Cat-astrophe

My mom was visiting last week for some time with her granddaughter. While she was here, she proudly claimed she “fixed” my cat’s dietary issue. Three thousand dollars later, the cat came home from the hospital.

And boy, are my arms tired.

Sorry, don’t know how to punch that particular line. Line that particular punch? How does one verbify punchline?

Sorry, where was I? Oh, right. My mother almost killed my cat.

In her defense, we didn’t know what she was doing was wrong. However, the problem wouldn’t have gotten quite as acute, or cost me quite as much money, if grandma were not visiting.

My cat is eighteen years old, far past the life expectancy for one of his ilk. One of the few twentieth century kitties still roaming around. He’s been with me from my mid-twenties into my mid, um early forties. Through six moves and six “roommates,” if you count wife and child as roomies.

In fact, he is the longest-tenured roommate in my life, surpassing my mom. I moved away to college one month shy of my eighteenth birthday. The cat came to live with me, small enough to fit in my hand, in November 1999. So last November, he had been living with me for eighteen years, one month longer than I lived with my mom.

No, I don’t think she was taking it out on him.

The cat hasn’t been fully healthy for a few years now. He has trouble keeping down food. Lots of kitty vomit around the house. Thankfully I’ve got a toddler, too, so we can just wait until they’re both done and replace the carpets. Of course, he’s always hungry because he pukes up what he just ate. If Oprah still had a show, she’d probably book him for a very special kitty-bulimia episode.

Despite always whining at his bowl for food, he’s really not a fan of cat food. He’s never liked the dry shit (his words), but more recently, he’s not a fan of the wet food, either. He’ll take two or three bites and leave the rest for the other cat to hoover. Then Old Dude counter-surfs for human food. He’s pretty spry for an old dude, especially when I’m sitting at the kitchen table trying to enjoy my own goddamn food that I had to work pretty goddamn hard for, cat, so maybe you best go get your own fucking job if you really want to eat your own goddamn taco meat.

At his last weigh-in, before the tuna incident, he was down to nine pounds, which isn’t particularly healthy. Meanwhile, the other cat in the house has ballooned up to fourteen pounds. We’re now under instructions to make Fatty lose weight. Do you know how hard it is to make one cat eat more while making the other one eat less?

So when my mom decided to feed him some tuna while I was at work, I didn’t think much of it. She said he liked it and she was going to feed him more tuna the next day. Sure, Mom, more power to ya.  

Oh, did I mention he’s been diagnosed with kidney problems? And the worst thing for bad kidneys is a lot of protein? There isn’t any protein in tuna, is there?

Of course, he was diagnosed with kidney issues four years ago, which was the first time I ran a blood panel on him. The vet said his kidney levels were a little elevated and I might want to do something about it. It’s good to know that animal doctors are just as vague as human doctors. A little elevated? What the fuck does that mean?

We opted out of any specific kidney-related diet or behavioral changes that year. Said we’d fix his diet and make him do little kitty aerobics and make sure he never went outside and, I don’t know, make him floss more. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to say when you’re being chastised in a doctor’s office?

The following year, they ran another panel and came back with the same answer: slightly elevated kidney functions. Alright fine, the flossing didn’t work. Speaking of flossing, the poor bugger actually had to have a tooth removed that year. He’s down to three of the good teeth left. It hasn’t affected his ability to eat, but it has given him a really gnarly Billy Idol sneer.

But this time, we figured he was fifteen and showed no interest in getting a driver’s permit, so we might as well splurge and get him the kidney diet. And wouldn’t you know it, the skinny cat that is very finicky about what he eats… didn’t like the kidney food. He had a tendency to avoid it and then, when forced to munch on the day-old crap in his bowl, proceeded to vomit it back up.

Meanwhile, Fatty has some of the best kidneys you’ve ever seen in a five-year old cat. You could eat off of those fuckers.

When we took him back for his Sweet Sixteen checkup, wouldn’t you know it, his kidney values were a little up. At this point, we figured fuck it. Whether we give him the good shit or the bad shit, he’s going to get the “D-” in kidney class. Dude’s sixteen years old, so let him enjoy life. Let him eat what he wants to eat.

Except maybe not tuna.

A couple days into grandma’s week-long visit, I noticed he was walking a little wobbly, but whatever, he’s eighteen now, I’m surprised he’s not using a walker by now.

The diarrhea was a bit off-putting (in MANY ways – the bed comforter will never be the same). And by the time my mom left, it was clear that he was not just having a senior moment. There was something clearly wrong with him. He was dehydrated, which you wouldn’t think you can spot in a cat, but you can. He was having trouble walking up stairs. When he tried to sit, he splayed out with his back legs, then flopped. When he face-planted in front of the water bowl, I didn’t think he’d ever get up. I lifted him and there was almost nothing there. When we got him to the vet the next morning, he weighed at seven pounds, and I think that was being generous. Two pounds may not sound like that much of a difference, but it was a quarter of his already-depleted body weight.

The first thing the vet said when they saw him was that they didn’t think they had what he needed at their place. He was going to need a legitimate animal hospital. Of course, they still ran $350 worth of tests.

If you guessed “elevated kidney functions,” give yourself a gold star.

By the end of the day, he was in the hospital. The new vets commented on the lack of detail in the previous blood work. “It would be nice to know how far ‘off the charts’ his BUN is.” I agree.

The new vets decided to hydrate him. I could’ve told them he needed that. Then again, I wouldn’t’ve had a fucking clue HOW to hydrate an animal that chooses if and when he will drink water. I learned that, even at the best of times, cats don’t hydrate themselves enough.  It’s not like with humans, where you can just spike the water with some Crystal Light or EmergenC or lime or vodka to get them to drink more.

Wait, I’m not supposed to be hydrating myself with vodka? No wonder my marathon training’s stalled out.

They gave my cat electrolytes. It’s what cats crave!

They also wanted to keep him for forty-eight to seventy-two hours to see if any of the treatments were working.

Our initial deposit was three thousand dollars. Yikes. I knew it would be expensive. We have an odd sense of what medical procedures cost in this country because they are usually paid by an insurance company.  Many people are surprised that a quadruple bypass heart surgery actually costs a bit more than the $20 copay. And the rest of us that are on the same insurance plan as you would really love it if you put that last chicken wing down next time, cause our premiums keep going up.

So I know that services cost money, and if this place is going to staff around the clock, said staff needs to be paid. Particularly those staff of the veterinary PhD style. Not too mention all the shots and specialty food and supplements can’t just be covered by some random government MediCat bureaucracy.

That being said, $500 for an ultrasound seems excessive. Pretty sure my cat isn’t pregnant.

Can’t I just get Kaiser or Blue Cross to pay for it? Or maybe claim it as a tax deduction? Animals can now be classified as therapy necessities. Isn’t keeping them alive, then, a psychological necessity. Can I at least claim moving expenses since he had to live in the hospital for a few days?

This is where my cat might want to give extra bonus purrs to his mommy in the future, because the asshole father that he’s been living with for eighteen years was ready to cut bait and run. It’s not that I’m miserly or heartless. Had I received a guarantee that he would survive, I would’ve happily paid it.

Okay, maybe not happily, but I would’ve paid it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good gamble. If they had said, “Pay the three grand and your cat has a seventy to eighty percent chance of survival,” I would’ve jumped at it. But the “pay three grand and it might not do a damn thing,” is a bit of a hard sell. Can I at least hedge my bets?

So my first instinct was to remind my wife and myself that he’s an eighteen year old cat. Hell, we could give him a kidney transplant, a brand spanking-new robotic Kidneytron 3000, and he still might die from a hairball in two weeks. It’s not like we resuscitate people on death row or anyth… Wait, we do? Oh, for fuck’s sake, can I just charge my cat with some special circumstances?

So we ponied up the three grand to get our seventy-two hours of hospice care before having the awkward conversation with our daughter. Hey, at least the kitty hospital had 24-hour visitation rights. I don’t think many human hospitals have that kind of compassion and understanding. On the first night, we visited the cat only to find him still heavily sedated from his visit to the first vet, even though it was ten hours or more since the administration of said sedatives. They just escorted us into the cage area to give him some pets that he did not seem to notice.

By the evening of day two, they were able to put us in a little family-visit room before ushering him in like a prisoner being granted a conjugal visit. They even brought his dinner, hoping that seeing his family would bring his appetite around. He scarfed down the food, showing no interest in the water. Woo-hoo!  His demeanor was a bit trepidatious at first. Then he became ornery. I cringed when he tried to leap down from the steel table-tray they had put him on, despite still having a PICC in his front leg. I intervened and lowered him down to the floor myself, and he walked over to stare forlornly out the window. Did I mention it felt like a prison visit?

This was the first point that I started to think the three thousand might not be going to waste. Because this pissed-off stare, accompanied by a “are you shitting me?” meow is precisely the way my cat of the last seventeen years would react. Not the lethargic wraith of the past few days. He was pissed at being cooped up inside. Now he was saying, “if you could just put me on the opposite of this goddamned window, I’ll find my own fucking way home, thank you very much, and if you want to be helpful, you could have some goddamned dinner ready for me when I get there because I might have to kick some fucking ass while en route.”

Just no tuna.

His magical numbers in his blood had come down a bit the next day, but were still very high. Of course, not having a baseline, it was hard to say how close these numbers were to the normal “elevated kidney functions” he had been coping with just fine for four years. We were given the option of taking him home or keeping him in for one more night to see if the professionals could bring them down any more. Since we hadn’t used up all of the deposit, we were playing with house money anyway. Sure! Keep him one more night. And lets buy a round of Alpo for the house while we’re at it.

Day three brought more or less the same results as day two. Meh. It’s not like that $750 would’ve gone to anything more worthwhile.

We arranged a pick-up, which ended up being delayed a half-hour or so because all five visitation rooms were occupied. Saturday night’s alright for fighting, huh, frisky folks? Bow-chicka-wow-wow.

Oh, and we still hadn’t used up our initial mark. Seventy bucks coming back our way! Woo-hoo! Don’t call it a comeback!

Kitty’s back home and all is right with the world.

Except for the home care element. We have to do is make him take a pill every day.

And shoot some white liquid down his gullet after every time he eats. He hates it. Scratches and bites the shit out of me and my wife. Half the cream ends up on his fur, he spits the other half of it out. It looks like the culminating scene in a… uh… genre of movies that often have punny titles about shafts or moistness or… college coeds.

We’re supposed to feed him and shoot our wad down his throat once every eight hours. Not sure how feasible that is in a dual-income family. And if we hadn’t been a dual-income family, I doubt we would’ve made it this far into the process.

We also get to hydrate him subcutaneously. I hoped that meant a pill, or worse case scenario, we fill a syringe with a couple ounces of water. Until they rolled in the IV stand like it’s a goddamned cancer ward. Turns out we have to put 100 milliliters a day. One of those IV bags is a liter, so we have to get a tenth of that bag into him each night. We have to use a different needle every night. We didn’t have a standard needle depository like you get from the human hospitals, paid for by insurance companies, or from f=your friendly-neighborhood drug dealer. So we’re putting the discarded needles in an empty Baskin-Robbins quart. Can’t wait to explain that needle collection to CPS.

Fortunately, you can lift the skin on a cat’s back and they don’t feel the needle going in. Unfortunately, it takes a couple minutes to get the 100 mL in, and cats aren’t known for sitting still when you want them to. After I take the needle out, he’ll sit still for the next three hours, but as soon as it’s in his back, he has the burning desire to waddle over to the other side of the couch.

I’ve also noticed (or at least my bloodied hands and forearms have noticed) that the cat tends to be less amenable to the injected-water thingy on the second or third day in a row. I think the initial vet said most customers only to the subcutaneous fluids two-to-three times a week. Having poked my own hand when he bolted out last night, that sounds like a capital idea. Now where the hell is that Baskin-Robbins quart, so I can dump the feline-and-human-stained needle?

The vet tech said that sometimes the needle will go through two layers of skin and you’ll be dumping water out the other side. That happened on our third attempt. She said all I had to do was pull back on the needle a bit and it would be back inside him. Nope. Then I was just spraying the water all over the initial opening. That was fun. I tried to re-engage, but the sweet spot was even harder to find when it was surrounded by matted fur and a very cantankerous, wet, pussy cat.

Just like those movies I was talking about! Just kidding, just kidding. I would never compare my cat to a…

Oh, who am I kidding? He’s been sedated, had things shoved in his mouth, and has more needle holes than a crack whore. Is there really any line of work he could go into other than prostitute or porn star? Maybe it’s time for him to start earning back some of that precious coin.

After all, he’s eighteen years old. I  hear there’s quite a market for that age.

Bouncing Birthday Bacchanal

Just went to my first children’s birthday party, and… Holy schnikey, y’all!

This wasn’t the first birthday party my daughter, nor my wife, had gone to. This was the first one, however, when I couldn’t find something more important and painless, like a root canal, to skip it for. I’ve already had my vasectomy, so either I show up to this one or I admit I’m a horrible father. I’ll have plenty of other chances to do the latter as the years go by, so I might as well go to this party.

Also, my daughter is approaching the big four-oh. Not forty, but four. Oh! I’m going to have to be present for that one, too, so I figured this was a good chance to do some advance scouting. It turns out that a middle-aged man randomly showing up to watch a bunch of little kids frolic and play is frowned upon.

The first few birthdays my daughter went to were at other kids’ houses. The kids in question put invitations in her cubby at daycare, so I guess we’re counting them as “school friends.” I don’t know whether my daughter was specifically targeted or whether it was a “Just put an invitation in everybody’s cubby.” Again, this is key intelligence we need before our own child’s birthday.

My daughter’s other recent birthday party was for the child of my wife’s friend. Not sure if it’s an upgrade or a downgrade to go from “school friend” to “forced friend.” I’ve seen pictures from my fourth birthday party, and it was attended by a whopping three other kids, all of whom were children of my mom’s friends and who I had virtually nothing in common with by the time second grade rolled around.

Still had to play with them through sixth grade, though. What is the magic age when you finally get to invite only the people you want to your party? Five? Ten? Sweet Sixteen?

Hold on, I’ve planned a wedding before – the answer is you NEVER get to only invite the people you want.

The party I went to last weekend was that of a girl from our neighborhood. My daughter plays with her at the local park. My wife and her mother coordinate via Facebook Messenger. How did my mother accomplish these things in the 1970s? They must have just shot signal flares up into the air when en route to the park. It’s either that or, GASP!, plan in advance, and who the hell has the wherewithal to do that? What happened if my mom had pre-booked a park visit and I wanted to binge-watch an extra episode of “Sesame Street?” Oh yeah, we only had three channels and they all showed soap operas during the days. Never mind.

The first thing I noticed about this particular party was the number of children present. My rough estimate was the high forties. How does a five-year old know fifty people? My wife and I were in our late-thirties when we got married, and we only managed to get close to a hundred guests. And again, most of those people we didn’t really want to invite.

Except for you. If you’re reading this and were at my wedding, you were TOTALLY on the good list.

Allegedly this girl got fifty people at her birthday party by inviting all of the kids in her daycare class. So maybe I was right about the invitations we’ve got. It’s like Valentine’s Day, when even the freak in the class gets the generic Flintstones Yabba-Dabba-Heart card.

But this fact, by itself, doesn’t equate to the cacophony of children that were there. We’ve had some birthday “invites” stuck in my kid’s cubby that we didn’t feel inclined to attend. Usually we ask our daughter if she gives a shit about the kid in question. At other times, she never even needs to know that the freaky kid that still watches “The Flintstones” is having a party this weekend. If she has a problem, she can fucking learn to read.

So maybe this kid with the fifty friends has some secret draw. Maybe she’s the candy pusher in the club. Maybe she has a future in wedding-list design. Or maybe the norms at her particular daycare are more stringent than at ours. Her party was at 10:00 in the morning, and she was scheduled to be at another kid’s birthday party at 4:00 that afternoon. Maybe the whole Stepford-lot of them were going to follow the same path throughout the ‘burbs like some goddamned Hale-Bopp Comet.

Let’s do the math. If the contingent is fifty kids, there’s only fifty-two weeks in the year. Take out some of the major holidays and they probably have to schedule two kids each Saturday. Hell, our neighbor-kid’s real birthday might not even be until mid-July, but this was the weekend she pulled in the birthday party lottery.

What kind of daycare has fifty kids in a class, anyway? State law says there shouldn’t be more than sixteen kids per adult, so unless they’re in some multi-purpose room with five adults casing the perimeter, there shouldn’t be that many kids.

So maybe what was really bringing fifty kids together was the location. This particular party was held at a place called Bounce U. Like its name implies, this business is a giant warehouse with a shit-ton of inflatable bounce houses inside. The warehouse was divided into two rooms, each with four or five inflatable bounce houses. Our party just under thirty minutes in the first room, then moved onto the second room while, presumably, another group of hopped-up ought-somethings piled into room number one behind us. Twenty to thirty minutes later, the well-oiled machine deposited us into a party room for pizza and cake. Three groups in the business at a time, one more congregating in the lobby area, and never the twain shall meet. I guess it’s more than a twain, put quadrain ain’t as poetic.

Seriously, it was flawless. Disneyland could probably learn a thing or two from this company about each group thinking they have the run of the place.

Our particular group had two “Party Pros” assigned to us. Their shirts say “Party Pro” on the back. They’re, like, fifteen years old. I was skeptical at precisely how much partying they had on their professional resume. Talk to me when you’ve graduated from bounce houses to keg stands.

When we finished the cycle and were preparing to leave, I saw three or four more “Party Pros” in the front lobby, waiting for the parties that they were about to go all pro on. None of them cracked eighteen. In fact, I don’t think I saw an employee of legal voting age the entire day. The logical part of me knows there must be an adult supervisor somewhere, some shadowy silhouette behind a one-way mirror like the creepy banker in “Deal or No Deal,” but I never saw any definitive evidence.

When the children were in the rooms with the giant inflatables, it was a study in groupthink and societal interaction standards. All of the children would swarm toward one bounce house. Five minutes later, they would all go on to the next one, leaving the previous Mecca looking more like Chernobyl. At any given time, there would be thirty-plus kids on one inflatable, while at least one other one was not being used at all.

I kept looking for the one kid to buck the trend, but he or she never arrived. No future real estate mogul who would lay claim to the dessert oasis inflatable, knowing that it would soon blossom into the next Las Vegas.

Can anything really blossom into Vegas? Is there a word for growing into degradation? MardiGras’ing?

Remember that scene in “A Beautiful Mind,” where he analogized some scientific theory to hitting on women at the bar? That all the molecules swarm toward the hot chick? I think that was the point. And the kid never grew up. That was the whole movie, right?

Anyway, instead of a bar at happy hour, the schizo scientist could’ve just gone to a kid’s birthday party at Bounce U. The untapped potential of perfectly viable viaducts was on regular display. Only at the birthday party, it wasn’t even the hot chick that all the molecules were going toward. It was whatever bounce house the hive-mind deigned worthy at that particular moment.

“Seriously, kid. The slide RIGHT NEXT DOOR, with three kids on it, works the exact same as the one you’re waiting in a line with thirty other kids for right now. Don’t believe me? Check back with me in four minutes.

The worst case scenario was in the second room. If they make “A Beautifuller Mind,” the whole damn movie could take place in this five hundred square feet. One inflatable in this room had an Ultimate-Ninja/Most-Extreme-Championship-style “jump across the giant balls without falling off” course. It was the only inflatable with a rule, which was “only one person on a ball at a time.” There were three balls, so the most you could have on the “course” at any time was three. More often it was one or two, as somebody would have fallen off or some kid was standing petrified on the second ball, contemplating a two-foot leap like he’s Indiana Jones about to pull the skull idol off the pressure plate.

Meanwhile, there would be ten kids lined up on the ledge, ready to take the first leap. Okay, maybe not “lined up,” but “clumped up.” You’ve seen youth soccer, right? Regardless, at any moment there were four times more kids waiting to jump than actually jumping. Nothing like waiting in line for five minutes in order to have ten seconds of fun. I guess we’re preparing them for Disneyland, huh?

And while these kids spent eighty percent of their time waiting for the ball jump, three other bounce houses went virtually unused. There was a pretty cool mountain-shaped bouncer, getting steeper as it rose, no handles. Like going up a slide, but a slide in the form of a very malleable bounce house, where you’re guaranteed to not reach the top and will instead slide back down in an orgiastic bouncefest. Or at least that’s how I assume it would have worked, because I never actually saw a kid use it. All the kids were too busy standing not-so-patiently on the ledge next to the ball jump. Maybe it’s reserved for the single adult employee.

As for my kid? She just followed the birthday girl around. Painfully so. At one point, they were supposed to make a “silly face” for a group picture. She turned to look at what face the birthday girl was making, then made the same face. Sigh. She’s a bit of a follower.

In her defense, the birthday girl was the only person she knew there. But my wife claims she followed the same M.O. at  the other birthday parties she went to. At her last one, there were five kids from her daycare class, but she still followed the birthday girl around.  Hell, her “bestie” only has that designation because she was the first one to invite my daughter to one of these shindigs. Daughter followed her around the whole party, decided they were best friends, and only now, a year later, is she starting to realize that their personalities aren’t all too compatible.

Wife’s not happy about this particular aspect of daughter’s personality. Not too happy about it myself, but for different reasons. Wife can’t stand it because it’s so opposite of how she engaged with others as a child. I, on the other hand, see a mirror upon my own upbringing.

And by “upbringing,” I mean everything up through last week or so. Never been the social butterfly. Put me in a large group of people where I only know one person, and I’m probably only talking to that one person.

It kinda sucks seeing the worst parts of your personality manifested in a three-year old who doesn’t even know she’s supposed to bury that shit. At least I’ve grown enough so, if said person is the person of honor, I won’t incessantly follow them around. I’ll probably just sit in the corner, check the scores of the game, and nurse my beer.

My daughter doesn’t really have those options, and someone sitting in the corner without beer and sports on the TV is probably just a freak.

Maybe I need to load her some “Flintstones” cartoons.