bunny_hugger taking full care of our rabbit, without my help, for the first time in ages worried he was declining. I thought he might, because he would get depressed when he was left with bunny_hugger's parents. But his spirits recovered after a few days, every time in the past, and surely he'd recover faster since bunny_hugger was still with him and he was still home and in his comfortable spot.
And then he didn't. He stopped eating, and stopped excreting, the classic signs of a GI stasis. His stomach was badly swollen, rippling and looking pained. This is a major crisis; in about two days of not eating a rabbit's intestinal bacteria will die off and then the rabbit follows. She rushed him to the vet's. The doctor she saw said that we should think seriously about euthanizing him. Given his age and the pain he was in and the difficulty recovering from another stasis episode like this it would be astounding if he did recover. bunny_hugger didn't feel comfortable putting him down with me out of town. And he'd come back from so many incidents this year already. Why not one more? She took his medicines, and checked with me about how to best infuse the saline solution into his back.
And what do you know but this rabbit, so battered by age and illness, started getting better. In the evening he was eating greedily. In the morning he passed a huge lump of pellets. They weren't quite perfect, but they suggested good things. bunny_hugger sent me, at the airport, the optimistic news: he might just pull off yet another recovery.
And I flew home, and bunny_hugger's brother flew home, and we waited around forever for my luggage because they changed the baggage carousel it was coming out on and didn't bother to tell anyone on my flight. And meanwhile bunny_hugger warned, after the bright morning it was looking bad again. Our rabbit wasn't eating. He was looking exhausted, beaten. He wasn't even reliably taking the banana balls, mushed up banana and food pellets that he had up to the last few days inhaled.
Back home bunny_hugger's brother and her parents got their good, and last, look at him. He hadn't moved. He hadn't eaten. He just lay where he was, looking miserable. We gave him his afternoon-to-evening medicines and force-fed him some critical-care powder and he fought that off to his poor best. We went to dinner, and her brother and her parents went to her home. We set him in his trolley and instead of standing shakily he fell forward, face on the ground, looking up miserably until we took him out of the torture harness. And we thought out our options.
We had a cold laser treatment scheduled for Thursday. It's part of the care he's been getting. We were never sure the cold laser did anything positive for his arthritis; the mechanism by which it's supposed to work feels doubtful to us. The main benefit was we had him seen by a vet tech every week. Most often T----. She had good eyes. She spotted a bunch of problems. She started to give him treats, fresh vegetables from her garden, apples when the garden finally died after the long summer and gentle autumn. She touched and broke our hearts when she mentioned how each week she prayed she'd see our pet rabbit again. It made us think of the day we would have to call and say we didn't need any more appointments.
We decided to keep the appointment. If he was recovering then the cold laser would be good for whatever it was good for. If he wasn't then it could do him no harm. And it might be T's last chance to see our rabbit. And she might be able to say if he was recovering, or likely to recover. We resolved. If he seemed to be getting better Thursday morning we would continue treating him. If he seemed the same or worse we'd set an appointment for his euthanasia. For Friday, to be cancelled if he seemed better Thursday night or Friday morning. If they were open; we realized what holiday hours might do to them.
Thursday morning I cried in the shower, so loud that bunny_hugger heard me, under the noise of the shower and downstairs by him.
Normally we're happy at the vet's. Our rabbit normally was too. He liked the change of setting, all the attention he got. The way T would call him ``Superbunny'' in picking him up and moving him to the treatment table. It was because he couldn't pull his legs in, so he looked caught in mid-leap. She didn't call him that today. We told her, unless there were a dramatic change this would be the last cold laser treatment. Would they be open Friday?
She had an apple, sliced, for him. Of course she would. It almost broke us. She always gives him treats. He wasn't interested in eating anything, anything at all. Even a normal week he'd need time to warm up to the apples. This ...
T examined him. His infection wasn't better. His belly was bloating again. He was grinding his teeth. His eyes --- their nictitating membranes were folding over. It's a sign of enduring pain. She said he appeared to be in a lot of lasting pain. That she had never seen a rabbit recover from a GI stasis this severe. Did we really want to wait for tomorrow?
And that was it. We might fool each other. We might say one of the veterinarians was more pessimistic about his chances than fair. We might say one of the other technicians, the ones who would see him only occasionally, might judge him wrong. But if even T believed that he was in too much pain with so little chance of recovery to last another day then all was lost.
She gave us time, to think it over, to cry, to hold our rabbit again. And for her to cry too. She said he was her favorite rabbit. Maybe her favorite patient.
T warned us the doctors were out of the clinic and wouldn't be back for a half-hour. Or she could do it if we did not want to wait. She described the process and I didn't realize we would be allowed to be there. A decade-plus ago with another vet when bunny_hugger needed her rabbit euthanized they didn't let her see it. And for the reason she suspected. The rabbit might scream even though unconscious. We've heard our rabbit scream. He occasionally had nightmares that would wake him up. It's an unsettling sound, not least because it's a loud noise from a rabbit.
We told T that if she thought she could do it, then we would rather she did. Our rabbit knew T. He wouldn't be distressed at something a bit out of the ordinary happening. We could ease him into this as best we could. We had a last round of petting him, of holding him, of telling him how we loved him. T joined in.
We took him to the surgery room. T fit the gas mask over him. A cone, about the size of a styrofoam coffee cup, with a rubber gasket on the wide end so small animals of all sizes could fit in. He let this on, proof beyond measure that he had given up. T turned on the anaesthetic. We kept touching him. We pulled some plugs of tangled fur out from the parts of his body he could no longer groom, and wondered why we were doing such a pointless thing. Because we always tug out plugs of tangled fur when we're at the vet's. Why would we stop for this visit?
He breathed in for several minutes, getting slower, more steady, more near the end. He looked to be asleep at last.
And then he shook awake, and tried to push this foreign cone off his head. Because of course he would. That was who he was.
And for a moment I doubted and thought we should stop and take him out because if he was doing this then he wasn't yet gone. bunny_hugger had the same thought. But I knew it was futile. The last doubts you have before doing something irreversible. She knew it too.
T increased the anaesthetic. We waited a little more. T was sure that our rabbit was knocked out. She drew up the shot for the heart, the one that would finally kill him. She put the needle into his chest.
She found his lung. The lung had fluid in it. A sign of trouble. Likely pasteurella, which is what kills rabbits if nothing else kills them. Probably it was the infection he'd had the last month of his life. Probably he had always had it; he always had sniffled and coughed and snored more than normal for rabbits, but it had usually been well-controlled.
She tried again, and again once more before finding his heart. I wonder how she knew. I suppose it must be in the way the tissue feels as the needle comes into it.
She injected, and she waited. And she listened with the stethoscope. And she said, ``He's gone.''