I started to write a detailed account of Winston’s passing here, but it just turned into the saddest thing I've ever written. When I come back and read this stuff in the future, I’d prefer it that I didn’t have to see the details of the last hours of Winston's life. I don't think I will ever forget them, but I sure don't want to relive them. Plus, it won't do any of you any good for me to ruin your day, too.
The short version is that Winston had congestive heart-failure. She's been slowly declining in health over the past year, but seemed spry enough that I felt certain she would at least make it with us to the new house. My wife, who as a physician has a finer-tuned sense of health-decline than my rose-colored glasses will allow, wasn't as optimistic. Her stated belief that the decline was more rapid than I was willing to admit stuck with me, though. In fact, one of the last times I bought cat food, I had been about to choose a whole case of Friskies canned when something clicked in my head that perhaps a case was more catfood than we would be needing.
The wife's concern was not without merit. We've known that Winston has had a heart murmur for over a year now. She'd had a handful of seizures that we know about, which can be caused by a sudden burst of cardiac activity, among many other things. Around a year ago, she passed out in front of us while lying on the bed and seemed to stop breathing for a while. We took her in for tests, which were largely inconclusive, but that's when we learned of the murmur. We hoped it wouldn’t lead to heart failure, but that if it did we hoped she would go quickly. I guess in the grand scheme of things, she did. But, Lord, it sure didn’t feel like it.
When we came back from Borderland, Sunday night, we found Winston struggling for breath, with crackling and wheezing in her lungs. She'd barely touched her food. A puff from an Albuterol inhaler, wedged into the mouth of a spacer made out of half a plastic water bottle, helped her out in the short term and soon she was breathing more or less normally.
I thought it best to get a medical opinion, so Monday morning I dug out the cat crate to head to the vet.
"Get your Crayons, kitty, we have to go to the vet," I told her.
"Get her Crayons?" the wife asked.
"Yeah," I said. "So she'll have something to do while she waits."
The vet checked her out and said that her symptoms likely stemmed from either pneumonia or congestive heart failure. We put our chips on pneumonia and loaded her up on antibiotics, hoping to fight it off.
At 2:30 Tuesday morning we found out we were wrong.
The night before, she'd turned up her nose at both tuna and water. The vet had said she would need to stay hydrated and fed, but our attempts to force feed her seemed needlessly cruel. Plus, the vet had already given her fluids by injection to help hydrate her. In retrospect, it was likely those very fluids that provided the liquid that settled in her lungs due to the heart failure. She began gasping for air at 2:30 Tuesday morning and Albuterol was of no more help.
After a very long and horrible night, during which we tried to keep her as comfortable as we could and petted her and sang her kitty songs, we took her to the vet and asked them to put her to sleep. She went with both Ashley and I there to pet her, tell her we loved her and see her out. And she went very quickly. At that point, we would have paid any amount of money to have her pain ended. The vet didn't charge us a thing. Afterward we just stood in the parking lot, hugging one another, shaking with tears.
Winston died just 7 days shy of her 16th birthday.
I could go on about how much I'll miss her and how broken hearted I am over what happened to her at the end, but really I'm just glad she's no longer suffering. I'm also extremely thankful to have had nearly two extra years with her that I might not have had were it not for a miracle that occurred in the face of my own stupidity. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go check out Winston’s Story. It's a tale with a far happier ending than today's. (Having read over it again myself, now, I'm pleased to inform you that the even happier ending, and possibly larger miracle, is that my stepmother, Myra--who I mention in the account--is in complete remission from her cancer. That's an epilogue, a praise and an answer to prayer I've neglected to add to the tale until now.)
When I got back home and took Winston's body out of the car, still wrapped in its towel, she looked so incredibly peaceful. The wife had told me I could pet her if I wanted to, but I'd said I wasn't going to do that. Seeing her body, though, she looked exactly as if she was asleep, and I reached out, stroked her warm fur and told her goodbye again. She looked so sweet.
We're donating her remaining food, litterbox, shampoo, brushes, treats, cat-crate, feeders and Crayons to the local humane society. And this weekend, we'll carry Winston with us to the new house and bury her in a spot with a nice sun-beam.