Monday, August 17, 2009

Good-Bye, My "Little-Buddy" - Part 1

I try to keep my blog upbeat and positive, with only the occasional rant. This is neither. This is my memorial to someone very special.

No one can ever be prepared for the death of a loved one from a terminal illness. But when that death comes to one so young, it makes it especially painful.

My Everlasting-SoulMate and I have no human children, and no plans to change that. But, we had three funny, furry, feline children. And, as all pet-owners know, they are as much (or sometimes more) a part of your family as any human could be. Unfortunately Ziggy, our youngest kitty, has passed over to the rainbow bridge and is with his family and friends on the other side.

For those of you not familiar with the poem about the rainbow bridge, or maybe you just want to read it is a link to it.

Ziggy was a large, Maine-Coon mix gray tabby. We know he was just over two years old when we adopted him from a large, no-kill cat shelter here in the Denver area. We had the joy of his company for just over a year. And, in that time I learned much about him, and I feel he taught me a little more about myself and life in general.

The final saga of Ziggy's life begins when we discovered at around 10pm on Saturday night, August 1st, 2009, that he was laboring to breathe. So, we immediately packed him up and took him to the emergency care clinic near our house. When the night-shift vet had a look at him, they decided to do an x-ray of his chest to see what was wrong. When they looked at the pictures, they discovered his chest was full of fluid! They drained almost 180mL (6 oz.) from him and put him in an oxygen chamber to bring his blood-oxygen saturation level back up. That made him more comfortable, for sure. They called for a cardiologist to come in the next day and do a cardio-ultrasound on him, as they felt he was suffering from a heart issue of some kind. They also sent a sample of the fluid they drained out for analysis. We then got to see him for a few minutes. He was looking and acting much better, but you could tell there was something not quite right about him. My wife and I told him we'd see him in the morning, thanked all the staff for their help and went home to get a little sleep. We got home somewhere south of 2am, and didn't really get much sleep as we were very worried for our boy. As it turned out, we were not worried enough.

The night-shift vet called us the next morning around 8am, as she was leaving, to let us know the cardiologist would be there in the afternoon to look at him. We asked if we could come see him before then, and she said they were very happy to accommodate us. We made plans to see him around lunchtime.

We then got a call around 10:30am from the day-shift vet, who delivered the devastating news that Ziggy was FIV and FeLV positive. The vet had acted on a hunch, and run the tests on him to make sure. He then offered to run the much more accurate ISA test on him to confirm, but cautioned that it would take 24 hours for the results to come back from the lab. We agreed that we needed to know for sure, and authorized the test. The vet also suggested that instead of the cardiologist, we needed a technician to do an ultrasound to confirm the presence of lymphomas (tumors) in his chest and abdomen that the vet had noticed on some of the x-rays. He said he had a technician coming in just after lunch that day for another case, and he would have Ziggy looked at as well.

We immediately went to see our guy. He was lying in the litter box in the oxygen chamber, looking forlorn. He perked up immediately on seeing us and wanted to come out. The vet-tech said they were slowly weaning him off the oxygen and he was progressing well, so they let us open it up and get him out for a bit. He immediately wanted to rub on both of us, trying to say he missed us and was a little scared. But, once he did that for a few minutes, then he wanted to go exploring! I'm sure he had been watching everyone in the clinic, as the front of the oxygen chamber was clear. He was such a curious and social bug, I'm certain he just wanted to see what this place was all about! We obviously did not let him wander off. We spent some time with him, then the day-shift vet came over and talked with us for a bit about the tests, Ziggy's prognosis, and what we thought our next steps might be. The gentleman was very nice to us, and told us how sorry he and the staff were to give us the news about his FIV and FeLV status. We thanked him, and talked for a bit about the ultrasound testing and all the particulars. The vet was then called away on another issue, and we were once more left alone with our Ziggy.

While we were huddled around the oxygen chamber, I noticed there was a fair amount of his fur lying around in it from after they shaved his tummy for the ultrasound. I picked up the few clumps of fur and tucked them into my pocket. I knew my wife would want them at some point.

We then said our good-byes again to him, and went out to our car to go home. After we both sat down in the car, we looked into one another's eyes and broke down. We hugged and cried uncontrollably. Neither one of us wanted it to be true, we wanted to wake up from this horrible nightmare and have everything be fine. However, sadly, we also knew in that small, rational part of our brains that was still functioning, that it was a fool's hope. Once I managed to regain some semblance of my composure, I drove us home safely.

The vet contacted us later in the afternoon and said they had confirmed a large mass in his chest that was indeed interfering with his breathing and heart function. He also said that the tech had found a multitude of tumors in his abdomen, and that they had started to invade his intestinal tract. The vet apologized several times for the news and wished he could have given us some hope. We asked how much time he figured Ziggy had left. About a week, was his reply. My wife and I had already made the decision that, if possible, we wanted to bring him home before the end. We felt he deserved to try and enjoy his last few days with us in a comfortable environment. We asked if we could do that, and he replied that we certainly could. The vet then offered that even he felt Ziggy would be better served to be at home with us. He also offered to recommend another vet that could do an at-home euthanasia for Ziggy, when the time came. We both decided to think about that, and asked him to provide the contact info for this vet. We then made the arrangements to come and pick him up from the clinic that afternoon.

When we arrived, they led us to an exam room and asked us to wait as they still needed to remove the catheter they had in his leg to give him medication. As we waited, we talked quietly about what we needed to do when we got home to make him comfortable. The front desk person came in and asked me to step out to the front desk so we could get the final bill taken care of. Almost $1,900 for one day. Wow. But, he was worth every penny of it. As my wife said later, she would have given them everything we had, if it could have fixed all of Ziggy’s problems.

Finally, the tech came in with Ziggy in her arms and gently handed him to my wife, who promptly cried all over him. Ziggy’s eyes were still dilated and he was obviously a little woozy. The tech explained that they had been giving him a very mild sedative to keep him calm as they were working on him, but they had discontinued it shortly before our arrival. It would take 12-16 hours for him to recover fully. I also noticed they had bandaged his leg with a bright blue wrap-around bandage that was designed to only stick to itself. Very clever.

The tech then explained the discharge paperwork to us. It was simple and straightforward, since there was no medication they could give him that would help. They asked us to keep a close eye on him and if he worsened significantly before the end, to bring him back in. They also gave us strict instructions to spoil him and feed him anything he would eat. At this point, he might as well enjoy himself! The tech expressed to us once again how sorry the whole staff was. She commented on what a calm boy he had been, even with all the poking and prodding. She then shared how much they had all come to like Ziggy during his short stay. We thanked her very much for all they had done for him, loaded Ziggy into the carrier and departed.

On our way home, the emotional relief of Ziggy being with us again exposed a new problem...our tummies were both rumbling! After a short discussion we discovered that we hadn’t eaten anything since lunch the day before. Isn’t it funny how stress can do that to you. So, on the way home, we pulled into a drive-in and got some food to take with us. Ziggy thought that process was all very interesting!

Tomorrow…Ziggy’s last days with us.


  1. Sundown, I'm so glad you and KittyChair decided to share Ziggy's last days with us as a way to raise awareness of FELV/FIV. Sharing your story is a gift to us and a wonderful memorial for Ziggy!
    Hugs from Baltimore,

  2. Sundown and Soulmate, I have come over from Hubble Space Paws. I was fortunate to "know" your precious Ziggy through the HSP blog, if only for a few days, and I sat and cried in my office when I read that he had gone on to the Rainbow Bridge. (I didn't cry for him because I knew that he was happy and healthy and finally free from his illness. I cried for you because you are the ones who have to go on without him.)

    I could have written your first paragraph. My husband and I have also chosen not to have human children, but instead, to fill our home with the special joy and unique comfort and love that only comes from animals.

    We have 2 cats and 2 birds. One of our cats is a big grey MC mix and looks so much like Ziggy, it's uncanny. And one of our birds is, in fact, named Ziggy (Girl Bird on my blog).

    You said everything so eloquently that I don't think there is much else for me to add, except to thank you for sharing Ziggy with us, and I look forward to reading more of his story. You are both in my thoughts. Thank you again, and I'll be back. (PS: I'm having a lot of trouble getting this comment to go through, so I apologize if this is a repeat.)

  3. I forgot to tell comments are moderated. So, don't worry if they don't show up right away. I'll be watching for them.

  4. There is so much love in the telling of Ziggy's story. I can only imagine the time and the tears that went into your writing. It's beautiful.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing Ziggy's story with us...I got to know and love your sweet little Ziggy from the posts on Hubble Space Paws and I sat at my desk and sobbed (along with probably every one else) when he crossed over the Rainbow and your wife sound like amazing and wonderful pet-parents and your love for Ziggy just always shines through everything you write about heartbreaking it is to lose a beloved fur-baby, I'm glad that during the time that he was with you, Ziggy had such a wonderful home, so filled with love and care and comfort.

    Hugs for all and my little monsters send loving purrs to you, your wife, and your other two babies :)

  6. I must tell you my tears flowed again when I hear more about the wonderful Ziggy. I will never forget him or his story and the amazing people that surrounded him with their love!

  7. Count me as another as another no-human-kids woman. My two hairy girls are my children. Thank you for loving your child, Ziggy, so much.


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