Lindsey D lives in Cary, NC, where she is a fingerprint examiner. She has had cats all of her life.
Sydney, my orange tabby, was 7 weeks old when I got her, the only female in her litter. The mother cat had abandoned her kittens only a couple of weeks after birth, so they had all been bottle-fed and weaned early. The day I picked her up, I think the fleas weighed more than she did. Our first hours together were spent with a bottle of dish soap and a pair of tweezers as my mother and I popped fleas off of her tiny body.
The first few years with Syd were an adventure. She fell into a full washing machine, got stung by several insects, got treated for tapeworms, and generally wreaked havoc on my household. She was no-holds-barred, all go, and all attitude all of the time. She was one of those cats who loved one person and one person only, and that was me. Every night she would curl up on me as we went to sleep.
When she was 3, Sydney started to wheeze. At first it was just every now and then, but it progressed to a point where she was having spells five to 10 times a day. I took her to her regular vet, but it was hard to diagnose what her underlying problem was, because, of course, she would never wheeze when we were in the office. Eventually I had to rush her to the emergency vet. She was working so hard to breathe that she had resorted to doing it with an open mouth. I rushed my baby to the kitty hospital not knowing if I would be bringing her home with me.
Now, while she was having her wheezing spells, I frantically researched anything and everything that might be wrong with her. My suspicions were confirmed that awful day when she was diagnosed with having an acute asthma attack. Sydney could get air into her body, but she couldn’t get it back out. Her X-rays showed that her entire stomach and half of her small intestine had become full of air.
Sydney survived that asthma attack, but it soon became apparent, through trial and error, that she would be dependent on daily steroid treatment for the rest of her life. Her vet and I tried to get her to flourish on an every-other-day schedule, but her illness was just too severe. The general consensus was that an inhaled steroid would be best, but at the time it was something that was cost-prohibitive for me. I would have needed to order it from out of the country and administer it to her at least twice a day. This was going to run in the range of $300 a month. A hardship that I, as a single person with student loans, just couldn’t swing. I mean, we needed a place to live and to be able to eat as well. The compromise was that Sydney would be on 2.5 mg of prednisolone once a day, and sometimes twice a day depending on the season.
The pred managed Sydney’s asthma quite well. I monitored her closely at home and her vet kept close tabs on her blood work and other vital functions, as it is documented that long-term use of steroids may lead to diabetes.
Through several years, Sydney handled it all like a champ. I trained several friends and co-workers on how to administer the pills. Now, as Sydney really only loved me, and did not like or tolerate anyone else, this was a tribute to the strength of my friendships. They were all willing to come to my home and risk life and limb (literally ÔÇô- she scratched and even attempted to bite one of my friends) to make sure Sydney kept on breathing, if I had to go out of town on business.
This worked pretty well for five years, with only a few complications along the way. The most trying of which was the removal of most of Syd’s teeth when she was 6. The poor girl just couldn’t catch a break, healthwise. Then, at 8 years old, the news that I knew would someday come was delivered. Sydney was now borderline diabetic.
Her blood glucose was managed by diet control, and she went on a high protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Twice a day I would give her a scoop of food and stand guard as she ate, so that my other cat would not gobble her own food down and then come eat Sydney’s, too. Like everything else in her life, Sydney took this diet change like a champ, not once balking at the fact that she could not now free feed, or that she no longer was able to have treats or ANY other type of food.
Making this especially hard was when I had company. I once came out of my bedroom to find my mother feeding her cream cheese. I about had a heart attack. I believe the conversation went something like this:
Me: “Mom! Her blood sugar! She can’t have cream cheese!”
Mom: “Oh, but it is Christmas!”
Me: “Diabetes doesn’t care about Christmas!”
All I could do was shake my head. I mean, Sydney had happily eaten the cream cheese, because after all she was a cat and she loved food treats! She was sitting there purring as she licked her chops.
Syd and I managed quite well for about eight months. She ate her protein food and I watched her like a hawk.
It was right around Thanksgiving of 2011 that I noticed things were starting to change. While her levels all looked pretty good, and by that I mean she was in the tolerable range, Sydney started to lose weight. By the time January 2012 rolled in I knew, deep in my heart, that my time with her was getting shorter. She was still on her daily pred and still eating her diabetes diet, but she was starting to fail. I noticed that she was starting to lose some of the strength in her hind legs, and that she was a little wobbly on occasion.
Also her eating, which had once been robust, was now starting to wane. It eventually got to the point where I would have to sit on the floor with her and feed her one pellet of food at a time. This was the only way I could get her to consume a significant amount of food.
We had an appointment with Syd’s vet scheduled for Tuesday, January 24, 2012. Well, on that Sunday, the 22nd, I woke up and Sydney was vomiting and crying, something she had never done. I rushed her to the emergency vet, the same one we had visited just about six years prior. We even saw the exact same vet. Tests were run, and while I held out hope that it was going to be something simple, and that she could be helped by some insulin, it didn’t turn out that way. Sydney was in keto-crisis.
Basically, her pancreas had shut down and her body could no longer process glucose. She had lost three pounds in six months and her muscles were starting to be consumed for energy. I had two choices: round-the-clock ICU for three to four days with an insulin pump in one paw and a glucose drip in the other (her survival and post-treatment quality of life were certainly not guaranteed), or accepting the fact that it was time to make the hardest decision of my life and let my baby go.
What should I do? Take on a MASSIVE financial burden that would buy her … what? Days, weeks, a few months? Or let her be at peace, in a place where there were no more pills, needles, strangers, or special diets. I had to choose between her quality of life and my desire to keep her with me for just a little longer.
So, on Jan. 22, I made the hardest choice ever. I chose to end her suffering. Sydney passed away while lying on my lap. I was and continue to be devastated by her loss. Every day I go home after work and see her urn on my bookshelf, next to a picture of her from happier, healthier times. I wear a cat-angel pendant around my neck and have a paw print with her initial tattooed on my leg.
Sydney was my world for just about nine years. It was always me and her, fighting the good fight (and sometimes fighting each other), and trying to keep up the faith that all her medications would keep her with me forever. Well, Sydney’s forever was just not quite as long as I had hoped.
It has been five months since she passed away, and I still feel her passing like it was yesterday. I have been told by many people — friends, family, and her longtime vet — that I did what was best for Sydney for a really long time, including making the decision to end her suffering. They say I was a good cat mother. I can only hope that wherever Sydney is now, she thinks so, too.
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