The abrogation of self

stories of a self-cannabalistic mind…just another wordpress web blog

  • November 2006
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allowing death

Posted by mneme on November 19, 2006

Tomorrow I shall let Egan die.

I wanted to write, tomorrow I shall kill Egan, for that is what feels true. Whether or not it is truth, it is horrible, it feels horrible and I am in a strange void built upon such a vast accumulation of pain that I find myself in moments almost acting normal. Of course, there is no one to witness it, but if someone were to find a window into which they could gaze and observe me, my little actions, the tone of my voice when I speak, it might appear quite normal.

But I feel far from normal. And in these days that I’ve fallen deeper into this well, and grown accustomed to the new environment, I’ve somehow separated from even the things I love. Like Egan.

I know he is suffering, well, I don’t know, that’s the problem. He presents all the signs one can give which translate the message of suffering but my empathy is off kilter. How strange I can’t feel the extent of how much his little body hurts, how his stomach curls in on itself from starvation and how cold he must always feel. I know all these things, for I’ve watched many a wild thing through the last stages of life, during this transition to death. I know the signs, when they slowly lose interest in the small acts of life, when only their favorite treats hold a slight temptation, when water becomes like dirt to swallow, when you’ve gotten so cold that you can’t even remember what warmth feels like. I know this stage well, for I’ve nursed more wild things, beloved pets and human loved ones through this stage and beyond the veil than most people will ever have to. At least, more than the fortunate ones.

But in the past, I felt it so acutely. I was hyper aware of when the breath became laboured, the stomach resists even the easiest things to digest, when the body starts to reach the point of chill that reaches down into the soul. I’ve always been able to interpret, to hear them, when that moment came that they wanted to be assisted across the bridge. I was there with them every step, and I couldn’t get away from the intensity of it no matter how I wished I could. It would follow me into haunted dreams, it would rise up and swallow me into that half-life world with them, and because of this skill, this overly acute empathy, I was a very talented nursemaid to the terminally ill. I suppose I refined it in those hours at Harriette bedside when she’d clutch me with an almost super strength and insist if I loved her, I’d be merciful and kill her, but I digress…

Yet this time, I am so removed. I see Egan. I feel his body, how the flesh hangs from the bones like it does from the ancient being only days from the grave, and I know he’s not getting enough nutrition to sustain him. I see how he crouches into corners and starts away from any movement I make toward him, how the wild instincts return as his awareness dims and he sees every shadow as threat of predator from which his body’s instincts still seek to escape. I see how he finally does know me, moves to my hand outstretched with bits of favorite treats and he sniffs them, he reaches to them, but some part of his little brain tells him it’s not worth it to continue to eat. I observe how he crowds as near to the space heater next to his cage, even when the room is over-warmed. So I know he is always cold. And I see how his brother rejects him, tries to escape his presence, as wild things do when one of their own is near death. It’s a natural instinct, but exhibited normally only when a sick member of the family is beyond hope. It’s preservation of the family, and were Egan sick with anything infectious, i would isolate him. But he’s not, so I leave him in his home.

So the signs are there. As it is, I’ve already pulled him back from the brink once. A vet gave a “guarded” prognosis, not knowing me, not knowing my connection to critters and my empahty and ability. Guarded to me gave some hope, at the time I estimated 30% or less, but still, I’ve worked with worse odds. But she had never worked with me yet and so was surprised when Egan and I appeared for our follow up visit a week later. And at that appointment I found that all his teeth are bad, not just the little front incisors, and the back molars get pointy which cause little cuts in the soft flesh of his mouth, which lead to swelling, pain and infection and make eating a torment. And as with all caviomorphs, the teeth grow continuously, so even trimming gives an extra few weeks, or an extra month at best. It cannot hold back the inevitable for long.

It’s so difficult working with exotics; very few vets have experience and there is so little common knowledge to draw upon when an illness or injury occurs. It’s not like a cat, where even unusual ailments have been seen a hundred times or so and then something, some treatment or hint of one, can be found among the annals and records. There is always some better specialist, some person with more skill or education of rare diseases to be consulted. But with exotics, with creatures that have not been fully domesticated, creatures who only have a hundred generations or less in captivity, there are very few experts at all. So each new symptom, each new ailment, is at best, a learning experiment. And each time, I am perplexed how I keep getting talked into adopting these rescues no one else will care for and finding myself swearing on all that is holy that this will be the very last time.

And at this time, for my empathy to fail me. I cannot seem to make a decision and I float in this limbo. Every night, I continue our ritual of pureeing any vegetable or fruit he might eat, knowing that anything which might tempt him isn’t the proper nutrition anyway. His species only eats grass and leaves and bark. His little kidneys can’t handle sugars or starch and his liver will fail with too much protein. But he hasn’t been able to masticate hay or grass for weeks. He picks up and chews endlessly on a small pellet of his normal diet, but upon examination, he doesn’t appear to be able to chew it enough to swallow. Of course I soak his pelleted food and create a thin gruel, but without the addition of the forbidden peanut butter or banana, he quit accepting that gruel a good 2 weeks ago. And so, with each meal I successfully tempt him to taste, I realize I am killing him in yet another way, by malnutrition, by foods which would hurt and sicken him over the long haul.

But Egan hasn’t had a long haul to worry about for a couple months now. So I quietly ignore the voice in my head which knows better, that tells me it’s ridiculous to prolong this torturous time for both of us, and I puree him peas with applesauce and move on to sweet potatoes with corn when he tires of the first.

I made a pact that this time I wouldn’t force feed him. I wouldn’t resort to SubQ fluids if he refused to drink. I would only continue this charade as long as he made attempts to eat, even if I had to hold him wrapped in a towel and touch the food to his lips several times until he became aware and lapped at it on his own. What’s strange is how some days, and even some hours within one day, he will eagerly consume food only to take a few bites and refuse anything else. And some days, some hours, almost nothing will tempt him.

And yet I cannot tell if he has reached the thresh hold, that place we all cross when the will to survive is overcome by the recognition of the release of death. At that moment, euthanizing is a mercy, and many animals have given me a sign just before they finally released, that I did help them, that I’d heard them correctly, that they had wanted to die and I simply saved them hours or days of intolerably cruel suffering. It was never easy, no, it hurt like hell no matter how much everyone realized the futility of fighting any further, but I could always feel it with them and I knew when they knew and so I could make the decision, even if I didn’t want to.

But I feel nothing and I’m caught. I feel this separateness and when he starts away from my hand, I don’t pursue him. I’ve always given the dying whatever they desired and while a few have wanted to crawl into a favorite hiding place and be alone to die, most have wanted to stay with me, to be held and sung to through the last hours or day or however long it took. And as an adult, I learned about the mercy of euthanasia, and I’ve always communicated to them I would assist them if they let me know. I was so good at that, and I always overcame my own tears and pain and listened to them.

But I don’t hear this time. I am so immersed in my own chasm of suffering, my life has become such a sinkhole of pain in so many areas and I’ve lost any will to care even for my own self, that I only feel a cold void when I try to ascertain what Egan needs, what he wants, what is best and most merciful. I feel nothing and I shrink from him like a coward and a cheat. I grow angry and short tempered when it requires several treats, when he comes to my hand but turns from anything I offer. I find I just put all the food there, on the floor next to him and I walk away in a cloud of confused non feeling. When I offer to groom his fur, now matted from neglect and wet food, I can only manage it until he first turns from me. I don’t follow or persist as I should, I simply give up and return him to his place in front of the heater. I have become as cold as the spectre which hovers near him but refuses to pounce.

I wish he’d just go in his sleep and not make me make this horrible choice for him. I wish he’d stop vacillating, one hour desperate for food the next refusing it. I wish he’d consistently decline, instead of these ups and downs, these moments of brightness where he seems his old self and feeling better only to find an hour later he’s forlorn in a corner and wild again, hiding from predators which don’t exist. And why, oh why, won’t that great predator Death just come and finish it?

Death, you damned cold spectre, how you’ve followed me my whole life. How you’ve taunted me, taken the lives around me, the people and the creatures who’ve loved me. You who’ve shown yourself as a dark cloud, a giant bird of prey and those cold, eerie green ghost hands which crawled so close to my flesh when I was only nine, but chose instead to strike my father with a strain of meningitis not seen before in this state. You, you sadistic bastard, who have rejected me time and time again, brought me to the brink with unidentifiable tropical diseases, with injuries and sun stroke in the foothills of the Himalayas, why do you so hang upon me like an over-sized cloak but never consume me? And why now, why when I call to you, for one who needs you, for one to whom you’d be a mercy, you will make me beg and crawl and seek a needle which will stop his heart!

Is that it? Is it because now I want you to take the responsibility of choice from me that you hover but will not pounce? And when will you finally come for me? Perhaps that is it, perhaps because this time I am so ravenously jealous of Egan, knowing he is hanging in the gaping maw of you, teetering so close to falling into you and that soon, no matter what I do, you will come for him, even if I have to drive him into you with a bulldozer, perhaps that is why you linger. My very jealousy of his fortune, seeing so close for him that final moment of suffering, that moment when the brain sees death is absolute and releases those endorphins and finally, completely, totally removes the pain of living and releases you into the next great adventure, is what keeps you at bay. Just at bay, just close enough for my fingertips to brush your darkened velvet coat, to feel the nap of it almost rough and still soft and deeply cold against the very tips of my fingers if I stretch with all my strength. But just slightly too far to grasp. You hover, just in that space where if I close my fingers, if I try to crook one and use it to catch upon some fold of your velvet coat, I only push you slightly further from reach. Like a small envelope on a high shelf that slips beneath your grasp as you stand tippy-toe and reach into that dark closet, I can only manage to push you just a little too far to grasp.

But I know you are there. I feel nothing else, but I feel you. And tomorrow, I shall force you to take my little Egan, I will stuff him down your throat if I must.  But I will do the choosing.  I will take his life, not knowing if he desires to release or if I steal it from him. But this will not be one of my merciful moments of empathy, for I feel none.  For the first time, I will kill and I will taste the bitterness of self hate sting the back of my mouth because I cannot discern if I feed him to you because it is his time and he wants the release, or if it is because it is me who longs to slide down your throat and into the seething blackness to be digested in the acids of eternity’s stomach.

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