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Posted on 08-04-2016
I once had the most awesome cat on the planet. So awesome was this cat that I had to name him Awesome. The “Pawsome” comes from the fact that he was polydactyl – a fancy word to describe a genetic anomaly that gives some cats extra toes. Pawsome had 8 toes on each front paw and had a macho strut to match his gigantic paws. He had only 1 extra toe on each back paw. Pawsome came to me 15 years ago as a stray cat that had been hit by a car but the car only caught his tail and pulled the skin off the tail as he tried to run. This meant his tail had to be amputated. So here is the giant cat with enormous front paws and no tail. I was instantly in love. And I have to say that Pawsome fell in love with me too. He was my constant companion, my cuddle buddy and if I have to admit the truth, my favorite “boy” in the whole wide world during that time.
Shortly after his fifteenth birthday he started to not do well. His appetite started to decrease ever so slowly and he started to look skinny. I brought him in for a checkup and a senior blood panel was recommended along with a urinalysis. Everything came out clean. And yet he still was not doing well. I brought him back for a recheck 1 month later and he had lost even more weight. At that exam, the doctor was able to palpate a small mass in his intestines. This definitely explained his slow decline. While tumors do not show up on blood work, my little man was clearly feeling something bugging him in his belly. An x-ray was not definitive to show the extent of the tumor; in fact, it was still too small to really pick up on x-ray. But when he was brought in for his third recheck another month down the road, the tumor was easily palpable and the doctor could tell it was growing into the intestine rather that outward. This was bad news. That meant that eventually he would not be able to pass any stool as the tumor would be blocking the entire intestinal tract. The doctor explained he would need a type of surgery called an anastomosis. This is where the surgeons resect the gut and takes out the part that is destroyed by the tumor and then puts two good ends back together. I was ready to proceed with this surgery but then the uncertainty crept in. Where does the tumor margin end? How do we know that we are sewing healthy tissue back together again? How much length of gut would he need to lose and could he still function afterwards? Would the ends grow back together or die off? All in all, would the surgery work? There were so many questions and no clear answer.
I was heartbroken. I didn’t really know what to do. I felt paralyzed and lost and couldn’t make a decision. So I waited. My little Pawsome got thinner and thinner day after day. He was not eating much and what he did eat just barely squeaked by the tumor in his colon. One day I came home from work to find Pawsome lying on his side. He was in shock. The tumour had ruptured in his intestines. I have never felt so much panic and guilt all at the same time. Why didn’t I do something, anything sooner? It seemed to take forever to get to the animal hospital with him. And of course, this was his end. The love of my life was gone. It is the worst moment in my veterinary career. I felt selfish for not having recognized his pain and suffering earlier but couldn’t bring myself to euthanize him or take the risk of surgery. By writing this blog I hope that people will see that even as professionals we understand how difficult medical decision can be. When it comes to our pets, we have also let our emotions get in the way of rational judgement. Medicine is not always clear cut; it is not an exact science and there are a lot of variables and unknowns. But we, all of us, are human and we must be allowed to love to the fullest and can only expect ourselves to do our best. I forgave myself for holding on to him for so long because I did it out of love. And so I encourage everyone, to do your best and in the end, if you feel you may have made a mistake, like me, forgive yourself and allow yourself to move on. There are other pets that need us after all.
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