The Terrible Weight of Being Good

I was over at my parent’s house some days ago. Their garden, a suntrap that was my playground when I was small is still as appealing now as it was back in the eighties.

This heatwave, uncommon but not rare, gives the British an instant talking point, these days usually tired exasperating moans at the humidity, lack of sleep, sweaty bits of anatomy that are now extra sweaty and the reluctance and annoyance that comes with being forced to remain hydrated to a degree higher than one cup of tea twice a day.

And of course, now with the joy of the internet we get information on people accidently sealing both children and dogs in cars without water and the windows sealed. Yep, good thing to see we haven’t become smarter as this century progresses.

My parents are often visited by a local cat. A ginger tom, not their own, he comes around every couple of days for food and attention. This weather has made him extra languid, napping for hours on one of the sun chairs.

When I see him today he’s not languid. He’s poised, watching one of the cardboard traps my father has constructed round the drainpipes. Watching with interest. The interest of something that knows something else, something smaller is inside there.

We call him, no response. The instinct has taken over. The cattiness. Still as potent as the dawn of man, still the same as his wild, larger cousins of the plains.

We hear the outcome.
A bang of cardboard, movement followed by a panicked squeal, followed by claps and shouts of “Drop him!” and “Put that down!”

Cat has no interest in following orders now; the red mist is still descended. So he does the next best thing and runs away to a corner of the patio with his kill, myself in hot pursuit.
Turning a corner I find him sat on the patio, next to his quarry, the latter smaller and motionless, terrified and living, no doubt at me now, given our size difference.
The cat looks up at me with a look I can only define as bemusement.
[What? I’m a cat; it’s what I do…]

Shooing him away I get down to see the damage.
The crunch was audible, the whole garden heard it. The simple fact that the mouse is still there; lying motionless while a giant, blonde-haired biped peers down is clue enough that he’s in a bad way.
Lungs like an accordion, blinking like a teletype, unfortunately everything else seems to be working fine. Except the one thing it needs to keep on going.

It can’t get better. It won’t stop for hours, maybe days, that’s not if the birds or ants have their way, or the cat comes back for seconds.

We’d later find the remains of a second mouse on the lawn. Nothing more than a bloody smear and current fly-fest. Obviously cat had been honing his skills more recently than we imagined.

I know what I’ve got to do.
I don’t want to do it.

Even if I wasn’t a nurse I would still find such actions unpalatable. But, now, on that paving slab, what are the alternatives?

Hunger, dehydration, being eaten alive by the ants, or mauled again to a similarly scarlet smear, it’s the best this little guy’s gonna get.
Or me.
Fuck.

I go and find some gloves.

He’s still hyperventilating. Rats and mice breathe fast regardless but this little guy’s trying to rebreathe his own oxygen the second it leaves. I crouch beside him and smooth his head, doing my best to calm him down.
Whispering sweet nothings to mouse I’m about to euthanize. This isn’t how I imagined I’d spend my afternoon off. It kinda stopped at sunbathing and reading. Life, eh?

I do the deed.

Which I’m not going to go into detail about here. It’s my burden; I take no pleasure in sharing the gratification of such an action. Unlike the 24 hr news it seems, every time a shooting spree or an act of terrorism takes place.

The feelings however I will share. They are horrible. The shame is the worst one, guilt coming in close second. Regret, sorrow, responsibility, both now and in the afterlife. I don’t know how I feel about the latter. Judaism has some pretty specific teachings about heaven, but my faith isn’t absolute to the point of excluding reason. Energy doesn’t die apparently, Einstein proved as such, so I’m guessing we go somewhere. I just hope wherever that place is, it’s as interesting as down on this planet.

When I was growing up many people teased me for being so bloodthirsty. The movies, TV, wrestling, I was not a docile, placid individual. I wondered when I was in my teens if there weren’t traces of the sociopath inside, the antisocial miscreant, the individual who would eventually snap and start going from office station to office station with a shotgun.

The common social conception is that many people of that ilk begin their journey down the dark path by experimenting with the suffering of animals; kittens, puppies, family pets.
I can say now I am satisfied I do not possess such tendencies.

I find a trowel and dig beneath one of the old evergreen furs lining the boundary of our property.
Placed beneath the earth, buried, a nearby paving slab entombing him, (lest the cat comes around and tries to get him back) a single white seashell placed atop the tomb.

I am sorry for what I had to do.
No one should have to do that. Maybe the nursing worked too well. Nurses have a duty to care for and heal. But if neither option is available, do we have a duty to perpetuate suffering?
This is why hospices and terminal cancer care are so vitally required. And why, sadly places like Dignitas exist.

I would never support euthanasia in humans. NEVER. Not for the sake of the individual, but the fact that such a rule, once written into law, can be open to abuse. To murder someone for any number of reasons and make it look like exercising the freedom to die.

Is that naive of me to think that way?
Probably.
I read an article in The New Yorker recently at how several countries (Demark, The Netherlands, recently Canada) and some US states have now legal euthanasia. There has been no sudden spike of deaths and requests for death wrapped in “mysterious circumstances”. Maybe these places are showing more respect and understanding for the eternal confusing problem that is the human condition?

And I’m sure there are those among you who have known people, personally or on the news, terminally ill, who have begged for the state to kill them, and instead have been forced to travel abroad or starve themselves in an attempt to speed up nature.
There is so much middle ground here, it is impossible to quantify at times.

Just one mouse has made me think all this. I hope I never have to do anything like this again, to any animal.

For now, the cat and I are staying clear of one another.

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