Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Personal Story by Jennifer Wrobleski

"He’s clamping! He’s clamping!"

By the sounds of it, you would never have guessed you were in a veterinary clinic.

The look on his face could not possibly have done justice to what he must have thought of me. No, it was the sound he made – similar to a young boy – as he screamed his objections to the doctor’s feeble attempt to get an accurate temperature.

Of course, it would have been difficult for anyone (let alone a trained veterinarian) to keep a firm, yet gentle, grip on the thermometer, especially while wearing leather gloves up to her armpits. A moment of hesitation from the assistant gave way to a snarl and a flash of teeth, which was promptly followed by the securing of a muzzle.

Have you ever seen a muzzled cat? Up until that very second I had not. And what a scene it was! The bright red nylon cone was securely strapped around the back of his head. Just a nickel-sized hole at the end allowed for breathing. He swayed his head back and forth, trying to get his bearings. Not easy to do when all he could probably see was red.

You’d think they would use a more soothing color, perhaps pale blue or sun-shiny yellow – not red. Wasn’t red the color used by bull fighters? Still, despite my wrenched heartstrings, I could not contain myself and wished desperately for a video camera. No one was going to believe this fiasco.

Peaches (his unfortunate name being the result of gender confusion) did not see any humor in the situation. He was not having any of this and made no attempt at convincing me otherwise.

Aha! The writhing patient finally subdued, the vet raised her thermometer high in victory. A fever…the poor thing endured the torture with good reason. In hind sight (no pun intended), this minor procedure had been a necessary one. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel - or at least an end to the countless preceding days of hacking and choking (not to mention a horrid ride in the car.)

It all started with what seemed to be a hairball. A hairball wouldn't have been unusual considering the amount of shedding in recent weeks; it had been early summer, after all, and Peaches shed his coat with an enthusiasm that bordered on ferocity. Summer usually meant more days outside…which meant more hunting. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never seen a cat eat around a bunny’s fur or peel the skin off a rodent. Nope. Not Peaches – he ate right through everything.

Or so I thought.

Hack! Cough! Huuuuhh! Peaches crouched in the middle of the living room carpet, his body was low and long with his neck stretched out as if his head were trying to separate itself from his body. His breathing was labored and I could hear a peculiar crackling in his chest. Gag! Hurl! With a final lunging heave, a slippery mass emerged and flopped onto the floor beneath his chin.

I was just about to sarcastically congratulate him when I realized it was no ordinary hair ball. I squatted and peered at it a moment before I realized this hairball had a face.

I ran to the kitchen for a pair of rubber gloves and scooped the gloppy mess into a plastic baggie. Not a hair ball indeed – but a whole mouse, four inch long, tail included. Unable to believe my eyes, I contemplated my findings. Did Peaches think he was a snake? I dropped the bag in the trash can and tightened the lid, making a mental note to henceforth ban Peaches from eating out my cereal bowl.

Relieved of his burden, Peaches made his way to his favorite cat bed. After circling a few times, he threw himself down with a dramatic thump and began a feverish licking of his paw and wiping of his face. He was clean, if nothing else.

I spared him a reproachful glance before grabbing a wet sponge and towel. As I stooped to clean up the rest of the mess, I wondered why, when cats vomited, they backed away from it as it came out. Were they also repulsed by it? Well, I was repulsed by this long mess of cat food, saliva and grass. Next time he got sick, it had better be on the linoleum.

A few hours later it was much of the same – the coughing, the hacking, the oh-my-God-is-there-another-mouse-in-there? However, after much dramatic build up, there was…nothing. No hairball, no cat puke, no swallowed-whole mouse. A few more wheezes, some more circling, a thump as he lay back in his bed and twenty-three more hours of sleep. This process was interrupted only by the occasional meow for food at the dinner table or the relentless rubbing up against the refrigerator. Silly cat, I guess he found out that a binge-and-purge only made one hungrier.

This began to happen with increasing frequency until one day the wheezing became so bad he could barely catch his breath. There was something different about him now and I knew it was something bad. He lay in a crooked line, sprawled on his side, chest barely moving. I grabbed a small compact mirror and held it in front on his nose. There was only the faintest of fog on the glass.

Next was a frantic phone call and a not-so-quick shove into the dreaded Pet Carrier. Then we sped off on the fifteen minute trek to the Vet’s office. All I could hear was wheezing and hacking, punctuated by a few pitiful meows. I expressed my panic by blowing the car horn at every car that got in my way. What I needed was a police escort.

When we finally made it to the veterinary clinic, we were both out of breath and were quickly ushered into an examination room. For as much as he wanted nothing to do with that Pet Carrier, Peaches certainly put up a fight to remain inside. In a matter of desperation, I removed the door from the carrier’s hinges, picked it up and shook him out.

My husband may be the first to say cats are not really all that smart; I’d have to disagree. The very instant the examination room door opened and the white coats walked in, Peaches knew what would come next. He crammed himself in a corner, daring someone to try to touch him.

Eventually, the torturous clamping was over, the examination complete and the fever confirmed. It was off to x-ray, muzzle and leather gloves intact. The assistant scooped him up from the exam table and rushed him out of the room. I was grateful to not be able to see his eyes. I knew they could have only been filled with contempt for me.

Alone for a few minutes, I had time to reflect on those past few days. Should I have brought him sooner? Was my baby boy going to be okay? Does anyone offer mouse-chewing lessons? We could not keep going through this. Yet, could not bear to think of losing him, my best cat buddy – my friend, follower, and master. He knew what time I came home from work each day and waited for me on the road. He ran behind my car all the way to the driveway, rubbing frantically against my leg the second I stepped out of the car. He knew when I was sick and would lay by my side until I was better. When I gardened, he would paw at the soil next to me. He loved chicken and cheese and catnip and never held a grudge or talked back and now, he was really sick and I might lose him.

I never felt so lost.

Some time had passed before the doctor returned. The scan revealed there was no other mouse - no hairball, either. Rather, Peaches had asthma. While the doctor caught me up, Peaches sat in an oxygen chamber after receiving a steroid injection. He was doing well, the doctor assured me. A half hour later, Peaches was returned to me in the exam room, feeling better, but certainly looking like he was so over this place. There was no coaxing necessary to get him back in that carrier. In fact, he could not get in there fast enough.

It was a quiet ride home. No radio, no wheezing, no honking horn - just a quiet contemplation of the day and a looking forward to a fresh meal and nap. This would not be the last time Peaches had an asthma attack, but knowing what signs to watch out for would have to be enough for now.

With a belly full of food and the pet carrier no where in sight, Peaches made his way to his favorite cat bed. Pawing at it for what seemed like forever, he made a few quick circles and settled down. Using his tail to cover his eyes, he quickly fell into a deep sleep, his whiskers twitching so slightly.

I was sure he dreamed of mice. Hopefully, they were sweet dreams.


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