Monday, May 13, 2013

When Furry Babies Cry

Last night, after we got back from a Mother's Day dinner over at Kyle's parents, we plopped down on the couch like we always do. Kyle flipped through the channels and found something to watch on DVR while I finished up a freelance project.

I didn't notice that my cat, Eve, wasn't sitting behind me on the couch like she does every night.

By the time I made my way upstairs, Kyle was in bed, almost asleep. I started my evening routine, and as I was brushing my teeth, I heard a hiss come from our bedroom. Then a low howl, like a cat in heat, or one in pain. Then the same thing, again. I ran into the bedroom to see what was going on. Kyle (who, most days, could care less about the cat) was upright, and I was just confused. "Where is she? What's going on?" I asked. Kyle pointed to the closet.

Eve was in there with her head down in one of my shoes. She wouldn't look at me, so I very carefully bent down to see her face. It was puffy, probably twice its normal size — she's a very petite kitty — one eye was swollen shut, there was a dried steam of blood under her nose, and it sounded like she was having trouble breathing. She also smelled, well, infected.

Of course, I freaked out. Eve is my baby. I've had her since I was 18. I got her when I was working in a church office in New York City's West Village. One of the parishioners — who was quite literally a crazy cat man — heard I was looking to adopt a cat. This man owned a beautiful Tribeca loft that took up the entire floor of a building, but the only things visible in the whole place were stacks of newspapers and cats. So many cats. He rescued them, apparently. But instead of finding them new homes, for the most part, he just let them live among his other cats (and their collective stench) and the newspapers (which, when stacked high, were actually great scratching surfaces). But Eve was different. For some reason, he thought I should have her. I did, too, even though, at six months, she was completely feral and wouldn't even let me touch her.

The first two weeks I had her, she never came out from under the bed, at least not when I was home. Eventually, she let me pet her, but if I touched her in the wrong spot — which was anywhere on the back half of her body — she'd scratch or bite me. Over the years, she got more comfortable with me, and when I was lounging, would hop up on the bed or couch, though never in my lap.

Everything was always on Eve's terms. If she wanted to be petted, she would let me know by nudging her head against my hand or shoulder, or, if I were asleep, gently sticking her claws in my face to wake me up. The only thing she couldn't control was moving, but she sure did try. Eve has lived in nine different homes with me, eight apartments and one house. That's seven trips in the carrier — which always ended with me looking like I'd botched a suicide attempt — and one three-day journey from Brooklyn to Kansas City in the back of a U-Haul. 

Not long after arriving in KC, I adopted Jack, a Beagle-German Shepherd mix, as far as anyone can tell. Eve didn't want anything to do with him, but he was determined to play and get a good whiff of her butt whenever she passed by.

One day, when Eve decided she wanted to try Jack's food, he tried to ward her off with a growl and a nip. He ended up with a clawed-up face and no control over his own food bowl (I remedied the situation by feeding them at the same time after that) or much else when it came to Eve.

But last night, Eve wasn't in control. I'd seen her sacred, but in the 13 years I've had her, she's always had some fight in her. I think that's what scared me most, the fact that she just seemed so helpless. So, I called the 24-hour emergency vet's office near our house. Without seeing her, they couldn't tell me anything, so I went downstairs to get the carrier... which turned out to be a terrible idea. Getting her into that thing was always beyond stressful for both of us, and my half attempt to get her in there let me know she actually did have some fight in her. Being the Lady MacGyver that I am, dumped out the contents of a laundry basket, put her in it, and taped a box on top in case she tried to climb out. It looked pretty janky, but we didn't have far to go and she wasn't making any attempts to escape.

As soon as we arrived at the animal ER, the staff was super helpful; it was a much better experience than any human emergency room visit I can recall. The technician immediately took her back, and the receptionist explained to me exactly what they'd do, and why it was best if I stayed in the waiting room. I agreed completely — my presence would just cause poor Eve (and poor me) more stress.

Within about 20 minutes, the doctor came out to talk to me. Apparently Eve had suffered some sort of trauma to her face —an altercation with another animal, an insect bite or sting, or something else — and that it could have happened any time within the last few days. (Though I try to keep her inside because I think she's going deaf, she still sneaks out every now and then, and there are lots of stray cats in this neighborhood. And possums. Disgusting, awful possums.)

The next step, he said, would be to put her under, shave her face and try to find the source of the infection.

I felt like such a shitty cat mom asking how much it would cost. "It starts around $350," he told me. The visit alone was already going to cost me $83.

"And can I set up payments?" I asked.

"No, all services would need to be paid for tonight," he said.

I had the cash. But that was a lot of cash. And once he found the source of the problem, it could have cost hundreds more to fix it.

"And if I don't opt for that, is she in any danger of dying, or will she be in a lot of pain? Is there another way to treat it?"

He assured me that she wouldn't die, or be in any more pain if he started her on pain medication. If she didn't get better in a few days, he told me, I could just take her to our regular vet for further examination. (For the record, if her life were in danger or she would be in more pain without it, I would have paid any amount to treat her.)

So, they gave her an antibiotic injection, put her in my laundry basket, taped the box firmly back on top, and brought her out to me with pain meds and antibiotics that they explained I would I need to give twice daily. Anybody who has ever tried to force a cat to do anything knows the terror that went through my mind at that moment.

The bill came to $162.88. It was a lot, but it could have been a lot more. And the truth is that if I weren't doing this project, I might not have even had that. I usually just treat myself the weeks leading up to and following my birthday, and I usually end up in the red.

I was glad I was able to pay the bill. And if this gets worse before it gets better, I'll be able to take care of Eve and still be able to eat and put gas in my car. I think this is the first time in my life I've ever felt that way, and I've only been frugal with one paycheck.

As far as Eve, she's doing okay. I had to put her in Jack's kennel last night, and this morning, she didn't want to come out. I set her up in the corner of the living room with a blanket, some soft food, water and a litter box. She hasn't touched any of it. Giving her pain meds is actually less bat-shit insane than I thought it would be; she's resisting, but not running. Her face is still puffy, and she's not moving much, but her breathing sounds better, which leads me to believe the swelling is going down. I'm watching her closely, and administering the medications as directed. If she's not moving around or eating or going to the bathroom by tomorrow, I'll take her to our vet and see what we need to do to get my little Evila back to her sassy self.

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