"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Monday, August 8, 2016

Impact



As seems to be the norm in my life this year, I haven't had an opportunity to write on the blog because I have been so very busy. But also because I couldn't focus on sitting down and writing for fun, between going to work interviews, singling out the job I wanted at the hospital I wanted, and then working my way around saying good-bye to so many people I loved at the hospital I worked at for the last four years. And then trying to get Astarte to rally and realizing that she wasn't going to this time...and also dealing with one of the most frightening riding injuries I have dealt with in...well, ever. It was the worst ever.

Four weeks ago now Carlos and I took the girls to the C&O Canal towpath access at Point of Rocks, right across the stateline between MD and VA, on the VA side. It is less than 30 minutes from the barn, and they have parking for boat trailers...which means it will easily accommodate horse trailers as well. I have a thing for the C&O Canal: it is 184.5 miles of towpath that starts in Washington, DC and ends in Cumberland, MD. Horses are allowed on the towpath north of the Great Falls, MD area. I was tickled pink when we discovered we had an access point to the C&O so close to home!

We did a 15 mile conditioning ride on that day and the girls were STELLAR. Absolutely stellar. Walked, trotted and cantered on the long flat straightaway that is the towpath and took the girls into the water whenever we found boat launches into the Potomac River and campsites next to the water, which are frequent on this trail since the trail parallels the river.


Riding past a lockhouse. These were inhabited by Canal employees and are preserved in their original state. Several of these can be rented for an overnight or several nights' stay.

Tunnel for the train. 
The towpath.
Side trail into a campsite.
We stopped to check out one of the campsites. You can't stay overnight with horses, but hikers and bikers are welcome to. There are fire pits and porta johns at most of the campsites along the C&O. The reason why we spent the last year desensitizing the girls to the train at the barn was so we could ride this part of the C&O: that's the train through the trees. Its tracks run parallel to the towpath for most of this section of trail. The girls didn't care. Their ears are pointing backwards because they didn't understand why we were making them stand still for this photo: they wanted to continue!
Single track between the towpath and the river.
Another lockhouse. 
One of many access points into the water.

I'd been unclipping the sponge to cool her off with.
I love this river. The fact that it tried to kill us later does not change the way I feel about it. You assume a certain level of risk when dealing with any of the four elements.



Sidepassing because she didn't really want to go down this small slope but Gracie was already at the bottom.

One of several bridges.






Another boat launch area. This was the New Brunswick parking lot. We turned around here...
...after taking the girls in the water to cool down. This was at the start of a major heat wave: humidity was close to 80% with temps in the upper 90s before the heat index.

We turned around at mile 7.5, right when we saw the sign indicating that Harpers Ferry, WV was only one more mile up the path. We didn't have much time left, as it was late afternoon, but we decided to plan on returning so we could ride into Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry is a small historical town that has been preserved for the most part as it used to be during the Civil War and is the first West Virginia town we visited when we moved north. It is quite special to us and we were tickled pink by the idea of riding on horseback into this Civil War town for lunch.

Ever since seeing the C&O towpath for the first time, I had dreamed of doing exactly this: cantering my horse down it, grinning from ear to ear. I was riding one-handed while filming with my phone in the other.








All sponged off and eating elyte mashes before heading back to the barn.
I was pretty happy with this conditioning ride's pac! We stopped multiple times to take the horses in the water and still managed an average speed of 6.4 mph! The girls were moving OUT! I couldn't wait to return. 

My birthday was a week later and we had made plans to go camping at Little Bennett with the horses...but after going on the C&O path, I just really wanted to return...and do the ride into Harpers Ferry. Plus for some reason I had a bad feeling about going camping. It could have very well been PTSD from the last time we tried to go camping there and Lily decided she much preferred to spend the next week in the equine hospital...but I didn't question the feeling and we hauled out to the C&O again to spend the day on a long conditioning ride on the towpath.

I had no niggling feelings about this plan whatsoever. We parked at New Brunswick this time, which put us only 6 miles from Harpers Ferry, with the plan to ride into town for lunch, continue on for another 4 miles on the towpath after, and then turn around to head back to the trailer for a full 20-mile loop. Carlos called the park office ahead to make sure horse trailers were allowed there. The phone was answered by a man that was so excited that we were taking horses on the trail! He said of course we could park there..."And that is so cool that you're riding on the path!" You hear so many stories about horses being unwelcome on multi-use trail that is is incredibly refreshing when you encounter people excited about their presence.

The New Brunswick parking lot was quite busy: kids running around, cyclists passing through, people launching canoes and kayaks onto the river from there. We tied the horses to the fence out of the way and both girls cocked legs and ate their elyte mashes like another day at the office. Not a care in the world for all of the busyness and activity around them. They were heavily complimented by the people that walked and biked past us.

It was a HOT DAY. Even hotter than the previous time we had ridden there, with a heat index of close to 110 degrees. Lily and Gracie were both wet with sweat along their necks and chests before we were done tacking them up...and it was only 9:00 am! In addition to their mashes, the girls also received doses of Lyte Now. The towpath is in the shade most of the way and we planned on taking them into the water to cool off every opportunity we had.

This was a much busier day than the previous time we had come to the C&O. Two years ago, I rode the Great Falls section of the path (Great Falls is still in Maryland but way south, just outside of Washington, DC) separately with each horse in the company of different friends, and I will say this: the trail etiquette of cyclists and hikers further north is impeccable. We had so many people stop to give us the right of way, or who thanked us profusely when we stopped to let them pass because they were going faster than us. Before passing they would ask, "Your horses are okay with bikes?" "They are!" we would say with a grin, "Thank you for asking, though."

We were only a mile from Harpers Ferry when we decided to let the horses step into the river to cool off. It was so very hot.

The bottom of the Potomac varies. Some parts of it are almost sandy, others are a very fine silt, others are clay, and others are pebbly or rocky, depending on the section of river you are accessing. I know this about the river after four years living in the region, and after decades spent in the ocean and riding along a pretty unpredictable river back in Puerto Rico, I'm pretty good at reading an underwater bottom beneath me from a horse's back or from a bodyboard, as long as I can see it.




That is the Harpers Ferry bridge behind me. We were that close.
Carlos had just taken that last picture. The horses didn't really want to drink so we let them mousey back to shore. I was being careful to follow the exact path that we had taken going in, while carefully watching the bottom. And then I saw this enormous tire under water. It looked like a tractor tire and I wondered how on earth it got there. And Lily took one step to the left of our original path...and her front end disappeared from in front of me.

In an area where the water had been to just beneath her knees, she had abruptly sunk to her chest in the water. I was thrown backwards in the saddle with the suddenness of it, and I remember a part of my brain hoping, "Maybe she just took a misstep and went down on her knees?" I also remember thinking of dismounting if it took her more than a split second to bring her front end back up again. All of this happened within fractions of a second, as I realized that Lily had NOT fallen to her knees...she had sunk in the bottom of the river in what was either a sinkhole or outright quicksand.

She barely struggled: Lily must've heard of The Never Ending Story because, unlike Artax, who just stood there in the muck and allowed himself to sink, she immediately rocked back onto the muscular haunches I've conditioned into her, unsticking her front legs from the mud and out of the water as she reared up and forwards, leaping mightily towards shore and in the process doing what she was supposed to do: save both of us.

Carlos said it was quite the sight to witness.

I stuck that.

She landed still in the water, in an area where the sand was still very soft, and she didn't even give it a chance to see if she would sink or not in the bottom: she leaped again, up onto the 2' bank and onto dry land.

I stuck the second jump but had lost both my stirrups and the instant she hit dry land running, I found myself sideways, hanging onto her neck like a monkey, my right hip lodged on the giant knee block of my Wintec dressage saddle.

We were flying, and she was heading right back towards the C&O main trail, a place where she could run for close to eternity in a straight line with ever-increasing speed, and not something I wanted to accompany her on while hanging sideways from her body.

I remember looking down at the ground:  "I should have let go while we were still in the water. Why don't I ever let go when I'm in the water?"

Rocks. "Nope, not there."

Gravel. "Nope, not there."

Sandy soil covered by fine gravel, "Okay, that will have to do." And I let go.

THUD.

That sandy soil was about as soft as asphalt. And I had just landed on it from a height of 5' while going close to 30 mph.

I remember searing pain wrapping around my right hip like a flame and Carlos saying something and me instantly leaping to my feet like a Jack-in-the-box, my brain automatically going, "If I can stand up, I'm okay!" And then, "I probably shouldn't have done that..." as I felt the fire of pain shoot up from the outside of my right knee all the way up to my right ribcage, burning its way across my lower back. I have never felt so much pain after a fall. It was an 8 out of 10 on the pain scale and it was so excruciating that there was an instant of blackness immediately after standing up. I blinked it away, breathed, and tried to focus on the now.

Someone had caught Lily before she made it onto the C&O towpath, and she had let herself be caught. I remember thanking the person profusely and I somehow ended up with the reins in my hands, and Carlos was still there and my brain went, "What happened?" because I couldn't remember. Part of my brain wanted to say she had bucked and gotten me off but another part of my brain knew that wasn't it.

And then I remembered her front end sinking in the water.

I looked at the river, confused, the light glinting brightly off of its surface as if nothing had happened. I had been so happy there a minute before. I started marching back towards the towpath. Carlos had dismounted. I felt the immediate urge to text Liz and Karen. And that's when I realized my phone was missing.

Carlos actually went into the water, wading up to his hips in it while I held the horses, trying to find my phone in its bright blue case. I searched the shore, the grass. I don't know for how long we looked; we couldn't find it. I finally gave up when I realized my right arm was burning. I looked at it and saw the missing chunks of flesh with strips hanging from it, fine gravel embedded in my skin, blood trickling slowly down to my wrist. "Okay, let's move," I said to Carlos, as I poured half a water bottle over the wound to clean it out and clenched my jaw at the pain. I wanted to vomit.

I am not a weenie about pain. Eleven years ago, the horse I was riding reared, flipped over and fell on top of me, cracking my left hip...and I still finished a full day of barn work training horses (including teaching a Percheron mare to not kick when her hind feet were handled) and riding baby Paso Finos around the farm. Despite the fact that I was pretty much literally dragging my left leg in order to walk. Five years ago, my personal horse at the time fell while I was cantering him and my leg got stuck underneath him while he seizured. I proceeded to ride a second horse (Lily) after that event, went to the doctor when I removed my boot two hours later and my foot instantly swelled within minutes, and was diagnosed with a foot that was broken in two different places. I was not allowed to work on my feet for 6 weeks, but I was still at the barn every day mucking my stall and walking the wheelbarrow 1/4 of a mile to the manure pile. Four years ago, Lily jumped a ditch and landed on my other foot, fracturing my metatarsals. I had to go to work immediately after. I wrapped that bitch up with Vetrap, took 800 mg of ibuprofen, and completed a 10-hour shift on ER: I had just started at that hospital, I didn't have health insurance yet, I knew from the pain, swelling, bruising and inability to move two toes that it was broken...and I was not taking two months off from my brand new job in order to recover. I worked a very busy ER on a broken foot for the next two months. Thank god for ibuprofen...because that is the only pain med I can take.

I repeat: I have a freakishly high tolerance for pain. If I tell you something hurts to the point of incapacitating me, it's because IT FUCKING HURTS.

This was after cleaning it somewhat.
I knew that if I got back on Lily, I would stiffen up and would not be able to get off at the trailer. So I proceeded to walk the five miles back to the trailer on foot. Carlos dismounted from Gracie and walked with me. Lily was absolutely calm.

It was the longest five mile walk of my life. I was terrified by the amount of pain I was in because I was certain that this was serious. But I did not want to go to the hospital. I absolutely did not. I was about to start a new job soon and I couldn't delay it.

At that time, my right arm and right ribcage hurt more than anything. I was afraid I'd broken a rib. It hurt with every footfall. Not when I breathed, thankfully, but it did with every stride I took.

I was so confused mentally. Initially I asked Carlos (twice...) if we were going in the right direction because my sense of direction was shot. I couldn't remember anything about the trail itself. I would start sentences and forget what I was saying. I was pretty sure I had hit my head but my helmet had stayed in place. Carlos had me remove it and inspected my skull, but nothing hurt.

I remembered all of these random dreams that I'd forgotten. I had this bizarre sense of deja vu, but it was different...it was like I had dreamed the events that had just happened, but in the original dream there had been a lot more blood. I kept looking at my watch to keep track of time because I couldn't keep track of the miles.

I would have felt like I was floating above the ground if it hadn't been for the pain in my ribs with each step.

I wanted to cry. I had been so very happy. We had had so many plans for that weekend and I had been looking forward to it so much in the midst of the shitshow that the rest of my life had been lately, and now this. And every time the tears would start pouring down my face, another hiker or cyclist would pass by and I'd have to fake I was fine, that we were just hand walking the horses to give them a break.

It seemed like forever before we made it back to the trailer. I don't remember untacking or loading up the horses...Carlos did most of it and he said I kept trying to help and then realizing I couldn't do shit like step into the trailer or reach up or bend over.

I was finally able to cry on the way back to the barn. "Why am I not allowed to be happy? Why???" I was very much hysterical.

Carlos unloaded the horses and the trailer by himself. I checked my ribcage in the bathroom mirror and I already had a massive red bruise starting right over my ribs. I was pretty sure one of them was fractured. Carlos really wanted to take me to the hospital but I put my foot down. "NO." We agreed that if I started to feel more painful or became less mobile, then I would go.

The rest is snippets. Getting home. Showering. Realizing I did indeed hit my head: I now had a tender spot on the right side of my skull. Wanting to vomit from the pain when I had to scrub my right arm. Carlos cleaned it again and bandaged it. And then I remembered all of my BoT stuff and pulled them out of the closet, threw them on the futon, and lay down on my BoT horse blanket with our BoT mini blanket over my hips.

And that is how I spent the rest of the weekend. On Monday I dragged myself out of bed to go to another work interview at a hospital 50 miles away. Carlos drove me. I wrapped myself in BoT just so I would be able to get out of the car upon arrival without looking like a cripple. It worked. I nailed that interview.

And then we drove home and I spent the rest of the day horizontal so I could go to work the next day. 10 hour shifts on my feet at work were too much. I had so much swelling and edema from the extensive bruising down my right side that my underwear was cutting into me and my scrub pants felt as tight as if I'd gained 15 lbs. I had lost all definition down the right side of my body. It was alarming. Walking was better than standing, but being on my feet for more than four hours at a time meant all of that edema would start traveling down, pooling in my hip and inguinal area, which then made it excruciating to sit down to rest.

By the end of Thursday of that first week, I was in such insane amounts of pain I had tears streaming down my cheeks no matter what I did.

This was a week post-accident. My thigh is normally a straight line. You can see the swelling. This wrapped around my rear end and climbed up to my lower back. 
Bruising on my lower back 10 days after the accident. It looks like I have muffin top on my right side: that is also swelling. I had a giant hard lump on my right lower back extending to my upper glutes that is only just now starting to recede.
I called out the next day and spent the next four days horizontal. It made a huge difference and was a turning point in the amount of swelling and edema I had.

It is currently 3 weeks post accident. The swelling overall is almost completely gone and so is most of the superficial bruising. But the pain is not. It is the worst on my right upper glutes: I'm pretty sure I had muscle tearing there. I get incredibly stiff and sore if I sit down for more than an hour at a time, and I have to be careful with how much time I spend on my feet being active because that will also make me sore. I am finally able to move normally though...as long as I don't try to run. Running and any sort of impact makes my entire right glute hurt. Riding Lily has been completely out of the question. Gracie is more doable depending on the day. I was able to pull off a 7-mile ride on her a week ago, where we mostly gaited and cantered, but this past weekend that was a huge NO after a physically demanding week at the new job.

The problem with all this is that we had signed up for Ride Between the Rivers in Elkins, WV for this past weekend. We have been trying to return to this ride for two years now and we were determined to go. I ended up enlisting my friend Jess from work to ride Lily, and Carlos would go on Gracie.

Jess is a very competent rider and used to event during high school, and was then on her school's intercollegiate polo team in college. She had accompanied me on several rides on Gracie and I had a feeling her and Lily would hit it off.

They did. Jess was the first person other than myself to canter Lily since I've owned her! And she was followed closely after by Carlos himself.

One VERY relaxed Lily with Jess on board!
Jess has a very similar personality and riding style to mine...which means she also has a similar personality to Lily's: we're all type-A perfectionists. I basically told Jess she had to ride Lily the way she would like to be ridden if she was a horse herself. And she got it! Carlos was available on this day so he rode Gracie and took Jess and Lily on a short 3-mile ride around the property.
The following week I was well enough to ride Gracie without excruciating amounts of pain, so I was able to accompany Jess. This was Lily's first time going into the water since my accident and it was a non-event. We had her follow Gracie and me into the water and then we let her and Jess lead for the following river crossings. NBD.
Jess couldn't stop grinning. It was awesome to have Lily have another fan. Lately IRL everyone falls in love with Gracie!
Lily even led with Jess on board. Gracie wasn't exactly thrilled but she dealt with it. Lol
Annnnd...CARLOS RODE LILY! And CANTERED HER! And they did AWESOME!
Taking it out on trail! This was a short 4-mile ride after which I was surprisingly sore. But I was so proud of both Lily and Carlos! It's hard to believe this man only started riding two years ago...and is now able to take my mare that used to be unrideable by anyone other than myself on a trail ride with me...and lead!

I'm a little better every day. On some days I am worse than others, but I am better overall. I just wish I could run again...I had built up to 6 mile runs outside and was looking forward to going longer and longer before the weather started to get cold again...and now this.

I'm still sad about many things. It is still hard coming home after work and not seeing Astarte there. It is especially after being away for a trip. It hit me like a bag of bricks yesterday as we were arriving home from West Virginia, that she wasn't going to be there to greet us. She was always the highlight of returning home...  And I'm still wrapping my head around the new job. Most of the change is good but you still grieve for what was familiar, for what you lost. It just takes time. As all things do.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Astarte 9/1/1999 - 7/29/2016



I wanted to write a more detailed post, but the thoughts and words are failing me right now, so I'm cross-posting from Facebook.  I did add to the end though.

On Friday July 29, we put Astarte to sleep.

She was my "Un-Cat."

I loved her at first sight. She was the most striking calico I had ever seen, with the paint-splatter markings across her face and pupils that narrowed to tiny slits when the light hit them, like a dragon's. Astarte came into our lives, not because she chose me, but because she chose my brother. She was my brother's cat first, but after I saved her from a direct close encounter with one of our dogs with a high prey drive, I became her second.

She was named after the Syrian version of the Mother Goddess, Astarte, a goddess of creation and destruction. Except our Astarte never destroyed: she only created. She was left-handed and preferred to scoop water with her left paw to drinking directly from the bowl. She would chase imaginary bugs crawling up the walls and she lived to make us laugh. She had too-long ears that she would fold over backwards when grooming herself, which invariably made us giggle. I swear she did it on purpose. She genuinely thought that if she flattened herself against a surface, she would change color and become invisible...she would be so indignant if you reached out and touched her anyway!

Her pupils would dilate in an instant if she thought there was an opportunity to play involved.


"What is that??!!" We were watching Spongebob Squarepants...


"Whatchu lookin' at?" - Astarte
She loved shiny objects and would hoard knives and spoons if allowed. She was the guardian of my brother's katana, a job which she took very seriously.

"MY katana! Don't you dare touch it!"
She liked to re-decorate cardboard boxes and turn them into fantastical castles and houses with holes of varying sizes through which she would try to grab the legs of passers-by. Never with her claws though. Never, ever with her claws. My brother kept his old computer box in his bedroom for close to a year because it was her favorite thing to play in. When my mom sent us packages from PR, she would be as excited as if it was Christmas, impatiently waiting for us to pull out the box's contents so she could jump into it.

"If I fits, I sits!" - Astarte
Boxes, shirts and shoelaces were all favorite toys...and they are all featured in this single photo!
Inside a box that she...redecorated?


"This is MY box, mmmkay? You stay out of it, Aengus!" - Astarte
She was a prankster. Shakti, my personal cat, had no sense of humor and Astarte was constantly pranking her, pissing her off, and then running away to hide before Shakti could think of chasing her. You could just about hear her laughing as she made her escape.

"I solemnly swear that I'm up to no good." - Astarte
Pranking Aengus when he was still a kitten.
She was my nap buddy. She loved when we slept face-down so she could curl up in the small of our backs and purr us to sleep.

She was the best nap buddy.
Carlos was the other love of her life.
She had the tiniest meow. She would open her mouth so big to make such a small sound. "Gau!" she said. She had one orange spot on the back of one black ear that reminded me of Pikachu. I used to say she had one Pokemon ear, and since the sound she made was "Gau," it became her nickname. Just like Pokemons used to be named for the sounds they made.



She was my companion when I was studying French in college, and I started calling her "Gateau" which sounds like "Gato" ("cat" in Spanish) but actually means "cake." It stuck because she was so very sweet. Throughout her entire life, those of us that loved her called her "Gateau." She responded to it just like she did to "Gau" and "Astarte." She always answered when you called her by any of her three names.

When I was going to move to the US, I told my brother I was going to bring Astarte with me. I loved my cat, Shakti, but Astarte was my secret favorite. My brother said, "Hell no!" but a year later he moved to the States himself and she stayed behind with my mom.

Three years later, I asked, with my brother's permission, to have Astarte brought to me from PR. She had never been on a plane before but she travelled so quietly that everyone sitting near my mom complimented her.

And so began her life with Carlos and me. My little Puerto Rican Shorthair lived with us in 5 apartments and 3 states. For the move north from Florida, she rode loose in the car, alternating between curling up in our laps or the passenger side floor, with a litter box behind the passenger seat. 1100 miles and 17 hours she travelled, in my car. She weathered hurricanes, tropical storms, snow storms and one blizzard.

"You people move too much! But I'm happy as long as I'm out of that goddamn carrier!"
"This ENTIRE bed is mine, yes?" Yes, Astarte, it is. You totally deserve your own bed after 1100 miles in a car! This was at the hotel we stayed at, the first night we arrived in the north.
She was so happy to be out of the car! She ran around the room with her nose to the ground like a Beagle. She made such a fuss over that enormous bed for herself...then proceeded to join Carlos and me on ours after we fell asleep. :) Because Astarte.
She had never seen snow before...and neither had Aengus because he was born in the summer!
This was our first winter in Maryland. 
She loved to be held. She loved laps. If a lap was empty, she would crawl into it, purring. Always purring.

A second after this photo was taken, she turned her head against my chest and closed her eyes, falling asleep right there, being held like this.
"All hail to The Queen of Laps." - Astarte
She was impossible to auscult at home because the second you touched her or spoke to her, she started purring. We called her "Astarte The Purr." If you hurt or didn't feel well, she would cuddle up next to you or on top of you, right where you hurt, to purr you to sleep. Even when she didn't feel well herself, she still tried to take care of us.
The last time she purred for me, only two weeks before her death. I had suffered a catastrophic fall with massive bruising and swelling across my hips, lower back and right thigh, and spent the first 48 hours post-injury flat in bed in an ocean of pain. She knew. She clambered up onto the futon with the little strength she had and carefully settled on top of me, right over where I hurt the most, and purred me to sleep one last time. The swelling and pain had significantly decreased when I woke up. 
Carlos always knew when it was me coming up the stairs to our apartments because she would start purring when she heard my footsteps. When we lived in the townhouse in South Florida, she knew the sounds of our cars and would be at the window next to the front door, standing on her hind feet like a dog excitedly waiting for us to return.
"YOU'RE HERE!!!"
She taught my friends and family who didn't like cats just how cool cats can be. She was always at the door to greet new people and she seemed to sense when they weren't sure about cats: she would go right up to them and say, "I won't hurt you. Let me show you." If allowed, she would curl up in their laps to purr too.

She was a master rug climber. She would hook her claws into the carpet and drag herself along sideways as if she was rock climbing!
"I'm just going to rug climb away from that kitten right there..." - Astarte
It is because of her that I fiercely defend all torties and calicos that walk into the veterinary hospital. Sure, they can be fractious, opinionated patients, but they are especially wonderful souls and they should not be mistreated simply because they have an opinion as patients. I don't like being poked with needles either.

Purring and kneeding on my lap while I talked on the phone with my mom one chilly winter morning in South Florida. 
One time I was having a heated argument with Carlos. I was sitting on the living room floor and my voice was rising in increments. Astarte was distressed. She came up to me and meowed at me, "Gau!" I ignored her. She did it again. I ignored her, I was too involved in the argument. She finally jumped into my lap, stood up on her hind legs like a squirrel, put a paw over my mouth, her face directly in front of mine and howled at me, "GAAAAAUUUUUUUU!" I was shocked. I have never had an animal tell me to shut up. And that was totally what she did! Carlos and I burst out laughing. We laughed and laughed and laughed, until tears were rolling down our faces. "Okay Carlos, you win," I said. Satisfied, Astarte curled up in my lap and fell asleep, purring. She was incredible. Absolutely incredible.

The master snuggler.
Weathering a summer storm. This was classic Astarte.
There was no such thing as to many kisses for this one. When I woke up in the morning and kissed Carlos, she would immediately hop on the bed with a "Gau!": "What about me? I want kisses too!"
Of all the cats we have ever had, she is the only one that miss us for us when we were gone. The others would go, "Oh. You're back" and go about their little daily routines as if nothing had happened. Astarte would be like, "FINALLY MY PEOPLE ARE HERE!" She would be meowing at the door before we could unlock it, going, "Hold me! Pet me! Sit down so I can be with you!" She always made sure we knew how much she loved us. If love could take the shape of an animal, it would have been Astarte.

You couldn't make up the wonderful things she did. Here she was, hugging my arm with her face resting on my hand, purring away. 
Curled up in Carlos's lap after a rough shift in the human ER. 
She loved me to pieces but she adored Carlos. On her last day on earth, when she was too weak to go to the litter box from the renal failure that had been slowly stealing her away, she still stumbled out of her bed all the way to the living room just so she could crawl into his lap one more time. And she did not purr.

I sat next to Carlos as the tears streamed down his face. The only thing harder than facing a loved pet's impending death is seeing a grown man cry over that pet.

We knew it was time.

I couldn't take her in to work with me because it was a one-hour drive in morning traffic. I just couldn't do that to her, and I couldn't handle dealing with who would hold her and who would place her IV catheter (I couldn't do either. Not with her). So I asked Carlos to take her in to the specialty hospital across the street from us the next morning after he got home from work. I could not handle being present.

I meant to bring home some clay from my hospital so I could make a pawprint of her tiny paws while she was still alive. I had always wanted to do this and I kept procrastinating. Halfway home that day, I realized I had completely forgotten the clay. I tried to not be upset and hoped that at the veterinary hospital across the street they would do it for us. This is something that most specialty hospitals do.

Her tiny paws, claws always sheathed. She was a terrible hunter because she never unsheathed her claws. She would use them on her favorite scratcher, but she would never even hurt a fly.
I love all cats with especially tiny paws because of her. I wanted a memory of those paws.
I only slept four hours that night. I kept waking up to go pet Astarte. She was a shell of the glorious cat she had used to be.


Carlos came home at 4:00 am and I rolled out of bed to set up the carrier. I picked up Astarte and held her for a long time, saying my good-bye. You can't hold them long enough when you know you'll never see them again. I told her how much I loved her and what an amazing cat she had been. When I placed her in the carrier, she immediately curled up on the towel I had placed in there for her. She used to hate the carrier and would wail when placed in it, but on this day she didn't say a peep. She knew and she was ready.

"You brought me to your hospital to have blood drawn, which I hate more than anything in this world...but I love you anyway and I accept your food offering." - Astarte
I couldn't be present. I didn't know anyone at this hospital and I would have panicked over the IV catheter placement, over the euthanasia itself, and it would have upset Astarte. I asked Carlos to be there for her when she went; he was her favorite after all. He said he would.

Her "I love you" face.
I prayed that they would have good technicians on staff that morning, that they could get the IV in quickly and smoothly, and started to get ready for work. For my last day at work at the hospital I have worked at for the last 4 years, which is a whole other can of worms.

I felt her go. There was a flash of orange, black and white behind my eyes, at exactly 5:00 am, and I knew she was gone. I cried.

I never did tell Carlos about the pawprint.

He was back by 5:30 am. They had been able to place the IV without issue but had mentioned that her blood pressure had been very low; they had taken her away for it and brought her back immediately. She went peacefully.

"I love you, so I will rest my head on your arm." - Astarte
I burst into sobs when I saw what he held in his hands.

The pawprint. A pawprint of her tiny paws.


And I finished getting ready for work and went into the hospital that I had worked at for the past four years and kept a dog alive on the OR table despite her every effort to die on my very last day. Because I had to. No one else was dying on that day. I left that job with a bang.

I will miss you so much, my little one. You were such a good cat. Thank you for taking care of us, for watching over us, for loving us. Thank you for choosing us and for doing everything in your power to make us happy. A piece of my heart left with you.

This was my favorite picture of her, sitting next to a paper mache angel.
Because she was an angel herself.