The day Muffin died.
I had lived with a dirty little secret the week before Joanie’s appointment with Dr. Carson, up to the time we were driving back to Bismarck, and that was that Muffin was dying.
In the days preceding her latest PET scan, we had noticed Muffin seemed listless and wasn’t eating her normal ration. I took her Doc’s Veterinary Clinic, and she was introduced to Dr. Tim Docktor, and after his examination, he told me she had a serious infection. He gave me some antibiotics, to see if that might help over the weekend. It didn’t.
Muffin was home over the weekend, but it was obvious she wasn’t her normal feline self. The only constant was that she was still able to join Joanie on the couch where she would find herself on her lap. She was still not eating much at all.
On Monday, I took her back to the vet, and on Wednesday, I stopped in to hear what the diagnosis and prognosis was. He said Muffin had a critical bacterial infection, and she was dying. I asked him if he thought she was in any pain, and he told me it didn’t appear so, and they were doing their best to keep her comfortable. He then told me the humane thing was going to be to put her down.
My heart sank. As I held her that day in the vet’s office, I couldn’t think of what to do next. I didn’t think I could tell Joanie before the Friday appointment with Dr. Carson, and what news she might have regarding the chemotherapy. At the same time I wondered about the humane thing to do regarding Muffin.
I asked Tim if he could keep her in the clinic until Friday, at which time I would call with any instructions. I told him about Joanie’s problem, and he understood what the news of losing a beloved, furry friend at a time like this would mean. I thanked him, scratched Muffin’s head, and as she looked at me, I imagined she was thinking, “Why is he leaving me here?” It hurt.
Now, I had to come to grips with what I would tell Joanie, and when I would tell her. I decided to lie. I concocted a brief story about how the infection still was not cleared up, and the vet wanted to keep her in for a few days for observation and further treatment. I said since we would be gone for a couple of days, it would be better for her. I felt terrible, because it was giving her hope that Muffin was going to be okay, and when we got back from Minneapolis, she would be able to take up her position on Joanie’s lap.
There might be those who say I should have told her the truth right away, but they weren’t there, and they couldn’t see what I saw, or know what the emotional impact of that would have been at this most difficult time in Joanie’s life. As hard as it was to keep it from her, I never regretted how I handled it.
The night before the appointment with Carson, after dinner with Ginny and Ed, I had tried to drop a couple of hints about Muffin, but they were weak hints, hints that Joanie didn’t pick up on. I was still not ready to tell her the bad news before we met with Carson.
The next morning, after the appointment, and her shopping stop at Macy’s downtown, we got back on the road, and I knew it was time to break the news to her. She had said something about wondering how Muffin was doing, and how she was looking forward to seeing her.
I started, by telling her that Muffin was really sick, sicker than we had originally thought. Joanie looked at me, and said, “Is she dying?” I had to say yes. Now I had this hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach again. She started to cry, and asked me how soon. I told her the vet was waiting for a call from me. I told her what the Tim had told me, and that was Muffin had a critical bacterial infection, and the humane thing to do now was to put her to sleep.Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she was tearing her Kleenex apart in her hands while I tried to keep my eyes on the road, and all I could think right then, was that everything we had heard that morning about Joanie’s condition didn’t matter to her at all. She had already watched Peaches die on the kitchen floor, and now was going to lose her best friend, Muffin.
We drove in silence as we headed west on I-94, and then east of Fergus Falls, I pulled into a rest stop to have a smoke and call Tim. I had asked Joanie if she wanted to see Muffin when we got back, and she shook her head no. I told the him to do what had to be done, and hung up. When I got back in the car, not a word was said, and Joanie just stared out the window, ripping Kleenex tissues to shreds as she did. We hadn’t been back on the road but a few minutes, when she told me she wanted to see her to say goodbye.
I called the Tim’s office immediately, and told him we were going to try and be there before his office closed, and that Joanie wanted to see Muffin. He told me they would be waiting.
We were over three hours from Bismarck when I made that call, and so I just put my foot down, speed limits be damned. I was going to get Joanie there before the doctor’s office closed, and I did. We pulled up to the clinic with fifteen minutes to spare.
Doc’s Veterinary Clinic is a marvelous place. It is at once chaotic with the resident cats and dogs roaming about, and a bird or two contributing to the cacophony of noise that announced that this was a small animal clinic, and it was one that cared deeply for the health and welfare of all of its clients.
We walked in, and the receptionist called Tim, and he came out carrying Muffin in his arms, and gently placed our ailing kitty in Joanie’s arms as she sat on one of the benches in the lobby.
Joanie just softly and slowly stroked her fur, and talked to her much like she would have done had they been home on the couch. At first Muffin lay still, with little response to her. Then, as we were getting ready to leave, Joanie said goodbye, and Muffin looked at Joanie, with what was, it seemed to me, a spark of recognition. I couldn’t say a word. After all, she was saying goodbye to her friend Muffin, who had been there for her during all of her own ups and downs over the past ten years, and my words wouldn’t mean a thing.
When we walked out the car, we sat there for a moment, and Joanie asked me if I saw Muffin respond to her touches. I told her that I had seen it, and I had.
When we pulled up in the driveway at 1205 N. Mandan Street, we looked at the kitchen windows where Muffin would have been, and when we walked into the house, it seemed somehow more quiet than it had ever been.
For what seemed like the longest time, neither one of us said a word. Joanie went to take care of the Miami Pouch and the colostomy, and to get in her sweats. When she came out to sit on the couch, she ignored the TV, but asked me to put on some music.
I got the music started, then opened a bottle of wine, grabbed two glasses and joined her on the couch. I wasn’t Muffin, but for tonight, I would be the next best thing.