Me, Lucy and the sometimes-miracle of steroids
As I wrestle Lucy out from under the bed again, it hits me. She feels good on this drug. A year and a half ago I was ordered to take prednisone for three months because, a. the medical people I turned to for help thought it was the cure for what might ail me and b. when it became obvious that wasn’t the cure, they decided to keep me on it anyway because I was in pain and they thought it might help. It didn’t. I felt like crap. I was dull witted (it later turned out that could have been from B vitamin deficiencies), I was not physically relieved and I began to have the weight gain associated with prednisone use. Now Lucy, a cat, is having all the relief that I did not experience from the drug.
She had an accident in June, most certainly took a tumble in one of her Evil Kneivel style leaps, broke off a fang and split her lower jaw. She got repaired and recovered. For three weeks early in September I noticed her nose running again (the symptom that got us to the doc in June) and I started taking her in to find out what was wrong and get her some help. We saw two vets, in the same office, six times in less than two weeks. The first guy thought our regular vet had maybe missed a piece of tooth in surgery in June and it was infecting her jaw and sinus. The original vet didn’t think so but gave us antibiotics and said everything seemed okay. I persisted in returning because I have known and lived with this cat virtually every day of her now 16 years and I knew something was wrong. We had to find the reason for this recurring infection and treat her.
But no one was getting the urgency of the problem. I tried desperately to describe her struggle to swallow with all the mucous draining down her throat and the bare fact that breathing was becoming a constant struggle for her. Finally I took one of her quarter tablet antibiotics with me and asked the tech to please give her the pill so they could see for themselves how she reacted while trying to swallow. Then maybe they’d get why she was losing weight. I heard Lucy choking in the exam room. The tech stepped out a minute later and asked if they could do xrays. “Yes, please,” I said. Then the vet called me in, deeply sobered and said: “There’s a golf ball sized growth behind her heart, and two smaller ones in front, possibly on the lungs. I have to have a radiologist read it.” He gave her a steroid shot and by that night she was her old happy self, eating a bit and wanting love and attention. That was a Monday. The report confirmed there was no hope, although specifics could only be learned through surgery and neither of us thought that was a good idea with a 16-year-old cat, especially given that the cancer was so close to her heart. He said to bring her the next day for a super steroid shot that would carry her 1-4 weeks and we would just work to keep her from suffering.
Lucy and I struggled through that night, me sure that each breath might be her last and at some point hoping it would be so she would not suffer anymore. Obviously, Monday’s steroid shot had worn off. At one point she jumped down from the bed and continued gasping for breath under it. I fell apart, sobbing. Lucy jumped back onto the bed and came next to me again. So many times in my life I have seen cats do that, come to my side when I am crying or sick. I toughened up for her sake and just kept repeating “I’m sorry dear, we’ll get some help as soon as the vet is open.” And I called at 7:30 and asked what was the earliest time one of the offices would open so I could go in, warning them that we were not coming for the steroid shot because I did not want to see her struggling for breath again through another night when that shot wore off. By the time we got to the office I was not sure I should go through with it. Tony let me in and said he’d changed his mind about the shot and would instead give me a good supply of amoxicillin with prednisone in it and I could give that to her twice a day to keep her comfortable. This seemed a good idea. It took until night for her breathing to normalize again after another prednisone shot and I was ready with the pink liquid to keep her levels up so she would not be in distress.
Lucy’s amoxicillin/prednisone cocktail stopped working entirely after about a week. I was, in fact, taking her in to have her put to sleep when the vet remembered the stronger steroid shot (depo something) and that gave her a miracle week of being herself again. However, a week later another depo shot seemed to have no effect at all. That was Thursday a week ago. Last Monday I called and he suggested still another of the depo shots and this time, by Tuesday night, she was feeling better and we’ve had a whole week of comfort and cuddling.
This morning the nose is running again, the sure sign of another downward slide. I think we’ll just keep getting the depo shots until the cancer takes her or the shots no longer give her relief. I’m so grateful to be able to keep her comfortable and she seems to have adjusted to the little intrusions of weekly vet visits and me wiping her nose. She didn’t even run off this morning after I did that. I’m grateful, too, quite selfishly, for this extra time with her feeling well. I was not in a great frame of mind to accept another loss through death. Sharing these days with her, knowing where we’re headed, is helping me work towards acceptance.
Lucy and I have had lots of hours of petting and reading to her on the bed. I can’t know if I’ve got her for an hour more, a day, a week, a month, or six months. I believe she will die sooner rather than later and I remind myself this is about her, not me.
Born feral, Lucy has always been alert and watchful. Yet she’s a gentle, graceful companion who often pricks my skin, ever so lightly, to ask for petting. When I first come to bed she marches around me in circles, sometimes circling the whole body, sometimes just my head, crossing my chest each go ‘round. If I turn over, and boy do I all night long, she adjusts. She generally cuddles into some curve around my hips but lately has nestled a little higher near my chest. Remember that American Indian saying “It’s a good day to die”? Well, maybe so. But it seems to me that each day is another good day to cuddle with Lucy.