Sunday, 21 April, approximately 6pm. The Special Patroller lets out an almighty howl from her cupboard nest.
S- responds and discovers that TSP has scrambled up the rear wheel of our bicycle, and is trapped bodily in its spokes. S- attempts to free TSP, but TSP is in an agitated state. She bites S- and punctures the skin in two places between the thumb and forefinger of her right hand.
S- withdraws to staunch the blood. AEM investigates. TSPs body can be freed from the spokes, but TSP’s foot is somehow wedged in a link of the bike chain. AEM flicks the foot out and TSP hits the deck.
TSPs back right leg is badly broken. Hanging limp. Not a compound fracture. TSP is returned to her cage. She attempts to escape, as is her nature.
Much googling is done. Jane and Steven arrive for dinner. They have recently spent an undisclosed sum on experimental surgery for an elderly cat. Sympathy and hope are expressed for the hamster’s wellbeing. S- determines that a couple of week’s rest should see her right, though the foot will never be the same. AEM remains sceptical. A clean break seems likely. TSP cannot and will never again use that leg to groom her back right shoulder. Or stick that foot in her ear. AEM fears necrotising fasciitis (though he will only learn this name at the vet on Tuesday). Basically, blood pooling and rotting within. Bone will be unable to knit due to TSP’s inability to remain still.
AEM steps outside to discretely ring farming friends Mark and Laura to understand how to put a small animal out of its misery - if required. The answer: a swift blow to the back of the head. But TSP is such a wriggler. AEM will be obliged to place the hamster in a plastic bag and swing her into a brownstone wall. AEM mentally files under ‘too hard’.
TSP is placed under careful observation. She is confined to her cage. All surfaces, obstacles and toys are removed. This is intolerable for a hamster that has led its entire post-purchase life scuttling free, patrolling our apartment; climbing the couch to watch TV with us; ascending the side of the fridge by pressing her back on the wall to defecate on the summit; napping in my office cupboard; stuffing food and faeces into her cheek pockets to redistribute them to a series of middens lovingly maintained at the correct ratio of nuts, seeds and poos.
She shuffle-lurches between two corners of her cage. Patrolling till the last. She sleeps a lot. She eats food, but there’s the distinct feeling that she is pouching less, as if enjoying the popcorn of the present, rather than delivering it to the midden of the future. S- feeds her some Manuka Honey ($10 for a tiny pot. AEM has yet to taste this honey). TSP licks it from a small spoon with her tiny tongue.
Soon we are making Game of Thrones related jokes. TSP’s new name: The Kingslayer (one limb down). Or Bran…
AEM ponders deeply on his responsibilities as an animal husband, and as a human husband.
Tuesday 5.30pm comes quickly. TSP is transferred to a small box for her trip to the vet. Nesting material from her cage is placed in the box so she will smell herself and be still.
The vet weighs and fusses over TSP. He examines her ears, eyes and mouth (why?) while she squirms. Her bad leg is limp and vestigial - like a rabbit’s foot charm worn around the neck of a country music icon. S- can tell it’s grim. The vet proposes two potential courses of treatment:
Invasive experimental surgery involving pins and a long period of recovery, or
Painkillers in the meantime. Immediate decision required. The risk is that the bone will puncture the skin. AEM posits a third option… euthanasia. Vet is surprised. He tacitly insinuates that New Yorkers – particularly childless Millennials living in tiny apartments like us - love animals to a fault. A highly lucrative fault. Upon interrogation he admits that he has never performed the experimental surgery. Nor has he attempted a amputation on a rodent, but he’s willing to give it a crack.
We can’t decide. The vet steps out of the room to prepare competing quotes for amputation and euthanasia. AEM is called away to accept delivery of a credenza. When he returns both options have been priced. AEM chooses not to look at the quotes: he feels money is not the obstacle (and fears inability to maintain poker face while reviewing amputation costs). AEM declares that the welfare of TSP is paramount. Amputation is likely to make animal husbands feel better without improving TSP’s life. She will be forever wrecked. And the post-op recovery will be difficult: as a prey animal, TSP does not show fear or pain. We will never know her internal life. She will never know why her back leg doesn’t work.
AEM makes the decision to bring TSP’s life to an end. S- agrees, though not without insinuating that AEM’s primary concern is to minimise costs. AEM does not disabuse S- of this inference by insisting that the $105 cremation fee be deleted in favour of taking possession of TSP’s wee body. But this is not to save money. AEM declares his wish to explore the possibilities of freeze-drying The Special Patroller. To eternally memorialise her special patrollingness on our mantlepiece, and eventually/or desk drawer. AEM crawls still higher up his moral molehill by revealing that he has nobly foresworn the farmer-friend recommended - and even more cost-effective - method: plastic bag + brick wall.
S- has traumatic memories of witnessing a pet rat being euthanised in her childhood. We choose not to observe The Special Patroller shuffle off her mortal coil. AEM leaves to attend a Matthew Whiteside concert and returns home to find TSP’s body in a plastic bag in the freezer, and S- sitting on the couch with a gift from the vet in the palm of her hand: TSP’s paw print pressed in clay. We remember our hamster and cry.
Rest in peace, Patroller. We are better people for having known you.