when the cat comes limping home
our sweet old cat is a wounded soldier. one who all week has needed me to be his nursemaid, his nanny, and his doting ambulator.
the old fella has had many a page-turner in his time.
the spell, long ago, when he was holed up in the down-the-alley gang-bangers’ drug-dealin’ den, and, in search of him, i tiptoed through the pitch-black cellar with the dealer himself, who lit my way with his bic-flick lighter. (it wasn’t till i’d safely rescued the rascal that i realized i’d been alone in a dark place with a dude with a penchant for trouble, although during my time with him he was a downright gentleman; i baked him brownies, dropped them on his doorstep later that day.)
or the time that ol’ cat took a stroll out the third-story skylight and lived to tell about it, after a rather bumpy ride down to the sidewalk.
he’s been caught and wedged and upside down aplenty. he’s come home with a nip to the ear, and minus a few tufts of fur.
but, until last week, he’d never come home limping.
and he’d never ever needed me so very much.
i fell swiftly into the role of nursemaid; after all, far as he’s concerned, i am his not-so-furry mama.
once i realized he couldn’t even step down from his padded orvis bed, why i concocted a pillow staircase, one that led gently up or down, depending on where he was headed.
soon, he was headed nowhere. just lay there curled up like the cutest old cat that ever there was.
i bought him cream. opened cans of albacore tuna. he lapped up that cream like any kitten would. he turned up his nose at the tuna.
and that’s when we knew we were sinking deep into trouble.
all week i carried him wherever i deduced he wanted to be: the litter box, the outside bird bath where he insists on drinking (i know, it’s gross to think about, and i pour him fresh pure water twice a day, swirl it around the shiny silver dish, but he refuses. apparently he likes his water murky. and so it is. i try not to think about it).
i ferried him up and down the stairs to all of his favorite curled-up places, the rug by the bathtub, the blanket on the window seat, the old chair by the furnace down in the basement.
i was quickly becoming a cat whisperer.
at last, the vet, whom i’d been talking to every coupla days, thought it was time for a look-see. i got up at the crack of dawn, drove darn near to the edge of creation.
but the vet, you see, is an old, old friend. a wonderful fellow. one you’d drive to see, too, if you had a cat with a limp, and no clue what might have happened out there in the jungle that is our leafy backyard.
seems the old tabby got a few nips to the shoulder. nothing huge. but enough little bite marks to make it all swollen and quite a bit sore. (now if that cat could talk, and i sure was wishing he could these past few days, he might tell you and me that “sore” didn’t begin to tell the story, more like the biggest pain in the arm he’d ever imagined.)
old guy had a fever, too. which accounted for all of that snoozing and the two pounds he’s lost in the course of a week.
he’s on the mend, we now hope. though i still get to play nursemaid, for as long as he needs me.
i’ve been told to put warm moist packs to his sore little shoulder, at least twice a day. and that’s where the hot water bottle comes in. just like a baby whose tummy is achy, our sweet little cat is purring under the spell of the oldest trick in the doctor bag.
it’s an uncanny thing how deeply we fall for the sweet little critters who call our haunts home. one night i barely slept a wink, so worried was i ’bout the cat curled up beside me. i kept peeking to make sure i detected some sort of twitch and knew he was still among us, alive.
two days i stayed home from the office, worked here in the typing room, just in case he needed me. just in case.
we humans, i hope, employ our hearts rambunctiously. pay heed to the call to tend to all creatures great and small.
that ol’ cat has given us chapters and verse, whole yarns of adventure and mirth. we owe it to him, to the universe, to give it all back, whatever he needs.
if only these seeds of pure love and devotion would catch and grow into a world-wide bumper crop….
in the meantime, i’ve a new jug of cream in the fridge, and a whole stack of tuna tins there on the shelf.
whatever that ol’ cat desires, we’re here to attend to his every last whim. so long as he sticks around, and gives us reason to purr.
i happen to know for a fact that we’ve got some of the most dedicated creature keepers here at the table. i bump into one nearly each week at the farmers’ market, weighed down with her bushels of leafy greens. she has hardshells aplenty, some who are nearly 100 years old (and i am not kidding). the stories she tells about her deeply devoted ways nearly always have me in tears. maybe she’ll share a few here. you’ll be inspired. i promise. and anyone else with a story to tell about a sweet creature you love, and nursed back to vim and vigor, we’re listening…..
Guilty as charged! I’ve got plenty of stories just from this year, involving turtles and dog alike. But Thea’s is the most dramatic–her veterinarian gave a riveting (and graphic) PowerPoint presentation on the tortoise’s open-shell surgery at the last meeting of the Chicago Herpetological Society.
Thea is a grown gopher tortoise of indeterminate age whom I adopted from the CHS last December. Any turtle person who has had the good fortune to share a bit of his or her life with this species will tell you that gophers are among the most personable, outgoing, funny turtle species around. They are also hard to come by, so I was thrilled to get her. Thea had a bit of a runny nose–not a good thing in a turtle–so I took her to the vet. Being a new patient, Thea got the whole battery of diagnostic tests: blood draw, cultures, radiograph, etc. And being a big old gopher tortoise in a tribe that is prone to bladder stones–at least in the pet population–I was steeled for maybe a small bladder stone. Some years ago I lost a related species–the gopher’s Texas cousin–after bladder stone surgery, but that tortoise had been visibly ailing. Thea was so robust, that, other than a respiratory bug, I thought she was probably okay.
One look at the X-ray and I was almost on the floor. She had TWO HUGE bladder stones. And a fierce case of pneumonia, as evidenced from the cloudy gunk in her lungs. We went home loaded down with six medications, mostly antibiotics, and I had to go hunting for a nebulizer for her daily treatments of an inhalable antibiotic for six weeks. (This wonderful vet practices state-of-the-art exotic animal medicine.)
A week or two into all these treatments, Thea’s health crashed, and I made a midnight run in the rain to the emergency vet clinic that shares offices with my vet’s animal hospital. I really thought I was going to lose her, but after a week in the hospital, she had rallied and could come home. Along with everything else, the orders were to get her healthy enough to have those bladder stones removed. Thea stayed on injectable and inhalable antibiotics for several months (reptiles take longer). Throughout the spring and summer, she enjoyed the fruits and vegetables of the Evanston farmers market. She finally kicked the respiratory infection (although she will always have the bug), and on Sept. 1, she underwent four hours of open-shell surgery (opening the shell took two hours, gluing it back together took one).The vet had to cut through a 2-inch-by-4-inch section of her plastron, or lower shell, then lift it up like a flap. She found complications, including peritonitis. Turtles are tough, and like other wild critters, don’t let on that they’re sick until they are almost dead. We had no clue she had that infection. Still, the vet was very happy with the outcome: removing two stones, weighing a total of a pound, from a turtle who weighed 8 pounds going into the operation. I visited and brought Thea treats all but one day of the week she was hospitalized, and I marveled at her quick rebound. Swaddled in a lavender bandage with pink hearts, she took raspberries from me a day after the surgery. And as she ate, it was apparent all systems were go–a good thing considering the area of concern.
The section of shell that was cut through is covered with a resin patch, and the vet also attached two glides, front and back, to take pressure off the affected section of plastron. It will take one to two years for the shell to completely knit. Although her activities are no longer restricted, I watch her carefully, checking her nose for any telltale bubbling, wary of any change in appetite (she eats like a front-end loader). Blood tests during rechecks will tell if the vet flushed all the infection from her insides. Thea is not out of the woods, but she’s trudging toward a grassy clearing.
Has it been worth it? To Thea, absolutely–she seemed to savor her time in the spotlight at the CHS meeting, and she launches into her daily mound of greens, orange veggies, fruits and hay with gusto. Not dealing with her medical problems would have caused her a slow, horrifically painful death. I was in a position to try to keep that from happening. To this day, tears start flowing when I think about the tortoise–a friend for 31 years–who died three days after surgery in 1996.
But diagnostics, anesthetics, procedures and medications, including pain control, for exotic animals have advanced since then, and I was blessed to have just found a veterinarian skilled in this procedure. (In California, where a lot of people have pet desert tortoises–another cousin to the gophers–some vets do a bladder stone surgery almost weekly.) And the dear doctor is herself over the moon for gopher tortoises–the heart-studded bandage was such a giveaway!
Oh, BAM, how I’ve run over at the keys! For those who’ve made it this far in my ramble, with Thea it came down to she needs it, I’ve got a credit card, it’s got to get done. And once I embarked on her medical odyssey, the only way out was through.
And yes, among the other turtles, I have two ancient box turtles, one certainly 80+ years old, the other most probably. The End!
Friday, December 16, 2011 – 02:16 PM
is that not why we love the chair? for there are those among us who would feed raspberries to a recovering tortoise tied up in lavender scarf with pink hearts…….
be still my heart.
karen is someone who makes my jaw drop in awe. among the most dedicated to creatures large and ever so small. we could write a book about her.
blessings to karen and thea…….indeed!
Friday, December 16, 2011 – 02:40 PM
I was simply going to recount how my tuxedo cat was a little off balance, hard to jump up to the deep sill behind the kitchen sink. Then I noticed his tail was drooping, dragging on the floor. An x-ray at the vet (“specializing in cats and toy dogs” was his motto) revealed a broken tail. How in the world does a cat break his tail? Do we put it in a cast? No. We wait and watch as, day by day, the tail slowly rises like bread to its typical perky vertical. Karen’s turtle tale is much more exciting!
Your picture is so perfect. Cats do have a sunbeam-and-fleece-and-warmth magnet, don’t they?
Friday, December 16, 2011 – 09:13 PM
Many thanks, BAM. Let’s also bless the veterinarians–certainly a high calling–who must decipher the symptoms of those who cannot speak and treat myriad species, all as different as can be. Blessings on those who help dogs, cats, horses, farm animals, primates, elephants, lions, tigers, bears,whooping cranes, snowy owls, peregrine falcons, pigeons, sea turtles, sea otters, sea lions, seahorses, beluga whales, moray eels, frogs and even corals. We know now that they are all sentient beings, great and small, and veterinary medicine is zooming ahead to embrace and treat them all, for aches, breaks, contusions and cancer. What did Dr. Albert Schweitzer say about measuring our level of civilization by the way the way we treat animals?
Friday, December 16, 2011 – 09:33 PM
wait, wait, nother barb, you had/have a cat with a BROKEN TAIL?!?!?! oh my goodness. i have never ever heard of such a thing. this is getting to be QUITE a collection of tales here at the table. i love karen’s long list of reasons to love vets. i want to be a snowy owl vet. have i mentioned that after years of wishing wishing for an owl to move into the ‘hood (what more perfect note to add to the tableau?) i think i might have been hearing a WHOOOOOOO softly, from not too far a distance, off and on in recent weeks.
please let us know if your cat’s tail rises, like a good sourdough, once again….
my dear cat is hobbling still, way more than i had hoped we’d see by now…..kinda worrying whether there is something more beneath the little nibbles…..
Saturday, December 17, 2011 – 11:11 AM
Yes, I don’t know how he broke his tail. One can only imagine! It was ‘way up into his back, so if we were to cast it he would have been immobilized from the midsection down, and the outcome would have been the same. And not nearly as much fun as watching the tail rise like a weatherstick! Accident-prone, he also sprained his paw when chasing the cocker spaniel next door, but the spaniel jumped over a raised manhole and Kit got stranded somehow on top, and, well, sprained his ankle. That was a few cats ago, 30 in people years. I loved Karen’s reasons for loving vets! My son’s old soccer coach’s wife is a vet . . . at a ZOO! Just as domestic pet vets rely on the owners to speak for their pets, zoo vets must rely on keepers, who surely observe and commiserate with the animals just as we do. One chilly Thanksgiving, our scout troop visited the circus, first stopping by the elephant’s tent where our Cubmaster’s brother is the keeper. The boys could see how a love for animals can take you anywhere!
Sadly, we cannot always do it all for our friends. Just about a year ago we were unable to determine what was wrong with our dear cat, could not have paid the enormous fees to send her to specialists, all the while with her shivering with cold and more. But our hearts and hearth were opened up to receive two young cats who had recently lost the caregiver who had rescued them from the dumpster. They are inspecting their first Christmas tree now, and enjoying hiding out behind it, pretending they are lions on the savannah. They have yet to stalk and snare any ornaments, but the season is still young. Ooh, I think tonight’s reading will have to be Cleveland Amory’s “The Cat Who Came for Christmas”.
And, of course, Sheryl DeVore has already confirmed your suspicions about snowy owls swooping lakeside!
I once felt a shadow float over me, looked up to catch an owl gliding silently into the trees. They are magnificent and magical! (That brings to mind how, a year after our move, I finally unpacked the last box, only to find my dear son’s science project: a poster about owls and, er, owl pellets. With samples. We PAID to move that box. And it brings to mind being outside with a kitty as she gazed up intently. Gazing down just as intently, was a hawk. Kitty was toted inside. Better the hawk should save our porch from the chipmunks burrowing beneath.
What do we love most: the warmth, the smiles, the memories, or the stories we collect? I hope your hobblin’ cat is trottin’ again soon, tail raised high.
Sunday, December 18, 2011 – 07:26 PM
ahh, bless this table and these tales, er, tails. this is a particularly rich round of story collecting, and i am licking it from the saucer. xoxoxo
Monday, December 19, 2011 – 09:12 PM
[…] character here at the chair over the years) the hunter (2007); starting the goodbye (2010); when the cat comes limping home (2011); and “will he make it […]