Guilt is a four-letter-word (and other musings after an unexpected diabetic death)
Yesterday was a rough one. I euthanized three cats (due to FeLV, FIV and a case of complicated diabetes). That’s more than usual. Though all were tearful, morale-crushing events, the last of these held out a silver lining for us to marvel at long after the end of this depressing day.
Meesy was a beautiful, undemanding, even-tempered Siamese girl only a decade old. She’d been losing weight over the past few weeks and diabetes had been diagnosed. In spite of the standard diabetic cat protocol, Meesy had suddenly begun to decline rapidly this week. She was no longer responding to the medications and she’d suddenly become seriously weak and dehydrated.
We’d hospitalized her for fluid administration and blood sugar monitoring, hoping to transfer her to an internal medicine specialist in the morning, but her condition had rapidly deteriorated overnight. Once a Siamese with a brash, tuneless voice, Meesy’s cries were now faint, plaintive and pitiful. She was too weak even to swallow food.
Meesy’s owners are pragmatic academic types. They’d been devouring the feline diabetes community website I’d recommended (felinediabetes.com) and had become well versed in the issues surrounding this complex illness. They knew what they’d be up against and their demanding family, work and travel schedule had already weighed heavily on them when deciding how Meesy’s care would be undertaken.
In most cases like this, a family looks at their resources (time, schedules and finances) and often decides not to take on the care of a diabetic. They understand that psychological devotion to their pet and her care is not enough. Their life, work and family schedules must also change—sometimes too dramatically for a family to undertake without life-altering stress.
That’s why guilt is often a huge variable in this equation. Hard-working, heavily-traveling families can’t always change their complex lives on a dime to begin treating a very sick cat, much as they dearly love her—not when the vagaries of a disease process render her care extra-unpredictable. And here’s where guilt wins out and families often reach beyond their means to stem the tide of their loved-one’s decline.
Meesy’s case was by-the-book on the guilt thing. The family tried to reach beyond their limits to start the insulin carefully. But her case was not responding to their ministrations as planned, ad now they’d decided to euthanize her.
Tearfully, they came to the hospital and sat by her cage-side in her final moments. Fatefully, though, they could not bring themselves to have the thoroughly good cry they came for. The stray kitten in the cage next door kept reaching out and grabbing hold of their sweaters with her outstretched paws.
In the end, Meesy crossed the Rainbow Bridge and Turkey Sandwich (yes, that’s her name) found her way to a new home. Predictably, however, guilt trailed the owners out the door:
“Do you think we’re bad people for leaving one cat behind and taking another?”
My take? Guilt is a four-letter word. It’s a social human construct which has no place in a veterinary hospital under any circumstances where adoption is the end result. I, too, adopted my Sophie Sue not twelve hours after my former Frenchie exited this world. Sometimes connections just happen and we’d be stupid humans to ignore them based on silly impediments like self-flagellating guilt.
Sure, I can understand the pain of loss and the guilt that attends euthanasia in so many cases. But in my book, rescuing a kitten from the daily boredom and confinement of an animal hospital automatically frees you of this self-imposed torment.