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A Meow For Help

October 22, 2014

You go in knowing it’ll die before you. You file that knowledge deep in a drawer marked ‘Later’ and forget about it. You give it your last name. You photograph it as much as your human kids. Years pass. Life without pet becomes a distant memory.

Then something happens. It gets sick, or in a fight. It systematically tears all the fur off its body. It sits outside and yowls incessantly even though the pet door is open. Whatever the symptom, it’s clear your pet is unhappy – and unlike human babies, it will never learn to express it in words. Diagnosis and treatment are entirely in your hands.

For Black Diamond (aka Buddy), the problem started last April when his sister Sage disappeared. After five years, Buddy found himself alone for the first time ever. Normally a mellow purr-ball, he began trailing me around the house, whining. He would beg to be let through a door only to turn around and beg to go the other way. He stopped curling up at the foot of my bed.

I diagnosed him (and my distraught 9-year old) with loneliness and filled the void with a kitten. Lightning joined us at the end of April, less than ten days after Sage disappeared. She was six weeks old.

Buddy wanted nothing to do with her.

As she grew – as her toilet stretched from a Tupperware container to an actual litter box – Buddy continued to ignore her. At least he tried to. Whenever she saw him Lightning would run full speed, launch into the air, and dive bomb his face with her paws extended. Or – if he headed to the food bowl – she’d race ahead and cut him off by standing in the way. If Buddy stretched out on his favorite woolen rug Lightning would attack him with the ferocity of a kitten who’d never learned the fine line between play and pain. He took to spending his days upstairs until Lightning learned to climb. Then he stayed outside – or came home with puncture wounds, evidence of the neighborhood’s rougher animals.

I’d clearly messed up. I’d tried to fix things for Buddy (not to mention my daughter) by replacing Sage with another cat, but in the process I’d taken Lightning from her family before it was healthy to, creating an avalanche of further problems. But everyone I talked to said, “They’re cats; they’ll figure it out,” and I thought the same.

Then, last Saturday evening, Buddy limped into the house and collapsed on the hallway floor, blood oozing out of his mouth and nose. He’d been in a bad… something. The moment I saw him I knew that he was dead. Or, about to die. My country upbringing said put him in a box and keep him warm, make his last hours comfortable. But my daughter was upstairs and I felt a responsibility to show her I was doing everything possible to save Buddy’s life. So we drove to the emergency veterinarian’s clinic and got the report: he’d split the roof of his mouth and was suffering from facial trauma. Most likely a fall or a vehicle collision: not a fight. A thousand dollars to house him overnight and inject fluids.

Now I loved that cat. Don’t get me wrong. But saving his life at all costs was not my primary goal. My goal was to determine the extent of his injuries and make the best decision for his comfort. Was he going to make a full recovery? What if we took every possible measure and it turned out his brain was irreparably damaged anyway?

Plus, I didn’t have a thousand dollars.

We took Buddy home, high on kitty Morphine and still soaked in blood. He curled up in the corner of my closet and didn’t move for the rest of the night. Lightning sniffed him suspiciously and ran out of the room. For the next two days she remained uncharacteristically well-behaved.

In the morning I walked the street in front of our property, then the driveway and yard. At the very corner of the house, right where the new second-level deck starts, I found two pools of thick, mucous-like blood. Nothing else anywhere.

By Monday morning Buddy hadn’t eaten or drunk anything, nor had he showed any interest in using the bathroom. When I got back from the morning school run he’d moved from my closet to the cubby beneath the staircase. Exactly where you’d expect a cat to go to curl up and die.

Some part of me was surprised he was still breathing. Some part of me wanted to rush him back to the doctor for fluids and medication. But that first part felt it was better to honor the cat’s decision: if he was ready to go, who was I to say otherwise? Besides, I already knew how much it would cost. Still. As the hours wore on and I sat there waiting for my cat to die, my ideals battled with my emotions. Buddy was going to die because I hadn’t left him at the vet overnight; his death would be an economic decision, not a natural one. But bringing him back represented the collapse of my entire philosophy: I would be spending money I didn’t have to artificially preserve the life of an unhappy animal. How was that right?

I was quite literally frozen by indecision. I stared at the ‘recent calls’ list on my phone, trying to figure out which number was the vet’s office. My ex’s name jumped out and I pushed it. She’d been there when we brought Sage and Buddy into the family five years before. She would want to say goodbye. Lumps gathered in my throat as I prepared to speak the words: Buddy is going to die.

It was almost a relief when I reached her voicemail instead. I hung up.

The day passed into night. Buddy came out of the cubby, sat in the living room for about ten minutes, then curled up on a blanket by the Lego table. It was more movement than I’d seen in two days. Was he going to make it after all? Now I was really questioning my decision. What if he died from dehydration? I Googled saline solution and IV drip and concluded it wasn’t as easy as Hollywood made it seem. I checked Buddy every 45 minutes, almost hoping he would just get it over with. I’d concocted this theory that Buddy hadn’t fallen at all: he’d jumped.

He moved again in the night. Next morning I searched the house and found him upstairs in a basket of my daughter’s costumes. Alive. I brought him down and gave him his medication, then squirted water in his mouth. The least I could do was wet his tongue. And so the day proceeded, much like the last. Now I was missing my second day of work. Sitting around watching Netflix and waiting for Buddy to pass. Too distraught to write or cook or clean the house.

Around 9:30 my ex called. She’d heard about Buddy and wanted to see how he was doing. It came out in a torrent of tears and uncertainty: Buddy had given up and I didn’t know what to do. I was struggling. I was barely able to feed myself. I did everything but actually come out and ask for help. She let me know she empathized and was there for me in any way she could be. But we were speaking at cross purposes. We sat there with dead space between us, the same dead space that’d splintered the foundation of our relationship. The most damaging words are those that go unspoken.

“Can you bring me some food?” I said, then I balled my fucking eyes out. Asking for help has never been easy.

She showed up in less than half an hour with a breakfast burrito, a donut, fruit, and enough chili and potatoes for two dinners. She loved on Buddy until he began to purr and show signs of life. Before she left Buddy actually went outside and peed. And she called back after talking with her partner to urge me to contact the vet after all.

So I did. Actually my normal vet, who’d been closed since Saturday, called first. They’d received Buddy’s chart notes from the emergency clinic and wanted to take a look at him. After hearing my financial concerns they offered to provide me with the supplies and training to administer fluids. They were able to determine that his skull was fractured in multiple places but should heal properly, given time and nutrition. And they gave me a syringe and two cans of cat food to feed him over the next week.

So it looks like he’ll survive, whatever actually happened. A meow for help? A hit and run? I’ll probably never know. If I’ve learned anything from this (besides how to pump fluids into a recalcitrant feline) it’s regarding my own limitations. I was wrong – more than once. I made some bad calls. Fortunately I made some good ones as well, and was able to reach out and get the help I needed when it mattered most.

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6 Comments
  1. Toets permalink

    Wow.. Mooi.. XO

  2. Wow. Are you okay, Bo? This shit is heartwrenching.

  3. Soo glad he’s in recovery, thank you for sharing

    • You’re welcome. I am glad to report that he is now eating and drinking on his own, and cuddling up at night. Or when I’m watching a movie. Or sitting at the computer. Or the porcelain throne.

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  1. Your dog really is dead… | Peters Place

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