After a week of worrying about Eric the guinea pig and trying to build his strength up, I knew he had to go to the vet. And quickly. I was grateful that the vet agreed to see him within a couple of hours, even though it was Sunday.
The waiting room was empty at the vet’s and I was seen very quickly. The one thing I saw was a candle and a message. If the candle is lit, it means someone is saying goodbye to their beloved pet. It asks for people to be quiet and respectful at this difficult time.
The vet had Eric’s weight on record – 1.17kg. She put him on the scales – 670g. I was horrified. He’d lost 500g, or nearly half his body weight.
His nose was a little bit crusty, he had an upper respiratory infection. I had totally failed to see that his nose was crusty, in fact I still couldn’t see it when she showed it to me. She said his breathing sounded difficult. Again, I hadn’t heard that. I would definitely have taken him to the vet if I’d heard any problems with his breathing.
And, the worst thing, she found quite a large growth in his stomach.
I was proud that, in his weakened state and, despite having always been an inactive guinea pig, Eric made a couple of brave attempts to run away from the vet.
She told me I’d done exactly the right thing by feeding him separately to ensure he was eating. I knew that, certainly until Friday, he had been weeing and pooing well because I’d seen the evidence on my own kitchen floor.
But, she told me that, with the weight loss and the infection, she couldn’t put him through an operation to remove the growth. He just wasn’t strong enough.
I knew what was coming next.
He needed to be put to sleep.
I burst into tears. And I’m so grateful that the vet had tears in her eyes too. Even though she must have to deliver this news every day, she still knows how hard it is and how much I care for Eric.
I was so confused. I didn’t know what to do. How could I do that without the kids knowing? I had to let them know.
‘Can I bring him back later?’
So she agreed I could take him home for 24 hours.
My eldest was the only one at home. He broke down when I told him. He was absolutely inconsolable.
We put Eric on the grass. The guinea pigs don’t go on the grass in the winter because the damp and cold aren’t good for them. But what did it matter now? He always loved being on the grass. It was lovely to watch him just eating it.
We brought Wilfred out to keep him company. Over the last few days, I’d noticed Wilfred was always sat right next to Eric, it was like he know something wasn’t right and he was looking after him.
I phoned my husband and told him what was happening. He told my younger son, but agreed we wouldn’t tell me daughter until she got home.
When she got home, I couldn’t read her face.
‘Do you know what’s happening?’
I can’t remember if it was her or my husband that repeated what was the matter with Eric, but then my husband added.
‘So the vet is going to put him to sleep.’
‘NO!’ I’ve never heard such an anguished cry. It was a cry of pure pain. I knew exactly how she was feeling.
She cried and cried and cried. Noisy, messy sobs.
And there was nothing I could do to make it better.
‘But he’s my favourite guinea pig! When I’m ill, I always want Eric.’
All that evening, we kept bringing Eric into the house and crying over him. We held him, we stroked him and we cried.
And I kept beating myself up, thinking I could have done more, thinking I should have spotted something sooner. And I kept thinking about that candle at the vet’s. And every time I thought about it, I cried.
Would Eric even make it through the night? Would it be easier on all of us if he didn’t?
On his final morning, Eric ran happily to me when I fed him and took carrot from my hands. He seemed happier and more active than I’d seen him for a while.
‘Does it have to be today?’ said my daughter. ‘He’s well!’
He really wasn’t well, but it was heartbreaking to see him so happy.
My daughter and I cried a lot of tears before school and Eric had a lot of cuddles.
My younger son’s way of dealing with things had been to stay out of everyone’s way, but he shed a few tears as he said goodbye to Eric before school.
As the day wore on, every time I stopped moving, stopped working, stopped doing, I cried. I hadn’t cried that much since my grandparents died in 2005. Twenty five hours elapsed between getting the bad news and finally saying goodbye to Eric and I was in bits the whole time. Crying, endlessly holding Eric, looking at him through the window, thinking I couldn’t bear to let him go, wondering what life would be like without that little ball of fluff.
At the vet’s, I held him in the waiting room, although the wait wasn’t long. I held him while the vet explained the procedure – it would be quick and painless, and that’s all that really mattered. She left us to say our final goodbyes and I could have held him forever. I didn’t want to let him go, but I knew it had to be done. I cried again as I handed him over and when the vet returned minutes later to say he’d passed away. She wrapped him in tissue and put him back in our box, so we could take him home to bury him.
Eric would have been four in May. As my husband said, he brought a disproportionate amount of pleasure for something so small. His passing has brought a disproportionate amount of pain.
I loved that little ball of fluff. Without him, a little piece of my heart is gone.