Over the last 10 weeks of my summer internship I worked on a health care project and it really brought to mind, what is the value of life? Health care has become so expensive and medical care has become so advanced that financial considerations have to be taken for any major crises even if one has insurance. If you’ve seen the movie Sicko and the story about the man who had to choose which finger to get re-attached, you understand what I mean.
I’ve run into the same crisis with my Bengal cat Clyde who has apparently been stricken with cancer. He had lost a lot of weight over the last week or so and has had chronic diarrhea. The first round of tests with the vet ran $900 and they really can’t tell me what is wrong, just that it’s likely to be cancer. The next step is an aspirate/biopsy to validate whether it’s cancer and the extent of it. Once that’s complete, we’re talking chemotherapy which can be quite pricey. 30% of cats will not respond to treatment and of those that do respond, the average time of remission is 6 months and then the wasting process starts again. For the last week (and the clock is ticking), I’ve mulled over the decisions. Will treatment make his situation work? Can I afford the treatment given the amount of school debt I’m carrying? Will I have to go through an awful process of worrying about him and stressing out over his health 6 months from now?
Sigh, there are no good answers and I feel pretty shitty about anything I can come up with. It is truly awful to watch him waste away and mew weakly at me, just two weeks ago he was a lively alert little guy who would play fetch and gobble down his food with abandon. I have had several cats over the years but Clyde has always been my favorite, my special little guy (use Marge Simpson voice here). I got him from a breeder up in Sacramento and chose him before he was even born. His mom, Miamore was a beautiful marble Bengal with a very calm and mellow demeanor. I asked the breeder if I could have a kitten from Miamore’s litter which she agreed to. In July of 1999 I got my little marble Bengal and named him after a previous male cat I had owned, Clyde.
Clyde II turned out to be mellow but in an extremely active way, typical of little boys. He’d run tear-ass around the apartment, rarely resting until he wanted a scratch on the head. Then he’d come running over, head-butt my hand until I gave him a good scratch on the ears. He’d go cross-eyes if I hit that special spot on the back of his ears and then trot off after being serviced. So it wasn’t just that he was a beautiful looking cat, he had the personality and brains to boot. Visitors would marvel at the fact that he would play fetch with them and he even learned how to open door latches to get out of rooms. But of course he wasn’t a total angel, he accidentally knocked the canine teeth out of his sister’s (Bonnie) mouth by pouncing on top of her jarring her lower jaw off the hardwood floors. He’s truly a one of a kind pet and has been my loyal companion for eight great years.
In the end, I knew that I had done everything I could over the 8 years to make him happy and content, dragging him from San Francisco to NC to Boston and back down here. I’ve made career choices, such as not considering jobs that would have me travel to much, so I could take care of my two cats. As much as I wanted to help him get better, I wished I could know if he wanted to go through that treatment; if he was willing to put up with all the doctors and needles and sterility of a hospital. My instincts were to say no, that he should pass on in peace, knowing he was loved and he brought a lot to my life. That he was my special little guy regardless if he was still around.
This morning, he weakly stopped by to visit me in the morning like he sometimes does. I lifted him up to the sink and let him drink out of the tap like he loves to do. I lay down next to him and tried to have a chat, tried to understand what he wanted. He’s uncomfortable, ill but I came to the conclusion that he still has some fight left, he still wants to live. So I’ve decided to push forward with treatment. Even if it kills me financially, even if I have to go through this whole damn grieving process again in 6 months. So I made the call and we’ll see how it goes. I don’t think the odds are in our favor but I have to give it a shot. Please say a prayer for my special little guy, we’re going to see how long we can fight this disease…