It seems odd to title this post the “Circle of Life” when I’m very probably talking about death, but then again, that’s what makes the circle complete.
Pity that knowing this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.
I’m at work today because I’m at work, that’s what I have to do, but I’m not happy about it. Not that I’d be any happier at home, sitting and watching my guinea pig, Reggie, decide to die.
He’s what they call a “senior pig;” he’s seven, and pigs reach senior status at age four. Every year after four is what I call a blessing. And, until recently, he’s been relatively the same guinea pig he’s always been. A little slower, perhaps, a little less inclined to go dashing about the floor or his cage as he used to; but the same chipper, bright, interested little guy.
Then in March he got sick, his breathing turning labored and harsh. Pneumonia, the vet said. The vet also found that he had cataracts and what felt like a growth on the left side of his abdomen. He didn’t think this growth was bothering him, so we left it alone; at seven, biopsies and such don’t leave guinea pigs with a high success rate of surviving the operation. And it was true, Reggie showed no signs of even noticing he had something like that.
The vet gave us medicine to squirt in him with a dropper. We were warned that at his age, it’s all a gamble. We took the gamble, gave him his medicine, hated giving him his medicine because he hated the taste, but it got him over his pneumonia and he was back to almost-normal again.
Then on Sunday he stopped eating and drinking and had that indefinable look settle over him, the one I’d seen before with other guinea pigs, the one that told me that this time something more serious was going on. That evening, his breathing became labored, just as it was when he had pneumonia.
We took him to the vet on Monday, practically begging for the same medicine, just in case it was the same quick fix. I knew the vet doubted it. We doubted it too. This time it could very well be the growth in his abdomen, growing or shifting or exuding enzymes or whatever it is those growths do. Reggie wasn’t complaining about it–he wasn’t doing much of anything.
But we had to do something.
So it’s the next day now, after a day and night spent where he still didn’t eat or drink despite our best efforts. I could almost think he’s responding to the medicine, because he’ll sniff food and make motions like he’s about to eat–but then he doesn’t, so I’m left not knowing what’s going on.
It reminds me too much of the guinea pig we had before him, Rowan. When Rowan decided this was it for him, he just stopped eating and drinking too. He didn’t have anything wrong with him (that we knew of); he just knew that his time was up. It was dreadfully hard on us, of course, watching him just lie there for two days, but it was what he wanted, and he knew we were there for him. In the end, that’s all you can do.
With all that, I guess I still have some hope, because guinea pigs are amazing creatures who do amazing things, things that people who haven’t been around them wouldn’t credit them with.
The thing is, it’s so hard to think of it from his point of view and not the clunky human point of view, the one that wants to intervene and insert liquids and foods and keep petting him, keep reassuring him that we’re here. It’s really just reassuring ourselves that he’s there. Rationally–and even instinctively–I know he just wants to be left alone. That’s what animals do; hell, that’s what I do when I’m not feeling well.
The rest of me wants to be DOING something about it. I don’t handle being helpless very well, and I guess I haven’t bothered to learn how yet.
So I apologize if this entry reads a little disjointedly; I don’t know what I’ll find when I get home from work today, and that’s on my mind.
But one thing I do know and nothing, no platitudes, no “it’s JUST a guinea pig,” no “you’ll get another one” (believe me, I’ve heard them all, as if you can legislate your feelings, as if love needs a hierarchy), will take away the certainty that he knows we love him.
And I wouldn’t have traded loving him for the world.
ETA: 6/13/12. He waited for us to get up and see him, and then he went. I think he did that for our sake. I had a dream after it was all over, about all sorts of different things that suddenly shifted into a scene of just Reggie and his cage. There he was, sitting on top of one of his cardboard boxes as if he were young again, looking right at me all alert, bright-eyed, and fine, just fine.
The healing process will be long, but I think he was telling me he was okay, and I should be too.