Saturday, August 27, 2011

Old Age, Sickness and Death

One of our cats has been sick for almost a month now.

It's scary and hard - he's only four years old, but we got him when he was about one and had been living on the streets, literally. Friends of ours rescued him, and he's a super cat - snuggly if jittery, soft and affectionate. I named him "Drala" which is Tibetan for "above aggression" which is used to mean "Magic." He's definitely his name in all uses.

The problems have been focused around his bladder - first they thought it was kidneys, but then, no, those readings got better. Xrays and bloodwork, urinanalysis - all of this starting when my in-laws were house-sitting while we were in Europe for two weeks. There were a hedgy couple of days when the vet wasn't sure he'd make it. Poor stress on the in-laws. They did an awesome job.

He was due for a check-up earlier this week so I brought him in, thinking he was ok, but he wasn't. Cats can be so hard to read - especially when you are integrating a new cat, which we have been this whole time. Sure he's acting odd, but wouldn't you if a new person moved into your house?

This morning we both saw him straining to pee, plus he hasn't been taking in the fluids he's needed. The test results finally came back in full force - a staph infection, the kind caught in hospital, likely when he was getting checked for the earlier bladder stuff - resistant to all but one antibiotic, not either of the two we were previously trying. No wonder he hasn't gotten better.

But also, he's now been sick for weeks. We are tired of being scared and sad and worried. He's stressed and tired of being sick. I brought him in and got the fluids, and caught myself thinking, as I did a bit in Europe and have since then - If it is going to be rough, just let him die. How much effort is too much? How much money is too much? Too much suffering - both his and ours. There's no real monetary value and yet, we've tried to set boundaries.

Clearly this is worth the effort. The vet filled him with fluids so he'll (hopefully) pee out the infection, and we will try the new antibiotics. But if he reacts poorly to the antibiotics, it may be the end. I don't count on chances - I've had enough tragic things happen to me that the odds don't matter if you are on the losing end. But I am trying to be with wishing the pain wasn't happening, rather than wishing he'd just go. I realize that sometimes, often, maybe, I've come to wish a painful/struggling person/being would disappear from my life, rather than facing the pain, be with it. I'm ashamed to write this, though as soon as I write it, I am no longer ashamed. I've been ashamed to write that - to even think of wishing Drala would just die, for instance. I apologized to Drala on the drive home and told him I am going to wish now for the relief of the pain, not for him to die.

Norman Fischer, in this quarter's issue of BuddhaDharma (which I have finally subscribed to - it is excellent! An Utne Reader of Buddhism), talks about suffering in this way. It really helped me, as I read it last night and had it fresh in my mind, to think about suffering and even wishing the pain would go away, and what kind of disconnect that wishing creates from the feelings themselves.

"The most astonishing fact of human life is that most of us think it's possible to minimize and even eliminate (kill) suffering. It's incredible that we would think such a thing. We actually think this, which is one reason why it's so difficult for us when we are suffering. We think 'This shouldn't be this way.'...(But) the best realm (to live in) is the human realm, because in the human realm, there's just enough suffering that we have incentive to seek liberation, but not so much suffering that we cannot focus on a spiritual path....Suffering is not a mistake. It's not a problem. It's not your fault, it's not my fault..The question is not: Can we ameliorate or eliminate suffering? The question is: How will we receive and make use of the suffering in our lives?...The more you are willing to endure something that cannot be changed (my emphasis), the easier it is."
-The Real Path, Norman Fischer, Buddhadharma Fall 2011

Drala is sick. There's nothing I can do to stop it. I can try my best to fix it, and, as Fischer points out, we should - try our hardest to cure Cancer and give money to those who need it. These are not reasons to not help or try - they are reasons to make sure that we accept that we cannot fix everything, and to stop suffering in ways we CAN help. For instance, in my case, torturing myself over wishing I didn't have to deal with this. I can stop that suffering. And since I have accepted that this morning, I feel a lot better, and can actually be of more help in the situation.

Please spend some kitty prayers or Tonglen on little Drala. I'll keep you posted.

PS Citywide Vet Clinic is where we've been going. They are wonderful. 


  1. Wishing relief for Drala. And thinking good things for and about him. This reminds me of the several moments I snuck away into a walk-in closet at my Mom's house in the week or so before she died. It was the only place I could be alone. I would go in there to cry and fervently pray for her to hurry up and die already. It felt so awful to think that thought and harbor that wish. I didn't think any of us could endure the suffering anymore. I understand now that I was really just wishing for relief. In the end, I learned that we are all far stronger than I thought.

  2. Thank you, Erin. So helpful to hear that. I think recognizing that it is the pain/suffering that we are having a hard time enduring, and not the person/being is a really important lesson I am pulling from this. All the way from more dramatic situations like this one and others I know you and I share, to even being angry at someone versus about what they have done...