“We don’t have the privilege of leaving life this way, that’s the first thing I want to tell you.”
The vet, Dr. Petrovich (strangely, all my doctors, even my cat’s vet, are from eastern Europe), took my sick cat, Sam, out of his carrier. An hour earlier, I had sedated Sam in preparation for this, his death by euthanasia. If I hadn’t, he would have fought back, even in his weakened state, only to die in terror and rage. He had come to hate Dr. Petrovich, and Dr. Petrovich, a sweet man who commuted every day from Tarrytown, always looked a little hurt by Sam’s loathing. He was now going to give Sam an injection to put him to sleep and then the drug that would stop his heart.
“We go out in pain and suffering,” Dr. Petrovich said. “This way,” pointing to Sam curled on a towel, “it’s painless. And it’s quick.”
Dr. Petrovich had just shown me the lab report, as though to convince me that he had told the truth when he called earlier that day with the results.
“How’s your boy feeling?” he had asked.
“Still not eating, Doctor. He’s wasting away. He’s skin and bones.”
“I’m not surprised he’s not doing well. I have the test results here. He has intestinal cancer. Lymphoma.” This was what my dad had died of, too, nearly ten years before.
“OK,” I said. I could feel that thing in the throat warning me that if I said another word, it would come out a sob.
“I’m very sorry. I can refer you to an oncologist, but he’s deteriorated so much, I don’t know if you want to put him through that. I wouldn’t, but it’s your decision.”
Sam was almost fourteen. He had slept in my bed for all those years. Embarrassingly, it was the longest and most stable relationship I had ever had. A girlfriend once complained on her blog that I loved my cat too much.
A week before this unthinkable moment, I had brought Sam in for exploratory surgery. We were desperate to find answers. Sam had lost a lot of weight since the problems had begun. I had left him there that morning, growling and hissing at Dr. Petrovich.
After a day that wouldn’t end, Dr. Petrovich finally gave me an update.
“I found no masses. Nothing really struck me. A little kidney shrinkage, but at his age… I’ve taken biopsies from the liver, the pancreas, the intestine. We’ll see what the results say. The biggest problem I’m worried about is that Sam hasn’t come out of the anesthesia. He fought me. I gave him enough intramuscular injections to bring down a horse, but he still fought. Don’t get me wrong, I admire him for it. In his state, that he could still put up such a fight.… Then I gave him something else — a lot of it, and he finally dropped off. But he’s having trouble waking up.”
“And he should be coming out of it now?”
“He should be out of it by now, so I’m worried.”
But Sam did come out of it and I took him home. For a week while we waited for the results, he struggled back but had stopped eating anything at all. He barely moved from his new spot under the coffee table, except to heroically drag himself to the litter box.
So when Dr. Petrovich called me with the results and told me my options, I acquiesced.
“So you want to do it now?” Dr. Petrovich asked. “You can bring him in.”
“The thing is, I don’t want to bring him in for that. You know how he hates it there. I don’t want him going out scared and fighting. Can’t I do it at home? Can’t you give me the injections for him?”
“For you to do it? No. I can’t. You have to find the vein. No. But come over now and I’ll give you a sedative for him and then you bring him in an hour later. It will be peaceful. I promise you.”
I got the sedative and gave it to Sam. We lay on the couch together. He purred. His muscles relaxed. I put him in his carrier.
“This is not the cat I knew,” said Dr. Petrovich. “He’s a bag of bones.”
Dr. Petrovich gave Sam the injection to knock him out. I rubbed Sam’s neck; he purred lightly.
“OK, sweetheart,” said Dr. Petrovich. He ran a needle into Sam’s leg.
“Tell me when to do it.”
I nodded. A moment passed.
“That’s it. His heart’s stopped.”