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Henry died yesterday, 27 June 2010, at the age of 18 in Bratislava, Slovakia. I miss you, buddy.
I first met Henry in mid-1994, when my girlfriend-and-future-wife’s mother reported she’d met someone with a cat up for adoption. We went to visit him and found him adorable. Apparently, Henry was the terror of the household, though, and they wanted to get rid of him because he was scaring their new fluffy white kitten. So, after brief deliberation, we brought Henry home to our apartment in Maitland, Florida. Later, we adopted another cat, Liza, from an animal shelter. She got her name from the old song:
There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza
There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.
Henry had been declawed in the front, either in response to his terrorizing the fluffy white kitten, or because his previous owners owned an African gray parrot. Later in life, Henry was to repeatedly demonstrate his deference toward birds, apparently having earned early on from the parrot that beaks and feathers don’t mean food, but painful biting.
Henry traveled extensively. From the apartment we moved to a house in Winter Springs, FL. Later, Henry would find new homes with us in Coon Rapids, MN, Norwich, CT, and Hamden, CT. After my wife and I split, Henry moved with me to Santa Cruz, CA, where he lived in 4 different homes with me and my girlfriend. It was my girlfriend who truly civilized Henry. Where previously he had been rather aloof, preferring mostly to be admired from a distance rather than cuddled or any of that undignified nonsense, she was able to create a connection with him which resulted in long hours sprawled between her blanket-covered legs while she worked on her MacBook. So, too, he was mellowing with age, preferring to stay near the house rather than race off into whatever jungle was closest by to find prey to stalk and animals to beat.
Henry later spent half a year with me between Waukesha and Madison, WI, before heading south again to spend a few months with my sister in Orlando while preparations were underway to move overseas.
Henry came to Bratislava in August, 2004. In early 2005, my girlfriend and I split, and I agreed that Henry should go with her because of the close bond they developed. Later that year, Henry accompanied her to Vilnius, Lithuania, where she’d found a contract teaching English. The next year, though, Henry was to rejoin me in Bratislava, since neither of us thought that her new Asian destination was a particularly good or safe locale for him.
In late 2009, Henry moved with me to Spain, though briefly, before returning to Bratislava with me in February of this year.
In his recent years with me, Henry became more and more attached to me. I used to tell people that he was more and more kitten-like as the years went by. Where previously he would only sleep at the very foot of the bed (preferably on or between my lower legs), he came more and more to sleep up near my head, or sometimes curled against my chest or back. Going-to-sleep and waking-up times were precious to Henry and me both, as he would come stalk across the bed in search of some petting and scratching, and often reciprocate by licking my face or driving his purring snout into my ear.
In August, 2009, Henry started running into the real problems of aging. For some years he had been suffering slightly reduced mobility and flexibility due to arthritis. Now, though, his kidney function weakened substantially. Amid two hospital visits where he was tested, injected and given overnight saline drip infusions, it was determined that his kidney function had deteriorated substantially, little surprise at the then-age of 17. He switched to a special diet for cats with weak kidneys, and improved.
In March, just after returning from Spain, Henry experienced another setback. He had been developing cataracts for several years, as evidenced by an increasing bluish tint to his pupils. Now, though, he lost almost all of his eyesight over a period of a few weeks, being left only able to perceive broad differences between light and dark. He navigated about with his whiskers and senses of smell and hearing. When he was up and about and wanted to be active, though, he frequently paced in tight circles, always counter-clockwise. He was still the same delightful cuddle-buddy as before, but sometimes a bit frustrated due to this new difficulty.
Last Wednesday, 23 June 2010, Henry started acting very lethargic. He had been enduring some constipation for about a week, but was still able to go, and was somewhat relieved by the addition of some olive oil to his diet. That day also, he started squinting a lot, and had a bit of brownish discharge from the corners of his eyes. The next day was worse, with his energy level very low, more discharge, eyes completely closed all day long, and when he refused a selection of foods in the late evening, I decided it was time for the vet.
We visited the non-stop animal hospital at about 11:30pm on Thursday night. Henry received about 60 minutes of saline infusion, the feline equivalent of Zantac, some antibiotic eye drops and an enema. He also had a blood test, which showed good kidney function but a rather high urea level. We went home, Henry with a cannula still in his foreleg, and with instructions to return the next evening for a check-up and more infusion.
Fortunately, Henry held his business until after we got home, where he promptly experienced total gut blowout in the litterbox as a result of the enema. Feeling better from that and from the infusion, he ate an entire plate of food, and then most of another. Things seemed to be looking up. The next day, though, the lethargy returned with a vengeance, and he often had trouble standing up, seemingly unable to maintain the muscular tension required to keep his back feet close together. At times, he would go to the litterbox, make a failed attempt, sit down in the box, and then later lay down. Two or three times, I either talked him out of the box or removed him bodily.
Friday was more of the same, with Henry lethargic and sometimes plopping himself down for extended periods in the litterbox. I later wondered if this was some kind of sign, as if he knew it was time and was sort of “throwing away” his body. We went back to the hospital for more infusion and observation that evening, and the doctor wanted to keep him there until morning.
Saturday morning saw me meeting Henry at the hospital. He was miserable to have been there overnight, but calmed a bit with my presence and some proper petting and stroking. There was bad news: Henry was passing blood in his stool, and some kind of mass in his abdomen was evident via palpation. It wasn’t clear what was going on, but cancer was the top worry. The doctors again wanted him back in the evening for more infusion and observation. They also wanted to do a detailed examination to determine the nature of the mass and the cause of the bloody stool. The first word was “laparotomy”, which made me cringe. This is an exploratory surgery in which the abdominal cavity is opened up more or less completely so that all parts can be examined. I inquired about ultrasound and X-ray options, and left without making a decision.
At home, amid bouts of fitful sleep, I thought about what the doctor had said. If they did an ultrasound and nothing showed up, the would have to do surgery anyway to find out what was wrong. Same thing for an X-ray. And if they did find something non-intrusively, they would still have to open him up in order to determine if it was benign, surgically reparable, or perhaps metastatic. Mentally, I was prepared for the very worst, and resolved that if metastatic cancer was found on the operating table that I would give the order for euthanasia.
Meeting Henry again at the hospital on Sunday morning found him in seemingly poorer condition. Coaxed out of his cage onto a table, he was barely able to stand, his legs just buckling under him. I spoke with the doctor regarding the choice of procedure, and he agreed there was little sense in doing an ultrasound or X-ray, so he began to prep for surgery. This doctor, who had spent two nights with Henry, would pet and scratch him and call him “Expert”.
I spent about 15 minutes with Henry as preparations were being made, petting him, kissing him, scratching his ears and stroking his nose and face between the eyes. I told him he was going to sleep, and that this might be goodbye.
Around 9:30am, the vet gave Henry a sedative (forgot the name) via his cannula. My buddy flopped over and started to drool a bit even before the full dose was administered. About 10 minutes later, a dose of ketamine was administered (Ketamine? I love that stuff!). I told Henry to enjoy his trip in the eighth dimension, gave him some more petting and scratching even though he was unconscious, and left the room as the vet prepared to intubate him for respiratory support and anesthesia using isoflurane gas. I went out to smoke a cigarette, then returned to the front room of the clinic to read and wait, nervously.
Just after 10am, the doctor came out to discuss the findings. The surgeon had located a cyst on Henry’s pancreas, and they had drained it into a syringe, resulting in maybe 3cc of clear fluid. They said his abdominal cavity had an overall yellowish color, which could indicate a liver problem, feline leukemia or FIV, the feline equivalent of HIV. Also, one of his adrenal glands was significantly enlarged. There was no chance to remove or biopsy the adrenal gland, the surgeon saying that attempting to do so would likely result in Henry’s death. No intestinal blockage was found, and no cause for the bloody stool determined. Absent a clear sign of metastatic cancer, I ordered Henry sewn back up, and tests conducted for liver function, feline leukemia and FIV.
About 10:30, the latter two tests came back negative, and Henry was in recovery. I went into the surgery and visited him, where he still lay unconscious while the drugs wore off. I was very relieved, and hopeful that he would recover. I went home, the doctor telling me that he’d phone with the liver test results, and planning to visit Henry that evening after he’d awakened.
Just after noon, the doctor called. “His heart failed,” he said, “about 20 minutes ago.”
I returned to the hospital immediately. There was my buddy, dead on the table. I stroked him, cried, and told him I love him. He was still so soft and lovely — but cold.
The doctor said that Henry had been recovering normally. During surgery, his heart and lung function had been strong. Apparently, though, as the anesthesia and sedation began to wear off, some kind of shock set in, and his heart began slowing down. Resuscitation was attempted to no avail, and Henry died around 11:50am.
At about 8pm, Henry was laid to rest following a brief ceremony in Devín, Slovakia, at the confluence of the Morava and Danube Rivers. I, my friend and her daughter threw some items into the river to prepare the way for him: two of his food dishes, several handfuls of food and treats, some catnip spray, his green catnip-infused toy frog, two toys my friend had made for him, some loose tobacco and a pack of cigarettes, some coins to pay the ferryman and a laminated card with the photo above and the legend: “Henry, 1 April 1992 – 27 June 2010. You are missed by many.” And then Henry’s body went into the river, and now lies someplace between there and the Black Sea. My friend and I drank a toast of brandy to Henry, and cast our glasses into the water.