Friday, January 13, 2012

Oliver the Cat

Have a dog, cat, or other pet at home?

Pet ownership is good for your health.  Petting a furry animal can decrease your blood pressure and stress.  Dogs are notorious for dragging their owners outside for exercise, and goldfish can be quite calming to watch. (1)

I can testify that pets are also a great help for loneliness.  When I moved to a new city for residency eight-and-a-half years ago, I was still unmarried and didn't know a single person there. Every night, my cats Mr. Tig and Oliver the Cat came to my apartment door to greet me when I got home.  They didn't care about the mistakes I had made that day, they didn't care if I was stinky from 24 hours on call, and they didn't care about my rumpled scrubs. They just loved me unconditionally, content to sit on my lap while I watched mindless television, talked on the phone, or even, occasionally, when I needed a good cry.

Those cats were my soul's balm during medical school, residency, and fellowship. They moved three times with me over those years, and their presence in the early days each time was a tremendous comfort.

Unfortunately, though, no pet lives forever.  Oliver the Cat starting losing a lot of weight about 6 months ago.  His CBC, splenomegaly, and weight loss spelled out a pretty clear picture for his human doctor owners, and we decided against any further, more aggressive work-up.  We didn't want to make him suffer through more tests and likely chemo just to squeeze out a few more months for ourselves with him.  His vets wholeheartedly agreed with our decision.

He ate less every day, and he spent increasingly more time on a soft rug in a warm downstairs bathroom.  Tig, previously inseparable from him, started keeping his distance, perhaps in recognition of Oliver's instinct for peace and quiet during the dying process.  My husband and I visited him several times a day and tried not to think of what was surely coming.

Three weeks ago, though, less than an hour after my husband and I had gotten home from work, Oliver died in my arms.

Pet grief is real grief. (2,3)  My husband keeps commenting on how empty the house feels, and Tig keeps peeking into that downstairs bathroom looking for his buddy.  I'm having trouble getting out of bed in the morning and concentrating at work.

I don't want to let the sadness trump all of the good times I had with Oliver.  I'm grateful for his presence in my life during our eleven years together, and I have lots of funny and sweet memories of him to cherish.  

Being a pet owner myself, it's been easy to ask my patients about their pets.  I keep track of my patients' pets in their charts and inquire about them occasionally. Knowing that patients with tough situations have a furry (or scaly or feathered) friend at home always eases my worry about them.  I have shared in my patients' grief over their own pet losses many times as well.  The discussions usually follow a similar outline; they share memories, I make some remarks, and then the conversation always closes with the same sentiment:

We wouldn't trade the time we had with them for anything.

And, a nice post about coping after the loss of a cat:

1 comment:

  1. I am very sorry for the loss of your dear Oliver.

    I have a darling big kitty who is starting to show her age and it pains me to know I won't have her forever.

    I couldn't agree more - I wouldn't trade my time with her for anything either.