he started losing weight last summer we were concerned, but he was still bouncy and playful, still the Buns we were used to. The vet said it was nothing to worry about. He changed color, his black tiger stripes fading to a still distinctive chocolate brown. This can be a sign of age, or of time spent in the sun — or of illness. But the vet said it was OK.
I’m still trying to know in my bones that there was no way the situation would ever have turned out OK. Our Luigi had tumors that we didn’t know about until the very last day. It would never have been OK. There was no good answer.
In September we took him in for a blood test. We thought something wasn’t right; he’d become more withdrawn, less playful, stopped sleeping with us at night, didn’t have as much appetite. The vet called us with the results, said his kidney values were off and we should come pick up special food to start him on. We did our research, cried a lot, but were heartened that some cats with kidney problems live for years on special diets. We wanted Luigi to be one of them.
Suddenly hours of my day were devoted to feeding Luigi. Kidney diet food is notoriously unpalatable and he wasn’t thrilled to have to eat it. He’d eat the dry kibbles, fall asleep in the kibble bowl, wake up and eat a few more. He liked his food neatly in the middle of a small clean plate, just a spoonful, and when he was nearly done I could slip another spoonful in under his nose. I’d class it up with a drip of delicious-smelling tuna juice to make it go down easier. It was a drain, I won’t lie; I was snappish and sad, impatient with Andie and even more impatient with Merlin, who would howl outside the kitchen door the entire time.
We were supposed to take him for another blood test at the beginning of November. He had good days and bad days – he’d have no appetite one day and eat a lot the next. He slept a lot. I knew that he’d need an infusion at some point, to flush out his system, but I didn’t really know what to look for. He didn’t eat for two days in a row, and I was worried, and called the vet. Was he lethargic, she asked – I said it was hard to tell but it didn’t seem different from usual. She said to come pick up some stomach-settling pills.
That night when we were getting ready for bed he had a fit. He howled, as if it hurt him so badly, and then collapsed on the floor and panted for breath. We called our vet’s helpline, then took him to the emergency clinic, where they ran a blood test, started him on IV fluids, and wrapped him in heating pads as his temp was low. We petted him and he purred.
He was anemic, they said. Badly so. Not kidney problems. We should do an ultrasound because something bigger was going on. And there were the tumors. Dark masses under his shaved belly as he laid there, lethargic. It was 3 AM. We cried, asked the emergency vet what to do, what the chances were, when we had to decide. The vet said to wait until the next day, see how the infusions went, think about things in the light of day. We petted our boy, saw him transferred upstairs, drove home. At 6 AM the phone call came. He’d taken the choice away from us. He’d died in his sleep.
I know it’s normal to have what-ifs. I know it can’t be helped, that blaming myself is silly, especially since he’s dead and it can’t matter to him anymore. But when did logic ever rule emotion?
I hope that my boy wasn’t cold the last few days of his life. I hope the vet tech was gentle and kind with him. I wish we’d known about the tumors and could have fed him chicken and pork and steak and shrimp instead of kidney diet food. I wish our vet had cared more – we noticed later, on the blood results that we had to ask to have printed out, that they hadn’t even done a full blood scan because some of the blood had coagulated. We didn’t even know. It might have shown the anemia. I wish I’d been more aggressive in describing his symptoms over the phone, taken him in, demanded better answers.
I wish Luigi was still here.
We buried him under a fruit tree in view of the river. We donated the leftover kidney food to a shelter. We switched vets, and took our Jenny in for “acting weird”. The first diagnosis (flea allergy) was reasonable but after a couple days we were sure it was something else. We took her back in and asked for a blood test. The new vet listened. When her blood results came in, the new vet asked us to come in without the cat so that he could explain to us in detail what every line of the results meant. He was honest about the prognosis (impossible to tell). Jen’s now on a low dose of steroids and doing fine. I’m not sure that would have been the case, were we still using the previous vet.
Only time will make this easier, and I sure wish time would hurry up.