I haven’t called the vet yet.
The cat was sick when I got home. She had been sick for days, vomiting since Thursday. The person I had felt trustworthy and competent enough to watch my house and cat for a month proved otherwise as the amount of vomiting and distress is revealed. Can a cat lose a quarter of her weight in three days?
She doesn’t seem in grave distress when I get home, rubbing my leg and wanting food. I put the food away and my thoughts wrench away from New York and what to do next with life to finding a vet open on Memorial Day Sunday. My thoughts run to upset stomach, a virus, the kind of vet visit where money is spent and the cat is better and another blip dissolves into the daily foam.
The vet touches and pokes and doesn’t have anything definitive to say. The cat is left for medications, administering fluids. An hour later I get a call from the vet herself. She is not the collected image of medical authority. Did she get into anything poisonous? Toxic? The cat projectile vomited a large volume of green glop. She had never seen that before. Xrays show something going on but nothing distinct. She says they’re not equipped for this and to take her to the 24 hour vet hospital. A friend goes with me, taking the cat and blood and urine vials. The hospital can run them faster.
The hospital is a large segment of a commercial strip office park, leafy and green, across the street from the giant blue Ikea moonbase, its massive yellow-lettered sign a beacon to its homeworld. The vet tech checks us in efficiently, takes the cat away and eventually shows us to the little exam room, where we sit and wait on the hard chairs. Exam rooms have long been something other than what they are to me, since my own illness ten years ago, since my other cat. It is a space where time builds up, or flows around, while you wait for The Doctor to come. So far, The Doctor has saved only me. The time bunching up or flowing around is the worst narcissist and cares only about itself. People say time robs us of so much, but the truth is it can’t be bothered.
The vet comes, a younger woman with long dirty blond hair. Her air is of competence and humanity which I feel is a good combination for handing medical distress. There is discussion of possibilities, treatments, what could be wrong. I am fortunate for my friend who is better able to process it all. The vet suspects pancreatitis after a quick ultrasound shows no blockages, foreign bodies. Somehow it’s decided the cat would do just as well at home and a more thorough ultrasound on Tuesday. It is Sunday evening.
The long week begins. The cat a little better, a little more comfortable, sampling a little tuna water or broth, but then vomiting even with the drugs to prevent it. She looks a little happier and more comfortable, then does not at all. The Tuesday ultrasound has been mis-scheduled and my friend and I are in Renton when we need to be in north Seattle. There is a storm of phone calls to find someplace else to go, something to do. The northside branch of the hospital calls back and tells us to come–they will fit us in. The radiologist diagnoses pancreatitis for sure, which is really of no help: there is no treatment besides supportive therapy, no cause, no real understanding by medical science. It’s serious but most cats recover. No promises. Honesty is added to competence and humanity. After this a visit to my usual clinic for fluids, shots to stop barfing, to cut stomach acid. She seems better, she seems not better.
I had another cat, older, rescued from the shelter first. Sometime in his fifth year he started vomiting, then straining to have bowel movements. The expensive cat-only internal medicine vet down the street calls it idiopathic megacolon. The cat’s colon just doesn’t work. We begin rounds of treatments and drugs to work around it, but they’re not really workable after a year. When I am at my sickest and working only a part-time job a few days a week, I am in the little white exam room with the vet, another big, kind but fretty guy who really likes the cat and who once had a cat with something similar. He takes pity on me and gets the price down on surgery. I think we spend a thousand bucks on having the cat’s colon removed. Apparently cats can get by without a colon, and he does. Another five or six years of normalcy and then the vomiting starts again. In the end we are at a 24 hour vet hospital and that is where that story ends. I realized only yesterday that was three years ago this month, sometime. I unpacked his little box of ashes when we moved. I put it away quickly.
Thursday the cat seems better: looks better, walks a little more normally, lies comfortably, eats a couple teaspoons of food. No vomiting by early afternoon and I feel good enough to do some hiking I promised myself. The world is strange, not New York at all–even the mountains small and without energy. It’s a hard walk up the little mountain and I think about the future, what to do now, how things are changing, how I feel better physically than I have since…I don’t know when. I realize my thoughts and mood is very different–still not complete, but moving ahead. Some new drugs are working, a little bit every day. This image doesn’t capture it, but imagine yourself returned from somewhere else, ready and moving ahead, feeling better about things:
She’s vomited when I get back. I don’t know how long before. She doesn’t look good. I’m calling my friend in the middle of the night and we take her back to the 24 hour vet hospital and admit her.
Somehow I sleep, a little. I feel abandoned and alone with only vet invoices and empty orange prescription bottles. The sun shines and it is warm and I know even less where I am.
The reports are that she is stable. The vet on yesterday seems to say she’s getting worse or under more stress, but emphasizes it’s still very early and she’s not as sick as his own cat was. I visit her at 11 last night, after the woman with her dual idiot sheepdogs and pretty brown-haired woman with her pug are taken back. I am put in a little room and wait with the little room echoes. The vet tech is the same one who checked her in and stays to talk a minute. She says she’s been doing well, hasn’t vomited. I’ll take it. The cat is curled up in a little box. She likes little boxes she doesn’t quite fit in. She drools and I think above the dread and panic she’s going to vomit and take that little victory away right in front of me, but it’s just drool, and it stops. She’s interested in the table and the little room, but not really me. Typical. She settles in a corner of the countertop and I pet her. Last night she purred. She doesn’t now, but squeezes her eyes, and seems to like it. When I go a different tech comes, says it’s all about one day at a time. This deflates me for some reason. I go home in the empty Friday streets wondering how they can be so empty, so blank, when across the country they are jammed with light and taxis and people.
Somehow I sleep. I am dead tired and wake up early to ignorance. Do you have this, a little window of time when you aren’t conscious and nothing hurts but you know you are not asleep? And then memory comes and everything is what it was, and you are somehow just as tired but not quite.
My father calls. I called yesterday but several messages didn’t go through. He is at the woodpile marveling at the year’s first cold front. I like talking to my father. He tells me the same things as everybody else. You are doing all you can. You have to not feel guilty about it. Well, you know what to do: you dig down in your pocket and you pay the money. I imagine him in the straggly, unkempt lot behind the house, the stunted trees and grass sun-fried to nothing after a Texas summer, but the morning light and nearly unbelievable with cool. No stormy convulsions as I’d expect–just bright and cool. Just go out and do something, get your mind off it, know you’re doing all you can and she’s getting the best you can give her. That’s all you can do. So I guess it’s go eat your Post Toasties or whatever you do and call the vet and see what they say.
Seattle is sunny, two hours earlier than him. It will be hot for here today, but dry. A broad V of geese float by, centered right in my window, headed soundlessly north.
I had breakfast almost two hours ago, but wanted to write this. In New York we talked about paying ourselves first. This is my payment for the day. I am calling the vet now.
Do all vets have hold music that sounds like Vince Guaraldi? Snoopy dances to the vamping piano….
The vet is one I haven’t heard before, and she speaks in the frustrating medical professional mode of negative and frightening developments and possibilities intermixed with neutral or positive news. Taking notes as I listen and she speaks quickly, it’s almost impossible to understand why they’re talking about cancer when the steroids are for inflammation. In the end, the news is that they tried steroids last night and the cat feels much better: voluble, interacting, walking around. In fact, as the vet is speaking the cat is reaching through the cage bars and messing with the notes. It’s suggested I come visit and try to get her to eat.
In the bright late summer morning it’s suddenly easier to breathe, but the weight lifted is uncertain. It sounds good but who knows how good good is, but it is hopeful. I call and text friends. I want to go and don’t want to go. This process is wrenching and exhausting. It’s hard to see through the blur to write this.
At the vet, the cat is talkative and restless in a positive way. Being stuck in a kennel cage is boring and this is a new room to check out. She won’t eat but wants to sit on the plastic bag I brought the food cans in. She walks around the room, sniffing, eyes a little too wide–not quite normal, but far better than the last few days. Eventually she settles on the plastic bag, curled loosely, purring as I pet her.
When I go I feel better, but the doubt has crept in. She still isn’t eating and they may have to put a tube down her nose, at the worst. It seems as if something is being held out, but I can’t tell if it’s reflection or a dream. Maybe it’s real. I don’t know. I am glad I talked to my Dad.