“And Grown-Ups, when they are very good, when they are very lucky, and very brave, and their wishes are sharp as scissors, when they are in the fullness of their strength, use their hearts to start their story over again.”
Catherynne M. Valente

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Gemma and John cuddling on the couch, Sept. 13 2020
my heart has joined the thousand
Tue 2020-09-22 23:05:43 (in context)

I've been putting off writing this post. Partly that's because I didn't want my first post in two weeks to be a total downer. But mostly because I know I'm going to cry while writing it, and I'm tired of crying.

Gemma passed away last week, and it hurts.

The course of oral meds and sub-q fluids slowed but did not reverse her trend of losing weight. Or maybe it wasn't the treatment that slowed her rate of weight loss but rather the fact that she just didn't have that much left to lose. She was positively skeletal when she went in Wednesday morning for a cecal transplant. (That's basically an enema made out of healthy cecotropes from a donor rabbit.) Gemma tolerated the process really well. Everything that went in stayed in. We entertained hopes that she would benefit from the healthy bacterial culture and the nutritional content of the donor cecotropes, and that with subsequent transplants over the next week or more we might turn things around. But I guess it was just too late.

I hung out with her all the rest of the day in the living room, watching her eat hay and amble around, cheerful and curious as always. But then, around 4:45 PM, she began subsiding, as though falling asleep sitting up. She'd sink a little ways, then take a step to recover her stance, then sink some more. I took her temperature: it was low.

I put her on a towel-covered electric heating pad, where she sprawled in an awkward froggie posture, back legs splayed, unable even to hold her head up. Then I called the vet. They said to keep her warm through the night, continue with her medication and fluids as scheduled, and they'd see her first thing in the morning. In case she needed care more urgently, they made sure I had the number of the nearest emergency vet hospital that (very importantly) knew their way around rabbits. That would be the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at CSU, up in Fort Collins, an hour's drive away.

Not being an emergency clinic themselves, there was nothing more they could do. Even if they had been able to see her after hours, she wouldn't have made it there in time. It would have taken us half an hour to get there. We realized she was dead not a mile into the drive to CSU; she may have already been dead by the time we got in the car at all.

We made the decision to keep going and bring her body to CSU. I'm glad we did. They were able to perform a necropsy that confirmed her regular vet's diagnosis to be correct and her treatment to have been appropriate. The death of a pet brings so much guilt and regret, so much self-recrimination, so much painful second-guessing. It was consoling to learn that yes, we were doing all the things we should have done for the condition she was in, and we gave her the best chance of recovery she could possibly have had.

I am immensely grateful to the Colorado House Rabbit Society's post-adoption "bunny tune-up" class, and would recommend it to any prospective rabbit household. A rabbit's health is too potentially volatile to rely solely on annual check-ups, so the idea is to check them out thoroughly at home once every two months in order to establish a baseline and to stand a better chance recognizing crises while it's early enough to act on them. Some items on the checklist are easy, like checking if their poop looks healthy. Some are more daunting, like taking their temperature. There's also some maintenance they taught us how to perform: clipping claws, cleaning out their scent folds, etc. And all of this after like an hour of nothing but "Here's how you pick up a bunny when they are facing you. Here is how you pick up a bunny when they are facing away from you. Now you try. Do it again. You MUST get comfortable doing this, even if they don't like it." It was absolutely thanks to their instruction that we were keeping tabs on Gemma's weight and other symptoms, and therefore knew to get the vet involved as early as we did. I will probably never stop regretting that we didn't get the vet involved earlier, but I do know that we did a lot better than we might have done, had we not had such good training.

She was the absolute sweetest of bunns. Possibly because she had required vet intervention frequently over the course of her nineteen months of life, she was extremely amenable to being held and handled. She enjoyed sitting on my lap while I watched TV. On her very last night, as I was stalking Holland for donor cecotropes, she started coming over to me from across the room, "weeping angels" style. (For those of you not familiar with that particular Doctor Who monster, that means I'd look away, then look back and see that she was slightly closer to me than last time I looked.) I called to her, "Come here, Gemma," and made kissy noises and patted the floor, and she bounded over. It was a very low-energy bounding, but she gave it all the bound she had to give. I gave her a treat, let her "high-five" my palm with her nose, and then she cuddled up next to my leg.

I had expected to enjoy such closeness with her for at least a couple more years. I feel cheated.

Holland, by the way, never did produce cecotropes for me. After sitting by his habitat until nearly three in the morning, darting in to interrupt him the moment his nose dipped toward his belly, I came to the conclusion that he produces only the one kind of dropping, to all appearances a normal fecal dropping, some of which he will eat. And it's not like he sorts through them as though some were edible and some weren't. More than once, after shooing him off the latest batch of pellets and examining them to my satisfaction, I'd offer them back to him one by one, in whatever order, and he would eat them. "Holland apparently hasn't read the script," the vet said. "Some rabbits don't." The donor cecotropes used in Gemma's transplant were provided by the Colorado House Rabbit Society, courtesy of their medical staff and residents of their Bunny Barn.

Holland is obviously affected by Gemma's loss. He spent the first few days after her death being a little bit quieter, a tad more more nervous around sudden noises or changes in his environment (I ran the blender Sunday night, I am a monster), a touch more reluctant to leave his habitat and somewhat slower to rev up to his usual zooming and binking routine. He was always casually intimate with Gemma, grooming her frequently, nosing up under her chin to flop comfortably at her side. On Gemma's last day, after a night and a morning separated from her, he demonstrated how happy he was to have her back by binking around her in tight, light-speed circles, at times propelling himself off the actual wall. (Gemma more or less ignored him and ate her hay.) Most bunnies benefit from being pair-bonded, and Holland is clearly no exception. So yes, eventually we will adopt a new roommate for him. But pair-bonding bunnies is non-trivial, and we're just not ready to start the process. All I can say for sure is, it'll be "eventually soonish."

That's all. That's plenty, actually. There's writing news, but it can wait for tomorrow. For now, I just want to give Gemma a little memorial space. She was loved. She was a good bunn. She'll be missed.

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