It’s been cold here in the Lakeside area this week. And for those of you who live in Northern climes, I get it. This isn’t really cold. -30°F. That’s cold!
But cold is a relative term, and 57°F with overcast skies and a cool wind down here feels like the onset of the next Ice Age. The Mexican locals dress like Minnesotans in January. Big down-filled parkas. Winter hats and caps. Scarves wrapped around their faces. Gloves. And if you ask them, they will tell you they’re fucking freezing to death.
Ten years in Phoenix has effected the way my body reacts to and adjusts to the weather. I haven’t broken out my winter parka and scarf yet, but my reaction for the last couple of days has been to turn on the gas fireplace, camp out in the living room, and try to stay warm.
That’s not entirely true. I went golfing on Monday with my golf wife. Phyllis and I decided we don’t need wind and cold to impact our game. We’re bad enough on good days. And I went to my golf lesson with Tom yesterday. It was even colder and windier, and even less fun.
It’s supposed to be back up in the 70’s next week, and that will be a welcome change. And everyone can talk about how they survived the Winter from Hell in Ajijic. According to people in the know, this has been the coldest winter in recorded history in the Lakeside area.
* * * *
Euthanasia is one of those words that doesn’t mean anything close to the way it sounds. It sounds like you’re talking about children in China. Or anywhere else in the Oriental East.
Just in cases you don’t know what euthanasia means, here’s the definition: Euthanasia (from Greek: εὐθανασία; “good death”: εὖ, eu; “well” or “good” – θάνατος, thanatos; “death”) is the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering.
It’s kind of like the Spanish word disfruta. In English, the prefix dis is associated with bad things. Dis-ease. Dis-tress. In English slang, if you diss someone, you’re saying not very good things about them.
In Spanish, the word for fruit is fruta. So if you try to Spanglish the hell out of the word disfruta you come up with bad fruit. And you’d be totally wrong because it means enjoy.
Yeah, go figure.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this. Given my style, that’s a good question to ask. The central figure in the beginning of this story is our very old kit-ten, Samantha. Sam is going to be twenty years old in April. We’ve had Sam in our house for roughly one-third of our lives. She has survived three moves with us.
Like unto most any creature of advanced age, Sam isn’t doing as good as she did when she was younger. She used to run and frolic and hunt lizards. Now, she mostly sleeps and eats, and goes back to sleep. She had a couple of days when she couldn’t keep food or water down, and that was very disconcerting. She has arthritis in her hips, and when she moves she does so slowly and deliberately.
I’m not sure, but I think she’s developed a cataract in her right eye, and she’s probably developing some degree of deafness as well. Maybe she can still hear as well as she ever did, but she simply cares less about what people are saying.
Who knows? She’s a cat, and cats are, well, mystical.
I don’t know if it’s her limited mobility, or possible vision problems, or something else entirely; but Sam has developed some issues when she uses the litter box over the last month or so. The biggest problem is she doesn’t appear to be actually using her litter box. I think she’s still trying, but she’s developed some serious accuracy problems.
I have a couple of plastic mats in front of the litter box that generally gather and corral her errant urine, and we have ceramic tile floors, so clean up is a breeze. I used to be a nurse. I’ve cleaned up a lots of urine and other body fluids in my lifetime. Still, it’s not a task I can say I relish doing, no matter how much I love our kit-ten.
As a result, my lovely supermodel wife and I have had several End of Life conversations about her beloved kit-ten. These are not easy conversations. Lea really loves her kit-ten, and she always starts crying. I really hate seeing her cry. We’ve had to say farewell to other kit-tens, and those were painful events.
When the day finally comes that we have to put our kit-ten down, that will be a very sad day in our household. On the bright side, that day will not be today. Sam only vomitated once today. She’s still having trouble in the litter box, and I’ve come to the conclusion that’s probably not going to get any better, not that any of her other problems are likely to improve either…
I think Lea has decided to take Sam to our veterinarian, Dr Betty, tomorrow to get her opinion on Sam. Dr Betty is a cute young Mexican woman. She looks like she’s thirteen years old, and barely stands five feet tall. I like standing near her because even I look like a giant compared to her. I’m going to go to the vet, too. Just in cases…
* * * *
When it comes to End of Life decisions, we have much better options with our pets than we have with ourselves. Lea and I have had this conversation, and several variations on it a few times. We’re not interested in the quantity of our lives, only the quality. Lea has often told me she doesn’t care about living to be one hundred. I’m not sure I’ve told her this, but there are days when I’m not sure I want to live another ten years.
You might think that odd, seeing how I’m retired and living in paradise with a supermodel, but it’s a vast improvement over the days when I did didn’t want to live another ten minutes.
Living Wills and Advanced Directives are legal documents where you can outline what types of medical treatments and interventions you would like in the event that you become incapacitated and can’t tell anyone that you don’t want to be placed on a respirator. Or that you don’t want any heroic measures taken to save your life.
My lovely supermodel wife and I have Living Wills in both the US and in Mexico. All we want is comfort meds to control pain. And that’s it. No CPR. No intubation. Nothing. Nada.
But you can’t request that a lethal combination of drugs be given to you when the quantity of your life exceeds the quality of it. And that’s where our pets have us beat all to hell. Their lives can be ended for humane reasons.
When it comes to our pets, we have the option of essentially putting them out of their misery and ending their suffering, an option that we, as people, do not have.
Pets can be euthanized.
* * * *
My youngest daughter, Abigail, once told me a story about her friend and his hamster. The average lifespan of a hamster is somewhere around two years, give or take six months to a year. So I’m guessing Herbie the hamster was around two years old, roughly, when her friend approached his dad one Sunday morning. And for some context, the kid was probably nine years old.
“Dad, something’s wrong with Herbie! We have to take him to the vet right away!”
Well, it was only a hamster… I mean, who takes a hamster to the vet? Hamsters are like unto goldfish, with fur. When they die, you flush the old one down the toilet and you buy a new one. And it was Sunday. The Vikings game was going to start any minute.
So dad did some quick thinking and explained the concept of Life and Death to his son, and the fact that the veterinarian’s office was closed, and emergency veterinarian services are very expensive.
“I think we need to do the humane thing, son.”
The humane thing dad came up with was gassing his son’s hamster. He pulled a kettle out of the cupboard, blew out the pilot light on one side of the stove top, placed Herbie under the kettle on one of the unlit burners, and turned on the gas.
“Are you sure Herbie’s not going to suffer?” the kid asked.
“No, he won’t suffer. In fact, this is how the vet would do it…” And he went into a detailed explanation of oxygen, carbon monoxide, hemoglobin and maybe even Krebs Cycle. That last part is something I vaguely remember from nursing school. It might have something to do with this topic, but don’t quote me on that.
Dad might have had the right idea to humanely terminate Herbie. He might have even been incredibly kind while he carefully described how death in the absence of oxygen occurs. But he was very stupid about one thing.
He forgot to blow out the pilot light on the other side of the stove top.
So, while dad was patiently and compassionately going through his explanation, gas fumes were traveling across the top of the stove to the burning pilot light. When they became concentrated enough…
You know what happens when propane gas fumes hit an open flame, don’t you?
There was a small explosion on the stove top. The kettle flew to the ceiling with a BANG! then clattered across the floor, followed by the shape of a hamster with patches of fur on fire flying through the air. Herbie the Flaming Hamster landed on the floor right in front of dear old dad, and he did what any guy would do when he sees a hamster on fire on his kitchen floor.
He stomped on the hamster.
Well, that reflexive reaction put the flames out. It also killed Herbie, if he hadn’t already died to death from being old, then gassed, kind of exploded, and sort of set on fire.
Okay. This might not be the best example of humane euthanasia for a pet. However, I thought this was one of the funniest true stories I’ve ever heard in my life, and it popped into my mind as I was writing.
I tend to go where my Muse takes me when I write. This is probably the only story I’ve written lately that I’ve given any thought to for more than half an hour, actually giving my Muse an opportunity for input. I should probably be more mindful when I write. A couple of my latest posts are incomplete because I forgot to write half the things I wanted to. Maybe I’ll go back and finish them someday…
I can only speak for myself, but I like the results much better when I listen to my Muse. Or Muses. Seeing how this may turn out to be tragic, Melpomene will be involved. But it’s also kind of funny, so let’s give Thalia a warm round of applause.
* * * *
If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I have wanted to be a prophet for quite some time. And you also know it’s something I’ve essentially failed to achieve. So I doubt that I could predict the exact circumstances surrounding my death even if I wanted to.
Be that as it may, it doesn’t stop me from speculating about them.
I used to read the obituaries when I was a psych nurse, mostly to see if any of my former patients had died. Especially the ones I didn’t like very much.
There were a lots of people that died from an “unexpected heart attack.” Does anyone ever expect to die from a heart attack on any given day? And if you expected a heart attack, wouldn’t you do something to prevent it?
“Hey! Do you want to go golfing?”
“Okay, but we better go early. I’m planning on having a heart attack around two o’clock today…”
A lots of people died after a “courageous battle with cancer.” You won’t be able to say that about me. Nope. That sonuvabitch pretty much gave up when he found out he had cancer, and just surrendered to his fate. No chemo. No radiation. No surgery. He just wanted morphine.
In the event that the quality of my diminishes greatly before the quantity of it does, I’ve come up with a scenario to effect an humane end for my life. It involves my two darling daughters, Gwendolyn and Abigail, and a dog costume. And it goes something like unto this:
Gwen and Abi will come down here to Mexico, dress me in the dog costume, then take me to the veterinarian’s office.
“Buenos dias, I’m Doctor Ramirez. How can I help you ladies today?”
Abi: “It’s our dad, I mean, dog.”
Gwen: “Yes. Our dog is very old, and he’s in a lot of pain. He needs to be put down.”
Abi: “We thought about doing it ourselves, but I don’t think the stove top is big enough.”
Gwen: “And we don’t have a kettle big enough.”
Abi: “And we might accidentally blow up the house.”
Gwen: “And we really don’t want to do that…”
Abi: “It’s a rental house. The landlord probably wouldn’t appreciate that.”
Dr Ramirez: “I see, I think. How old is your dog?”
Abi: “He’s, like, eighty…”
Gwen: “In dog years.”
Dr Ramirez: “Yes, of course. He is old, then. What sort of symptoms is he having?”
Abi: “Well, he isn’t eating.”
Gwen: “He mostly sleeps a lot. And he’s incontinent. Can dogs be incontinent?”
Abi: “He doesn’t enjoy any of the things he used to do anymore. He doesn’t even watch football.”
Dr Ramirez: “Your dog watches football?”
Abi: “He used to watch it…with our dad…”
Gwen: “Back when he watched football. They did a lot of stuff together.”
Dr Ramirez: “Okay, can I see your dog? This doesn’t look like a dog! This looks like a man in a dog costume!”
Abi and Gwen: “No! He’s really a dog! He’s really old! And sick. He used to look better when he was younger! He really did!”
Abi: “And he spent so much time with our dad, they kind of started looking like each other, maybe.”
Dr Ramirez: “Well, yes. I have seen this before. Dogs and their owners can be very similar sometimes… What’s your…dog’s…name?
Abi and Gwen: “Mark.”
Dr Ramirez: “This is a very strange name for a dog.”
Abi: “Well, he…has a cleft palate!”
Gwen: “Yes! And that’s the noise he made when he barked!”
Abi: “So that’s what we called him. Back when he used to bark…”
Gwen: “Yeah, he doesn’t even enjoy barking anymore.”
Abi: “He’s really old, and sick.”
Dr Ramirez: “Yes, and he needs to be put down. I get it. What kind of…dog…is he? I’ve been a vet for thirty years, and I have never seen a dog like this before.”
Abi: “Well, he’s Irish, so maybe Irish Setter?”
Dr Ramirez: “That is not an Irish Setter, I can assure you.”
Gwen: “No, he’s more of a mixed breed, right? He isn’t very big, so maybe he’s more of a Cocker Spaniel…”
Abi: “Those weiner dogs are short, too. Maybe he’s part weiner dog…”
Gwen and Dr Ramirez: “What?!?”
Abi: “Well, everything is part poodle now, right?”
Gwen: “So, he’s an Irishcockerweiner…labra-boodle.”
Dr Ramirez: “Okay! Let’s go into the exam room.”
Abi: “Come on, daddy, I mean, doggie. Get up on the table!”
Gwen: “You can do it, dad! I mean, boy. Good boy!”
Abi: “Oh! And he used to be an alcoholic, so you might have to double the meds when you put him down.”
Gwen: “Yes! He might have a greater tolerance! We don’t want to take any chances.”
Dr Ramirez: “Your dog…was an alcoholic?”
Abi: “Well, kind of…”
Gwen: “Um, yeah. He used to drink beer with our dad…”
Abi: “And watch football.”
Gwen: “You know, before he became old.”
Abi: “And sick.”
Gwen: “And stuff.”
Abi: “Okay. Let’s get this over with. Goodbye, da–doggie.”
Gwen: “Goodbye! We love you and we’ll miss you!”
Abi: “You were the best Irishcocker– Oh, fuck it! You were the best golldarn dog we ever had. Vaya con Dios!
* * * *
And that’s how I’d like to go. As if I were in a skit by Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It would only be fitting.