I looked at the X-rays for the fiftieth time. Was there something out of place in her spine, or not? I’d looked at these films until my eyes went fuzzy, and all the other vets in the practice had looked at them too, and still it wasn’t clear what was going on. My guts were clenched tight. I’d been working on saving this poor little cat’s life for four days now. She had been mauled by a dog – grabbed around the middle, then shaken like a rag doll. Her owners had rushed her in, all her inside being held in by a towel, bleeding, floppy and in deep shock. I had rushed her into surgery, cleaned, stitched up the huge tears in her abdomen, filled her full of antibiotics and pain relief, and she’d been in a cage on a drip ever since.
She wasn’t doing well, yelling in pain every time we had to move her, or do anything to her. I’d told her owners right at the beginning that we’d be lucky to save her, and that often cases like this crash 3-4 days in when all the crushed tissue from the bite dies off. They wanted to do everything they could for her, and I was at the point of worrying that I’d gone too far trying to save her.
I went into the hospital, opened up her cage… She looked utterly miserable – all bandaged around the middle, with a bucket on her head to stop her pulling out her drip, lying there limp and breathing with an effort. I gave her a gentle scratch behind the ears, and her desperate, wide open eyes relaxed just a fraction in thanks. I could see she was suffering.
I went back to the X-rays – there was something not right with her spine, and given the nature of her injury, I had the feeling that this terrible pain that we couldn’t control was from nerve damage in her back. Something I could do nothing to help. At the same time, she seemed to be getting worse in other ways…
One of the nurses found me, and told me the owners we waiting in the consult room. They’d been in and out several times each day, spendign time with her, talking with me about what was going on. I walked into a pair of pale, tired, drawn faces.
“How’s she going?” asked her mum, while her dad stood stiffly.
“I’m really worried about her,” I replied. “She definitely isn’t getting any better, maybe even a bit worse, and this terrible pain… We’ve got her on very strong pain relief, and it just doesn’t even seem to be touching the sides -”
“We’ve been thinking about all of this,” the man broke in, looking utterly distraught. “We were up all night talking it over, and we wonder if we should let her go. We feel like we’ve given her every chance, and we can’t bear to see her suffer anymore…” His voice choked off, and his wife burst into tears, diving into her hanky.
I took a deep breath, and reached for the box of tissues, placed it on the table.
“I was going to suggest the same thing,” I replied. “My feeling is that the shaking has damaged her spine – the X-rays aren’t conclusive, we’ve all had a look at them, but at the same time something’s not quite right there. I think this awful pain is coming from that, let alone the assive trauma from the bite injuries. I agree that it would be the kindest thing to do.”
“Can we do it now? And can we be with her?” They asked, one after the other.
“Yes, of course,” I replied. “Just let me pop out and get everything ready.”
The nurses scurried into action, and had everything ready before I could say boo. I invited them both into the hospital, and they stood there with gentle hands connecting with the little cat while I slowly injected the euthanasia solution into her drip line. She drifted away so gently, so easily.
“Thanks so much for doing all you could to save her,” said her mum, quietly. “We really, really appreciate it. I’m glad we’ve helped her go though, she finally looks peaceful again.”
I stood with them while they made their farewells, unhooked her from everything, and helped them wrap her up in a sheet. Then I saw them out, and found a quiet corner with a cup of tea for a moment, gutted that I couldn’t save her, and at the same time concerned that I’d tried to keep her going for too long…