Celeste, the cat, stopped eating and drinking three weeks ago. She's 16 years old, which translates to age 80 in people years.
When I took her to the vet on Feb. 27, the day before going out of town for a week, Dr. Kenneth Jones ordered a bunch of meds and said she would need 4 oz. of water squirted down her throat at least twice a day, as well as pureed cat food served up in the same manner.
"Fine," I said. I drove away and handed the cat off to Margaret at the Holiday Hotel for Cats.
I even endured the hour of conversation generally required when depositing a cat there, because I knew I was giving them a sick cat that would require extra care. Actually, I felt I was doing Margaret a favor; she loves a crisis with a cat that requires TLC.
She heroically did it all, even taking the cat to the vet during the week and starting hydration.
When I picked up Celeste a week later, however, I had to step in as intensive care nurse.
Margaret gave me detailed instructions on feeding by squirting pureed food down the throat, and I got more instructions and meds in a trip to the vet.
A week later, when I took the cat in again, determined to have her put to sleep, Dr. Jones' partner, Dr. Dell, talked me into giving her another week to start eating. "Her liver and kidneys and heart are fine," she said. "It would be a pity to put her to sleep when we might be able to turn her around."
And then on Monday of this week, March 17, when I was again determined to end this time-consuming charade of cat care, I discovered that Celeste had eaten some of her kibble on her own and drank half a small bowl of water. Oh well. The verdict was to give her another week and to continue the regimen.
So today at 7 am, before going to pick up Mom for her trip to Settimio's Salon, before putting her either in the hospital or on hospice, I had to work on the cat for half an hour.
Here's what I had to administer:
1. Antibiotic eye drops – one each eye
2. Cyproheptadine ¼ tablet for appetite
3. Lysine nutritional supplement—5 ml in dropper
4. Liquitinic vitamins 1 ml
5. Cefadrops—5 ml in dropper, refrig
6. Interferon—by dropper—in refrig.
7. Methimazole ear gel (for hyper thyroid)
8. Wet cat food mixed with water pureed and squirted down throat
9. 50 ml nutriwater (subcutaneous hydration--by syringe under skin)
10. Injection of Ipogen every other day: Mon Wed Fri Sun Tues
After doing all this to the cat, I had real scruples about just putting Mom on hospice at the first sign of not eating and drinking. Hospice generally means no IVs, no hydration except drinking by mouth.
Why does the cat get three weeks of hydration and squirt-down-the-throat feeding, along with a weekly CBC, but old folks just get put on hospice and allowed to die?
It didn't seem fair.
On the other hand, the cat doesn't have the option of hospice. It's one injection, euthanasia.
Old folks don't get the injection. They have to slowly die by organ failure, usually the kidney and the poison of their own wastes not cleaned from the blood.
With all these reflections, I was getting completely mixed up.
But after seeing Mom's hair rolled up in tight curlers and drenched with permanent wave fluid, I called Dr. Rosen.
"Hi," I said. "We want to wait a day or two on hospice. My brother feels that she should get two liters of saline solution and a CBC and electrolyte report before putting her on hospice."
"Oh, that's fine, I completely understand," replied Dr. Rosen.
"Can she have the saline solution in your office?" I asked.
"No, we don't do IV," she said.
"Should I take her to the ER to have it done?" I asked. "My brother said it would just take a few hours."
"No, in an older person you can't give it that fast. It will take 24 hours. You'll have to hospitalize her to do that because her residence doesn't allow IVs. But I'm certainly willing to admit her," she offered.
So we agreed that she would be admitted ASAP, as soon as a bed could be found.
I didn't say that nothing could happen until we finished at the beauty salon.
Then I called Bill to report that I had arranged for hospitalization.
"Good," he said, "if she needs it. If she's dehydrated. But if she is able to drink, you can probably take care of hydration without hospitalizing her. You and Emily are the ones who are there and can tell how she really is. I'm not there, so I will go along with whatever you decide."
I also talked with Emily, who freaked out when she heard that Bill had recommended hospitalization for rehydration.
"Bill just wants to save her because that's what surgeons do! It will cause her more suffering--she will be upset and disoriented by being moved to the hospital. He did this the last time by saying we had to give her a pacemaker. You and he insisted on that. I'm the youngest and no one thinks I know what I'm talking about. Bill always takes over because he's THE DOCTOR, and you are THE CARETAKER. Neither one of you is really looking at what she wants. She keeps saying, "I want to die." You are just putting her through more suffering."
"Well, Bill said he would defer to you and me. He doesn't want to force her into the hospital if she doesn't need it. What he really wants is the CBC and electrolyte results in order to know if she needs hydration."
Then the hospital called and told me that the bed was ready. Just bring her in after getting her vitals done at her residence.
All these conversations were taking place in Settimio's Salon, where Emily had joined me at noon, among the hairdryers and other clients, while Mom sat under a hairdryer.
"Well, Emily, it's not just Bill. I started having second thoughts about jumping into hospice without first doing a hydration. It's because I spend a half hour every morning and night working on my cat..." I tried to explain the Celeste factor.
Naturally, after talking to Emily for a few minutes, I was convinced that Mom didn't need hospitalization for hydration. And Emily did need to take charge of the situation and have her recommended course of action take priority. We would just take Mom back to her residence and do the best we could to get her to drink, if not eat.
In any case, we would let nature take its course. That's what our culture does with humans, though not with cats, at least not in our socioeconomic bracket. Until the cat has proven itself definitely beyond all hope.
I called the hospital and cancelled the bed I had just accepted.
I called Dr. Rosen: "You know, we're not going to hospitalize her after all. We're going to go ahead and start hospice today and try to get her to drink but not take any drastic measures if she won't drink. I'm so sorry for all this confusion."
"Oh no, I understand completely," she said. "These decisions are always very hard for families."
The hair was dry--Bembe combed it out, teased and sprayed it.
We took Mom back to Ocean View Assisted Living. I called the hospice people and made an appointment for tomorrow at 10 am to do intake papers.
I left Mom in the hands of Emily and the caregiver Connie.
I went to Color Me Mine with my daughter Ellen, 23 years old, and we each chose a ceramic piece and painted it.
I chose a bud vase and painted it with swirls of pink (my mother's favorite color) and kiwi green (my favorite color). I carefully added a bouquet of three purple pansies with yellow hearts. Pansies are one of my mother's favorite flowers--her mother grew them in front of the house on Main Street in Telluride.
Pansies, like violets, for remembrance.
Then we went to the Century City Mall where Ellen bought a pretty white blouse and I bought a BCBG soft green sweater with long front flaps to throw over the shoulder. Actually it's kind of a swaddling sweater.
I needed to treat myself, wrap myself in warm pretty cashmere in memory of this difficult day.
Then Ellen went to her AA meeting and I went to my Al-Anon meeting, where I work on taking care of myself and not being a caretaker of everyone from the cat to Ellen to my mother.
Clearly I have some more work to do.
Back home again, it was time to work on the cat.