Last night I slid into bed next to you.
I formed my own blankets around the perimeter of your body so my covers wouldn’t be too heavy on top of you.
I slid a sheet over you and up to your neck and placed a stuffed sloth on your other side, so you’d feel safe, warm, and cocooned in love.
You were in the middle of the bed, stretched out from the tips of your furry Maine Coon paws to the fluffiest end of your tail, with your confused, exhausted face trying to find an acceptable semblance of peace and comfort within the echoey plastic orb of the protective cone around your neck.
Your dissent collar, if we wanted to be funny.
Except this isn’t funny. Your whole head was inflamed with a hellishly itchy allergic reaction to the medication that was supposed to help you. It helped the ear infection, but it almost killed you with angry red patches all over your head that made you nearly gash a gaping hole in your head with your feet, trying to scratch the itch away.
You were absolutely miserable. Even the vet was astounded and worried. I was worried sick myself, my own stomach in knots of anxiety.
Last night I laid on my side with my own back hanging off the edge of the bed so I wouldn’t bother your sleep. I put my hand on your chest to feel your heartbeat – the one I was scared would stop any minute, and I petted you and scratched the parts of your head you can’t reach.
And I took selfies, because that’s what made sense. In case you died, at least I’d have proof we slept next to each other on your final night.
I nursed you through the worst day, yesterday, after two weeks of watching you try to shake that ear infection out of your ear, after I saw thick drainage drooling out of it, after we went to the doctor and got you the medication. I had to ask for pain meds for you to get through the next couple days – thankfully it was easier to get you pain relief than it is to get mine.
I got you pain relief, Juno (!), in addition to the antibiotics and the steroids. I couldn’t imagine you going any longer in the pain I could clearly see, but others couldn’t.
Yesterday I watched, helpless, as you tried all the positions imaginable to tolerate the cone. I watched as you tried to bathe, but the hard plastic met your tongue with firm resistance, so I watched you lick the residue of your latest meal instead, caked on the edge of your cone like a toddler’s bib hours after eating soup. I saw you give up and duck your head inside yourself trying to crawl out of this endless tunnel around your neck. I watched you crouch and side step backwards to try to remove yourself from it. And finally, I watched you resign yourself to this prison of illusioned safety.
These past few weeks I’ve watched your eyes cloud over in pain and disrepair, and I’ve paid attention as you’ve tried to trust me even while I continue to do weird human things that are helpful, but scary. I’ve seen you look at me with those eyes of fear, pain, anger and even love through it all.
I’ve watched these past weeks as you’ve dealt with pain you can’t understand, and discomfort you can’t explain to me. I’ve felt your trust as you have submitted to my embrace as I, yet again, dropped scary drops in your ear and forced pills down your throat.
And I’ve felt my heart wrenched open as you’ve grown tired, scared, and frustrated enough to no longer submit to my embrace – to instead flail when I pick you up, no longer trusting that I’m helping. To run and hide from me or, worse, to turn your body around and face the wall with your cone nearly touching it so you wouldn’t see my face. When, for nearly 7 years, you’ve always known me to protect you even if I was doing a scary thing to make you feel better.
I’ve watched the fur on your belly rise and fall and transform with each breath as you sleep. I marvel at the wonders your fur creates as it breathes with your body. I’ve pushed thoughts firmly away of how I would bury my face and weep into that fur, were you to die.
You are so alive.
Yet your body is wasting from sickness, and I don’t know if this is temporary or final. Or chronic.
Chronic pain changes you.
And you’re a cat, so anything longer than 5 minutes is chronic. In three weeks you will have aged at least three human months, in cat age. At least, that’s what I’ve calculated. And that’s chronic.
I know you love me.
And I am so sorry I can’t make it better. I’m so sorry you can’t tell me where it hurts, how long, how often, and how much. I’m sad that you can’t tell me when you are feeling better. And I’m heartbroken to watch your depression consume you and drag you downhill in a matter of hours and remove your chatty meow and chirps and trills. I miss our conversations in cat language. Your silence is deafeningly jarring.
This chronic shit is so scary. And because I know the same pain, that is why I have so desperately, so tenderly, so calmly nursed you. I have hidden my anxiety around you as much as I can, so you can’t smell as much of it. I’ve scratched your favorite spots that you can’t reach. I’ve held food in my fingers so that you will eat. I’ve read messages to you from people on Instagram.
But I also do it because it’s what I also wish for as a person who lives with a chronic, incurable disease.
Juno, when you were diagnosed with the same disease I have, Spondylitis, I desperately hoped you wouldn’t feel the same pain as me because there aren’t as many treatments out there for cats as there are for humans, or even as there are for dogs. And I joked about you becoming my awareness cat, but I didn’t really mean it. Really.
And now, in this moment, it’s your sickness and the way your body is hurting, scaring this letter out of me. I thought I would use your story to raise awareness about cats and their chronic diseases, but instead, today, I’m using your story to help people understand the human side of chronic disease as well.
You embody my struggle. And that is so unfair to you.
We who are incurable want to be held, but sometimes we get so angry at our ever-failing bodies that we flail and cry, even at those we love.
We still want to be held.
We want to be gently nursed and cared for, but we can’t always express what we’re actually feeling because we’re in the middle of that trauma and you really wouldn’t understand. And we wouldn’t even be able to describe it, so we keep quiet and let it consume us from within. So we suffer silently. We lose our voices, our chatter, and our desire to engage.
We still want to be gently nursed and cared for.
We feel bad, all the time. Depression removes our ability to interact, to care, to eat, to leave our beds. We just lay there, looking at the world through eyes glazed with confusion and wishing we could just die to not feel the pain anymore.
We feel bad, all the time.
And we just want the persistence of someone special enough to see how much we are suffering so we don’t have to hide it, so we can just hurt until that flare passes, and so we don’t have to explain ourselves.
Sometimes we need someone to spoon feed us.
Sometimes we need someone to scratch or massage us in the places we can’t reach.
Sometimes we need someone else to call the doctor on our behalf because we are oh-so-damn-tired of advocating for ourselves.
And so much more.
And that’s really our whole lives. That’s it. The pain is always there, even when we’re feeling our best.
If any humans reading this have a desire to offer medical advice for Juno, he’s not interested. Neither is his human, Charis. We both like and trust our research ability and our veterinarian (and some good vet friends!).
Since I don’t want Juno’s brother, Dora (who has a benign heart murmur), to get jealous, here are some pictures of him too:
If you found this post informative, captivating, or entertaining in some way, please consider supporting my work with a $3 tip at ko-fi.com/beingcharis. Your support can help cover some of Juno’s recent vet bills.