Pipi – black, with a red/brown hue, like the richest of the earth.
For the past few months, I have noticed Pipi starting to show signs of old age. I will probably never know definitively as to whether she was actually getting old by showing signs of weakness, tiredness and getting bony, or whether she was showing the signs of getting really sick.
On Thursday the 25th of April, I just had a really bad feeling about Pipi’s condition. I felt like something was wrong, and that “time was not on her side”. I decided to take few portraits of her, as she lay on her favourite ‘outside spot’ on the lounge (Betsy’s old ‘inside spot’). As she has always done in the past, Pipi made it difficult for me to photograph her. It is a real task trying to get a good photo of Pipi (always has been). First I shot some photographs with my MRZ67II, loaded with a roll of XP5. I had a maximum shutter speed of 1/400, so getting an overexposed frame was inevitable (sunny situation) but fortunately that’s something I wanted. The lounge is white and she is black, so I wanted Pipi to stand out in the frame. After 3 shots, I pulled out my D60, and took a couple more photographs (as best I could), as I wanted some instant results as to make these photographs as beautiful as possible, given that I felt she had little time left with us.
Friday, the next day, I believe she didn’t move much and had very little to eat. Saturday came, and Pipi had not moved at all, all day, and had not eaten at all, all day. She drank a little water in a bowl we gave her, but by Sunday afternoon, we had to go to the vet. Sunday evening, she had an inspection from the doc, and from what Mum, Dad and I had just recently preconceived, her mouth was the source of her problems.
We thought that an infection could be why she is feeling so weak and in pain. After an inspection with her mouth (while she had some blood drawn in the ‘staff only area’), we found out that she had lost some teeth and had been bleeding A LOT. The vet first thought, Feline AIDS. So that was a scare.
Unfortunately there’s no such thing as medicare for hairy loved ones. So there wasn’t much we could assess on other than a couple of blood tests and a prescription for pain killers and antibiotics, that day. It was recommended that we try antibiotics and monitor her, to see what happens next. That night, we got a call to hear the results of her blood tests. It appeared that she was anemic and there were no signs of much else other than that.
The vet was busy the next day, and away the next 2, so our next visit was arranged for Thursday, 4 days away. I think that was a bit too long of a wait… Monday, she had her morning and night time medications. Still didn’t eat or move, but did drink. Same for Tuesday. And Wednesday, only on Wednesday, we woke up to find her dribbling. Not your normal dribble. This was a strange dribble. She had this thick stuff, which would have been uncomfortable having come out of your mouth like that. Mum & Dad said that there was a scab that came out, at some point. That would have been horrible for her. All we could do was try and keep her hydrated, wipe her mouth and give her pain killers.
Thursday was almost the same, only it was clear just how close she was to deaths door. It was a horrific sight, to see her like that… how she was, weak, skinny and totally consumed by sickness. That evening, at the vet, it was obvious to everyone that she needed urgent help. By this point it was no longer a worry about FIV, but now Feline Leukemia. That was scary because after a little lite reading, it is contagious and can be spread. We have 2 other cats around, and I didn’t know what kind of situation we might have been in. Even though this was a worry, we still thought that at the heart of Pipi’s problems, an infection of the mouth HAD to be the reason and not anything like leukemia or aids. She stayed in hospital that Thursday night.
As we got home, driving down our street, we spotted a cockatoo that we had seen early in the morning, that day. We got home, and went to see if it was the same cocky. It appeared so, and it was quite clear that it was lost, or sick. It was cold outside, so we didn’t want to leave it out there to die. Somehow, we just sensed that it wasn’t wild, and was a pet to someone local. I made an online bulletin, but later Mum called WIRES. A man came out, and after a while of persuasion with food and water, he got him into a cage, and put him into the back of his truck. Just as the bird was being put into his cage, Mum got a call from the vet with more blood test results. They were inconclusive to anything other than the fact that she was anemic.
It was terrible not knowing exactly what was wrong and going on with Pipi. The unknown is so stressful.
Friday, the 3rd of May, Mum, Dad & I went to the vet to visit Pipi. She was on a drip containing glucose and another substance (I believe it was some kind of electrolytes, since the day before she was extremely dehydrated). To our surprise, she was very bright and a lot better. In my eyes, it was a complete turnaround from the day before. Her hair shed easy and her skin must have been dry because of all the dandruff in her coat. I combed her with my hands, and whilst so, I couldn’t believe how much better she looked. It also felt like she put on a little weight. Apparently she had a little something to eat that morning. A part from her iv/drip machine constantly having a loud high pitch beep playing (low batteries on the machine) annoying Pipi, Mum, Dad & I, it was a beautiful visit. Hope was present.
Saturday, we visited again. Dad stayed outside as the vet effects his health badly – so Mum & I went in. I felt bad not having a camera with me on Friday because of how beautiful our visit was with Pipi that evening. I wanted to have some photographs of her, at her best (given her condition) knowing that I’d want something to remember her by, in our final days together with her. I’m so happy that I brought my camera with me, on that Saturday. On this day, she was at her BEST. The best I think I’ve seen her, in a very, very long time. She was still incredibly weak, but here alertness and presence was strong. Her eyes were wide open, bright and so loving. She was still on her drip, but off her machine. Still eating and drinking, and using her toilet (that day); hope was present, but so were her chances of having cancer (always a possibility). But how do you know.
The next day, Sunday evening, was her time to come home. On the way there, down the street around the corner at the intersection, on the pole was a “LOST” notice. It was for a cockatoo named Wally. This was the cocky from a few days before. We wrote down the details provided, and continued to the vet. Mum, Dad & I, all went in to see her and the doctor, but things still didn’t seem right. She still looked better, but wasn’t actually better. She was off her drip, still eating and drinking which was great. Hydrated and medicated. But Pipi seemed a little weak, not as open-eyed and maybe tired. Saturday, the day before, seemed like a peak for her. That Sunday evening, all hope was lost. There was a point where the doctor believed strongly that she had what was called squamous cell carcinoma. And eventually, soon, she would have to be euthanized to put her out of her misery. This was the point when all hope was lost, and a backlog of tears was drained. I think even the doc shed a tear at that moment.
This is why I believe I chose not to go to the vet with Betsy, 20 months earlier. The diagnosis and reality is too traumatic for me to cope with. August, 2011; Our 12 year old black lab, was beginning to become weak, tired and “old”. Late that month, we went to the vet to see what was wrong with her. She had some blood tests and nothing showed. I can’t remember completely, but apparently an ultrasound was recommended but cost $700. We just don’t have those kinds of funds. We’re not among the kind of people who are rich. Thankfully, we were given the ultrasound for free. From what I remember, it wasn’t immediate, but it turns out that Betsy was dying from pancreatic cancer. Within the week, she died, in front of Mum, Dad & I, at around 2:45am, one early September morning.
That night, when Mum, Dad & Betsy came home with the bad news, I broke down. I lay on my bedroom floor and cried. The most beautiful thing occurred when I did this though. Betsy, came to me, and lay down next to me, on my bedroom floor, next to the door. She comforted me.
Back then, I hadn’t yet developed a photographic or artistic vision; At least not fully. Photographically, I was not focused. But just before that bad vet visit, I had taken a couple of photographs of her with my Pop’s Zenit TTL slr; back when I was experimenting with black and white film. I believe they were the last photographs I ever took of her… I remember disregarding all my school work, stubbornly focusing on getting that film developed and printed in the school darkroom. Not long after her death. Though, on that night, in that moment on the floor crying, I took a photo of myself with her. It is painful for me to look at that revealing, raw and true photo. I don’t have the strength to relive that moment… and therefore I can’t share it. But the memory was truly there. I chose not to photograph during that painful week. Though, I did draw. It was father’s day around that time when Betsy died. I had made a very special card for Dad containing some drawings of her signature body shape and character that Betsy had. I even included a clipping of her hair, inside the card. She laid on the lounge, on a soft blanket, drinking her sugary water in a bowl, next to me, most of the week (while we watched tv and spent time together). I gave her kisses on the forrid and whispered comforting words and thoughts to her.
She did wander outside at night and dry heave at times… A painful sight given that we had no idea what to do for her (there was nothing we could do). We were inexperienced and confused. She used to lay outside in the cold, on the grass and dirt trenches in the front yard. Like myself, I believe the cold can help with pain and feeling unwell. I like the numbing feeling, and distracting chill you get when you step outside in the cold air. I believe that is what she felt. I remember this happened a few times over a few nights. Though, I remember her very last time outside. Dad had to carry her back inside, in his arms. I’ll never forget the look on her poor, beautiful face. It wasn’t long before she was on her bed, on the floor, breathing heavily and looking deathly weak. I remember pausing ‘An Idiot Abroad’ in the intro, on a frame showing the Egyptian pyramids… I sat down next to her, kissed her. Then Mum, Dad & I discussed staying up all night with her as Dad believed that there wasn’t long to go. Just then, Betsy clenched, cried out in pain (death rattle) and flopped over. We lunged towards her; I held her hand and her back. What could I do? Her tongue quickly turning white as her bodily muscles spasmed for what seemed like forever. Then silence. And stillness. Liquid leaked out of her nostrils onto her bed. Tail stiff. Betsy had passed on in front of my Mum, Dad & my eyes. I was so angry and so sad. Cancer is so, so cruel and unfair. Now, cancer is at it again. Pipi, my other placid, black, hairy sister, is leaving us (too soon). I was blessed to have had 5 years with Betsy, and 11 years with Pipi.
So Pipi came home that Sunday evening, and went straight for my lap, once we got home. Beautiful. Mum also called the owners of Wally just after that. Apparently the owners then retrieved the cocky from that man from WIRES, soon after.
Monday morning, we went to the vet to get Pipi’s final pain killer injection, and anti-inflammatory injection (last resort for caner patients – helps with appetite). Both are supposed to last a couple of weeks. The vet said goodbye to Pipi, and we went home that morning, to start a very long, and slow journey down a painful road. On the way home Dad bought me a little ‘Angry Birds’ lollie/toy to comfort me. I love it. At home, Mum and I laid down on the front lawn with Pipi, in the garden, weeding, in the sun, for a few hours while Dad rocked in the rocking chair on the veranda, reading the paper. I think those injections has helped Pipi greatly; I think Pipi almost went into a child-like state that evening; as she once was. Still weak though, wandering around and exploring her home, walking around the house veranda. That night, she had a burst of energy, and went all around the front yard and over to the mailbox where her favourite section of grass is. She then, even, walked to the gutter, near the trees (which she used to love climbing). Then back inside, laying on me.
Mum has been sleeping with her ever since Pipi got home. Pink Lips sleeps with me. I think Pink knows what’s going on. So does Marm. Tuesday afternoon, Pipi was stretching and clawing on the lounge outside. She did a little hop and dragged herself up the lounge back, onto the bit she loves laying on. That was a great sign of her old self. That night, Pipi decided to start exploring inside the house. She also visited Mum on the computer, then soon after did something she hasn’t done in many years. She went exploring under Dad’s bed, and found a plastic Disney bag. She dug her head in to have a look, then curled up in a circle and laid down on it. I knew what that meant. So I got a purple plastic bag that I had, and showed her the inside. She bounced up, and went inside. She loves being inside plastic bags. I used to carry her around in them. I brought that bag back out into the living room after a few photographic moments, onto the lounge next to Mum and I, and she slept in in for hours into the night!
Wednesday, she is still eating, but not drinking (much like Monday and Tuesday). She is using her toilet and going outside as well. I sat outside with her on her lounge for most of the afternoon. I was on the rocking chair, legs up, protecting myself from Marmal (he likes to nip and bite me sometimes).
Today is Thursday, 2 weeks since those overexposed portraits I took of Pipi on her lounge outside. She is still walking around outside, eating and going to the toilet. She seems to be getting better actually (besides her weakness). But I think it is just her injections helping her feel better. I think she is getting skinny again, but she isn’t showing any signs of giving up any time soon. The doc predicted/approximated that she might have to be put down within the next few days (Thursday/Friday?) but I think Pipi’s true inner strength is showing. I am so happy to see her up and moving around eating. I want her to drink, but I think she is doing great, just eating as much as she is. I hope that she has a great extra surge of life, over these next segments in time. I am so grateful the vet has been able to prolong her life longer than how it was appearing, 7 days ago.
I pray for a miracle; But hope for comfort and peace for everyone. Right now, I lay on the mattress on the living room floor, where she is curled up under one of her favourite blankets,while watching Mythbusters with Mum & Dad (been catching up on the PC since we haven’t had SBS on the tv in over 7 years).
So we will be left with Pink Lips. The kitty who invaded this house and never left, 5 years ago. I love her, and she loves Mum, Dad and I. She is all we will have left (besides Marmalade who will stay outside). We can’t handle more heart-breaking’s.
Take care, everyone,
P.S. I will update this post when the inevitable arrives.