30 November 2012

A Tiny Little Life

This is the story of a life. It was a tiny little life, though not as tiny as some others. To some of us, it was a very important one. This is the story of Zoe, my precious sweet-faced baby girl. She had lots of other nicknames, but those are the things that describe her in my mind, more than anything else. She died, Saturday morning.  (11/3  -- I've been having a hard time finishing this post.) Zoe means life, and that's why she had that name. She was so FULL of life and energy, just bursting to explore and snuggle, and run, and popcorn, and play. (Piggies popcorn-- they hop straight up in the air, just for the fun of it, when they're happy.)

Zoe, as a baby.

I say it was tiny, because it was short, and because it belonged to a little animal, not because it didn't have value. It did. It mattered. She mattered. She still does. To me, anyway. 

L-R Zoe, Zelma, Zephyr
In the spring of 2010, I decided that I needed a little animal to keep me company. I lived alone and telecommuted, so my interactions with others were fairly minimal. I visited a local pet store, which was advertising a free guinea pig with the purchase of a cage. (I think.. Maybe vice versa.) 

I picked the one that made me smile most, because of a full-body mohawk and white rear end, and took "him" home. They told me at a store that this piggy was a boy. He turned out to be a pregnant girl. Smile.

Babies were so little that they sat in the food dish. :)

On 7/22/10, I was in my office about 3 feet away when my precious little mama pig gave birth to 4 babies, one of whom didn't make it. One of the remaining pups was a boy, and the following Thanksgiving, he went to live with his cousin in Kansas, the boar who belonged to my niece. He still lives there, fat and healthy, today. (Though, sadly, his cage-mate has died.)

The two little girls and their mother stayed with me, and they all got names: Zelma (mama pig), Zoe (brown baby), and Zephyr (pink baby). They were so stinking cute, and I watched them grow up and turn into fat, healthy piggies with individual personalities and tastes. It's kind of funny, because there are times when I forget that all kinds of critters have personalities. These three are very different. 

Zoe was a people person. She always wanted to know what the people were up to. If I was working at my desk and it had been awhile since I'd said anything or interacted with the girls, she would come over to the side of the cage closest to me and watch me until I noticed her and spoke to her, or came to pet her. She was very naturally curious and always wanted to know what was going on. 

She seemed to really enjoy being held, and was always curious about whatever the holder was wearing, smelled like, or was doing. She didn't care about watching movies or TV (the mama pig is a movie watcher), but she'd snuggle right in under my jawbone and nuzzle my neck. She always licked and tasted everything, and the first thing you'd see of her, most of the time, was her little pointy nose, up in the air, checking out her surroundings. 

She liked cucumbers. (Zephyr always chokes on cucumbers.) She was the vocal one of the group, and if she thought it had been too long and they needed weggies (that's piggy speak for vegetables), she would speak right up and send me after them. (Now Zelma asks, sometimes.) She was the first of the babies to figure out how to use the water bottle. (Something Zephyr still makes harder than it needs to be.)

I called her my punkin pig, because she looked like a piece of pumpkin pie. The reddish brown looked like pumpkin. The dark brown looked like spices-- nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice. And the little wedge of white on her side looked like a dollop of whipped cream. 

Little noses, sniffing out weggies.
When she got sick, I may not have noticed right away. I kick myself for that. It was a weekend. I spend all week in the office, ordinarily, which is where the pigs live to keep me company, and especially during my busy season (Sept-Nov) I don't even want to SEE the office when I'm not working. I take care of the pigs, and I'll go get them to hold them, but I don't spend time in the office on the weekends, if I can help it. I didn't notice her being unwell until Sunday night, but she could have been struggling for awhile, by then. 

You see, guinea pigs are prey animals in the wild. Being weak or unwell is a strategic disadvantage, if a predator is anywhere nearby. If one gets sick, it masks the symptoms until whatever illness it has kills it or goes away. Most piggy illnesses are fatal, unless they're treated quickly. I tend to be around them enough that I would notice if one was in any way acting unusual. 

Last fall, Zephyr got sick. We got her to the vet, put her on medication, quarantined her, and a week later, she was well enough to return to the herd. 

Not so with Zoe-pig. Zoe wasn't eating at all by the time I knew she wasn't well. I should have immediately started her on the critical care food, but I waited until I got her to the vet the next morning. I kick myself for that, too. The vet gave her shots of vitamins and an antibiotic, put her on oral medications, told me to feed her the critical care food (which I already had from Zephyr's illness), took an x-ray and sent us home with a plan to get her well. 

Piggies nap a lot.
She should have gotten better. She didn't. She got weaker. I fed her every hour or so. I gave her one medication twice a day and another 3 times a day. I had alarms set on my phone to remind me what time she needed which treatment. We went back to the doctor, and she was very concerned. Zoe should have gotten better. We added a pro-biotic and an anti-inflammatory. She seemed to get worse, every time I gave her medicine. I finally decided that I wasn't going to give her more medicine. I would just feed her. 

I went online to see what I could find out. I should have done that sooner. I kick myself for that, too. One link led me to a forum string that said that a few guinea pigs have an intolerance for the main antibiotic administered to guinea pigs. That was what she was on. That day, Friday, she had developed the symptoms of that intolerance, continuing to weaken, and had gotten to the point that she couldn't walk. She was barely moving at all. She had started having muscle spasms, which eventually seemed to be brief seizures. 

I know it's a stupid look on my face. I think I was
frustrated with my phone camera at the time...
I went to bed Friday night, sick to my stomach. I couldn't sleep. She was barely even lifting her head. With my husband sleeping soundly, I sneaked back in and carried her back into the living room with me. I tried to feed her. I gave her some water. I held her. I napped with her. I cried when she twitched and seized. I prayed for this precious little life. I asked God to show me how I could help her. 

It got cold. In our living room, we have several large windows, and it got very cold on the couch next to those windows. I wrapped us in a blanket, then covered us with a down-filled throw. I kept her warm. I held her. I kept praying, as I dozed in and out. 

Forgive the poops & the red eyes. This was the last picture
I took of the three of them, before I found out Zoe was sick.
It was taken 10/26/12.
She was so soft, so weak. My heart ached for the little body resting on my chest. Finally, she had a massive seizure that seemed to just go on and on. I cried and prayed for God to save her, to make it stop. It did, eventually, and she took her last couple of breaths, then died. It was about 2:30 in the morning. 

I went in and woke my husband. My poor little punkin pig who had been so sick wasn't sick anymore. I went to bed, broken and sick at heart.

After I woke, my husband built her a little coffin, and we wrote on it. It says:

Blessed be the Name of
the Lord.
The Lord gives, and the 
takes away. 
She was a precious gift.

Sweet faced li'l bown baby girl.
We buried her in the corner of our back yard, in the mum bed. We went out and found a new mum to look over her grave. It's darker-than-blood red. Almost black, in some lights. It was covered with buds, when we bought it, but only a few had opened into blooms. Now, it's mostly covered with flowers, and they stand guard over that little lifeless body buried in a box that was built with love.

Very few days have gone by, since then, that I haven't gone out and spent at least a few moments in that quiet place. Few days have gone by that I haven't cried at least a few tears for the loss of this precious little animal.

I kick myself in circles that I didn't do more, do better by her, treat her sooner, have the vet change her medications, or just appreciate what a gift she was quite as much when she was alive.  I don't know how many times I've said I'm sorry. To her grave, to her mother, to God. The truth of the matter is, she was my responsibility. While I didn't succeed in helping her get well and live, I hope that I wasn't such a horrible steward of her life and care.

My husband assures me that I treat them well. He says that it wasn't my fault, that I couldn't have known or done anything better, that I tried everything I knew to do to save her. He says, "You're not a vet, and you were treating her the way the vet said to treat her. You couldn't have known. You did the best you could." And I just keep kicking myself. And missing her.

The grave, the day she was
buried. 11/3/12
I try to pay more attention to the two remaining pigglies, now, though truth be told, I have given them lots of attention all along. They remind me how much she loved people, just by being less interested. The first time I held Zephyr after Zoe's death, when I took her back to the cage, she spent several minutes looking in all the tunnels, making the mama pig move so she could see behind her, and basically asking, "Where's my sister?" it was heartbreaking. I broke down and wept.

When I feed them, I still subconsciously look for that little nose, then sadden when it's not there. She used to sit in this almost perfectly round ball with her hair puffed up when she'd eat. If you'd pet her while she was eating, she'd scoot straight backwards really fast to get away. It was ridiculously cute. No one does that anymore.

Sometimes, when I'm working, I look over, half-expecting to see her little face pointed my direction, wanting to know what I'm doing. It's not there. I wish I had a picture of that.

Maybe it's ridiculous for an adult to have little pets like these. Maybe I'm a little too crazy about them. Maybe I should be less emotionally attached to animals, who have such short life spans. Maybe. 

Maybe my grief should be easing now. Maybe it is. Maybe she has become a bit of a symbol of more regrets than just my care for her. Maybe the fact that this was my first close experience with death as an adult has made it all hit harder. Maybe.

Here are some things I know. I understand more about how God feels about me because I have little, helpless animals. I know that eternity is real and that death is unnatural. I know that my husband is the kind, caring, considerate man that I thought he was when I married him, because he has treated my grief and love with such gentleness and respect. I know that God understands my grief, probably better than I do.

And one final thing I know is true. 
Tiny little lives matter. 

Much love and many tears, 

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