My pet rabbit, Babar, is sick. Like any single woman living alone with a pet, I am probably guilty of using him as a stand in for the significant other I have so often lacked and the child I yearn to have. We watch movies together, he licks away my tears (probably because they’re salty, but I like to think it’s out of affection), he rests his little chin on my leg while I pet him.
But now he has an eye infection. Yesterday, I took him to the vet for a second time when, despite the antibiotic drops I administered in each eye four times a day, they seemed to get worse. A rabbit with an eye infection looks like he’s crying. His eyes get red and the tears soak his furry, little cheeks. Anyone who can look at a crying bunny without wanting to commit suicide has a heart of stone. So you can imagine how I felt watching my baby, my constant companion for the last five years, with tears streaming down his face and disgusting puss in the corner of his eyes.
Before resorting to hari kari, I decided to go back to the vet yesterday. She specializes in “exotic” pets at the Animal Medical Center on 62nd and York. The infection has apparently gotten so bad, it has eaten away at his third eyelid. (I didn’t even know rabbits had third eyelids.) She said that it was the worst eye infection she’d ever seen in a rabbit. I suppose I should appreciate her candor, but it didn’t really do much for my already fragile emotional state. In her entire career as an exotic pets veterinarian, she had honestly never seen a worse infection? Surely, she was exaggerating? Perhaps she is prone to hyperbole?
Let me just say that I asked the vet over and over again what went wrong or how it happened. Where I failed as a mother, what I could’ve done differently. Was the cage not clean enough? How could this have happened? People whose kids are on heroin are probably wracked with less guilt. Apparently, it’s common and rabbits always have bacteria there and I was not to blame, but just knowing that in my care, my bunny managed to contract the worst eye infection know to man was too much to handle. Seeing him suffer was heartbreaking. I called my mother crying and told her I finally understood how she felt when I got sick. Suddenly, her desire to jump on a plane and take care of me (a grown woman) whenever I get a cold seemed not at all outrageous. Reasonable, even.
My boyfriend and I took him back to the hospital this morning. For a fee, the hospital lets you drop off your pet before work and pick him or her up after work like at a daycare center. I felt guilty and distressed watching him go off with a pubescent-looking male aid. Today, he’ll see the ophthalmologist and hopefully, he will get better.
But I can’t help but feel a bit conflicted about all of this. It seems so American, so indulgent, so bourgeois to spend so much money on an animal. If a person from a developing country were to go to the Animal Medical Center and see the doctors in lab coats and scrubs, the waiting room with the flat screen tv, the operating rooms and know that it was all just for animals, I can’t imagine what they’d think. I think a lot about how proper medical care and even sanitary, potable water is so scarce in some countries and it’s really hard for me to justify not providing a human being with these necessities and instead lavishing them upon a rabbit: an animal that eats its own poop.
That being said, he’s still my baby. The only one I have. Which has also got me thinking about my readiness to have my own biological (human) children. I actually declined a friend’s invitation to go to a Mos Def concert, citing Babar’s mounting medical costs and the fact that I am starting school in the Fall as reasons I should try and save money. He told me I seem like a single mother cliche. I did think quite a bit about how expensive and time-consuming just having a rabbit seemed. Taking off work to go to the doctor, dropping him off like a latchkey kid to be cared for by strangers… and he’s not even human. I’m not ready for the real thing, I guess. Not financially or otherwise. I guess that’s not the worst conclusion to reach. In 5-10 years, maybe I’ll have a real baby boy and hopefully, Babar will live to see the day.