I pulled up to the unfamiliar building and blew out a sigh. Although I understood the route that led us here, it was hard to fathom that I was about to take our ten year old cat to the pet neurologist.
The lobby looked like any medical building and I was given forms to fill out with a wave from the receptionist who said, “Sit anywhere you like.” I could only see a small bank of chairs to my left and headed there, vaguely wondering if she meant that we could sit on the floor like some of the other patients here. I took a seat next to a one eyed chocolate brown Cocker Spaniel type dog who leaned toward me and wagged her tail. I instinctively reached out and gave her a scratch under the chin and behind the ears, realizing belatedly that I had not asked permission from the man in the three piece suit who accompanied her.
Daphne’s name was called moments after turning in the paperwork, and we were led into a large exam room. The tech exclaimed what a big girl Daphne is, and when we weighed her, I realized that it was the lightest she has been since she was a kitten, and a heaviness settled over me. Despite the appetite stimulant our vet had wisely prescribed she had not picked up any poundage.
As I heard myself describing the changes in behavior that we had noticed I thought again about how disinhibited she seems. Where she had formerly deferred to her older and considerably larger 23 pound feline brother, she now would settle unselfconsciously into a chair or lap that had heretofore been off limits. Her playfulness with the dog had stepped up a notch and I had heard the first real altercation between them in the 10 years they have lived together. She had also become wobbly, with tremors, and was sometimes unfocussed, stopping mid stride in the middle of the floor. The day before this appointment she had gone into the litter box for what seemed like a very long time. I wondered briefly if I should toss in a magazine when she reappeared, hung out at the top of the stairs for a few minutes and then reentered the litter box.
The vet was calmly outlining our options. He was concerned about a frontal lobe event, but the only way to be really sure was to do an MRI. He went on to describe successful results and years of life following a surgery to resect a tumor that is in an operable place. The cost? Between $2500 and $3000 for the MRI and medications. Surgery would be additional.
It was my voice which was wobbly as I asked for some time to think about it all. “Of course. We’ll be back in ten or fifteen minutes.” The vet and the tech left us alone. It did not feel right to move ahead with all this. I picked up my phone and was relieved when my husband answered right away. I described the situation and without any prompting he verbalized my thoughts. “I don’t think this is the way to go.” Breathing a sigh of relief that we were on the same page I waited for the vet to return. Looking around the room I read his diplomas and achievements and absently looked at pictures and thank you notes. The “pet of the month” this month happened to be a ten year old cat who was thriving after its neurosurgery. It brought to mind again how personal and individual these choices are. I’m happy that cat and the family it lives with are able to enjoy more time together, and can afford to do so.
We would go home with steroids to reduce the likely inflammation and which would also hopefully stimulate her appetite. We know that we are treating symptoms, and not the underlying cause, and when our own vet called to see how she was doing a few days later, she reassured us that Daphne was probably not in pain. The steroids seem to reduce the amount of wobbliness and increase her interest in food initially, but now only a week later she is again eating less and shaking more. She seems to appreciate being held more at night which provides us with an opportunity to snuggle her and nuzzle her fur while being careful not to let anything swing lest she take an unexpectedly accurate swipe at it.
I think about what her life means to us. Because until recently she had been very shy, most of our friends and family don’t know her well. She reserves her love and attention for us, her family, insistent in her demands to be scratched on her head and behind the ears, purring almost silently for long after the hand has left her. We feel her presence daily in her greeting when we arrive home as she descends from places unknown upstairs.
I can feel her efforts at concentrating, appreciating that her daily cat job has become more arduous. We know that it is likely that she will experience seizures as her condition advances. I’m hoping that we can be clear about when she has crossed that gray line that tells us her good moments have been overtaken by the underlying disease. We owe her the gift of compassion and the opportunity to leave us quietly, with the same grace that she shows us now.