18 Jun A sick cat
Our 16 year old cat is sick. She hasn’t eaten in almost a week and has been throwing up when she tries to drink. When I went to make an appointment with the vet yesterday and I asked the receptionist how we might handle things if she wasn’t going to make it, she looked at me like I had just stepped in crap and said, “You would do that?”
As I told her, one of the reasons that I avoid the vet is because I don’t want to be judged. In almost all of my interactions with vets I have felt pushed to do tests and procedures that I didn’t feel comfortable with. In all fairness, I don’t believe that the vets are doing the procedures to make more money, but I also think that we have different concepts of how far we should go with medical intervention. I hate going to the doctor for the same reason.
I feel terrible about the situation with my cat, and I don’t want her to suffer. To me, subjecting a 16 year old cat (who has been in fairly good health but clearly getting stiffer and weaker) to a bunch of tests that would lead to surgery is cruel. She’s like an 85 year old woman. If minimally invasive techniques can’t pull her out of the woods, it seems that the only option is putting her down if she continues to deteriorate.
When we got the cat we had no children and no dog. When we got a dog, the cat’s life was a little more difficult. When the kids came she got a lot less attention. However, over the course of 16 years she’s gotten a good deal of love and affection; most winter nights she sleeps curled up with me under the covers. At the same time, our lives have changed significantly and the added stress of a very sick cat feels somewhat unbearable given the stress of two hyper needy kids and a difficult work situation.
30 years ago very few people would have considered surgery for an old sick family cat. Based on my dealings with vets it seems that it is now almost expected that pet owners will opt for it. Just like our relationship to pets, our culture’s relationship to children has shifted a great deal as well. At the turn of the century, a lot of families saw children as extra hands to help out with the family business or on the farm. By the 50’s with postwar prosperity, many people began to see children as the focus of the family. Today we have helicopter parents who live and breathe for the benefit of their children.
As with any societal shift these changes have all manners of positive and negative consequences. I think it’s great that people treat the animals that they don’t eat with respect and affection. However, with changing mores comes different expectations that can lead to difficult interactions. When I was questioned, and felt judged, by the secretary yesterday I was livid. I know my cat after 16 years and I know that it’s likely this was her end time. She’s been sick before but never this sick and never for this long. I didn’t get a lot better reception from the vet when I said that I didn’t want to do an ultrasound because I didn’t want to do surgery. The veiled disdain wasn’t so veiled.
In this case the sense of judgement had very negative consequences for my family and my cat. I had the vet hydrate her and give her a a shot to keep her from vomiting, to give her a chance to get better. When she continued to vomit after getting the shot it was clear that she had an obstruction, and would not survive. The hydration had comforted her and she seemed much better, so I hesitated to take her back to the vet to put her down despite knowing that she would not survive because I did not want to be judged for putting my cat to sleep. This was a big mistake because last night she went downhill and seeing her in this state has been very difficult not only for me, but for my children. I couldn’t sleep knowing she was suffering so I am writing this at dawn as I wait to take her to the vet. I dread the interaction even though I know that I have carefully considered my options. I love my cat and I believe that I know what’s best for her and my family.
Now imagine that you are the parents of a donor conceived child, or a donor, and you feel judged for not thinking through all of the possible negative consequences for the child. Clearly I am not equating pets and children, but instead the way in which our mores and attitudes change- and how those changes can have negative consequences. When I was a donor, I had absolutely no sense that children born from my genetic material would be interested in me. It has been a bit difficult to hear how much many donor kids want to know their donor fathers. It has been even more difficult to hear it when it’s said with anger and judgment attached. I imagine that it’s extremely difficult for parents of donor children- who conceived them with the best information and intentions available to them- to handle judgment about their decisions and actions. This is not to say that we should freeze our values as a society, but instead that when these values shift it’s important to have a degree of empathy for those that are “left behind” by the shift.
In addition to dealing with my sick cat this week I have also been stressed out by end of the school year activities. It has been a hectic year with a lot of ups and downs. A couple of nights ago I attended a meeting of parents from my older daughter’s school. In general, the parents are happy with the academic progress of our children but we have some problems with the emotional life of the school. To be clear, all of us give a great deal of deference to the teachers and administration, and give them the support and respect that they deserve. At the same time we are working on an initiative to improve the emotional life of the school and we have made some inspiring progress.
After several meetings we have come up with an inspiring list of values
1. Commitment to learning
We seek knowledge to better our community and ourselves.
• I can do anything when I work hard.
2. Respect we treat people and our community with love and appreciation. We treat each other as equals.
• I will listen to you.
We use our thoughts, words, and actions to make the school a better place because we know that how we act affects our friends and environment.
• I make a difference.
We care about other people and their feelings. When someone is feeling hurt or sad, we reach out to help them.
• I will be a good friend.
We set a good example by having the courage and the self-determination to do what’s right, especially when others are not.
• I am capable.
• I am powerful.
We are loyal to our friends and community.
• You can count on me.
• I will never let you down.
We are valuable members of our community and good friends to our neighbors.
• I am powerful.
At the meeting we added an 8th, accountability. There was discussion that it was the same as responsibility- but we settled on the idea that accountability is an antidote for a failure to uphold any of the other seven values. While it has been valuable to think of these values as something we want our children to focus on it- it has been even more valuable to think of them as things that we adults need to focus on.
Last night, after another late school meeting/dinner with the kids we came home to find that the cat was going downhill. It was late and time for our older daughter to go to bed and she was being extremely rude. I snapped and yelled at her. I can’t say that I treated her with respect and I regret it. I did follow up by taking accountability for my actions. I know that the stress of the end of school and the sick cat was getting to all of us, and in retrospect it’s easy to see that I should have calmed myself with that knowledge.
In about an hour I will walk my daughter to school and my cat to the vet. As I make that walk I will think about these values and concentrate on upholding them.