Though the crisis played out over the course of last Thursday and Friday, I wasn't able to bring myself to start creating this post until today. My heart is broken. Stanley has departed for the Rainbow Bridge, and the house has big empty spaces in all the places where that little brown purrball used to be.
When I got up on Thursday morning, I had zero reason to suspect that anything was amiss. Stanley followed me around for attention as usual. He dashed ahead of me as I went up the stairs, as usual. He stopped right in front of me, as usual, so I'd have to stop and skritch him, as usual. He preceded me into the bathroom, as usual, because he loved to have his Morning Dote. This was when I'd shut the bathroom door and he'd get lots of one-on-one attention from Meowmy. All these things happened as they did nearly every morning, and nothing was out of place. I picked him up and cuddled him, and he purred his wee head off, as usual.
But then when I was giving him a tum rub, which he normally loved, he abruptly stopped purring and meeped at me. NOT usual. He wanted to get down. VERY not-usual. I decided I'd keep an eye on him, since this behavior was utterly out-of-character.
We finished in the bathroom and headed down to feed the kitties. Captain was by his dish. No Stanley. VERY unusual. I had to go back upstairs and retrieve Stanley from where he sat. Absolutely not usual. As it happened, neither cat was particularly hungry, because Mark had given them a treat of an extra scoop of food on Wednesday night. So I was not in panic mode yet over Stanley's lack of appetite. But I figured that he'd bear watching. He did stroll over to the litterbox and make a deposit, and he looked normal doing that, so I was hopeful that nothing major was amiss.
Cats sleep a lot. And Stanley did a lot of sleeping during Thursday. But even so, there were alarm bells ringing in my head that Something Was Wrong. I decided that if he continued in this vein on Friday, we were seeing the vet.
Sure enough, on Friday, he hid himself under the loveseat (which is comprised of two recliners and has large hollow areas under both seats). I carried him down when I fed the cats. He barely glanced at the food dish. OK, that was all I needed to see. I called the vet. I made an appointment for Saturday morning, because at this point, "lethargy" and "lack of appetite" didn't scream "medical emergency" to me. I figured that Mark and I could just work as we normally do on Fridays, and take him in the morning to the vet.
He curled up on the loveseat. Over the course of the next half hour, it became clear to me that his breathing was rapid and shallow. I called the vet right back and asked for a same-day appointment, and they had a 4:40 opening. I called out of work. I took a cab there, figuring Mark could pick us up when he got out of work.
When I got Stanley to the vet, we went through his symptoms. The only two obvious things going on were that he'd lost 9 ounces, and his breathing was labored. So the vet was thinking "pancreatitis". They drew up a treatment plan, complete with meds and instructions for me to follow. But first, they wanted to get an x-ray and a blood draw, just in case. So I waited in the lobby.
The second she came in to summon me to look at the x-rays, I knew something was bad. Sure enough, the x-rays showed innumerable little lesions all over his lungs. Mitigating factors were able to be ruled out, one by one. Fungal pneumonia could cause it, but we neither live in nor have recently traveled to the parts of the country where that kind of fungus is common. A sudden, severe electric shock could cause fluid in the lungs, such as from biting an electrical cord, but Stanley had no teeth. Complete immersion in water could do it, but that certainly didn't happen to Stanley. And so on. So we were left with the most undesirable of all the reasons why there'd be lesions all over his lungs: metastatic cancer. The x-ray didn't show where the cancer might be located, but an ultrasound might. Since the UPenn veterinary ER has access to ultrasound, I originally wanted to take him there just to be SURE that we were dealing with something not curable. There was no possible option for palliative care in this case, and if the only real option was to say goodbye, I wanted to be absolutely POSITIVE that I wasn't jumping the gun. Euthanasia is an irrevocable decision, and since you can't walk it back, I wanted to be utterly certain of what was going on.
But while Stanley was getting his x-rays and blood drawn, he started experiencing more severe respiratory distress. So they put him in their oxygen cage to get his breathing stabilized. While we waited, the vet said that they could send his x-rays electronically to the offsite radiology firm that interprets results for them. Normally, their results are returned the next day, but she could request a STAT turnaround and get their response back in an hour or so. Stanley could stay in the oxygen cage in the meantime. So I agreed to this.
While I waited, I called Mark, my parents, and Joe and John to update them on what was happening. Actually, in Mark's case, I wanted to tell him in person, so all I said was to come to the vet and park his car at the nearby garage, because something was seriously wrong.
After Mark arrived, two things happened. One, the STAT response came back, and it was essentially identical to the assessment of the x-rays that the vet had given me. And two, more significant: even an hour in the oxygen cage did not ease Stanley's breathing back to normal, as it should have done.
Originally, I had wanted those extra tests at UPenn. I wanted answers! But I realized that if an hour in an oxygen environment wasn't enough to give Stanley relief, that IS an answer. It's the answer I wanted least of all, but it was an answer. I envisioned the drive to UPenn, where a non-oxygen environment would only stress his breathing again. I pictured all the noise, strange scents, and tests that would have to be done, stressing him further and perhaps causing his already-brittle condition to deteriorate further. And I was reminded by the vet that on Friday evening, chances are high that their ultrasound people would've gone home for the night, necessitating an overnight stay for Stanley in THEIR oxygen cage.
I couldn't do it. I couldn't put him through that when the most likely outcome of those extra tests would be the same recommendation as was before me already. This was not a flareup of treatable symptoms I was looking at. This was the beginning of a final decline. And I could either ease his passing right there, or drag it out needlessly and STILL end up making the same decision.
So we opted for the Final Act of Mercy. Mark and I skritched and cuddled him, and he purred the ENTIRE time. That's all he ever did was purr. And I can be confident that he had a peaceful passing, being loved on by his humans.
But as I said, my heart is broken. I never in a trillion years would've predicted on Thursday morning that I'd be taking an empty carrier home from the vet within 36 hours. :'(
Only one cat dish, in a place that was set up for two, looks wrong.
Only one kitty demanding breakfast, where there were once two voices, is wrong, too.
Thank goodness Mark picked up the extra food and water dishes on Saturday, when he fed Captain. I might not have been able to bring myself to do it yet. Those dishes might still be sitting there, waiting for a kitty who no longer has need of them.
I miss my Stanley. So does Captain, his bewildered brother.