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My very dear Zinc

December 21, 2009

I put Zinc to sleep on Saturday night.

It all started Friday morning (which amazes me…pigs really go downhill quickly).  Zinc hadn’t eaten his pellets from the day before, which is unheard of.  Usually his dish is empty and it’s up with me, begging me to feed him.  He was also breathing funny.  I hung out with him for a couple hours, to see if his breathing would go back to normal, or if other symptoms would present themselves.  Eventually, deciding it was probably just a URI, I made an appointment with the vet who’s pretty close to my apartment.  Packed up all three pigs, in case it was something infectious, and drove to the vet.

Bucky and Theo checked out as the picture of health.  Zinc on the other hand had a lump on his side (which was probably just a cyst) and fluid in his abdomen, which was more serious.  The doctor gave him an injection of something that should try to drain the fluid, and took a sample to send out to the lab, and we went home.

Saturday dawned and the test results weren’t back.  Zinc was about the same, still only eating treats, which worried me.  I made an appointment with a different vet, who knows pigs better, and ran out to the first vet to pick up Critical Care and the xrays.  Internet research had convinced me that it was probably a heart condition, which the second vet had pretty good luck treating.  So we piled in the car and drove up to Long Beach.

Sure enough, the vet decided it was a heart condition.  Prescribed two meds, and gave him another shot.  Then we had to wait while they mixed the meds, and that’s where things started to get bad.  I could watch it get harder for him to breathe.  Eventually he was fidgeting constantly and obviously in distress.  I told the vet assistant, and they put him in an oxygen box for a while and gave him a second shot of the fluid draining stuff.  And I got to wait.

The next I saw him, it didn’t look good.  He’d been on oxygen for about an hour and a half, and had two shots of a very fast acting drug to drain the fluid, and he was still not breathing well.  He looked exhausted, and was barely moving.  And then I got worse news: the damn vet had gone home for the night without telling me.  I was left with three options: leave Zinc there in oxygen overnight, with no one to watch him, take him to an emergency vet, or take him home.  After  sitting with a wonderful vet tech for a while, I decided to take him home.  I honestly didn’t think he’d survive the trip.

Forty minutes later we pulled in to my apartment.  I carried him upstairs and put him in his cage.  And unwrapped a clementine.  And he got super excited and tried to run for it.  Thing is, by this point, there was so much fluid that he couldn’t move his hind legs right.  I gave him a piece and got him to lay down, and there we sat for a while.  Erik came over and we talked about our options.  He did seem less miserable than he had been a few hours before.  But it wasn’t a huge improvement, and his mobility was definitely less.  By this point I was worried about the lack of oxygen affecting his extremities: was that part of why he couldn’t walk right?  We talked about what his chances might be, while I pet him and talked to him and gave him little treats.  He was drinking some water which was good.  But then it happened: he stopped wanting lettuce.  A piece lay there right in front of him, and he didn’t want to eat it.

By this point he’d been off his food a couple days.  He’d had massive amounts of fluid in his body that was making it hard to breath for two full days.  I’ve had asthma attacks, and I can’t imagine living with the pain of not being able to fully inflate your lungs for that many hours.  And as far as I could tell, with our best luck we’d only be able to lessen that some, and he’d probably only last a few more days anyway.  Yes, he was still getting excited about things, and still responding to the world around him, but I knew he had to be in some pretty serious pain, and I didn’t think it was going to go away.  Maybe if I’d managed to get him to a vet earlier, or insisted on more aggressive treatment at the first vet, things would be different, but neither Erik nor I had any hope that Zinc would have more quality time.  And that’s the thing: I didn’t want to keep him alive only to have him slowly suffocate after days of pain.  If the time he had left was just going to be filled with pain, I might as well just let him go.  So we drove out to the emergency vet.

I couldn’t fill out the line in the paperwork that said "reason for visit".  I could say it, but I couldn’t write it.  Every step seemed so final, and I couldn’t believe what I was there to do.  I cried pretty much constantly.  The vet inspected him, and talked with me, and agreed that euthanasia was probably the best choice.  They took him out of the room for a minute to give him the shot.  What a surreal feeling, knowing that they were giving my dear baby boy a fatal shot, while I sat in that room crying.  The vet said it’d take about ten minutes to take affect, and he’d just slowly drift off and stop breathing.  When they brought him back in, I put him on my lap and sat there petting him, telling him how much I love him, and that he was going to sleep now and it wouldn’t hurt anymore.  It was so very fast and then he was gone.  I commented to Erik that it was so fast, not nearly the ten minutes the vet had said, and Erik said it was probably because Zinc was just barely hanging on, that he didn’t need much help to go on his way.

By the time we got home, I was wondering how much one person could cry in one day.  I gave Bucky and Theo a chance to see his body, to maybe help them understand that Zinc was gone.  They were very confused.  It’s funny, when I showed Zinc Rosin’s body I swear he understood, but Bucky and Theo kept almost walking on him.  But they weren’t as close.  Then I put Zinc back in his house, wrapped up in the blanket he’d been laying in for hours.

I think it’ll never stop amazing me, how different a dead body feels.  You don’t realize how much strength there is in life until you’ve felt your pet die.  He was so very limp; had to hold him very differently from how I usually do.  I remembered how Rosin’s body had stiffened up overnight, so I arranged him to look like he was sleeping, that way he’d look like that the next morning when I buried him.  Then I went to bed.

Sunday morning I got a phone call that was very relieving.  I had been questioning my decision.  He was perking up, maybe if I gave him more meds, maybe just maybe he’d be okay.  Questioning if I was rushing things because I was flying home, and I didn’t want to burden Amanda by asking her to care for him, and I didn’t want him to die without me.  But then the first vet called with the results of the fluid test she’d done on Friday.  Turns out it wasn’t a heart condition.  It was lymphoma, which in guinea pigs is an aggressive cancer that is nearly always fatal.  In her voicemail, the vet said that the only thing she could recommend was euthanasia.  So I made the right choice: Zinc wasn’t going to get better.

After dropping Erik off at the airport, I drove us out to Crystal Cove.  I had thought of asking someone, maybe Fawn, to drive me, but eventually decided that I’d rather do it alone.  It was an absolutely beautiful morning, with a few clouds and a low fog on the ocean.  Above the fog I could see Catalina Island.  I walked to near where I’d uried Rosin, and found a spot off the path where I wouldn’t be visible to most people on the path.  Then I dug a hole about a foot deep and put him in.  He was so soft, I could hardly stop petting him.

After writing his name in the dirt on the grave, I drove home, alone.  As I was walking down the hallway to my apartment, I thought of Rosin and Zinc playing together in that hall, me walking with them as they’d explore.  I could picture them right there with me, and hear them talking.  And suddenly I didn’t feel the need to cry anymore.  This whole entry Rosin’s name has come back a lot, because Zinc is back with Rosin now.  All that time they had to spend apart, that’s over now.  My boys are back with each other, at a giant rodent party.  The Ninja Turtles are there, and Sasha and Moo and Kiera Knightly too, and old uncle Cheezit.  My boys are arguing with each other about who gets that good piece of lettuce, and who gets to stand where, and Rosin is so excited to have his big brother back that he lets Zinc win each fight.  My boys are back together now, and they’re at peace.s

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2009 2:20 am

    I don’t have much to say that I haven’t said already. I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you. You did a very brave thing, and I know Zinc appreciates not only what you did for him at the end, but what you did for his whole life.
    Rosin has his bully brother back again. Our babies are playing and relaxing by the Rainbow Bridge. They’ll never be truly gone as long as they can still make us smile.

  2. December 22, 2009 3:45 am

    Aw Marie :( I can’t imagine how hard it is to lose a beloved pet, because I haven’t been there before. Love you.

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