Debra Downs


Debra Downs

Under the glare of the fluorescent lights in Petland, I stare at the clock registering 8:45 PM wondering how futile this venture would be.  I’m with my kids and the reason for the Petland emergency visit was our 5-day-old pet hamster, Muffin.  Muffin, whom we bought from Petland a week before, hadn’t touched his food in 2 days and we knew something was amiss.  Our cuddly, chilled-out hamster who would actually let you hold him was the polar opposite of his hyperactive siblings.

Holding limp Muffin, we described our woes to the disinterested, sales clerk who had one eye on the clock and the other on his cash register.  We quickly realized we were getting no sympathy, so we searched for help from someone else.  Luckily, we found Susan.  A perky, pleasant salesgirl who had owned multiple hamsters herself, and knew right away what Muffin was suffering from: wet tail.  Don’t ask.

Within 3 minutes, I was juggling 4 different medicines and writing down a feeding & tail wipe schedule.  Excuse me, tail wipe?  Oh, and did Muffin have a vet, Sweet Susan asked?  A vet? For the $5 hamster I bought 3 days ago?  I tried to hold back my chuckled reply when she suddenly flips Muffin over in her hand and blurts out, “I think he’s dying!”   

This is when everything turns surreal.  As Muffin’s eyes begin to shut and he gasps for air, now Saint Susan begins to massage his heart.  Inconsolable, my kids then say, “Mommy, oh my god, he’s dying, do something!“  I stare even harder at this resuscitation procedure and realize that I, too, am not breathing.   Within seconds, Muffin responds to the pressing of Susan’s fingers on his little chest, and I am drenched in sweat.  Without missing a beat, I’m writing down a treatment plan and still trying to wrap my head around an actual visit to the vet.

With a bag of goodies and a treatment plan, we all head home to recover from Muffin‘s flirt with death.  My husband and I exchange non-verbal looks of Muffin’s deteriorating state as we usher the kids to bed against their pleas.  As I turn my attentions towards Muffin, I am pained by the amount of effort this tiny animal is using in order to breathe.  I try to make Muffin comfortable as he lays motionless on his bedding.  I follow the directions of the useless medicine that I know will not be saving Muffin, but will somehow assuage my own feelings of guilt for living.

At some point past midnight, I pick Muffin up in my hand and from the shallowness of his breathing and feeble state, I know he is dying and I cry.  I cry not because of how this will impact my kids when they get up in the morning, not because I have no clue how to tell them.  

I cry because in that one moment, I understand the fragility of life and how this little animal didn’t have a chance.  And just how utterly helpless I feel and how many little, precious moments I’ve missed because I was on my way to getting somewhere better.