The vet’s face fell when Nelson came out of his carrier. He looked at him on the table with sad eyes, and said to me that it would be inhumane to treat him at this stage. That to hold on to any hope of saving him was cruel. That I was only holding on to the memories of the good times and that the time was now to end his suffering.
It was a knife plunged deep into my heart.
Anger, sadness, doubt – I felt them all, and all at once. How could he imply that I was being selfish with my boy!? After so much sacrifice we had both made? I had given him the very best in life. I had loved him dearly for 6 years. When he became seriously ill last year, I pulled out all the stops. I spent months researching options. I made his raw food from scratch. I worked with overseas vets and had them prepare personalised nutritional compounds to ship. I force-fed him nearly a dozen pills a day. I took him to 4 different vets. When his legs stopped working, I brought in acupuncturists, osteopaths and physical therapists. Uninsured, I spent many thousands of pounds on his care. Hell, I had even prayed to God that he’d save him, and I’m an atheist.
I did this… I did that… I, I, I, I…
My eyes welled at the infinitely tiny chance that the vet was right. Yes, I’d sacrificed, but more importantly, whilst never in pain, his quality of life had dwindled past the point of no return. He’d undergone countless tests, scans, and procedures. While there had been glimpses of hope along the way, they had only served to mask an inevitably downward slope of decline that had now reached its nadir.
Clearly seeing my indecision, the vet tried a different approach: I love animals, he said. I have two dogs that I love most in this world, and if they were in this condition – he said – I’d still do what I needed to do.
While always hopeful, I’d been conscious and aware of not holding on past the point. I was so certain though, so devoutly convinced in the hope that he could make it, faithfully comforted that together we would and could do whatever was necessary to survive.
I said I’d consider it for a day and come back with an answer. He replied that while he couldn’t force me to put him down, that if I didn’t deal with this now, he’d call the RSPCA and have him taken into care. I had to decide now; not tomorrow, nor the next day, because in his opinion, Nelson really only had a couple of days left.
In that moment, the tidal wave of truth came crashing down around me, obliterating every defence I’d erected, sinking every life boat I’d managed to grab.
The vet left, giving me a moment to consider things. I picked Nelson up and held him for the longest time, just smelling him as much as I could. As I sobbed into his fur, feeling his paws clutch my shoulder, I somehow persuaded myself that it was time.
When you love a cat as much as I love Nelson, saying yes to euthanasia is tantamount to a cold-blooded betrayal. Of course, one could rationally argue that if I really loved him I’d do what was right, despite the pain I’d feel. But how could I do it? I was his best friend in the entire world, how could I let him down like this? If the tables were turned, would he ever let me go?
The vet came back and looked at us. I nodded at him, almost hypnotised, hardly seeing him through my tears as I looked at him over my lovely boy’s shoulders.
He then told me how it would all happen, left, and came back with the nurse. We then put him on the table. I placed his red woollen-covered hot water bottle beneath him, the thing he loved to sit near most, besides me. I snuggled his body with a blanket so that it supported it from every side and pet the soft fur on his head.
They sedated him so that his muscles would relax. He didn’t flinch at all when the vet put the catheter in his forearm and injected him with the stuff that puts cats to sleep. At that moment, he let out a very small growl – a fighter to the end – closed his eyes and laid his head down. The vet put a stethoscope on his body and told me his heart had stopped beating.
He had said it would be painless and very, very quick, but I wasn’t ready for how quick it actually was. Nelson’s body flickered as if breathing, but that was the oxygen leaving his system. The vet and the nurse dimmed the lights and left us alone.
I don’t know how long I sat there, my hands firmly placed on his still warm body as I sobbed inconsolably. I can’t remember what I said to him or how many times I said it.
I do remember the smell of his fur as I buried my nose into his body for as long as I could, hoping to never forget the scent of him that I loved so much. It took all the strength I had left to leave him in that room, knowing I’d never smell or cuddle or touch him again.
I covered him with the blanket, kissed his forehead as I had done a million times before, and put the hot water bottle into the carrier. It sloshed back and forth, giving a strange weight shifting sensation, as if he was still in it.
The nurse said she was sorry – and that was kind – as I paid my bill and we made arrangements for his cremation. Then I walked out.
Harvey helped me build this memorial to Nelson on our island a couple of weeks after he died. It’s just footsteps from my house and I can see it from the pond I like to soak in from time to time. Harvey greatly helped me process things before and after Nelson passed. We talked for many hours about my feelings and it really helped me manage. He was always interested in Nelson, frequently asking me about him; sad at his many downs and joyful in his all too few recoveries. I’m grateful for that.
A lesson in hope? I’m not sure. It was through abandoning hope that enabled me to do this thing, one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to take. Was it the right thing to do? Yes, it was, but that didn’t make it any less painful to do, or sad to endure.
In the first weeks after I said goodbye, I kept looking to where he usually sat, expecting to see him there. Last night, five weeks later, I dreamt the most recent of many dreams of I’ve had with him – some are happy, some not so much. I still hear his footsteps from time to time; still miss his warmth in my bed when I awake, and still am reminded of his presence every single day.
I’ve avoided writing this post for five weeks, and am only now able to fully cope with doing so. Winter Jefferson’s hope meme for Strawberry Singh, and the sharing of honestly painful stories it’s spawned, was just the catalyst I needed to also lay my pain bare here and now – in hope that it might help. I don’t really know if I got the meme right, if I’m meant to end on some hopeful note that might make it all feel better. All I know is that no matter how painful, we all have to leave the darkness some time.
Do I hope to love another cat as much as I loved my Nelson? Of course I do, do I expect it, right now? No I don’t. Might that change one day? I can only hope.