Ronnie James will have been gone for five days tonight, and it’s still so hard to walk through the house seeing all the places and things he loved… seeing where he should be or would be, were he still here with us in his furry gray suit, and thinking of what he would be doing. This house without him in it just isn’t right. Callaghan, Nounours and I hope you know how much we appreciate your caring, compassion and concern for the loss of our little lovebug.
Here are the words I wanted to say on Friday, but couldn’t. I just wanted to share with you the events of the week leading up to Ronnie James’ death. I also wanted to write a little tribute to the Wrah-Wrah.
Ronnie James the night we brought him home (Monday). Wide-eyed and content.
We brought Ronnie James home from the hospital on Monday night last week, and the next day, he had an exceptionally good day. With his chest freshly tapped, he was his usual happy and active little self. I took the day off from work to be with him. He ate and drank well, also as usual, and he kept himself close to my side all day… and I do mean even closer than usual. Everywhere I went, he went. Every time I settled on the couch or on the bed, he climbed up on me to snuggle, or he curled up next to me. Callaghan was mostly not here, as he spent much of last week working on-site, but later, when I told him about the day, he was encouraged. We ended the day with the tiniest bit of hope.
On Wednesday, I stayed home with the Wrah-Wrah again – I’d asked for those two days off in advance, as soon as we knew that we were bringing him home on Monday evening – and again, he was happy.
But he also told us that he did not wish to keep his appointment for Thursday’s x-ray/fluid re-check. As heartbreaking as this was to us, it made sense, and it wasn’t unexpected.
I thought I’d seen hints of maybe a miracle the day before. He’s eating so enthusiastically! I thought. Maybe if he eats a lot, he’ll get strong enough for his body to be able to absorb the fluid accumulating in his pleural cavity! Maybe he can be one of those lucky cats who survives chylothorax!
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Deep down, I knew I was kidding myself. They don’t call it “end stage” when it’s not. There’s no turning back from the complication of pleural fibrosis. That was the problem… the pleural fibrosis. And that was what I was afraid of all along.
I called Dr. M., anyway, to talk about the Thursday follow-up appointment. He explained that if Ronnie James had accumulated enough fluid to be tapped, the radiologist would have to insert the needle into each pocket in order to aspirate enough of it to relieve the pressure around the lungs. This would create even more pockets for fluid to fill in the pleural cavity. At the rate Ronnie James had been accumulating fluid in the hospital up until the moment he was released, the likelihood of finding a tappable volume of fluid on Thursday was 99.9%.
Did we want to put him through that again for those kinds of odds? Certainly not… and Ronnie James didn’t want to go back there again, either.
We didn’t want a single minute of Ronnie James’ short time left to involve anything but pleasantness and contentment for him, and getting stuffed into his carrier and carted back to the hospital wouldn’t qualify as pleasant. We didn’t want to “buy him time” for selfish reasons. The reality at that point was that nothing we could do would change the outcome, so we canceled his appointment in order to spare him the ordeal.
I spoke with Dr. M. a second time, and also with his primary care doctor at our main clinic, who referred me to someone she knew who made house calls. Then, with my heart crumpled into something unrecognizable in my own chest, I made the phone call. The house-calling vet had room in her schedule for us for the next evening… Thursday night.
Thursday morning, I woke up planning to go to work, but as soon as I got out of bed, I knew that I had to be with Ronnie James on his last day in this world. His favorite thing had always been me being home with him. That was when he was the happiest, and I didn’t want to deny him that at the end, if I could help it. I asked my supervisor if I could take one more day. I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to spend Ronnie James’ last three days at home with him. That time with him was invaluable.
So on Thursday, May 14, Ronnie James got 100,000 more kisses. I got to press my face against his, feel his whiskers on my cheeks, and breathe in the adorable, sweet smell of his kitty breath (a scent that only a cat mom can love, I know). I got to feel his purring on my heart as he stretched out and slept on my chest.
One of the most frustrating things about chylothorax is that it doesn’t lead to a typical, end-of-life decline… a decline that you can see. A decline that makes you feel better about the euthanasia. Ronnie James continued to eat, drink, and use his litter box normally until the very end. Not only that, but he was excited about his meal times and his treats throughout the day. He loved drinking from his water fountain. He loved hanging out in his toy corner. Psychologically, all of this made the decision to euthanize even more difficult. We never observed a diminishing quality of life, so we felt like we were killing him unnecessarily. We had to keep reminding ourselves that the fluid filling up his little chest would soon suffocate him.
With chylothorax, cats and dogs are just fine, until they’re not… and when you can see that they’re not, they’re suffering. You see them struggling to breathe. We didn’t want to take that chance. We didn’t want to end up at the E.R. with him in the middle of the night again. That was not how we wanted his death to happen; that was not what we wanted his last experience to be. When we brought him home from the hospital on Monday night, we promised him that we wouldn’t let him suffer, and honoring that promise became our mission in life for those few days we had left with him.
All day Thursday, the most painful thing was to see Ronnie James being so totally normal. He acted like a normal cat on a normal day. He scarfed up his food and drank water from his water fountain. He came running for his treats. He sat at the window and watched his birdies, chattering at them. He roamed around the house, checking everything out with his usual curiosity, and the only odd thing there was that he did this looking kind of detached, as if he was exploring a house that he’d never seen before. It was like he was patrolling, or doing a military re-con exercise. He investigated the whole place thoroughly and purposefully. It was like he was making sure that everything was okay.
As on the previous two days, he spent lots of time snuggling with me. He spent lots of time snuggling with his beloved Nounours. When Callaghan was home, he spent quality time with him, as well.
The vet arrived that night, and Callaghan, Nounours and I were as ready as we were going to be. Ronnie James was ready, too. He was still behaving normally, but his breathing had started to grow faster in the last few hours, so we knew that our timing was good. Chylothorax parents at the end of the struggle know the nuances to watch for very well. We know how to count our baby’s breaths every four hours to gauge when some kind of action should be taken. We were confident in our decision regarding what action to take this time. At 9:59pm, from the comfort of his own home, Ronnie James entered into a better dimension, leaving his embattled body behind in this world. He died in my arms, with his head in his Daddy’s hands, as he loved that so much, and with his brother Nounours nearby.
My heart was destroyed.
I’m going to reiterate, because I can’t say it enough… it was agonizing to put a perfectly normal-looking and behaving cat to sleep. It wasn’t at all like when I had to put my Frankie kitty to sleep because of kidney failure. Frankie did all of the typical things. He stopped eating. At the end, he pretty much stopped moving. It was visibly clear that he was near death. Looking at the Wrah-Wrah being so normal, we just had to keep reminding ourselves of the Armageddon happening inside his chest. We had to remember that in a very short period of time, he would have started to suffer. Liberating Ronnie James from his earthly body was the only humane thing we could do.
The venomous caterpillar that set off this disastrous chain of events won. We did everything we could to save Ronnie James; the damage was just too extensive. But if we hadn’t rescued him from that woman in Montélimar, he would have continued living in misery before dying horribly on his own, slowly suffocating to death from the inside. That is how Dr. M. described a natural death from chylothorax.
I categorized all of my posts about the Wrah-Wrah’s experience and put the category as a link in my blog’s sidebar to make it easier for people to find. There’s a paucity of information about this disease online, and I hope that my documentation here can be helpful to cat and dog parents who find themselves confronted with this terrible diagnosis for their fur-babies.
The Wrah-Wrah was extraordinarily brave and so strong and so full of life until the very end. His love of cuddles and kisses never abated. He never lost his taste for his favorite treats. His beautiful gray fur stayed velvety soft. He continued vocalizing his conversations with us, and he continued saying “I love you” with long, slow blinks of his wide eyes. No one gave kitty eye-blink kisses the way he did, by the way. He would find our gaze, hold our eye contact, and initiate the gesture, keeping his eyes closed for a few seconds before slowly opening them again, making sure that we didn’t miss it.
Ronnie James was my little soul mate from Day One. As I said to a friend the other day, he was my angel kitty who came and saved me when I was grieving the loss of Detta, my kitty who went missing in the French Alpes. I love Nounours dearly, but the Wrah-Wrah and I immediately formed a bond of a depth and strength I’ve never experienced with any other being. It was only in mid-October 2012 that we brought the two little guys home. When I start to dissolve in anguish over having had such a short time with Ronnie James, I remind myself that I should be grateful for every day that I had with him. And I am. I’m so very grateful for every day that I had with the Wrah-Wrah in the two years and seven months he was with us.
Sometime last fall, when we thought we were just dealing with asthma, I started to feel panicky about Ronnie James. I had an ominous feeling. We would be administering his inhaler asthma medications, and I would suddenly tear up and ask Callaghan, desperately, Can the Wrah-Wrah be Forever? I wanted to hear someone say, Yes, the Wrah-Wrah is Forever.
And you know what? He is. The Wrah-Wrah is Forever.
Like his namesake, Ronnie James was a little rock star. Throughout it all, no one could believe how brave he was, how alive he was. Everyone who knew him adored him. He was just such a smart, sweet, and most personable and loving little kitty. Ronnie James will always be my Rainbow in the Dark.
Here is a sampling of some of the pics I took of the Wrah-Wrah in his last three days. I especially wanted to capture his snuggly moments.
On Tuesday the 12th:
Curled up on my robe on the couch.
Curled up against me….
Laying on my belly, hugging me.
I couldn’t resist taking a picture of it reflected in my laptop screen.
Stretched out on my legs, looking at pictures of himself.
On my legs, on the bed. I ruffled his fur to demonstrate his new mohawk.
On Wednesday the 13th:
Sleeping, hugging my legs.
He jumped up to sit on his favorite bar-stool even the day before he died.
On Thursday the 14th:
He kept eating up until the very end, too.
Ronnie James fully enjoyed loving on his Daddy, too, when he was there.
On Friday, I have a story of Nounours’ to tell, as we’ve been witness to a true phenomenon in his grieving process for his brother.
Thank you again for reading, and for being here with us.