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.

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