Dr Crotti shaved a neat square of dense white fur from Mimi’s side, applied the tiny electrodes to her heaving rib cage and passed the gel-smeared sensor over the bald patch, the sight of her exposed pink skin only serving to highlight her vulnerability. We peered at the grainy images on the screen behind the blue plastic treatment table on which Mimi was lying, her nose wedged in the crook of my elbow for comfort as I held her front paws and Mr Blue-Shirt held her back ones. Our touch, I think, gave her some reassurance and something familiar to focus on amid all the strange and frightening sounds, smells and sensations in the cardiologist’s surgery. We could make little sense of what we saw on the screen, other than the jagged blue line zig-zagging across the bottom, and the startling speed at which Mimi’s heart was beating: no wonder she was panting. Dr Crotti shifted the sensor and suddenly we could see her heart in cross-section. He zoomed in on an uneven circular shape with a floppy kink in its perimeter: her aorta was collapsing too. Then Dr Crotti drew our attention to what looked like wisps of smoke but which was actually an excess of platelets – and the cause of her anaemia. The three of us made feeble jokes about having to feed her Guinness or (Dr. Crotti’s preference) good Le Marche red wine to boost her iron levels. Our smiles were strained and brief, though.
He moved the sensor again and this time we could see her whole heart, surrounded by a deep ring of dark grey which Dr Crotti explained was fluid that was both impairing her heart’s ability to pump and also compressing her lungs, thus compromising her breathing even further. We could barely take it in. She was in such a bad way, the poor wee thing, and the guilt crashed over us in icy waves. How could we have missed something as serious as this? Why hadn’t we taken her to the vet sooner? Perhaps we should have kept giving her the medicine after all. We tried to blink back tears, but Dr Crotti started reeling off a cocktail of drugs that he wanted to prescribe: diuretics to reduce the fluid, beta-blockers to control her heart rate, and something else to reduce the platelet count, all of which he assured us we could get from the veterinary pharmacy just a few doors up. And for a while his confident tone made it sound as if it was all going to be all right.
Only it wasn’t. Poor little Mimi just could not tolerate the drugs, which Dr Crotti had warned us did taste absolutely foul, and which made her retch and choke with such violence she could not stand up. Forcing her to take them caused her so much distress we feared the very act of administering them would bring about her death. With her chest still heaving and her next dose of drugs looming, we took Mimi back to Dr Crotti the following afternoon as we felt there was only so much being cruel to be kind she – or we – could bear and we no longer knew what to do for the best. Would the act of giving her the drugs kill her? Would not giving her the drugs kill her? If we did manage to give her the drugs, would she recover? This was the clincher for us, and I shall be forever grateful to Dr Crotti for his frankness. “No,” he said without a hint of equivocation. “They are just giving her a little more time.” Next question: “Is she in pain?” She didn’t seem to be, but we needed to be sure for we felt we had reached the point at which we had to confront the ghastly prospect of having Mimi put down. “No, she’s not in pain,” he assured us. “A little discomfort maybe because of the breathlessness, but if she remains quiet and still…” We both noticed that he had said nothing about putting her down. We looked at each other for a moment and nodded in silent agreement. Neither of us subscribes to the ‘keep the patient alive at absolutely any cost’ school of medical ethics (either for animals or humans), so providing she was not in pain, having her put down was off the agenda – but we would stop giving her the revolting medicine too. Instead we would simply take her home, keep her warm and fed, comfortable and cuddled, and allow her to enjoy in peace however much time she had left.
We thanked Dr Crotti for his honesty and advice, eased Mimi into her travel box once more and headed home. And for a couple of hours we were confident we had made the right call. She went for a little wander around the house, checking out all her usual spots: the chair in the corner of the dining room, the pile of cushions by the fire wood, the corner of the wardrobe on top of my running kit, the doormat by the patio doors. Once satisfied that everything was as it should be, she had a thorough wash, a bite to eat and then tea-cosied up in her favourite corner of the kitchen, watching us pottering about cooking supper and sorting laundry. If this was how she would end her days, then it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
“Come and give Mimi a cuddle, will you? Mr Blue-Shirt called, a trace of panic in his voice. “I’m in the middle of doing dinner.” I hurried down from the linen cupboard to find Mimi sprawled on the kitchen floor, breathing noisily, her sweet little pink-padded paws clenching against the all too obvious spasms of pain that wracked her body. “What’s happened?” I tried to keep the fear from my voice: there was more than enough for both of us burning in Mimi’s big blue eyes. “I think she’s having a heart attack,” said Mr Blue-Shirt. “She tried to stand up, but only managed a few steps before she collapsed again, panting like mad and making a hideous wailing noise.” I knelt down on the tiles beside her and stroked her heaving flanks as gently as I could, trying to close my ears to her heart-rending howls of pain. Mr Blue-Shirt stuffed dinner in the oven and joined me next to Mimi who we carefully rolled onto a blanket, anxious to keep her warm and cosy. The utter helplessness we felt was heart-wrenching, but it was only too clear that all we could do for her now was be there with her and try to soothe her pain. So there we stayed for goodness knows how long, comforting Mimi as best we could and comforting each other as we waited for her poor swollen and damaged heart to come to its inevitable, agonising halt.
It wasn’t gentle. It wasn’t peaceful. It wasn’t quick. But we continued to stroke and shush her through our tears and little by little the howls subsided to soft moans, her paws relaxed and all that was left was the rasping breath and glassy blue stare. Then silence. We stroked and shushed a little longer until we were sure. But it was over: she had gone.
Only she hasn’t. She’s with us still, at rest beneath a vigorous young pear tree in a sunny corner of the olive grove, with a perfect view straight down the valley to the sea. The sea that sparkles in the same shade of sapphire blue as our beloved Mimi’s eyes once did.