It’s a word that’s both descriptive and active. And it’s a word that usually suggests something in motion.
We live in fluid times. The memories were fluid. It’s a fluid situation. When our kids are sick, one of the first things the doctor always tells my wife and I is to make sure the girls drink plenty of fluids. Fluid covers a lot of ground.
But the word fluid will always have a new meaning for me, one of sadness and heartbreak.
“She has a lot of fluid in her chest.” That’s what the emergency room veterinarian said grimly when she told me, my wife, and our daughters about the condition afflicting our cat, Corina.
The fluid was why Corina had been breathing laboriously. And it was why she wasn’t moving around or raising her head or running seemingly out of nowhere when she would hear me pull back the tab and crack open a can of Fancy Feast, most of which she would devour before letting our other cat, Baby, have a single bite.
The fluid was a sign of heart failure. And the fluid was too much for her, or us, to overcome.
The whole day had been a fluid one leading up to this moment. It started with one of my usual Saturday morning runs to the donut shop with my daughter, Lily. From there, I took our other daughter, Madeline, to get my truck washed and cleaned out for the first time in a month. (I will never cease to be amazed at how easily two little girls can leave my truck looking like the county dump). Then, it was about time for us to leave for an afternoon of miniature golf and ice cream at a birthday party for one of Lily’s friends.
And not long before we headed out, there was Corina, sitting at the back door and meowing like she always did when she wanted to go out on our deck.
“You want to go outside?” I asked as she looked up at me. I opened the door, and out she walked like she had done at least once every day. “We’ll be back in while,” I told her. I knew from all our 16 years together that when we got back, I was likely to find Corina laying on, or under, the outside sofa, getting in her required cat’s-worth of 16 hours of sleep a day.
She was in neither place, but was in the shade when we came home about three hours later. I picked her up like I always did, gave her a kiss, and set her down inside the house. I went back out to roll up our hose, but before I could start doing that, my wife, Megan, called to me.
“Rex! There’s something wrong with Corina!”
I didn’t want to believe it, and when I came back inside, I think I made a joke along the lines of, “What? She didn’t sleep enough today?”
But, there was no joking about her situation. Megan said Corina had walked over near our coffee table and slumped down. She was breathing heavily and looking lethargic. I picked Cornia up, petted her and put her back down. And she did the exact same thing, this time walking over to our piano bench before nearly collapsing on the rug.
We called the emergency vet hospital. They said it was something respiratory, and for us to bring Corina there straightaway. We did that. And within minutes of Corina being taken back to an exam room, a nurse came back out with an early diagnosis.
“Her situation is critical. She’s in an oxygen tank now.”
I didn’t have enough time to take it in as we soon went back to an exam room to meet with the doctor. When she came in, she said the reason Corina was having difficulty breathing was all the fluid that had built up in her chest. And all of that was a red flag for heart failure. Combined with Corina’s age, it was a condition that wouldn’t get better.
The doctor said the ultrasound showed about 100 milliliters of fluid in Corina’s chest, which was far too much for a cat of her size to handle. They could drain the fluid, but the doctor said that would be just the start of Corina’s treatment, and that she would have to remain at the hospital for several weeks. And because of Corina’s age, she would still be suffering from heart failure and in the end, wouldn’t get any better.
So there we were. Less than two hours earlier, we had been gorging on hot fudge sundaes. Now, we were crushed, and facing a decision none of us expected, nor wanted to make.
We all cried, but there was no doubt that I was the one feeling it the worst.
Corina was a member of our family, but she was my cat. My friend. She and I had been together for four years in a prior life, when I was with someone else. Someone who, after years together, blindsided me and one day left both Corina and I. And for months after, when I was so shattered I spent my nights on the sofa because I couldn’t bear to sleep in what had been our bed, Corina was there. She would climb on me and sleep on my side, or my chest, or mushed up so close next to me that I was afraid if I moved I would crush her.
But Corina was telling me she wouldn’t go. And I wouldn’t leave her, either. And together, Corina and I found something better. We found the love and the home we always wanted with Megan, and when Madeline and Lily came around, we had a family, too.
Oh, and there was also Baby.
Baby is Megan’s cat and she is three years younger than Corina. And when they first met, well…Needless to say, there is a lot of truth to the stories about cats being territorial. Corina and Baby would often size each other up like two heavyweight boxers. Sometimes, we would hear some hissing and then the skittering of paws as one of them would chase the other out from the kitchen or the bedroom and across the living room floor. Whenever I opened a can of wet cat food, Corina always, and I mean ALWAYS was the first one to the dish. Baby would hang back and watch as Corina devoured just about everything I put in front of her. And Corina would, inevitably, leave no more than two bites for Baby to scarf up.
It was as if Corina was saying to Baby, “Yeah, what are you gonna do about it?”
They didn’t hang out together. But, with time, they did reach a sort-of-peace. Eventually, I would come home from work and find the two cats laying on the same bed—And in the exact same places where we had left them in the morning. Maybe one was dating the other to be the first to get up? Maybe they just didn’t care about each other that much? It’s a rough life when you spend most of it sleeping about 14 hours a day.
Corina was a cuddler, too…Up to a point. If I was ever sitting on the sofa, and especially if I was doing any work on my laptop or iPad, that was precisely when Corina would decide it was time to clamber up onto my lap and settle in for nice long sit. Oh, but woe to whomever felt that this was a sign to start petting her. Corina would usually let you rub her head or the scruff of her neck for a minute, tops, before letting you know her feelings by snapping at your hand. She never broke the skin..Except for that time when, I guess, she really didn’t prefer that I pick her up and took her feelings out on my lower lip.
I had my fastball working as I hurled Corina off of me and cleaned up the O-Positive that drained out of my face. Megan, who had been bitten or scratched at least once by every one of the approximately 200 pets she had growing up couldn’t understand why I felt it so important we go the emergency room. I didn’t need stitches, but got some antibiotics. And when I got home, Corina looked at me as if to say, “About time you got back here,” and then climbed in top of me when I went to bed.
So, yeah, Corina could be mean as hell and as sweet as an angel. But she was a cat, and I knew this was what she was. For every time she scratched the wood on our stair railing, there was a time when she would hang out and wait for me to get out of the shower. For every time she acted like she couldn’t care less about my presence (and if you have a cat, you know that much of their time is spent acting like they don’t care about you) there was a time when she would beg like a dog at my feet for a piece of the chicken wings I was eating while watching the Seattle Seahawks, the Washington State Cougars or the Seattle Mariners on TV. For every time she would disappear in the evening, there was a time when I would wake up to her jumping up on our bed and then curl up next to me where she would sleep the night away.
A few minutes after the doctor gave us her diagnosis, she brought Corina into the exam room. She was swaddled in a blanket and I held her like she was a baby. Sticking out of Corina’s leg was a catheter, which would take the injection that would put her to sleep for the last time.
We all petted Corina and talked to her. My daughters sobbed. My wife could barely speak. I just held Corina and tried to keep it together. Soon, my wife took the girls out our truck. They didn’t need to see what was coming up. I didn’t want to be there, either. But I had been with Corina since the beginning, and if anyone was going to be with her at the end, it was going to be me.
The doctor left us alone. I held Corina, petted her a lot and talked to her. I talked about how we had been through so much together in 16 years and how much she meant to me. I said that I hoped I had given her a good life, and how sorry I was for what was about to happen. And as corny as it may sound, I told her I would never forget her and we would see each other again. I gave her a kiss, removed her collar with her name tag, and then told the nurse I was ready for the doctor to come in.
But I wasn’t kidding anyone. There was no way I was ready for this.
The doctor entered the room with her syringes. I wanted to be sick. She said that based on what she saw of Corina, we were making the right decision. It didn’t help or make it any easier. I knelt down with Corina and put my hands on her. The doctor injected a sedative into the catheter. Corina looked over at the doctor and then turned to me and put her head down. Next came whatever it was that would finish the humane and horrible activity. In almost no time after that, the doctor took her stethoscope to Corina’s body.
I didn’t want to take my hands off of Corina, but I needed to wipe away some tears. The doctor wrapped Corina up and took her off to the back room. They would keep her there for a few days before she was to be picked up for what is called a “country burial.” I walked out through the lobby much faster than I did when we arrived. When I got to the truck, everyone was crying.
That night we decided we all should be together. We pulled out the sofa hide-a-bed, made some popcorn and watched “The Boss Baby.” Our kids had been had been badgering us to rent this for a while, and I thought it would be simple enough to take our minds off of what we had just been through. We laid back, and the girls laughed a lot as the show went on. My wife held my hand and rub my shoulders. I tried to shove as much popcorn into my mouth as possible and I dozed in and out of the movie. Eventually, with everyone else asleep, I went down to my bedroom.
This would be the first night of every day now being unlike those of the past 16 years. From now on there would be no tinkling of Corina’s name tag against her collar as she followed me into the room. She wouldn’t be climbing up on me in the night. I wouldn’t see her in the bathroom, waiting for me to finish my shower in the morning. When I sat down with my chicken wings during Seahawks, Mariners or Cougars games, her little body wouldn’t be sidling up to me in hopes of a treat.
It’s been three weeks since Corina died and still find myself getting choked up during some of those times I expect her to be here. But there is no way that she is. Men aren’t supposed to feel this way about cats. That’s supposed to be the role of the single woman or Crazy Cat Lady who has more felines than she should have.
But I don’t care. My friend is gone. Our family is missing a member. Letting her go may have been “for the best”, but it doesn’t feel that way. And I don’t think it ever will. There nothing fluid about that.