Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Most Difficult of Preparations

Lesson Number Fifteen: If You Love Someone, Set Them Free part two

Jim and I discussed what we would tell Dylan and Jason. We wanted, as always, to be honest with them but we didn’t want to scare them either. Amazingly, although Jason had been with me for most of the experience, he seemed to not have any idea that anything was amiss. We sat them down in the kitchen and spoke to them slowly and deliberately. Jim did most of the talking, which was a relief to me. He told them that when we took Bijoux to be checked, we were told that she is very sick. He said that although she didn’t seem sick to us right now because she was acting very normally for her, her health was gradually going to get worse and then eventually she was going to die.

Dylan asked how long it would be. Jim told him that we didn’t know, that the kind of illness she had didn’t have any kind of clock on it: it could be two weeks, two months, or even a year. The most important thing for us to remember right now, we explained, is that this was truly a piece of good fortune that we can do our best to make her as comfortable as possible, and to enjoy having her around while we still can.

We asked if they had any questions, and they both said no. They got up from the kitchen stools and went right to Bijoux. They spent a few minutes with her and then went on to something else. Looking back, I believe that telling them the information that we did was the best thing to do. In a way, we gave them a little gift: the ability to try and prepare for the inevitable—as much as children can prepare for something they’ve never experienced.

Life went on as normally as possible for the next couple of weeks. We gated Bijoux in the family room for a couple of days, but as she kept jumping up to the couch and on to the floor, I took the gate down. If she seemed fine jumping the distance from the floor to the couch, then the stairs were probably a piece of cake. I reasoned that I wanted her to be able to do whatever (within reason) she wanted to do at this stage of her life. In fact, I used that reasoning quite often over the next two months. Had it been before that dreaded day of discovery, Jim would have complained that I was giving in to her every whim and I needed not to spoil her so much. Now though, he just silently shook his head, letting me do what I needed to do to make her happy, because he knew that it made me happy. I ran out to Petsmart and purchased a puffy, foam-filled bed for Bijoux, which I placed on the other side of the bed, away from the outside wall.

After a while, the Senior dog food I had been feeding Bijoux was being left untouched. I couldn’t stand the thought of her starving, so I began cooking for her. I made combinations of rice, chicken, and scrambled eggs for her twice daily. Sometimes I tossed some cheddar cheese in the mix. To make things more efficient, I cooked enough rice and chicken at one time to last three or four days, and just warmed it slightly when I fed her. Jim thought I was completely nuts, but again didn’t say a word.

At first, Bijoux became very excited about her new diet. I tried to stir some of the canned dog food in with my concoctions, but she picked around it. Eventually I didn’t even attempt it.

As time went on, Bijoux had less and less of an appetite. I begged her to eat. I occasionally tried to feed her out of my hand, but she didn’t want to eat. Eventually she would only eat a little bit of what I made for her every other day, but I still continued to cook. She was losing weight, and I knew it wouldn’t be long.

One day, I “borrowed” Minnie. I thought that a visit might be good for Bijoux’s spirits. I was happy when Bijoux perked up at the sight of her friend. They didn’t play together like they used to, but it was clear to me that Bijoux had a good day. Minnie alternated between playing with us and taking breaks near Bijoux.

Almost two months after her diagnosis, we noticed that Bijoux seemed to be breathing differently. It wasn’t a completely conspicuous change, but every now and then the speed of her breathing would accelerate. Jim and I had several discussions about our plan, constantly reassessing how long we should wait before taking her in. What we wanted most was for her to leave this world without having been in pain: a tough thing for two reasonable and intelligent humans to judge.

I called the Naperville Animal Hospital to get some advice. I spoke with Dr. Staudacher, who was very thoughtful and caring in conversation. He told me that he had seen many pet owners drag things out for their own good, not putting much real consideration into the well-being of their beloved pet. He told me to watch for signs that Bijoux’s quality of life was decreased: little appetite and little physical activity were some of the first signs of things to come. As he spoke with empathy, he told me what we already knew: that it was our decision to make.

I asked him what happened once we made the decision. He told me that we would bring her to the vet and fill out some forms. There were a couple of options: we could have her cremated alone so that we could put her remains in a container, we could bring her body home with us for our own burial, or we could have her cremated in a group of other animals. Dr. Staudacher said that we would pay for the procedure, whichever one we chose, before we went into the exam room so that we could just leave afterwards. She would be given an injection that was really a strong sedative. The strength of the injection (and some animals, he said, needed more than one) quickly shuts down the organs. He told me that it happens in a matter of seconds and that she wouldn’t feel anything.

Dr. Staudacher also told me that I shouldn’t be surprised if Bijoux suddenly perked up for the trip to the vet. He said that was completely normal. I dreaded it.

I expressed concern that we would get there after this long and emotional road, and one of the doctors would say, “She’s not ready yet.” He emphatically denied that this would happen, saying that our decision would be honored, no matter what. I felt so much better, and so much more at peace with everything after I hung up the phone. I shared the information with Jim, and I think he felt a little better, too.

Click here for part 3!