Let's Talk
Share this image

In Cat Health Matters, Have You Ever Been Seized by the “What-Ifs?”

I know guilt and second-guessing are toxic, but those things happen anyway. What do you do when they pop up?

JaneA Kelley  |  Apr 19th 2017


Being a cat guardian is a wonderful thing. You have the privilege of watching over a lovely being who relies on you to meet her needs, and in return you get love and affection. But sometimes that privilege can become a challenge — especially when your furry friend gets sick or passes away, and you wonder “what if?”

“What if I’d done this? What if I hadn’t done that? Would the outcome still have been the same?”

I confess, I’ve had the what-ifs more than once in my life.

Thomas and Dahlia were best buddies.

Thomas and Dahlia were best buddies.

What if, for example, I’d thought my Dahlia’s occasional coughing was due to something other than a mold issue in our home? What if I’d mentioned it when I took her to the vet for her checkup? Would we have discovered the cancer she had before it became so serious that nothing could have been done?

But as it was, I didn’t think anything of her coughs until she had what I believed to be an asthma attack. I rushed her right in, showed the vet the video I took of her wheezing and coughing, and he too agreed that it was most likely asthma. She was breathing a little better by the time we got to the vet, and he gave her a steroid shot and told me that if she had another episode, or if things got worse, that I should come back.

This is the way I want to remember Dahlia--stretched out in a sun puddle.

This is the way I want to remember Dahlia–stretched out in a sun puddle.

What if I’d been less obsessed with the stress of moving and trying to get all my stuff packed in boxes, and had been able to observe Dahlia more closely? Would I have noticed she was having trouble before the move?

What if I’d thought something else was going on when Dahlia was hiding in the closet while I was unpacking at my new home? As it was, I didn’t notice anything unusual other than the hiding until three days after I moved to my new home — and then suddenly I was rushing her to the emergency clinic as she gasped for breath. Thus began the worst two weeks of my adult life, culminating with euthanizing my beautiful, beloved, golden-eyed girl late one April night at the same emergency clinic where our journey had begun.

Dahlia was pretty sick when I took this photo.

Dahlia was pretty sick when I took this photo.

Then I think about my sweet Kissy. I drove from Maine to Connecticut to adopt her from a rescue run by a friend and fellow cat blogger. I knew she’d had surgery because of a bad knee, so I was aware that she was dealing with that.

Kissy often took refuge in my office.

Kissy often took refuge in my office.

To say that things were rough at first is an understatement. But as time went on, Kissy got more comfortable with Thomas and Siouxsie. She and Thomas even did some “deniable snuggling.” I knew things were going to be all right when I saw that happening.

Thomas and Kissy even reached the point of enjoying some "deniable snuggling."

Thomas and Kissy reached the point of enjoying some “deniable snuggling.”

I also knew was that Kissy’s leg was continuing to pain her. I could tell because she wouldn’t fold it under her when she was sitting down, and she would occasionally limp on it, so I took her to my vet for a consultation. She did X-rays and it turned out the leg was a mess. She posted the radiographs on a forum for veterinarians and asked for input on what could be done to help her. It came down to spending $15,000 for three different surgeries and most likely not fixing the problem, or amputating the leg to stop the pain right away.

I even borrowed a dog crate from one of my co-workers and set it all up so Kissy could be safe and stay on "cage rest" until she learned how to get around on three legs.

I borrowed a dog crate from one of my co-workers and set it up like this so Kissy could be safe and stay on “cage rest” until she learned how to get around on three legs.

My vet and I opted for amputation. I wanted my sweet Kissy to be pain-free, and if this was the way to do it, then so be it. I watched the surgery and took photos, and when the operation was over, I stroked her head as she came out of anesthesia and told her what a good, brave kitty she was. Then I went off to do my laundry so that I’d be able to give her my full attention when I brought her home.

The vet kissed her and stroked her chin as the tech got her anesthetized for her surgery.

The vet kissed her and stroked her chin as the tech got her anesthetized for her surgery.

What I didn’t realize was that I’d put my phone on silent while I was in the operating room, and I’d forgotten to turn the ringer back up again. The next time I looked at my phone, there were two voicemails from the vet, about half an hour apart. By the time I called back, two techs had already left with Kissy, taking her to a specialty hospital for a blood transfusion. I followed in my own car, ready to make whatever decisions needed to be made, but when I got there, I found out that Kissy hadn’t survived.

This was the last time I saw Kissy alive, still drugged up but coming out of anesthesia in a recovery cage, surrounded by bottles of warm fluids to keep her temperature up.

This was the last time I saw Kissy alive, still drugged up but coming out of anesthesia in a recovery cage, surrounded by bottles of warm fluids to keep her temperature up.

What if I’d remembered to turn my phone back on? What if I’d gotten that first call and known something was wrong? Would I have been able to get Kissy to the specialists earlier? Would it have made a difference? Would she have lived if I’d just answered the damn phone?

I know those thoughts are toxic. Guilt doesn’t help anyone, and the past can’t be undone. But still, I sometimes find myself getting a case of the what-ifs. And not necessarily for big, catastrophic things, either. I wonder if Thomas’ kidneys would be working better if I’d realized the need for regular dental cleanings earlier in his life. After all, dental disease contributes to a lot of other conditions, including kidney disease.

Would Thomas have healthier kidneys if I'd thought about getting his teeth cleaned starting at a younger age?

Would Thomas have healthier kidneys if I’d thought about getting his teeth cleaned starting at a younger age?

I’m getting better at stopping the what-ifs early in the process, but sometimes it’s still a chore.

What about you? Do you get the what-ifs? How do you handle it? Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments.