Monday, February 07, 2011

What the cat dragged out – eight lives in 30 seconds

Back around the birth of this blog in 2002, “cat blog” was the pejorative for the lamest niche in the fragmented universe of online self-expression. Nonetheless, or perhaps wanting a floor beneath which I could not possibly sink further, I chose a “cat” name for this blog around its first birthday. And then went entirely cat-contentless until this day.

C_, my 14 year-old cat, was euthanized by a vet on my lounge-room floor nearly two weeks ago. This experience certainly changed my perspective on euthanasia – aka organised, supposedly peaceful death (consensually, in humans; while in animals, a more nebulous criterion of relieving suffering, in our human opinion, applies).

C_ had been frequently ill for the past year, and continuously very sick for the preceding weeks, so I had few qualms about the overall medico-moral justification and timing. I just didn’t expect the end – the very end – to be so violent.

Prior to receiving her fatal injection, C_ was compliant in her sedation shot. I then held her now-floppy body for the last time, while we waited a couple of minutes for the sedation to take full effect. The vet cut off some fur, then the anaesthetic overdose shot went in. Again, C_ was compliant at first, “peaceful”. Then she struggled, with a ferocity I wouldn’t have thought possible in her condition. The struggle may have been 30 seconds or two minutes – I also seem to remember a second shot of anaesthetic overdose was required. Gruesomely, I had to hold her down throughout, and yet pretend to comfort her, as she screamed, wriggled and clawed against death.

Previously, I thought that death throes were either operatic exaggerations (heroines dying of consumption on stage) or the by-product of what we call a violent death. I don’t know whether such violence, at the tail-end of a supposedly non-violent death, is common or not. Perhaps it is a matter of semi- or unconscious instinct – as one’s vital organs shut down, the body slaps hard against the world that so long ago once slapped it at birth.

Unusually for a cat, C_ never once caught or killed a bird, nor had a close skirmish with her own mortality. Though unrehearsed with death, she died a diva in full flight.

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