Monday, March 16, 2009

A Dying In The Family

A family member is dying. Of old age, near as I can tell, but I hate to see the fellow suffer. It’s particularly difficult for my daughter, Jagan. He’s her hamster, after all.

Some of you, admit it, immediately dropped the significance of the story when you read that I am talking about a hamster. Yes, Micho is a senior hamster, going through what appears to be the inevitable fate of us all, excepting that hamsters do not regularly enjoy the benefits of hospice care, so the poor fellow is having a rough go of it. he might survive, but I doubt it. Judging by the spasms and cries of pain, Micho is in a bad way and there’s nothing we can do for him but try to keep him comfortable.

We took Micho about a year and a half ago from a family which had gotten bored with their old hamster. They were talking as if they would simply throw the animal away after about three years, now that they no longer wanted it. When I first saw Micho, he looked unhappy and listless, and no wonder – his cage was filthy and his food nothing but suet pellets. I cleaned his cage out and he imemdiately began running on his wheel, and some fresh lettuce and carrots brightened him up no end. I looked up on the internet about hamsters, and whatever Micho’s age was, he appeared to be a senior but healthy hamster. He cleared four and a half years old with no apparent problems.

Micho is principally active at night, so I noticed when he started moving around briskly Sunday morning. Trouble is, he was jerky, seemed spasmodic, as if he was having a seizure. By afternoon, his seizures were obvious and clearly causing him great pain. He would jump and throw himself onto his back, then cry, sometimes loudly and sometimes loudly while he twitched his left legs and waved his right legs in circles in the air. That’s when my wife and I had the discussion about what to do.

Now, I’d like to write out some noble tale of solid ethics and the perfect example of how a father and head-of-household should act. But the fact is, I could not justify extreme measures to save a rodent that was a bit older than the books say hamsters usually live. Also, I did not know any veterinarians open on Sunday, and neither my wife or I could take off work Monday. At the same time, as odd as it may sound to some, even ‘New Age’, I accepted Micho as family when I took him into my house and I accepted responsibility for him. I do not for a moment confuse a hamster for equal importance to my dogs, let alone my blood kin, but for all of that he is family. So I owe him the dignity and comfort I can provide, as little as it turns out I could do. He had let go of his bladder, so I cleaned him and his cage up again. I got him some choice lettuce and carrots and vegetable chips. I thought about getting him some apple bits, but I worried he might have become diabetic. I also changed his water bottle. I moved him to a quiet part of the house where he would not be startled by light or noise. I also figured this would make Jagan less likely to worry about him, and for all I like Micho, keeping my daughter happy is always a priority.

So here we are. Micho appears to have slept some, and he was a little better this morning, but he is still in obvious pain and will not eat. He’s still lying on his back, and he’s obviously been sweating a lot, something I had never seen a hamster do before; his fur is matted and damp. I hate to see him in pain, but I am not about to kill him on the assumption that he can’t get better. I want to make him comfortable, but I can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars to keep him alive, maybe, a few more weeks. Part of me thinks I’m being reasonable, but I hate to see him suffer. Part of me says he’s not much different than a mouse, but on the other hand I accepted responsibility for him as part of my household.

This situation reminds me that we sometimes do not have good alternatives, and no easy solution.

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