I Feared That I Would Lose My Best Friend
I've had my cat for 15 years and we've been through everything together.
Posted Apr 26, 2017
I came home from a meeting this past Friday night and my cat Zoe had vomited on the carpet. That wasn’t too unusual for her; it seemed as though since I’ve been telecommuting she’s gotten used to having me home most of the time and I imagine that when I leave she gulps her food to comfort herself and then regurgitates it because she’s eaten too fast. This has become a pattern, so that when I enter the apartment, I scan the carpet for traces of where she might have left signs that she missed me.
However, as I was cleaning this mess up, Zoe started to throw up again. I went to find her and her little body was almost convulsing with dry heaves and when she stopped some white foam had come up. I picked her up and she was limp in my arms and she didn’t respond when I whispered her name and gave her little kisses. Her beautiful green eyes appeared glazed over and she didn’t make eye contact with me as she usually does. I put her down gently, she took a few steps and collapsed on the floor. It was almost as she was unable to bear her own weight.
Frantically I called her vet, but it was too late in the afternoon and they were about to close.
“Do you want to bring in her tomorrow?” the receptionist asked me.
“No, I’m not waiting. I’ll take her up to Stamford.”
I had taken Zoe to this emergency vet clinic once before, several years ago at the recommendation of this vet. It was a good place to know about and it was only fifteen miles from my home. Normally the trip should take about 20 minutes, but it was rush hour on a Friday evening and the I-95 corridor is notorious for backing up for miles. Five minutes after I got on the highway, a trail of red taillights appeared in front of me, stretched out, glowing like a giant stop sign.
One of the electronic signs on the side of the road flashed, “Delays from Exit 3 to Exit 27.” I started to cry as I looked at Zoe in her carrier, not moving and not making a sound.
Finally, almost an hour later I breathlessly told the receptionist at the clinic desk what was going on with Zoe.
“Is she stable? Is she breathing?” he asked.
“Yes,” I told him.
“Someone will be right with you.”
I sat down in the waiting area and put Zoe’s carrier next to me. Opening the top flap, I put my hand in and petted her softly. She didn’t respond but I knew she was terrified.
I rescued Zoe from a shelter in Westchester County, New York, in 2002, right after my mother passed away. The shelter thought she was about 2-years-old. I didn’t want to adopt a kitten because everyone prefers kittens. I wanted to give an older cat a home. A supervisor of mine from when I worked in advertising and marketing who was a huge animal lover took me to the shelter. I’ll never forgot. The cats were three to a cage and I wanted to take them all home. I put my hand into one cage and a cat licked my hand. That was Zoe, I took her home and she’s been with me ever since.
That first year whenever I cried for my mother, Zoe was there. In the middle of the night, curled up, my body shaking from sobbing, Zoe jumped onto my bed and curled up next to me, her warm body heating my freezing one and her steady breathing slowing mine.
Two years later I rescued another cat. She was also 2-years-old, but she was about five pounds lighter than Zoe. I thought they could keep each other company while I was at work, but they fought much of the time. One day when she was only 8 she crawled into my closet and wouldn’t come out. She wasn’t eating, drinking or using the litter box. The vet diagnosed her with pancreatic cancer, ironically the same cancer that my mother died from. Since she was suffering so badly, I chose to put her to sleep. I held her and stroked her fur as the vet gave her the medication that would ease her pain. Sobbing, the vet guided me out a back door of the office, so I wouldn’t have to walk through the waiting room It was raining that day and I stood by my car getting soaked, holding her empty carrier as though I was hoping the raindrops would cleanse me for what I had just done.
At home, Zoe wandered into the closet as if she was looking for her sister. I found out that cats do grieve. At the same time, Zoe flourished in her role as sole owner of her territory.
An emergency nurse came out to the waiting room and took Zoe and I back to an exam room. As I related the events of the evening, the nurse noticed that Zoe was twitching. She asked me if Zoe had ever done that before and I said, trying to contain my fear, that I’d never seen that before. The nurse whisked Zoe away, saying she wanted the vet to see that before Zoe stopped.
Terrified, I took the empty carrier back to the waiting room, but I couldn’t sit. I paced the small area ignoring the home fix-it show that was on the television. Instantly I was transported back to all the times I paced the corridors of psychiatric hospital floors, fueled by anxiety, or the times I spent in the “art therapy” group, clumsily trying to express my feelings through a stupid lump of clay.
Zoe kept me alive when I was suicidal for fear that if I died, she would be sent back to a shelter. I’d relied on her for the past 15 years. Now she was the one who needed me.
The vet called me in to explain what she found. Zoe’s kidney values were slightly elevated, which was something new. The vet said that Zoe seemed to be having some pain in her abdominal area because when the vet pressed on it, Zoe started to twitch. They wanted to keep her overnight to continue to hydrate her and keep an eye on her. I explained that when Zoe was away from me she truly became traumatized, so I would prefer to take her home and bring her to her vet the next day.
When Zoe and I got home, she immediately crawled into this fabric tunnel I had gotten for her years ago. Exhausted, I went to bed, but I could’t sleep because I kept crying. I didn’t take my evening meds because I didn’t want to fall into a deep sleep in case I had to rush Zoe back to the clinic in Stamford. I dozed off for brief periods and when I awoke with a start, I jumped out of bed and checked on Zoe.
I wanted her to sleep with me again. I would have given anything to feel her pawing me in the middle of the night, signaling me that she wanted her treats. I longed to wake up and see her curled up next to me so I could reach out and touch her soft fur.
On Saturday morning, I secured an appointment with the vet. Zoe had been eating tuna fish during the morning so I felt somewhat relieved. I explained to the vet the events of the previous evening and he reviewed the summary and the test results which the emergency clinic had e-sent to the vet’s office. When the vet examined Zoe, and pressed on her abdomen, she started to twitch again, so he thought that she may be in some sort of gastric distress. He was also concerned about her elevated kidney labs.
The vet had been treating Zoe for 15 years and knew that she doesn’t do well when she is away from home. He told me that they usually hospitalize cats with kidney disease, but in Zoe’s case I could learn to give her subcutaneous fluids at home. He would give Zoe more pain medication now, but he asked if I could come back to the office later that afternoon so a tech could teach me the procedure.
Through tears, I told Dr. R. that I didn’t want Zoe to suffer. He said that he didn’t either, but he thought that we could get her out of this episode. As we left the exam room, he put his hand on my back as if to say it will be okay.
There was so much to remember. When I tried to put the needle under Zoe’s skin in the vet’s office, I simply inserted it into her fur and the saline went everywhere. I was determined to be able to master this because Zoe needed me to be able to do it and I went home with an IV bag, tubing and clean needles.
Two days later, Zoe is 90 percent back to normal and I’m breathing easier. I’m managing the subcutaneous IV fluids at home which amazes me. She is eating, drinking, running and jumping. And as I write this, she is sleeping next to me, curled up into a ball, with her eyes closed and a sweet smile on her face.