This post was supposed to be about the countdown to my wedding. Instead, it is largely about the cat.
As of this last Friday, we were eight days away from my wedding, and I was due to cook dinner that night: collard greens with barbecued chicken and grilled pineapple. I was feeling overwhelmed by what needed to be done, and concerned about cooking something would take as long to make as collard greens on a work night; so Sonya and I decided we would address what needed to be done by going to Trader Joe’s, buying our usual “picnic” (some meat, cheese, fruit, and crackers), and then eating it and crafting wedding decorations while watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s a dinner plan that requires very little kitchen prep and is easy and fun and relaxing for us, and would be the perfect way to get us to push into the final few things we needed to do – finish the decorations, choose the last of the music, decide on the first dance, etc. We drove to Trader Joe’s, the whole way trading off the ball of stress we’ve been managing the last couple of weeks, as well as doing our usual Friday decompression, thinking about our weekend, etc. Plus we had Sonya’s bachelorette party to talk about, which was due to happen Saturday the 30th and was a source of excitement for both of us; she would get to be celebrated the way I was celebrated, and I would get the house to myself to play Sentinels of the Multiverse. Then we got home, and we knew this entire plan was going to be cast aside.
Our cat, Yossarian (“Yoshi” to his friends), has been having some issues of late. He’s been treating the tables and bench as his restroom, without regard to what objects he may actually befoul in the process. He’s also been dealing with our (apparently pretty gnarly) flea problem, courtesy of poor insulation and a local feral cat population. Given how old he is (well into his teens), we were monitoring him for signs he was getting worse, but also assuming it could just be age taking its toll and possibly the fleas annoying him into misbehavior. Also given how old he is, we were avoiding really harsh chemical remedies for the fleas, since the one time we tried that it seemed to make him nauseous and logy for several days and we didn’t want to risk killing him in the process of saving him. So we’ve been vacuuming dutifully, and spread diatomaceous earth, and waiting for a sign that we needed to do more.
Friday night, we got that sign. When we came home, Yoshi looked kind of dazed and lethargic, clearly a little upset and very, very tired. He complained at us, as he always does when we first get home, but it was very weak compared to the usual feline lambasting, and he didn’t try to make us feed him or pay attention to him the way he usually does, just sort of…sat there. We debated whether he needed to go to the doctor, or whether this was yet another bluff by the cat to get us to give him our undevoted attention. It was more extreme than his usual, but we weren’t willing to swear that it wasn’t just because his usual had stopped working as effectively.
Sonya set up dinner, putting out plates and knives and forks and washing the grapes for our little living room picnic, and we watched about thirty seconds of an episode of MLP before Yoshi tried to walk over to his food and water, wobbling and staggering the whole way. He got to his food, and just suddenly sat down, not a graceful sit so much as a slump after a failure to agree with his feet about standing. We paused the show and shared an alarmed look, and we asked ourselves “Does he need to go to the emergency vet?”
Sonya gave him some pets and some whispered queries about what he needed, and decided to try taking him to the litter box, in case maybe he was wanting to be escorted across the house (something Yoshi feels is his royal due) or was just out of sorts and couldn’t get there on his own.. When she put him down in the litter box, he stood for a moment, and then fell down again.
We agreed not long after that this was something that required a professional’s attention. Sonya went out to grab the cat carrier from the garage, while I sat and held him, trying to see if some time hanging out on one of our shoulders would revive him to his usual purring self (the thing he mostly wants when he plays at being weak or sick), and I found that he was not as warm as I was used to, and also not holding on and clawing my shoulder the way he usually does. When Sonya came back to the door with the carrier, Yoshi twisted away from my shoulder (exacting his usual price of blood in the process) and ran to the door, barking out his low, strained distress cry that means something is really wrong. Then he hunkered down on all fours there in the doorway, yowling and looking up at nothing in particular, acting as though he really could not understand what was happening to him.
For a second, we thought that could be it. That this could be the sounds of a cat in their last moments, and that we needed to comfort him and love him. But the possibility of safety was more important to us, and so Sonya hustled him into his cat carrier while I got the picnic put away and got the address of the local emergency pet clinic. We put him in the back of the Prius, and started driving for the clinic, as fast as was safe. Yoshi whined and yowled in his usual way, a little sharp and a little high and a lot angry, and we had hope that this was just sickness, not fatality. Then, as we got on the freeway, he went silent, and would not respond to us calling his name or making the kissing noises that mean we want his attention.
I say a lot of things are the worst thing in the world, or the worst time of my life, especially when the brain-spider has me in its clutches and I’m dealing with the way the world looks from inside its mouth. But there are few things I have ever done or experienced that were as harrowing and as heartbreaking as those ten silent minutes on the highway and in the low, dark suburbs of Palo Alto, trying to get Yoshi to respond to us and not being able to turn and see him. I found myself thinking that we had done everything we could to watch for signs something was wrong; that we had both loved him and snuggled him before he went in that carrier and that he knew he was loved by the actions we took to help him; and then I found myself thinking about the exact questions I would need to ask the clinic if we got there and I needed their help with memorial services and interment for our beloved ginger cat.
About three blocks from the clinic, we hit a red light, and from the back of the car, we heard a plaintive little mewl. The relief in the car was palpable.
The rest of the night was a haze of institutional white. We got the cat checked in for testing and analysis, and were told it would be an hour or so while they took his vitals and put him on heat support for his very low temperature. Dinner became a sluggish affair at McDonald’s, both of us trying to joke around and lighten the mood while we killed time on our iPads and watched the clock to see when we could go back and see the cat. Eventually, it was that time, and we listened dutifully while the doctor told us that Yoshi was anemic due to flea bites, and that we would probably need to bring him back in for a blood transfusion in the morning. They told us the fleas needed to be brought under control, and that the meds and topical cream they’d given him (on his shoulders where he couldn’t eat it, of course) would help with that, but that it was a threat to the cats life. Then we brought home a traumatized kitty and fed him the pills required by the doctors, as well as force-feeding him some red-meat-based baby food to try to help get his blood built back up; and we set about trying to get some sleep.
Sleep is impossible when you have a sick baby in the next room, whether that baby is human or is a tiny desert predator who has decided you are his parents. It’s cliche, perhaps, but I spent the night thinking about who our cat is, in between hyper-alert listening to his movement in the next room. I thought about how he’s selfish, and vocal, and persnickety about his needs and desires, but also always runs over to check on you when he hears you crying. I thought about how he likes to wake us up every morning to demand his cat treats; about how he charms everyone he meets, so much so that our corner of the Internet flooded my Facebook inbox with virtual hugs for the cat; about how he loves the Harry Potter films and will almost instantly sack out with us when we watch them; about the way his shouting echoes through the house, the way his claws dig into our shoulders when we hold him, the way he absolutely does not care if he’s inconvenienced you if he’s found that your current position affords him a choice way to sit and sleep. I thought about how lucky we are to have him in our lives, and how whatever we have to do for him is worth it if it means that his dotage is peaceful and painless.
The hour for his pill-giving came earlier than anyone wanted, but when it came time for him to eat, he at least did climb down and get food and water for himself. Then not long after came the hour of the transfusion, so we stuffed ourselves with the scones that had been intended as dessert for the living room picnic and drove Yoshi over to be dropped off. It would take between 6 and 14 hours to finish the transfusion, so we knew Sonya had plenty of time for her bachelorette party that afternoon, and that the board games I had planned would be a welcome distraction. We were able to wave bye-bye to Yoshi through the door to the back room as we left, and we counted our blessings that the vets at the clinic really, truly cared about our little man.
Saturday was honestly even more of a haze than the night before. Two good friends came over, and two others came by and dropped off their wedding gift to us – a window-mounted air conditioner, which was truly a blessing for us sweaty California gamers in our house with no AC of its own. We played Sentinels of the Multiverse after a late lunch, and found ourselves stuck waiting for the vet to call and so playing The Red Dragon Inn to pass the time while we waited (next to no setup, so easy to tear down and keep track of if we had to leave suddenly). I spoke to the doctor tending Yoshi around 7 and heard “the little stinker is eating us out of house and home,” and that he’d be ready soon. Some emergencies caused us to have to wait until 10 to get the little man, but ultimately we were able to. We spent an amount of money that did not matter, because we had it and it meant Yoshi was taken care of.
And that brings us more or less to now. Yoshi is in the house as I type this, basically rotating between eating, sleeping, and sometimes pooping somewhere inappropriate. He is not as weak or as sad as he was on Friday, and we’re not hearing distress cries, but he’s clearly not up to speed yet, either. The flea situation is mostly under control, and we’ll be getting a proper exterminator in the week of our honeymoon – the doctor’s orders are that he not be subjected to stress for a week, and with the meds and our brand-new vacuum cleaner taking the fleas to task we figure a stranger coming in and spraying weird stuff on the floor, nontoxic or not, counts as stress. Tomorrow he goes in to have his red blood cell count checked and see if the transfusion took properly, and we will hope for the best from there.
Sonya and I are both exhausted, due to the early-morning pill feedings and the constant state of alertness about his behavior. We both know we need to handle wedding stuff tonight, but in a way, we are both in a state where we almost forgot the wedding was happening. It doesn’t even feel distant; it feels like it was a part of a different life, a different schedule, one where we didn’t have our cat look like he was about to breathe his last breath on the little red welcome mat inside our front door. This took priority so heavily it actually reshaped our honeymoon plans – we’ll be day-tripping or overnighting our stay in Monterey, and later on in the week, after Yoshi’s pill regimens have already finished (which does have the bonus effect of us getting to spend time with a bridesmaid who is staying on our couch and whom Sonya has never gotten to spend time with in person). We may not get anything done tonight, really, though I have at least ordered my shoes and Sonya’s gift for the bride and groom gift exchange. I was supposed to cook the collard greens and chicken and pineapple tonight, but I simply do not have the energy. It can wait for Labor Day, it really can. It doesn’t matter in the face of our cat being safe.
In a way, as stressful and as exhausting as this has been, it has also been good. It’s proof that Sonya and I can partner up in a stressful situation, can make big financial and scheduling decisions without falling into an argument, and that we are able to do whatever it takes to take care of a small, helpless life together. Whether the next life we are tending to is Yoshi’s, or that of a baby, or a metaphorical life like a house or a car or an art project, we know we are capable of managing the stress of it together, and that the load is lighter for the other carrying it. It’s also encouraged us to tighten our budget – we’re not broke now, but we don’t have much left, and we now see very starkly the importance of having some extra cash around in case something goes wrong. But more than anything else, the stress and the exhaustion are worth it because our cat is in his heated cat bed, snoozing away with his limbs oozing out the sides, periodically getting up to chow down on his food; and not hunkering down in silence in the darkness of the back of the car, making us wonder if he’s dead.
We get married in seven days, almost to the hour; and I cannot imagine a person I would be more proud to spend my life with than the funny, smart, caring, quick-thinking, generous woman I have gone through this with. I, and Yoshi, are both lucky to have her.
One last thing. As tempting as it is, I am not asking for a handout; we had enough in savings to pay for Yoshi’s treatment and then a little bit more. However – if you want to get us a wedding gift and have not yet, money into our Wanderable account would be really, truly, vastly appreciated – it can go to the honeymoon, which gives us fewer expenses in the week to come and makes it easier for us to start recouping the cost of Yoshi’s medical treatment.
Now, I am going to go eat dinner and nuzzle my kitty, in that order. If you have a pet or a child in your life, please give them some love from us. And I hope you never experience the drive we did.