Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Christmas Catventure

It was a cold November Monday morning, when I saw this cat in our office yard, crawling under the production waste bins and squealing for help. Identified as female by one of my colleagues (also female, if it matters), the cat was black with white chest, looked about 7-8 months old, and apparently was injured – you could see a large swelling on a side of her belly. It refused to eat anything we offered, although was eager to communicate.

Our office is located outside the city and it has a vast yard, but it’s not exactly animal friendly, especially in cold times of year. Nowhere to hide and make a place of living, just hundreds of square meters of trimmed grass. We tried to negotiate with our boss about letting the cat inside the building, but we failed. Sheltering an animal, especially sick or injured, is a responsibility which nobody at that moment seemed to be ready for. So, after some brief meditation, I decided to volunteer. We already had three cats at home, living in the premises, so what the hell, I thought, another cat wouldn’t hurt.

But first things first. The cat didn’t look so well, so I started googling for the nearest veterinarian cabinet. Luckily, it turned out to be just some 3 kms away from our office, in a large shopping center where we often go to buy supplies and stuff. On the lunch break, I put the cat in the trunk of my hatchback and took off to the vet’s.

The first examination wasn’t really conclusive. It was hard for the doctor (again, female, if it matters) to determine the cause of the swelling. It could have been a result of an impact of some sort, maybe a kick. What was obvious right away is the presence of lice and intestinal worms, quite common in stray cats. The doc did her magic, gave some injections, provided with special diet food for sick cats and told me to come back on Wednesday.

There was quite a commotion at home that evening. My thinking that another cat in the household wouldn’t hurt turned out to be rather optimistic. Not divulging the gory details, the cat had to spend the first night in the trunk, and I had to take her with me to the work in the morning. So, basically, she had to live in the trunk. Still better than under the waste bins, I guess…

Anyway, the cat refused to eat anything, including the prescribed diet food, for the whole next day. She didn’t drink, too. And the swelling wasn’t going anywhere. So I started to become concerned.
The Wednesday examination also wasn’t much help. More injections, more belly palpation, more inconclusiveness. This time the doc wasn’t alone though – another veterinarian (male, if it matters) joined the team. They told me to come back on Friday.

That evening, at long last, folks at home came to the agreement that living in a trunk is not quite appropriate for a sick cat, so we finally took her in. We tried to feed her, but she still wasn’t into it. However, the cat displayed healthy curiosity and was eager to engage in playful activity, although had a trouble of moving and jumping around. Also, we figured out that, possibly, before being abandoned, the cat lived in a house, because she immediately, without any instructions or suggestions, started using the cat toilet brought by me earlier from a nearby pet shop.

The continuous absence of appetite, accompanied with fits of retching, indicated that the cat was still seriously sick, and the swelling didn’t show any signs of becoming smaller. On a positive side, the lice seemed to be going away, and she had a bit of Friskies and water Thursday evening. Very little, though.

On Friday, I was determined to take some real action. Fortunately, the doctors seemed so, too. After some more palpation, examination and pondering, the male doctor, who seemed to be more experienced, advanced a theory that the swelling, in fact, wasn’t a swelling at all, but… intestines, fallen out of their original location due to some sort of a tear in the abdominal tissue, probably caused by a severe blow. He said he could feel the bowels with his fingers, as if there was only skin covering them.

Gulping, I asked if there was a way to make sure his theory was correct. The answer was that the only way to be 100% sure was cutting the cat open, an in surgery. Well, that wasn’t exactly the action I had in mind, but it was clear that something had to be done. Still, before cutting the poor animal up, I asked for any way of confirmation that the surgery was absolutely necessary. They suggested x-ray. The only problem was that they didn’t have the x-ray machine, but they could arrange an appointment to another clinic, in the city, not too far from our location.

I could only get to that clinic after work. In Lithuania, it becomes dark quite early this time of year. Around 4:45 PM, when I took off on a mission to x-ray the cat, it was almost pitch black, and it started raining cats and dogs, to complete the picture. In case you don’t know, I’m still a “beta driver” (meaning I got my driver’s license only nine months ago), so it was quite a challenge driving tens of kilometers in such conditions. But hey, duty called.

Another challenge was the young girl in charge of the x-ray machine. You see, young Lithuanian girls usually don’t speak Russian, and as I don’t speak Lithuanian, we had to communicate in English, which wasn’t the native tongue for either of us. But I managed, somehow, to explain the complicated cat situation to the girl, and she managed to comprehend it. The only thing I don’t understand is why she had to have me holding the cat down on the x-ray table, after having her assistant (another young Lithuanian girl) dress me up in a doc’s apron with that ridiculous neck piece. Not that I complain, of course – it was like starring in some veterinarian version of ER… you know, as a mid-aged doctor with a sexy stubble, always surrounded with pretty assistants… but I digress.

The x-ray pretty much confirmed what our local vet had theorized: it wasn’t a swelling, it was entrails fallen out of their place. There was only one option left now – immediate surgery to avoid any further complications.

I drove the cat back to the local vet cabinet. They said the surgery would take at least an hour, and as I was tired and hungry, they advised me to take a break and come back later.

When I came home, Diana (my wife) was already back from work. I explained that the cat was in surgery and I asked her to come with me, because I would need help getting the cat back. I didn’t want to put the freshly operated animal in the trunk, I needed someone to hold her while I was driving. We had a quick snack and then we took off to the vet’s.

The hour was up when we arrived. The operation was still going. The doctors, with very pale faces, explained that there were some things they didn’t quite expect. Namely, the abdominal tissue that was supposed to be just torn apart, was literally absent. Apparently, the trauma either happened months ago and the torn tissue had time to be shrunk and absorbed, or it was some sort of birth defect and there was no tissue to begin with. Either way, they needed to come up with some sort of solution, like extending the tissue from other parts of the abdomen. In other words, the surgery turned out to be far more complicated than initially expected and they needed more time to finish it. And they said they couldn’t give a 100% guarantee that the cat would survive.

It was probably one of the longest half an hour in my life. Funny thing how you become attached to the little creatures you take responsibility for. While sitting and waiting in the car with my wife, there was a thought in my mind I was clinging to – “at least we tried.” But it’s never really comforting, now, is it?

And then they called, and I went inside to face the news. And they invited me inside the operational room, and I saw the cat, on the table, flat on her back, glassy eyes, paws apart like in a funny cartoon where cats get impressed in asphalt, only it wasn’t funny. As they filled me in the details of the surgery, I wasn’t really listening but trying to see if she was breathing…

In the subsequent few seconds I learned several things: First of all, it wasn’t she, but he (so much with the cat gender identification skills of my dear colleagues). And he was very much alive, just still under anesthesia. Overall, the surgery was successful, although nothing short of a miracle. Now all we could do is wait and see if the restored tissue would hold.

They put that ridiculous post-operational collar on his neck and we carefully took him to the car, still unconscious. Cats get cold after surgery, as we were told, so Diana tried to keep him warm, while I was driving home.

As the anesthesia was wearing out, the cat was becoming more and more restless. As expected, he was disoriented, couldn’t walk a straight line and was vigorously trying to tear off the protective collar. He only was relatively calm when he felt my hand on him, so that’s pretty much how I spend that whole evening, lying on the sofa with a semi-conscious cat, half-asleep myself.

That weekend he started eating and drinking, to our immeasurable joy. With each passing day he got better and better, began moving around and playing more energetically, even too energetically at times, causing us to fear that his stitches wouldn’t hold. Everything pointed out that this catventure was headed to its happy end, we got a new member of the household and he was one lucky son of a… cat. In fact, so lucky that I decided to call him Felix, because it means “happy” or “lucky” in Latin.

Still, the story wasn’t quite over, yet. In the subsequent days a small, but clearly visible swelling had formed in the operated area, and it refused to go away, so the vets started fearing that some of the internal stitches could have given way or the tissue could have developed another tear. They strongly recommended a follow-up surgery and I, despite Diana’s protests and my own reluctance to subject the animal to another hardship, decided to heed their advice.

So, two weeks after the first operation, another Friday evening, they performed the second surgery. This time it was quicker and, fortunately, turned out to be almost unnecessary. The tissue turned out to be fully intact, healed and skinned over. The swelling the vets panicked over turned out to be just some liquid gathered in the operated area, which sometimes happens. They removed the liquid and that was it. Unfortunately, they had to make a cut on the side, so they shaved quite a chunk of Felix’s beautiful black hair, making him look a bit weird. But who cares, the most important thing is that the cat was declared completely healthy, and the hair… well, it’ll grow back in spring.

This is it, folks, the end of this thrilling catventure. We celebrated this Christmas with a new member of the family, who really enjoys being around us. What can be better? So, Happy Holidays from us and Felix the Cat!