OCTOBER 18, 2000 - Wednesday Evening:

Suddenly and inexplicably, between 11:20 and 11:30pm -- I wasn't paying attention in the panic of the situation -- my cat, my best and closest friend in the world, Raisen, died. I am so heavily grieved.

I was sitting at my mother's new computer installing programs and getting her computer going for her when suddenly, from behind me, one of my cats made a long, growling meow - just like the sound they make when looking out my mother's bedroom window at night when they spot another animal outside the window. Only this time, when I immediately turned around to look, my cat Raisen was lying on my mother's bed, flat on her side, paws outstretched, and staring, wide-eyed, straight ahead - as if in shock. I scrambled from the computer and rushed to Raisen to have a look, and immediately went into outright panic. Raisen was motionless, limp in my arms, not reacting to anything I did, anything I said.

I had absolutely no idea what was wrong. I heard a slight gurgling when I moved her, which gave me the idea maybe she was choking. I looked down her throat. Nothing. I felt a finger down her throat. Nothing. I felt deeper. Nothing. There was an obvious, fleshy lump back there, but after some feeling around, it became obvious that this was a part of her, not something stuck. I tried pushing her chest in an effort to quickly to try to thrust anything out that might be there. Nothing. Talking loudly to her didn't work. I tried CPR. Nothing. Her tongue just kept turning darker and darker blue. I tried so hard to revive and get a reaction out of this animal. Nothing was working at all. I was so desparate, now crying. As I continued performing CPR, tears and heavy sweat were straming down my face. Mom called 9-1-1 first, not thinking. 9-1-1 gave mom a number for AA Pet Emergency Services, but ended up giving her a wrong number, and so noone ever answered. I told mom to go out and start the car, so that we could head down there with Raisen. I continued performing CPR along the way. We ended up getting stuck behind someone driving so incredibly slowly after we turned onto NW 34th Street, and they took their sweet time turning into their neighborhood near the Lil Champ. Probably on drugs or something. Then we got stopped at the light at NW 53rd and 34th. It lasted so incredibly long. But we also happened to be near the house of some friends who had some pet rescue experience. I made a quick decision right there and we turned the car around to head to their house. I knew Susan had some knowledge in pet first aid, and that she kept up with goings on at the Shands vet school, and I was hoping maybe she might know something more than I on what to do or try. Alas, there was nothing we could do. While there, I kept trying CPR. No reaction from Raisen. It was fruitless. I didn't want to, but I had to concede to giving up. I sat there holding my so-close friend in my arms and cried, knowing I'd just lost her. There was just nothing I could do.

I raised this cat from a kitten when she was so tiny she could fit in my palm. I fed her from bottle dropper. I taught her to use a leash, a runner, how to use her polydactyl paws to grasp things. I've walked her around the block sometimes upon my shoulders while people watched in utter amazement at this so calm cat staring at them from on high as she passed them by. At night, she always slept close to my face on my pillow, purring, and oft-times would extend her paw and cover my hand, as if to hold it. When I'd take a shower, she'd enter the room with me and wait until I was done, then watch with intent eyes while I shaved and brushed my teeth. She'd sleep on my lap while I typed. If I left the room, she was always not far behind, and would find a place to rest somewhere in my view. I spent so much time with her and we were so close. And in an instant, she was gone with no explanation as to cause.

Just five minutes before this had happened, I was sitting in the living room watching TV, waiting for a large program to finish installing on my mother's computer. Raisen was lying peacefully on the floor but a few feet in front of me, staring at me bright-wide-eyed and in seeming perfect, normal, Raisen-perky health. I'd even chased her down the hall in play afterwards, as we often do. She dashed off into my room, and rather than follow, I turned back around and decided to go check on the status of the setup of my mother's computer. Somewhere between that moment, and about five minutes later when she appeared lying on my mother's bed, howling that last, long howl, something had happened. I don't know what. Did she swallow something that got lodged in her windpipe? Did she somehow get at something poisonous? (I looked and we don't have anything that could be considered poisonous out. I'm careful about that anyway.) Did she perhaps encounter a deadly bug or something else in the house that we don't yet know about? We just don't know. We have to wait until tomorrow. We'll have X-rays done and, if that shows nothing, I don't want to do it, but we'll have an autopsy done. But I want to bury my kitty, if possible, and I understand that if they do an autopsy at Shands Vet School, we won't get the cat back - unless she's cremated. ...If we use Shands, that is.

This is so much to deal with. I feel so overwhelmed. I just lost my best and closest friend for no apparent reason, without even a chance to say goodbye, and I have these gruesome decisions to make. I don't want to deal with or face anything like that, right now.

Raisen is lying behind me now on my bed, on a soft, folded bed sheet, with a towel over her, for covers - as if this mattered, now. The reality of her death is already inescapably noticeable, a cruel reminder that this is not a dream. I want my kitty friend back. This isn't happening. This can't be.

Last night, as Raisen was lying close to my face on my pillow as we fell asleep together, I said to her, "I love you so much. I hope you never leave me. I want you to live with me forever. You know that?"

This is so unfair. I'm beginning to think God a very deliberately cruel and sadistic being. Can't I live a good stretch of my life with just one of my pets living out their full lifetimes? Can't I have just one satisfactory feeling of having been able to love an animal for a decent portion of my life? Yet again, an important part of my life is just RIPPED right out from my heart.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 19, 2000: After having our local vet do a necropsy (pet version of an autopsy), it was discovered that what had happened to Raisen was called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which means, "[thickened] [heart muscle disease]." The left chamber of her heart was "extremely thick - the wall thickened, and the chamber small," in the words of our vet. The left heart chamber is the outgoing one, the one that supplies the oxygenated blood that the body needs. The chamber being so small, it was not able to adequately supply oxygen. That's as much as I know, so far. What the actual process was that lead to the actual death at the moment that it did, I do not yet understand. Nor do I understand why it picked that moment to affect her, and not earlier.

According to our vet, this is a "genetically pre-pregrammed" condition and, "a silent killer with no outward signs to clue you in without expensive use of specialized equipment that wouldn't normally be used on a regular basis." There was nothing I could do. When it hit, it likely hit her fast, and she died almost instantly. So it is said. But, it was obviously not a death without sudden, surprised realization in Raisen, or without fear...from the last yowl. And realizing that, myself, brings me so much personal pain. She cried out to me, and I could not help her. And because of that, I feel like I let her down.

I had the necropsy done because I wanted to know exactly what it was that had affected Raisen. I also wanted to make sure that it wasn't something that I had done. If so, maybe it was something I could prevent, next time. Maybe in chasing her down the hall I had caused a heart attack. Maybe in doing so I scared her and caused a clot to move the wrong way. Maybe I left something on the floor and she had eaten it. (Raisen DID have a propensity for chewing on or even eating (or attempting to eat) strange objects - shredding paper and then eating the bits, eating string, trying to chew on rubber bands, etc. I could never get her out of those habits, and I had to constantly watch her.) I was worried maybe she'd found a tack or something on the floor in a corner somewhere, or maybe in chasing her, a piece of food had been stunned down the wrong way. I couldn't help but wonder if it was something I may have caused to happen in some way without knowing. So many possible things were rushing through my mind. Thinking about it more logically in the afterwards, now, I realize that chasing her down the hall may well have had some contribution towards this. I had no way of knowing it might affect her that way, of course; but nonetheless... If her heart chamber was small, and in chasing her down the hall, I caused excessive exertion, it may have started this on its way. She'd be out of breath from it, oxygen lowered and in need of replensihment. Of course, that's just uneducated guessing. A bad heart that can't process oxygen well to begin with, given lower oxygen levels to work with... Or, maybe I only accelerated something that was going to happen, anyway. Who knows. I can't help but feel like it might be my fault in some minor or major way. If I'd just been content to look at her watching me, rather than chase my kitty down the hallway... This was my baby. She trusted me and depended upon me to take care of her, to be there, to protect her, and to keep her well. I can't help but feel that I failed there in some way or another.

Every time I walk through that front door I keep expecting her to be there, watching me through that bottom window at the base of the screen door, meowing her usual greeting to me. I keep wanting to call her into the room, but then I remember she's not here. I want to pour food for her in her bowl ... but I remember I can only fill one of the two bowls, now.

I miss her so much.

Thanks much to Dr. Richard Goldman, of Millhopper Veterinary Medical Center for his help in determining the cause of Raisen's untimely demise, and for his kindness, and for the kind tribute on his newsletter page.

Copyright © 2000 Todd L. Sherman/KB4MHH. All Rights Reserved.