Last week and Easter were pretty good. The building work, although going on a little longer than expected is going well and showing signs of nearing a conclusion. Our main decorating project – the cat bedrooms – is finished and we’ve enjoyed having time to do more serious tidying and sorting than is normally possible when all the rooms are full of rescue cats. Last Saturday was a day for gently pressing on with this kind of sorting. We had a bit of a lie in, then up and fed everyone …. except Jango of course because he always stays in bed in a morning. Did a bit of painting that needed doing in the bathroom, gave Jango another nudge afterwards but he purred and curled himself up again. Had some lunch and then started tidying the bookshelves in the lounge. Gave Jango another nudge, more purrs and little stretches and settling down again. An hour or so later same thing repeated. If it were any of the other cats I’d have been concerned hours ago … but Jag can snooze all day and not bother about food – defying me to complete my mission of changing the duvet cover on the bed. Come tea time though …. and he still wasn’t out of his igloo …. alarm bells started to tinkle.
I hauled a very reluctant ginger tom cat out of his igloo. He looked sleepy and uncertain … and then vomited all over his hands. I lifted him down to clean him, he swayed, staggered and fell over. My stomach lurched, my mind raced, the tinkle of alarm bells sounded more like a campanologists convention. After a quick phone call we’re on our way to the emergency vets.
Both human and animal A&E are unique kinds of spaces where the private becomes public. None of us make plans to be in an emergency department. We don’t dress for the occasion and for most of us there isn’t the time or the strength to assemble a public face, so emotions pour out. Bathroom paint up my arms, and grubby jeans from cleaning …. I made a brief and intense friendship with another woman. We sobbed, each with one arm round the other and the other arm holding a very poorly cat.
It’s very different from going to your own vet. They were reasonably kind but its not like having the vet you know. Also the consultation almosts starts with the acknowledgement that this may end in cat being put to sleep. An hour after I’d been thinking he was just being a lazy lump this is one hell of a shock. Jango was admitted and put on a drip. Initial indications were that he’d had something toxic. I spent the next 36 hours desperately trying to think what it could be.
Awake all night awaiting the next phone update. The sweet placid cat who had been too poorly to protest felt a little better when he’d had some fluids and became the patient from hell, obstructing all efforts to take blood and monitor him. I think the plan had been for him to stay through Sunday and go to our vets on Monday. However when I went in to visit him on Sunday lunch time they took their chance of him being calmer whilst I was there, checked him over, took his drip out, and sent him home with me.
It was lovely to have him home …. but very scary. No real idea what was wrong, clearly still poorly and not eating. And of course, still anxious as hell about possible toxins. Being very cat focused around here all our cleaning products are cat safe and anything that may be dangerous is well out of the way. We have a building site outside but our lovely builders assured us nothing toxic. Another night with no sleep. This time because cuddling him and desperately trying to get some fluids down him. Serious roller coaster night. His breathing not right and he was twitching in his sleep at 11pm and I thought he was going to die. At midnight he was awake and purring and showing a little interest in food ….. though he didn’t actually eat anything. At 3am we lay on a duvet on the lounge floor together – Jango purring away whilst I talked to him about how we first met and the various things that had happened in our life together.
Slowly counting the hours until our own vet opened on Monday morning. Such a relief to be back with people we know He laid quite lifeless on Dr Tim’s table. And was admitted again, on a drip again ….. and the patient from hell again once he was rehydrated. The difference being that our vets know him a little, and know me and have the patience and kindness to stick with it.
I’ll not detail the entire week. Save to say we descended further into hell for a few days. Tests came back negative … which was great …. especially the one that indicated it was nothing to do with toxins … so I could let go of my guilt that this had happened just because I hadn’t protected him and the fear that the others could ingest the same thing and also be ill. Presumably … and normally …. one might be relieved to be told that your loved one didn’t have a particular illness … but once you’ve ruled this that and the other out just WTF is it?!
Our vets have been brilliant at allowing me to visit at teatime when things are quiet. Then again, if I’m stroking him he’s not biting them. Wednesday’s visit was hard. No better really, no diagnosis and the tone gently changed from positive that at least he was stable .. to introducing questions as to where we draw the line about treatment. First round of blood tests shown nothing conclusive, neither did Xrays or scan. Do we go to the stage of opening him up just to rummage around and see if there’s something we can find .. possibly something we can’t treat? Quietly cuddling him and deciding that that would be where we’d draw the line. We passed the line with our precious Midgecat and regretted it later. Seriously low point, stroking, cuddling, half already saying goodbye. Then Dr Clare came in with the next batch of blood tests still hot off the press from the lab. Very clear indication it was pancreatitis. It’s nasty …. but clearly not as nasty as what she’d thought it might be. A treatment plan is quickly formed. At 17:12 Jag has a strong painkiller that we’re told will take about half an hour to take effect. At 17:20 Jango starts being interested in food for the first time since last Friday. He wants the lick e lix treats I’ve been trying to wipe round his mouth to lick off. He demolished the whole treat and then shows interest in some of the real food. The nurses have provided him with full tapas selection – various wet food, some dry, some fresh chicken. He tucks in slowly and steadily until the drowsiness of the pain meds kick in and he drops to sleep
I’ve had to take emergency leave from work because I’ve been so distraught I wasn’t fit to work. Feeling and looking like something that’s dropped out of a nightmare most of the week. Some of the thoughts and feelings are hard to admit to. Leaving him at the surgery overnight with no staff on duty is hard. Each morning felt like a Schrödinger’s cat experiment … until I phoned to see how he was he may be alive or dead. Part of me just wished he’d die … just to put an end of the nightmare of the fear I’d lose him. If you’ve not been there it might sound callous … if you have … then maybe you know. Part of me to my shame wished it was another cat and not him. For a day or so I just couldn’t bear the other cats around me. They were fed and cleaned but just unbearable to interact with them. I was furious and envious of the people who neglect their cats and yet they survive. Henderson for example – dumped at the roadside and left for dead – a day on a drip at the vets and ready to take on the world again. While I was sitting with Jango I got an email on the rescue account: Subject: “unwanted cat”. Someone threatening to have a young cat put to sleep if we didn’t take her. Her crime? Using the garden as a toilet. How I restrained myself I’m still not sure.
Things have improved since Jango had a diagnosis. Sadly his feistiness with vet staff grows in direct proportion to his recovery. Thankfully their care and commitment doesn’t waver. I really couldn’t imagine a more lovely team of nurses, vets and admin staff. He’s coming home tomorrow afternoon. Partly because he’s feeling better, partly because it’s weekend and bank holiday and our vets will be closed. I’m delighted and relieved .. and terrified. What if I can’t get food / fluids down him or medication into him? What if I miss signs that he’s going downhill? What if I see signs he’s going downhill and he has to go back to the emergency vets where he already has a bit of a bad reputation? What happens when I go back to work?
It will be good to have him home though. In a multicat household I’m conscious of doing a regular head count to check they’re all present and safe. I’ve become aware of another less conscious count but much more frequent. You know how you become more aware of how often you check the time when your watch/clock is broken? It’s something I first noticed when our beloved Sooty died. That internal intuitive alarm rings loudly several times daily …. “THERE’S ONE MISSING ….. THERE’S ONE MISSING” quite separate and regardless of the conscious mind’s knowledge of the reasons why.