What My Cat's Death Taught Me About Having Control Over Illness


On December 31st, my beloved cat of 14 years died at one of the best emergency veterinarian hospitals in the country. The veterinarian who had been trying to help Spanky for the past five hours said, “I don’t know what is wrong, but your cat is dying.” As I held my precious cat while she took her last breath, I felt my leg go numb. I couldn’t speak. My head and my neck were throbbing. I couldn’t swallow. I was drooling and snot was running down my face. It felt like I was dying, too.

And I kind of was. I had been released from the emergency room earlier in the day; I went in for severe head and neck pain. I was concerned I tore something in my neck. The CT scan was read as degenerative disc disease with some bulging discs. When I returned home from the veterinarian to cry in a ball, the emergency room called and said I needed to come back to the hospital. They made a mistake; I had torn an artery in my neck and the bulging disks were blood clots. Later, I found out I had a stroke during the hours I spent at the emergency vet.

I’d like to insert a joke about how my cat, my firstborn, and I were attempting to upstage Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fischer. As I lay in the MRA machine, I thought it would have been a perfect way to go. But I didn’t die. My dog and I lost our best friend that day and I lived to tell about it. My pets had matching black and white markings; now my dog and our new grey cat look like a mismatched pair of socks. I can’t control anything anymore and I can no longer pretend my life has order.

Well wishes and sympathy posts flooded my Facebook wall. It was the most kindness I had ever been shown. It helped me immensely. I felt hope. Maybe now my doctors would take me seriously? Maybe now they would be willing to try all of the treatments I was “not sick enough” to try before? Maybe the diagnosis of vertebral artery dissection would make them pause and look at me and listen.

Now I’m too sick. I’m too high risk. Half of my doctors will now acknowledge what I have been saying: I have a vascular problem. There were years of warning signs. The other half refuse to acknowledge I was right and say ridiculous things like, “Anyone could tear an artery if they turn their head too fast.” Really? In the words of my friend, “The human race would not survive if we could turn our heads fast enough to kill ourselves.” I have learned there is absolutely no way to convince someone, even a doctor, to believe you if they do not want to. There will never be enough evidence, enough proof.

I never know how my day will start or end. I never know if I will be able to get out of bed. There is little I can control. The picture of me and my matching dog and cat that I proudly showed to the world is gone. I am just like everyone else: imperfect. It’s easy to say “keep fighting” or “you just haven’t found the right doctor.” I appreciate that you still have hope, but for me, I’ve accepted it. When things don’t match, it’s harder to make sense of them. Maybe everything will turn out exactly as I have always hoped, but maybe it won’t.

And that’s OK too.

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Thinkstock photo via ehaurylik.

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