What My Guinea Pig Oreo Passing Away Taught Me About Myself
Potential triggers include: abuse, death, surgery
I don’t know when I started to develop this paralyzing fear of death. Nonetheless, it’s been with me for the vast majority of my life. I remember being little, sleeping on a love seat underneath a window, ‘protecting’ people in my family from anyone who might break-in and harm them.
There is another story to unpack there, but now is not the time to do it.
I grew up so afraid of death that I didn’t always fight to live as well as I could have, ironically.
By the time I started dating T, this fear had grown immensely. I would stay up late at night when I should have been sleeping. This time, I was thinking about how someday one of us would die, probably before the other, and how sad that would be.
In 2012, I lost a close friend across the pond in the UK and this fear just got worse.
I began to have full-blown panic attacks about death. When death was mentioned without me being prepared for it, I would turn into a puddle. I turned into someone that might be considered creepy under other circumstances, watching T in his sleep. I didn’t want to sleep because that meant less time with each other.
All of this was complicated by my own worsening health issues, of course.
T and I got married. The jubilation of the wedding and everything seemed to slow down my panic attacks — though a lot of that was related to cutting contact with my abusive mother a few months beforehand.
Mother had convinced me that I would never survive without her, which I’m sure is where a lot of my fear of death comes from.
I was afraid of my sister and me being separated if Mother did die, something we were told would happen. This kept both of us incredibly invested in Mother in ways children shouldn’t have to be.
That was the basis of our entire relationship, though.
After the wedding, T and I adopted guinea pigs — Jaq and Gus Gus. They’re both snuggling down for a nap as I write this, unknowingly playing a role in how I heal and deal with everything I’ve endured thus far.
Four and a half months later, we found a third piggie.
Oreo had been in a shelter nearly the whole time we had been married. T found him looking online and asked if we could go see him.
He was in a position that wasn’t ideal for any being, frankly — wire-bottom cage, food that promoted health issues, no friends, just outside the dog section… It was heartbreaking.
We filled out the paperwork to take him home, which had to be processed so it would be a few days until we met Oreo again. The shelter called our apartment complex who said no to us adopting Oreo. After all, we already had two pets — and they had a two-pet rule.
I called the apartment complex from work, talking about how odd this was. Guinea pigs, I argued, were caged animals. Do they limit the number of fish someone can have?
To his chagrin, the manager of our complex okayed us adopting Oreo and gave the shelter a call back. They promptly called me to congratulate me about being such a fighter for our new buddy — and to organize when we could pick him up.
The next day, we picked Oreo up. He was skittish, quiet, and hopped more like a bunny than walking like a guinea pig. In introducing him to Jaq and Gus, he and Jaq fell in friendship-love and moved in together.
Jaq has always been skittish, too. He was quiet and seemed to be picked on a lot by Gus. I love Gus, but he’s better with me than a real piggie. He seems to be bossy and want to get his way, which I can handle. At this point in time, Jaq couldn’t.
Jaq and Oreo became best friends. Together, they learned so much! Jaq started to make more noises — and he taught Oreo how to be a piggie, from noises to walking… though Oreo always toddled around a little differently.
They began to snuggle together quickly, enjoying each other’s company.
Oreo did something for Jaq that I don’t know would have happened otherwise — Jaq learned how to play but then how to fight back for himself. Oreo would protect Jaq. Whenever I would go to pick one of them up, Oreo would sneak Jaq away and sit right in front of him.
They began to play pretty quickly, too. For the first time, it really began to seem like Jaq became happier. They both did. And, honestly, Gus and I did, too. We began to bond more as mom and baby pig.
Despite some minor things — and more chronic pain crud for me — our piggie family was doing pretty well.
In April of 2016, that smooth road began to get bumpier.
Oreo had developed calcium deposits in his bladder that has turned into bladder stones. He quickly had surgery to remove them and his recovery was… bumpy.
We had to feed him legit baby food because he wouldn’t eat the critical care, which is essentially smooshed up pellets and extra vitamins/supplements to try to promote weight gain.
After the surgery, Oreo had to be separated from Jaq for a few days. He probably should’ve been separated longer, but I just couldn’t see to bear them apart. I waited until Oreo’s wound was healed enough for my medically-nerdy comfort, letting them hangout together in the meantime when I could.
Oreo continued to have a really hard time eating. He wasn’t really gaining weight. We monitored and tried to get him to stuff his face whenever we could.
At the same time, his personality totally opened up. Since the extreme pain he had been dealing with for who-knows-how-long was gone, Oreo got more brave and playful. He would follow us around the apartment, even into the kitchen — a previously forbidden place because of the odd floor. If I was cooking, he would wait patiently outside the kitchen but come closer the longer I was in there, especially if I was cutting vegetables.
He would even climb up on my feet!
He seemed to become almost more puppy than piggie. He’d run around on the floor and stare up where he knew the snacks were, waiting for you to notice — or even coming to get you before he stared.
Whenever we would come home from something, Oreo would happily wander to as close to the door as his house would let him, looking up as if to say “YOU’RE HOME AND I MISSED YOU AND NOW YOU ARE HOME!”
It always warmed my heart.
He would run around and run up to where you might be sitting, just looking up at you, wanting a pat or scratch. He would sit there for a long while waiting for you to notice, too — or trying to get your attention at least.
By July, he was becoming lethargic again. I began to think about how we would lose one of the piggies soon. I guessed Oreo. Because of my history of over-analysis, I tried to lessen the impact of that idea on our lives — dismissed it as my anxiety talking.
I should have listened.
One Sunday, I noticed that Oreo seemed like he was straining to poo. We took him to the vet the next day when us helping didn’t end the issue. Turns out, his bladder was full of stones — mostly stones, they said. A piece had broken off and blocked his urethra.
He was struggling to pee.
On top of that, he had lost more weight than we realized. They feared he was so weak, he wouldn’t survive surgery. Still, we wanted to try. If there was anything we could do to help him… to bring him back home, healthy and happy as possible, we were going to try.
They were able to fit him in for emergency surgery and he was whisked away to the back for prep. We went home — it was all we could do. I waited for the call. Like them, once we learned how ill he was, I didn’t expect Oreo to make it through surgery at all.
But he did.
We brought him home to the separate cage on the floor, like we had done in April. I tried to get everything as close to him as I could for ease of moving around post-surgery.
He tried to get up at one point. He was having a hard time. I told him it was okay to rest. I wish that I had, instead, tried to help him to get up and about. I snuggled him as he was on the floor.
He began to snore, something he did after the previous surgery so I thought nothing of it… but the snore turned into a wheeze… his body stretched out and then the sounds stopped.
Immediately, I tried to revive him and get his little heart beating again. Hell, I’ve been human CPR certified and even tried that. T had gone to bed, so I called out to him. We tried together, but Oreo was gone.
We were both inconsolable, barely sleeping but more holding each other and crying. At times, I would come out and sit next to Oreo, hoping against logic that he would wake up and be okay. The next morning, we had to work on the whole cremation/canceling vet appointments/etc part of things.
It sucked butts.
Oreo was more than just a pet.
We knew he dealt with issues from being treated poorly in his past home — they had only him, didn’t feed him well, and didn’t play with him because they both had allergies. We knew that he was dealing with some health issues from observing him, long before the bladder stones became so prominent.
He was the chronically ill piggie, the one like me who fought hard to make it so he could be a part of our little family. By joining us, Oreo helped improve all of our lives — stood up to Gus, befriended Jaq, helped me cope, and helped T get more into interacting more with the piggies.
It’s so funny… I had projected so much of myself onto him. He breathed a new life into me with a different energy. Jaq and Gus were always my babies, but I began to really get them in a different way than before.
It always energized me more than tuckering me out to spend time with him and the two rascals I’m watching sleep right now.
When Oreo passed, I promised him that I wouldn’t bug Jaq too much… which turned out to be a bit of a lie. I had to hold him and tell him I was sorry. I even did that to Gus who was probably the least saddened about the whole thing. Gus and Jaq both have continued to make progress since Oreo’s passing, learning to become more okay with physical contact and enjoying spending time together with me.
Despite gaining yet another PTSD-causing event in watching Oreo die, I’ve changed, too. I appreciate life more and work on communicating what I’m dealing with better… usually.
Oreo did one other thing for me that I wasn’t expecting. I stopped being quite so afraid of death.
In the days after he passed, I spent a lot of time crying and chiding myself for not preventing death from stealing this little bub from us. I looked over and Jaq was snuggling with Oreo.
I shit you not.
In the months since then, he has shown up several times around our apartment. It’s always when he’s snuggling Jaq or running around. Other times, his very distinct smell will randomly pop up.
I’m still afraid of death — I think everyone is — but now I know that someone is on the other side, waiting to run up to give me kisses and the longest snuggles.