Shireesha and I both commented that we'd never lost anyone as close to us as her.
Leela Lou. Little Lou. The littlest little. Little Scoop. Leela-pants. Little Fluff.
She played the foil to Kali's straight man. She was the playful one, carrying her favorite ribbons up and down the stairs all day long. No twist tie or string was safe with her around, and no empty box left unsat in. Little tufts of fur could be found all over our house, left over from some sudden pounce on something, often on her sister Kali.
There was just no end to the fur. I'd said before that you could construct a new Leela from what we would vacuum up on a weekly basis. Sometimes we'd catch her munching on giant ball of it after cleaning herself. I could be traveling in some far off place and pull out a sweatshirt and find it covered in traces of her hair. Now there are bits of her everywhere in places like India.
She was the most interactive, personality-filled, friendliest little kitty I'd ever known. She could carry a back-and-forth conversation with people for hours, with the vocabulary of a small child. I'd be sitting at the computer and before long I'd feel an outstretched paw on my knee, and I'd look to see her pleading eyes; I'd uncross my legs and Leela would climb on my lap and purr happily for hours in front of the warm glow of the screen. We'd have parties with crowds of people in our home and Leela, having been bottle fed by humans at birth, would make a dozen new friends, wandering from person to person all night. In quiet moments in front of the TV, she'd get on my lap and I'd unconsciously start petting her; within minutes she'd be rolled on her back with arms outstretched over her head in kitty-ecstasy. She slept on our bed almost every night.
She was weirdo too. If Shireesha was in the shower, she'd paw and scratch and mew incessantly at the bathroom door until someone opened it. Once open she'd usually just stand there and look at you. Any time a tin can was opened, Leela would come running, though to my knowledge, she'd never been fed canned food or tuna. On the rare occasion it was tuna I was opening, I'd give her some only to see her turn her nose up at it. She'd go crazy chasing the reflections of shiny objects on the wall. Don't even get me started about the laser pointer. She'd never known her mother, having been abandoned by a feral cat and bottle fed by the kind woman whose garage she was lucky enough to be born in, so she took to suckling on the tummies of us, her surrogates.
She was hysterically funny. Once, when we put on the DVD documentary Winged Migration, she was immediately and instinctually transfixed by the long quiet shots of birds in the wild, though she'd never been outside or actually seen wild birds. She used to chase the CNN ticker across the bottom of the screen. I would often wake up and find that she'd made a comfy nest of my old dirty clothes on which to sleep on. If she was in a feisty mood, I'd reach down to pet her and she'd take a swat; this would be followed by a long boxing match, my two index fingers versus her on her hind legs, never with her claws extended.
She was beautiful. A perfect little gray tabby with orange splotches on her body. Long fur that would fluff out in all directions. Big round eyes and giant paws with tufts of fur sticking out. When I first came to pick out two kittens from the litter she was born into, she was the first one that caught my eye.
Every day that we had her I was conscious of how special she was and we knew how lucky we were. This happiness led to an almost paranoid fear for her safety and well being. The first time I took her to the vet, I literally told him, "I'm here to make sure she lives forever, because I can't bear the thought of losing her." And despite the frequent hair balls, she was healthy, happy, and active all her life.
We came home from our Thanksgiving in California Monday night and when she didn't come running to the door to greet us, we knew something was wrong. Within seconds we heard the frequent meowing that only comes from a kitty in distress. She was lying on the carpet in the basement in a pile of urine and feces, unable to move her hind legs. Shireesha burst into tears and my heart sank, thinking the worst - that she must have broken a leg while we were gone. When I rushed her to the Veterinary ER, the story was much worse. Her legs were cold, she was insensitive to pain, and her heart was racing in an irregular pattern. The most common explanation, the vet explained, was a congenitally weak heart which dilates over time and clots form in the pooled blood inside. These clots can break off and travel within the cat's circulation, often to the distal aorta where they choke off the blood supply to the lower half of the body, a condition which is exquisitely painful. The fact that Leela wasn't in any apparent discomfort was ominous. Best case scenario: partial paraplegia with very high likelihood of recurrence. Okay, I said, do absolutely everything you can to save her, not quite grasping what they were saying. I called Shireesha and told her she should come up to the hospital.
As we held her in our arms, it was obvious she was scared and uncomfortable despite the sedatives they gave her. We decided to be aggressive with care over night, completely unprepared for the sudden shock of our previously healthy six year old kitty now dying. We said goodbye. At about midnight we received the call from the vet. Leela had a deterioration in her heart condition and had died.
It's been two days now and I'm still overcome with grief. I'm ashamed at being so affected by an animal. I have a small child. I'm a doctor and I deal with illness and death everyday. I'm not entitled to mourn such small things. I guess I'm lucky I've not experienced a lot of personal loss in my life. Right now I just want to feel her absence, as though this will keep her alive with me longer. I've been told me that writing helps one to cope with grief, so here I am. I'm going through the motions of life but the suddenness of all this has left me in a state of shock to say the least. There are reminders of her recent presence everywhere around the house, impressions in pillows and those ubiquitous tufts of fur. Her sister Kali, who never spent a night without her until Monday, just now seems to comprehend that she's really gone.
Still, I recognize I am better for knowing the lightness and sweetness she brought into our lives for six happy years. I know things will get better, she was just a pet and pets die. But I miss her.
My precious Leela. Leela with the pink nose and the big furry paws. Leela with the weak heart.
My Little Lou.