Sunday, November 9, 2008

Goodbye Dear Leeloo

The past week has been a very rough one on us. On Monday, November 3rd, we were forced to say goodbye to our beloved cat Leeloo, after only knowing her for two years. After months of being sick to varying degrees, she developed an infection that her poor little body was unable to fight off. Our hearts are completely shattered. She was a huge part of our lives, she was my best friend, and she is very much missed.

A few months ago, back when we were doing a lot of renovation in the house to prepare for the coming baby, we noticed that Leeloo was occasionally not very hungry. She was still eating during the day but at certain meals she just didn't seem to have a huge appetite. We read a lot about how cats are particularly sensitive to stressing over changes around them, especially with their food dish location, we figured that might have been the problem. We moved the food to a more private location and all seemed fine. She was still acting like herself, begging for food, and usually gobbling it up.

Still, she had lost some weight and continued to do so. She was by no means a skinny kitty, but she used to be massive compared to Cosette, and at this point in time, Cosette was larger than her. We paid particular attention to make sure Leeloo was eating (thinking Cosette was stealing most of the food) but sure enough, she appeared to be eating ok. She was still acting just fine, running around, jumping all over things... just being herself.

A few weeks later, we decided to bring her to the vet because, despite still eating regularly, she was now quite thin. This was on a Monday. The vet drew some blood for tests and gave us the normal "I don't know what it could be therefore it's probably cancer" line.

On Tuesday afternoon we received the blood results, showing she did not have leukemia or anything else identifiable. We were told to bring her into the clinic's hospital for x-rays the following day.

We brought Leeloo in for x-rays on Wednesday, the same day Carrie went into labor. Her labor pains started early that morning but were still latent when it was time to drop Leeloo off, so she came with me to the vet hospital. By the afternoon, she was in active labor so I was fighting through rush-hour traffic to pick up Leeloo while Carrie was at home having contractions and the midwife was en route. I was told that the x-ray showed a mass on Leeloo's liver, potentially cancer, but they needed an ultrasound to get a better look. As luck would have it, the hospital's ultrasound machine and/or person was not around for three weeks, so I was given the option to wait (?!?) or go to another emergency facility for the ultrasound. I chose other facility.

On Thursday, after being up all night for Nora's birth, my mom and brother dropped Leeloo off for her ultrasound. The vet there thought the problem was probably a hairball in her stomach, not cancer! Well, after an ultrasound and subsequent endoscopic surgery, the surgeon actually removed a toy mouse from Leeloo's stomach! She apparently ate one of her $1 toy mice, causing all of this. Leeloo had a feeding tube inserted because she lost so much weight and her liver wasn't functioning properly.

After only a day or two of tube feeding, she was back to eating lots of food on her own. We were incredibly happy that she was making a fast recovery. That Friday, her liver tested ok and the tube was removed (she hated the tube). She was given some antibiotics for an infection she had on the skin near the tube.

It seemed the worst was over. Leeloo was getting back to herself, though still a bit slower she was doing a lot of the same things she always did. She was back to sleeping between my legs at night and laying across Carrie's lap during the day. It seemed all was going well.

Yet October 28th we noticed her appetite was waining again. I tried making her some special food she loves, we gave her some of the left over appetite stimulants we had, and I started giving her Nutrical because I was afraid her liver would get messed up again. She seemed to be eating ok again, but that only lasted a day or two. On Saturday she stopped wanting to eat much food at all, so I ran out to Petco to get a feeding syringe just to force her to eat something. We decided that something more serious was going on and would take her to the vet on Monday.

I fed her and she ate fairly easily from the tube on Saturday evening. But on Sunday morning, she had absolutely no interest in food. It was very difficult to get her to eat. I managed to get a good amount of food down, but when I put her back where she was sleeping I noticed she was breathing funny. I looked up to see if our vet had any Sunday hours. Carrie went over to her and noticed that her ears were really hot, so I took her temperature. 105.5F--way too hot for a cat! I contacted and immediately took her to the vet's off-hours emergency clinic.

The vet was very concerned by Leeloo's breathing and immediately ordered up an xray. It showed fluid in her chest cavity, pushing against her lungs and making it hard to breathe. The did a procedure to remove the fluid, so for a while Leeloo was breathing a bit better. They were pretty certain she had an infection, so they started her on antibiotics. I left her there for them to monitor and care for her and headed home.

If it wasn't bad already, it quickly got worse. The vet called within a hour or so to say that Leeloo had gone into respiratory distress. They had to do another procedure to remove the fluid and had the hard choice of giving her steroids for the breathing troubles (steroids are not good when there's an infection). They ended up also putting her into an oxygen chamber, but her condition wasn't getting much better.

At this point, it really hit us that this might not work out, but we were determined to give Leeloo every chance to pull through. Carrie, Nora, and I headed down to the vet that evening to see Leeloo and to talk to the vet again. We decided that we'd let her trying to get through the night in the oxygen chamber, and in the morning I'd transport her to the Garden State Vet Specialists for some more advanced care. We talked to the vet a bit later and was told that Leeloo got up to drink some water and peed a bit, which was encouraging.

The next morning, I picked up Leeloo around 6:30am. Unfortunately her condition was deteriorating. She had a few bouts of breathing problems overnight, and we had to take her out of the oxygen chamber to transport her. I rushed her down to GSVS, a 25 minute drive down the Parkway, and ran her in, immediately getting her back on oxygen.

A few minutes later, a vet came out to tell me that the prognosis was very bad, and seemed to imply that I should give up. Leeloo had been through so much the past two months, I wasn't going to give up on her. I gave the OK for them to continue to treat her as long as possible and set off for work.

On my way, I got a call saying that Leeloo was in respiratory distress and wanted to know if I wanted them to give her a breathing tube. Of course I did. A few minutes later they called to say she was crashing, and wanted to know if I wanted them to try reviving her. At that point, it really hit me. I debated whether it was worth any more discomfort to Leeloo, whether a bad outcome was already certain, and if dragging this out would only keep her around for a few more minutes of pain. She had been through so much so far, I owed it to her to have every opportunity to pull through, so I OKed resuscitation. I called Carrie to let her know what was going on...

Sitting at my desk, shortly after 9am, I got the call telling me that they were not successful. Our Leeloo wasn't able to be brought back. She was gone. This was the most horrible news I had ever heard.

I came home. It all seemed unreal, yet real enough to be incredibly upsetting. We had thought the worst was over, that she pulled through her toy-swallowing ordeal, but our optimism wasn't enough.

Carrie and I eventually gathered the strength to drive down to GSVS that afternoon to pick up Leeloo's body for burial. The vet told us that the fluid removed from Leeloo showed a septic infection, and was probably from the feeding tube. She said that it wasn't due to any mistakes made in her treatment, but that sometimes they get infections from the tubes. With the loss of bodyweight and the stress of the previous procedures, the infection was pretty well hidden from us, and when it finally started to get the best of Leeloo, it hit her extremely fast and hard. Her little body was simply too tired to fight it off, but she gave it her all.

The drive back home was strange. Carrie and I both felt that Leeloo was there with us, even though she was gone. There was a strange presence we felt with her body in the car with us, even though she was wrapped up and we didn't actually see her yet.

When we got home, I had to do what was necessary. I started digging for her burial. Three feet down, I finally finished and we could continue with saying goodbye.

We opened the box we took her home in and unwrapped her. She looked so sick, yet so peaceful. She was Leeloo but not herself. Our little kitty was just lying there, unable to see us and unable to feel us. We were so unprepared to deal with the reality that she was gone. We always imagined her living with us for 20+ years. She was Carrie's best buddy during the pregnancy and was there when Nora was born. We so expected Nora to grow up knowing Leeloo, and Leeloo knowing Nora. But the cold reality was that simply could not happen any more.

We let Cosette, Leeloo's biological sister, see her body. We don't know what's going on inside her mind, but we knew that she was looking for Leeloo, and we felt that this would help with whatever form of closure she might need. She came over and didn't seem to recognize Leeloo visually. She was sniffing around her feet, which smelled like some sort of sanitizer, but suddenly Cosette smelled near Leeloo's tail and reacted. She took another sniff, dropped her tail, and walked away. She knew. She knew her sister was gone and not coming back to play. We were actually surprised to get such a marked response, but are glad we decided to go that route. I would rather have Cosette need to deal with knowing Leeloo was gone than continue on walking around the house calling for her as she had been.

For her final few weeks, Leeloo loved sleeping inside Nora's stroller covered in a pink fleece blanket. We decided to wrap her in a piece of that blanket. We buried her along with some kibble that I had made (for when she felt better), some straws (that she used to love pulling out of the cabinet and walking around the house with), and a bag of catnip (remembering the time she grabbed and ran off with an open bag of it, getting it everywhere). We put her back into the cardboard carrier we picked her up in and proceeded outside.

There wasn't much to say, other than that we love you Leeloo and we miss you. We're so sorry that you had such a rough two months and we're sorry we weren't able to help you. We placed her in the hole that I dug, a hole placed in a location she used to see when looking out the kitchen window, and Carrie and Nora watched as I refilled the hole. Now she's at rest.

Carrie and I feel absolutely horrible. Not just because we miss her so much, but that we feel like we failed her. It was our responsibility to care for her, and somehow we managed to fail. Looking back, even as I write this, it seems obvious that something was wrong before we realized it, but such is the curse of hindsight. We cared so much for her, and at the time we did everything we possibly could to help her. We don't feel that we made any careless decisions. Any time something like this happens, one always says things like "if only I had done something sooner." But I don't feel that we made any ridiculous mistakes. Yes, we feel that we failed her because she's no longer with us, but we did everything possible to help her at the time. Each decision was made in her best interest at the time, knowing only what we knew then.

I miss Leeloo so much. Almost every night in the winter she used to sleep between my legs at night. In the mornings she used to wake me up with a kiss on my nose, and always used to beg me to feed her before I got into shower. For the two years she was here, I made almost all of her kibble and wet food by hand. I loved the way she'd come up and sit on me on the couch, gracing me with her presence. She'd sit on my lap, and if I had to pick her up to get up, she'd wait a few minutes to see if I'd return before taking the spot for herself. She used to come downstairs and watch me lift weights, just watching that and everything I would do. All that and more will be missed.

During the pregnancy, Leeloo was Carrie's shadow. She seemed incredibly aware of what was going on. She used to lay across her belly when Carrie was on the couch, and used to sleep on her hip at night. Leeloo was there to comfort her when she was feeling sick. We imagined her continuing to grow with Nora, but we're happy that she was able to be there for the birth and to meet Nora, even if only knowing her for a few weeks.

Leeloo's full name was Leeloo Dallas Multipass, named after Milla Jovovich's character in The Fifth Element.

Goodbye Leeloo. We love you. We miss you. We're sorry that we were only able to share two years with you, but we'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.


Anonymous said...

How awful. I got so sad just reading this. You guys have been through so much these past few months. I'm so sorry.

Anonymous said...

I'm so very sorry. I found your blog by your wife's birth story on I know what it's like to lose a cherished cat, although mine was from different circumstances. I'm so sorry and and hope you and your wife will be comforted by your happy memories of the cat. You sound like wonderful pet parents and you did all you could. The world would be a much nicer place if all pet owners cared as much about their feline friends as you do about yours.
Congratulations on your daughter, she's beautiful!

Anonymous said...

I was hoping this might comfort you:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Leeloo knows how much you loved her. I have no doubt about that.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts are with you guys. I too followed your wife's link on Mothering. It is such an immense loss, the loss of a beloved pet. I 'm crying for your Leeloo too. What a gift, though, that she loved and you all loved her. Animals are truly a blessing on the families that love them. you guys did awesome by her and I'm sure she knows that. Hope Cosette is feeling more at peace too. Blessings to all of you, especially your new little one.

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