Friday, April 8, 2011

End Times

So, we'd thought that we were going to have to put Puckett down, tomorrow. His cancer was aggressively advancing and he was looking thinner by the day. He was starting to have trouble holding down food or having interest in but all the most favorite morsels - fresh meats, peanutbutter, cheeses and the like. He'd lost interest in his rice and was eating around it. So, we'd switched to all meat & vegetable  dinners and hand-feeding him bits of meat, peanutbutter, and cheese any time we passed through the kitchen.

Sometime before I woke up, this morning, he'd scratched open the tumor on his head. Not wanting him to get an infection - even if there might only be a few days (or less) left - I brought him into the bathroom to clean up and treat the wound. My bathroom's a little on the small side. So, to get the door closed to prevent dog-escapes, I have to manhandle him. I decided to just lift him up from his bed and carry him in to make the whole thing easier. It was at that point that I realized just how much weight the cancer had taken from him: he was noticably lighter than his normal 57lbs; he was noticeably lighter than Lana had been when I'd had to carry her body from the vet's; he felt like he might actually even be approaching Cira's 42lbs. So, I knew we were close.

While I knew we were close to the end-date, we thought we had a little more time. We'd already gotten our prefered vets' schedules for the week when Donna had gone in to get him the anti-nausea medications. Friday, both of our regular vets were scheduled to be in. So, we figured, given the recent rate of decline and our preferred vets' schedules, that we'd do it Friday.

Today, when I came home from work, he was still taking handouts, but he seemed like he was doing it because it was his favorites, not because he had any real interest. So, I called and made the appointment. Then, we went out for one last walk, because it was a really beautiful day. I'd have put him in my convertible and taken him for a drive in the open air, but, it was the thick of Northern Virginia rushour (and would have been pointless). Donna had already taken Cira out from a longish walk. I was only intending to take him down to the end of the block and back. The effort of even that was noticeably wearing on him. But, as I was about to turn us around and head home, I noticed Donna and Cira coming up the next street. So, I waited for them to get closer, figuring the four of us could walk back home, together.

Donna wanted to take Puckett on one last visit to our local boarding kennel (Royal Pet Kennel). One of Donna's friends is on staff and was fond of Puckett (in all honesty, I don't know anyone that spent any time with him that wasn't fond of him). So, we extended our walk a little bit and went to see if Donna's friend was in. She was, so, we hung out a bit and let her say her goodbyes to him. Then, we walked home.

Donna opted to stay out on the front porch and enjoy some sun-time  in her rocking chair. She fetched up a bag of chips and a drink, got a pillow for Cira to lay on and hung out.

I went in to get Puckett a drink and try to feed him some more treats. He drank heartily - with the sloppy gusto that he'd always sloshed his water dish with. Though, in retrospect, there was a bit of desperation to it rather than just gusto. We'd kind of been thinking that the cancer may have been spreading from his lungs to his kidneys. The water said that was probably true. I left him out into the back yard so he could go to the bathroom. He took what, for recent trends, was a very short break. He didn't seem terribly interested in the usual sniffing about and lolly-gagging that he always indulged in on days as temparate and sunny as today.

I went out front to let Donna know he was seeming a bit out of it. She'd had enough of her chips and handed me them to bring back into the house. I figured, offer one to Puckett. He had no interest. Worried, I went into the kitchen and dipped my index finger into the jar of Jif and offered it to him. No interest. At that point, I knew that we couldn't wait for the planned exit. If he was refusing a finger of peanutbutter, he was in dire straights - probably in pain or discomfort that he couldn't communicate in any other effective way. I went out onto the front porch to show Donna the untouched peanutbutter. We agreed that we should take him down to the vet, post-haste. So, I called and got the ok to bring him in, immediately.

For better or worse, our vets' practice is just down the hill from us. So, it was a short trip - the only thing keeping us from getting there in under five minutes being the traffic along the one-mile route. I was already starting to fall apart, so, I had Donna go in and sign him in while I waited with him in the car. It was a short wait. They sent her out to get me and prepped the room while she did so. I walked him in, taking him down the very long hallway to the euthanasia room. The sign on the door said, "in use," so I thought, "damn: bad day for pets." No, the "in use" was to indicate that the room was waiting for us. They opened the door and directed us in, then summoned the duty-vet.

While we waited, they went through the paperwork with us. It was all too familiar, having just been through it only five months previous with Lana. Yes, we wanted to be in the room for the proceedings. Yes, we wanted the paw print. No, we didn't want to send his remains off for cremation - we'd already called Sunset Pet Services to let them know we'd need to use their after hours service. Then, they took Puckett out to get his catheter put in.

While he was off getting his catheter, I went up to take care of paying. Recently, I've been pumping most of my expenses through my Visa. Apparently, I'd left it at home. All I had with me was my AmEx - the same AmEx I'd paid for Lana's services with. I remarked that AmEx was apparently my personal death-card. Yeah, that's me - find the absurd and grim humor in any given situation. I'm perky like that.

They brought Puck back from getting his catheter in. The vet came in a short time later. She wanted to confirm that we really wanted to be present. She wanted to make sure we were ready for what we were about to see. I cut her off - letting her know we appreciated the cautions, but that we'd been through it just a few months previous, so were well aware of how it could go down and the steps involved.

Pets should never become sick in such short succession to each other that your vet's euthenasia discussion feels like when the stewardesses go through their seatbelt and breathing-mask spiel.

The vet laid a towel down on the floor and Puckett sorta laid half on and half off of it. Mook: always had to be goofy with things.

She prepped her syringes: the three salines for clearing the line; the knock-down anesthetic of milky bliss (Propofol); and the vial I've come to think of a "pink death" (probably some kind of sodium pentobarbital cocktail). Much like the euthanasia talk shouldn't be like the stewardess speech, one should never be familiar enough with the chemical agents to have nicknames for them. Dunno how vets are able to do it - it's such an awful task. Then again, I used to have problems watching the emergency vet shows on Animal Planet.

She pumped in the first of the salines to ensure that the catheter was clear. Then, came the milky bliss. Within seconds, he was pancaked. The last voluntary motion from him being a final, vigorous wag of the tail. It happened quicker than Lana's had. Didn't even really have time to see him flutter his eyes. Then, another syringe of saline to make way for the pink death. Finally, the pink death was started in. I felt him leave even before the last of the vial was gone. The vet seemed kind of surprised for me to say it, because it usually takes longer. But, when she applied her stethoscope, she confirmed that he had in fact passed.

Death is funny: you can feel "something" leave; you can see the eyes go from alive to being utterly empty. What was them is just suddenly gone. Even more, you can feel it - whether they were previously conscious or if they've been comatose. Never really understood it until I watched family die. It was really driven home by recently watching two pets be euthanised. I'm not spiritual. I'm not religious. But, when you're there for the moment that someone or something passes from alive to dead, you feel it.

The vet asked if we wanted time with his body before they took him for cleanup. Such an odd question. 

I'm generally not the most emotionally demonstrative person in the world. I didn't really cry at the death of my grandparents. I didn't even really grieve all that much when my dad died, two Novembers ago. But damned if I wasn't absolutely racked with great, heaving sobs of grief. For a dog. Not a human. Not my blood relations. For a dog. The rational part of me just can't rectify it other than that the deaths of humans I've witnessed or attended to, I played no part in. Even when you know it's the right thing, seeing to the death of a loved one - even if it's just a pet - is unbelievably hard.

After I got through the worst of it, Donna asked if she should go get the vet staff so they could take care of Puckett's body. Body. Yep. At that point, that's all it was: just a body. Puckett was gone - well and truly gone. She left the room and sought out a staffer. While she was gone, another wave of grief wracked me. It suddenly struck me, "crap: this might trigger a seizure." It was probably just the hyperventilation making me feel weird, but I didn't trust that I wouldn't have a seizure. So, I gave Donna the keys to the SUV and asked that she drive. 

The vet techs came in and asked if we wanted him put in a coffin. I've been down that road many years ago when cancer took my rabbit, BamBam. In vet parlance, a "coffin" is little more than a cardboard box barely large enough to hold the body. Sorry, but this was a family member, not something I'm gonna send via FedEx. We'd brought a large towel and his death-shrouds, at any rate. So, I politely declined the box, indicating we'd brought the towel. The techs and I carefully ensconced Puckett's body in the towel - they were nice enough to bring diaper-like pads to help control any post-mortem leakage on the journey home. I picked up the awkward yet disturbingly-light bundle and carried him out to the truck, bundled him into the back seat and set next to him, on it.

Donna drove us home. Traffic seemed oddly light. Then again, the sun sets later this time of year. Puckett's heart had stopped right around sunset, it seems. It was actually well after seven at this point - we'd apparently arrived a little before six PM. What feels like such a quick process actually takes surprisingly long. For both Lana and Puckett, we were at the vet for over an hour's time, each.

She pulled into the driveway. I got out of the truck, went into the house and into the back yard so I could unlatch and open the back gate. I came back down to the truck and carried his body to the back porch so Donna could prepare his body for delivery to the cremation service.

When a pet dies, Donna likes to send them off the right way. She likes to make them a set of shrouds to wrap them in and cover the outside of the bundle with the various names we'd called the pet during their life. The suddenness with which Lana's decline had crept up on us had meant she'd had to place the names using a sharpie. The slow nature of Puckett's decline meant she'd had time to hand-embroider his names into the sunny yellow exterior cloth. With blue embroidery floss, she'd placed names like: Puckett; Pucketty-Puck, Mook, Mooktastic, Mookenstein, Pucklehead and Indawä. The last was just a way of putting into a single word his tendency to always be under foot or "in the way". The yellow cloth was to commemorate the sunniness that was his personality.

It was kind of an odd, yet very fitting procedure. When I laid him down on the back porch, he kind of rolled over onto his back, his body assuming the same playful pose he often had in life. The way his lips sort of drew away (by gravity) even looked kind of like he was smiling.

We got the blue cloth, and placed him carfully on it, tucking his legs up against his body and tucking his chin towards his chest. Then we began to roll him up into the first cloth. As we got near the end of that length of cloth, his tail flopped out. It was like he was trying to wag his tail one last time. We carefully tucked his tail back in and then began rolling him into the embroidered, yellow cloth. Once wrapped up, Donna began to stich him into it. It occurred to me, if we're sending him off this way, we should send him off with a favorite. So, I grabbed one of the previous night's remaining hamburger rolls, slathered it with peanutbutter, and had Donna tuck it in with him.

I came out a while later to check on the progress. Donna had him all but completely stiched in. Much as he'd seemed to try to wag his tail while we did the initial wrap, he'd slobbered through his shrouds. Lana hadn't done that during her wrapup. So, it seemed like yet another, last, Puckett-y thing.

I called Sunset and let them know we were on the way. We drove out the all too familiar route to Sunset. When we got there, I got out and rang the night-bell. The staffer came out, we put his body on the cart, then went inside to fill out the paperwork. Paperwork done, I joined Donna at Puckett's body and we bid one more tearful goodbye to him. Then, we drove home.

House feels empty, somehow. I've got another dog, laying on her dog bed, working on a bone-toy. I've got a cat curled up at my hip as I write. Another cat is skulking about the house. Donna is sitting behind me quilting as we have a really awful zombie flick on NetFlix Streaming. Still, with all this life around me and the noise from the TV, the house feels quiet and empty.


If anyone actually reads this, sorry it was so long. I had to spill this all out so I have it to re-read later. It's gonna take a while for me to process. In the meantime, I can do a version of retail therapy and look through PetFinder.Com in hopes of finding another bundle of life to fill the gaping hole left by Puckett's departure.

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