I have been struggling with this post since Friday night. I'm going to leave the beginning I wrote on Friday:
Today has been a shock and truly awful. Yesterday, I was enthralled in the pure bliss found in my soft, furry companions. Today has been a nightmare. I am in shock and in tears.
This morning, hubby was up before me and called the cats to their breakfast as he has for years. I heard him calling "Storm! Storm! Come Storm!" and after a few minutes he came up and told me that Storm didn't come to have breakfast. I'm a very slow riser in the morning normally, but this was odd. I got up immediately. Storm--or any of the cats--just never misses breakfast. My husband and I exchanged phrases--she couldn't have gotten outside--I heard her at midnight at the bedroom door--I'm sure she's just hiding or sleeping--she's been in hiding before.
Things just felt different today. I went around the house calling to Storm. I looked under things, then went to the basement. I thought I heard a "meow" near the furnace, but no. Over by the washer I turned on the other two lights, calling "Storm" several times. Finally, she answered "meow"...then louder, "Meow!" Her call was coming from behind the washer. I finally saw her, lying in the eight inch space behind the washer. She didn't get up to my calls. I moved the hampers, the little shelving unit, and reached to her.
It wasn't until then that I realized that she couldn't get up. Immediately I thought she had a spinal cord injury...she couldn't move her hind legs. I gingerly pulled her from her hiding place, trying to somehow keep her spine from moving and wrapping her in a retired bath mat to give her additional support. "Honey! HONEY!!" I cried. Storm's back feet were cold to the touch. Her breathing was rapid and shallow, with a deep sigh every few breaths--a disturbing pattern. She felt cold all over. My husband came down as I put her on the island in the kitchen with the doubled bath mat as her bed. Storm seemed a little relieved as she rested her head on my forearm, her lower body limp.
I knew it was grave. I kept replaying in my mind how Storm could possibly have fallen (she's a very lithe cat) and hurt her distal spine. I just couldn't believe it. We soon learned that I really had no grasp of what really had happened to my girl.
Hubby and I took Storm immediately to the emergency vet. Driving there I held her in my lap, still supporting her spine in the bathmat. There, the tech got her vital signs and told me that Storm was a bit cold...when I asked later, she told me 92.5 F, which is far below the normal for a cat (100.5-102.5). The vet, a softspoken South African man, examined her and gave us his first impressions. Although possible that Storm had injured her spine, he thought that she more likely suffered from a blood clot lodged at the distal end of her aorta, blocking both femoral arteries. It's something that happens, particularly in American Shorthair and Maine Coon cats. They did x-rays--chest, hips, legs, spine--and he found no spinal or other fractures or bony defects but noted a somewhat enlarged heart. It was a clot.
My experiences with human patients told me that clots could be dissolved with medications, but reperfusion injuries could be very destructive. These patients were also treated within minutes to an hour or two after injury--Storm's legs were cold, completely paralyzed and her toenail beds were blue. We only knew that she was walking around midnight, paralyzed at 7:30 in the morning. My heart was sinking very quickly.
The doctor carefully explained how cats often can have enlarged hearts but manage to hide any symptoms because they cope so well. This cardiomyopathy worsens and allows a clot to form in the heart, which can break off and lodge in the bifurcation of the aorta. Storm had never been sick a day in her life. I never saw a single sign of heart disease, but I understand how she could have kept it so well hidden.
Knowing that she was hypothermic, I wrapped covers around her and tried to warm her with my body heat, supporting and stroking her the whole time. She rested her head on my forearm like she was exhausted and knew I was there to take care of her.
As we discussed Storm's prognosis and few options, her breathing became more labored and he listened to her lungs again. He had mentioned pulmonary edema due to heart failure earlier, and it was already worse. The kind doctor let me borrow his stethescope and I was horrified. I've heard wet rales that bad before, but always when we were making the decision to intubate the patient to prevent complete respiratory failure. I couldn't speak but my husband told me later that my face said it all.
The staff moved very quickly to get Storm an IV and give her a strong pain medicine. I stroked her and held her head while the doctor started the IV, then cuddled her once the IV was placed. As soon as the medication was in she relaxed a lot. I couldn't believe it was all happening so fast.
Knowing that embolectomy (surgery) was out, medications were extremely risky and reperfusion would likely kill her--and that even if we could get her through the "clot-buster" phase almost all cats have repeat clots, often fatal, within weeks, we faced the only humane option. Thank goodness my husband brought it up with the vet: "Is it too early to consider..." When he said "no" I broke. We all knew it was the only option.
I had taken the role of the critical care nurse--Storm was the patient. I held her, comforted her, would have done anything for her, but had not faced the fact that she might not make it. When the actual need to decide that euthanasia was what we needed to do for her, the reality hit me and my eyes welled up with tears. I knew Storm would not survive this crisis, and kindness dictated that we not put her through days of suffering.
Thank heavens my husband was there to sign the consent form and fill out the form about her remains, because when the second gal showed up with the clipboard I couldn't deal with her. I only knew that these were my last minutes with Storm, and I wasn't going to pay attention to anything but her. Storm was a lot more relaxed after her pain medication, but was still breathing hard and when she tried to reposition herself her paralyzed legs gave her pain. We had a few minutes with her then.
I focused only on her. My husband did not want to be there at the end, so he petted and ruffled her fur and said goodbye. The dear kind vet put together the necessary medications and I leaned in close to Storm, whispering in her ear and stroking her shoulder and chest. As I nuzzled her head and stroked her, I thought I heard her purring very quietly. Then her breathing slowed and then stopped.
I couldn't stop stroking her and feeling the soft fur of her head on my face. After another minute I looked up and the vet gave her a soft pet. He listened to me babble about what a wonderful cat she was, how smart she was....he asked if I needed something for my cut hand--I was bleeding from when Storm had gotten me with her "thumb" nail when I held her head for the IV.
The vet, knowing how attached we pet owners can be, offered me the snippings of her fur from when they shaved her arm for her IV. Not knowing whether I wanted it or not, I wrapped the fur in a tissue and stuffed it in my pocket.
I stroked her several more times, so limp and still, and said my last goodbye to my very smartest pet, my very best girl Storm.
With her favorite toy
On Thursday afternoon