On fear and other uncomfortable emotions
Posted by joeabbott on March 3, 2012
Meet Spencer: a cat we rescued from a shelter over ten years ago. He’s probably been our overall best cat, and continues to be, but he’s very sick.
A long while back, maybe three years ago, he had an episode of jaundice in which his gums, the whites of his eyes, and his skin turned yellow. It was caused by something with his pancreas and is typically fatal; so much so, there’s a saying that goes, “a yellow cat is a dead cat”. Not the catchy sort of thing you’d hear at a ballpark, but something said in the veterinary circles.
Anyhow, with a lot of care and medicines, he pulled through. Our lucky little tabby. Since then, we’ve had him on a cocktail of medicines to keep his condition in check. In spite of that, he’s had a few episodes but we’ve nursed him back each time. He can’t cough up a hairball without being “on watch” from us for the following 48-hours and getting a vet visit if he shows any signs of problem.
Yup, a lot of work and care and cost, but worth every effort and emotion and penny.
But, he’s been having another bout and this time we’re not finding the things he needs to beat it. Not yet as we’re certainly not giving up. While he has us in his corner providing him the necessary antibiotics, anti-inflammatory meds, spoon or syringe feedings, and fluids, we has something even better: a vet who cares.
We met Dr. Wilford years ago after our first cat, Trooper, passed on. We were unsatisfied with the care Trooper had received at the vet we’d been going to (while having Trooper in for a biopsy on a mass they’d missed during previous check-ups, the young, male tattooed tech said something like, “I don’t like cats; I like dogs. Want to see a picture of my pit bull?”), so we started looking around. We found a clinic that specialized in geriatric cats and after seeing three or four of the vets there, saw Dr. Wilford.
I can’t recall if it was “love at first visit”, but she won us over big time. I loved that we’d ask her questions and she’d actually work off the clock to get answers for. She’d say things like, “a journal I was peer reviewing mentioned something that reminds me of this; I’ll look into it and contact some other doctors to see what they think.” And far from just asking others, she was one of the first to warn us away from cat foods that had problems for which the foods were later recalled.
Dr. Wilford isn’t pushy, doesn’t impose her values on you but definitely lets you know your options. When she goes on vacations we’re nervous until she returns. One time she was away and a problem with Spencer came up in which the other doctors were starting to counsel us through “letting go”. She got back and Spencer got better. This pattern isn’t lost on us. Ultimately, however, it comes down to the fact that she really, honestly cares about both our pets and us.
As for Spencer’s care, we’re only willing to go so far. No invasive procedures, no hospitalization. I can take time off work, Suzy can, too. The one time Suzy left Spencer at the vet for a teeth cleaning: as she walked away leaving him with someone else, he howled so loudly she could hear him outside. I can only imagine it’s hard to feel loved when you’re left in a stainless steel cage with strange animal sounds and smells all around and you just don’t understand what’s going on. Love might not cure him, but if these really are his last days, getting some of that can’t hurt, either.
I’d worked from home yesterday and found that my attention was too divided; I need time off if I’m to worry and care about The Big Cat. Dr. Wilford recently wrote, “Difficult doesn’t even describe this situation for you. There isn’t a word for it.” And she’s right. I’m not an emotional person … I’m expressive, I can be loud, and sincerely care, yet I live life in a more exuberant state. I’m a fortunate piece of jetsam who’s happened on the right currents in life to carry me to quiet waters in sunny climes. So I’m out of my element just now with Spencer’s situation.
It takes me back to losing our other cats, our first cats: Trooper and Trout. Trooper who taught me that cats are not just pets, but part of the family; and Trout who will ever be my most-loved pet. I’m not sure how Spencer can be the “overall best cat” and Trout the “most-loved”, but it somehow works out.
Sitting home with a sick pet, someone you’re powerless to help, is hard for an optimist.
You come downstairs and see the cat sitting on the hardwoods, not in the comfy down throw and you worry: did he get down from the couch OK? What drove him down? Is he OK? You notice he’s used the litter box and you’re happy, then see that he’s been drooling from nausea and so you comb out the fur. You sit with him and are happy to feel a “connection” and then he gets up to walk away. Maybe he liked the view without you there, maybe he’s not feeling well and wants to be alone, maybe many other maybes. But it’s hard to have him walk away from you.
You notice that he doesn’t walk as far as you think he would have; he just doesn’t have the energy. You notice that he stops, partially crouched, and his back legs slip a bit on the hardwoods. You think on the last time he ate, last time he drank, or last time you heard him purr. Hope is hard to see just then. Such is the challenge for an optimist.
And yet hope has not completely left.
Another time you see him and he’s sleeping. Truly sleeping. Not just sitting, staring off but getting deep rest. Like the old Spencer, he doesn’t know you’re there until you’re very close and when he awakens it’s with a stretch that causes his legs to vibrate, the trimmed claws to stand out, and accompanied by a deep exhale. You touch the pads of his paw with your index finger and he wraps his oversized, warm fingers around yours and gives a gentle tug. You skritch his cheek and he pushes into your hand. You feel his velvety, big nose and he closes his eyes in pleasure. This is quality time and it buoys the spirit, offering a small shelter from the storms of doubt and dread. And fear.
But, I just wanted to talk about Spencer a bit. He’s only appeared in my writings eight times in the past many months of posting here and in pictures just once. He’s a grand fella and it’s a pleasure to spend time with him. As one might expect when spending time with the overall best cat.