On trying to do the best you can: Cat parenting is harder than I thought it would be

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My cat Alice had a bad accident over the weekend.

It didn’t look terrible at first.  She just jumped down from the kitchen window, ran across the floor, and crashed into the stove.

I was watching my friend’s dog for the day.  The dog is huge, and Alice, at only a year old, has zero experience with dogs.  So as the dog wandered my backyard, Alice watched closely from the window.

But at one point, the dog barked.  The dog was especially close to the house when she did this, so Alice was spooked, and decided to jump off the windowsill and run away.

She skittered across the floor and ran into the stove.  She got her rear right paw stuck under the stove, and because she was scared, she yanked it out quickly, and then proceeded to run.

Except she couldn’t run, because (unbeknownst to me) she had broken a bone in her leg.  A very large, main bone.

So she flopped into the living room, and started howling in pain.

It didn’t register with me at first.  We have two cats, Alice and Mel, and the two of them have never figured out how to get along.  So they take turns having the run of the house.  Mel was locked in a bedroom that, like the kitchen, had a window looking into the backyard.  So when we heard the howling, we just assumed Mel was complaining about being locked up when there was SUCH EXCITEMENT going on (read: dog).

But then my mom (who had witnessed the accident, but hadn’t followed Alice into the living room to witness her handling of her pain) noticed that Alice wasn’t walking, and that she was also being uncharacteristically affectionate (Alice is usually only interested in spending time with me, and pretty much ignores my parents).

My friend was on her way to pick up her dog, and I had plans to go home with her and spend some time hanging out.  I seldom get to see her, and was very much looking forward to this.

But as a precaution, I called another friend of mine who works at a veterinary hospital, just to ask her if she thought we should bring Alice into the emergency clinic (it was a Saturday evening, so her regular vet was closed).

“Cats hide their pain well,” she said.  “So if she was howling, then you definitely need to get her checked out.”

(By then, of course, we’d figured out that Alice’s crash into the stove and the screaming we’d heard afterward were probably related, given the state she was in.)

So, resigned, I told my friend I couldn’t hang out, and pulled Alice’s carrier out of the basement.  We loaded her into it and drove over to the off-hours clinic.

We opted not to have her leg x-rayed just yet.  We had no idea how badly she’d hurt herself.  We figured she may have pulled a muscle.  So we just wanted to get her pain under control until we could get her into her regular vet on Monday.

The weekend was rough.  Medicating Alice was hard; she didn’t like it.  She was also clearly in a lot of pain.  Although she was eating, drinking, and using the bathroom, she opted to spend most of her time sleeping in her litter box.  And that scared me.  According to the almighty Google, cats who sleep in their litter boxes think they’re dying.

Alice is a year old, remember.

I barely slept, keeping vigil over her.  She was confused as to why I wouldn’t let her up onto the bed with me, where she usually slept (I didn’t want her to jump off, especially while she was medicated).

At 9:00 on Monday morning, I called her vet.  They had a 9:40 opening (thankfully), so I took her right in for x-rays.

The x-rays made me gasp.  Alice had broken her leg badly.  Her femur (is it called a femur in cats? Either way, the main bone in her thigh, right above her knee at the growth plate) had severed in half.  There was another piece of bone floating where it shouldn’t be, also.

She would need surgery.

I love Alice’s vet.  She’s smart, thorough, compassionate (to both animals and humans) and takes no shit.  I kind of want to be her when I grow up, to be honest.

But she’s not an orthopedic surgeon.  And the surgeon she recommended to me couldn’t do the surgery until Friday afternoon (this was Monday, mind you).  And afterward, Alice would have to spend the night at the off-hours clinic, which is an idea I didn’t particularly like.  Weekends, as I knew well, are not kind to sick or injured cats.

So I called the friend of mine I mentioned before, who works in a veterinary clinic across town.  Her clinic had an orthopedic surgeon onsite who could do the surgery the following day, and I knew Alice would get quality overnight care there as well, without having to be transferred.

So I booked an appointment with them.

Except of course, that very day, Detroit and its surrounding metro area (where I lived) experienced the worst flood in history.

So getting her there (almost an hour away) was an ordeal.  But we did it because we’re cat-obsessed heroes.

I say all of this kind of matter-of-factly, but these were not easy decisions to make.  At one point I considered amputating her leg.  What if the surgery goes wrong and she’s unable to recover? Plus, that route would be less expensive, and she’d still get to live a full life.

I am going to be in debt to my parents until I’m 50.

I have been an emotional wreck since Saturday.  I didn’t know I could cry so much or worry so much.  I didn’t even stop crying or worrying after we dropped her off at the hospital for surgery.  I figured I’d be able to put energy toward my own needs once Alice was out of my hands.  But nope.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, Alice is only a year old.  And she’s otherwise healthy.  I’ve kept her up to date on her shots, had her spayed, and I invest in high-quality food for her.  She’s at a perfect weight for her size.  And her regular vet, whom I respect and trust infinitely, said that if it were her pet, she’d go for the surgery, because Alice has such a high chance of making a full recovery.

And so, I chose the surgery.  I think I made the best choice, but who knows. And the “who knows” has been eating at me since Saturday.  I’m trying to make tough decisions that have real consequences for an individual I care about, who cannot make decisions for herself.

And, frankly, this is the first time I’ve ever had to do that.  I grew up with cats, but Alice is the first one I adopted on my own, and who is solely my responsibility.  My parents have made all the tough decisions regarding our other pets.  And now that something has gone terribly wrong, the reality of the responsibilities involved in Alice’s care are really overwhelming. I hate that I can’t explain my reasoning to her.  The night before her surgery, she was asking for food.  I couldn’t give it to her because she had to fast before she went under anesthesia.  And I couldn’t stand the look she gave me: “I am trying to communicate my needs to you and you are failing to understand me.”

I want to do right by her, but I’m human and I’m sure as hell not perfect.

Some of you might recall that last summer, I had to put my cat Lucy down unexpectedly.  My cat Mac dropped dead beside his letter box in August of 2011.  And in 2007, my deaf cat Poe (who was fearless and loved motors because they purred like him and were warm) crawled under our car.  We didn’t know he was there, and we ran over him.  He died.

So I asked my friend–the one who works at the veterinary clinic where Alice is being treated–why so many terrible things have happened to my cats, when I know for a fact that I always do my best to provide the best possible care for them.

She responded, “Maybe the universe knows you’re an amazing cat mom and that’s why you always get the hard ones.”

The picture attached to this blog post was taken last night, a few hours after Alice got out of surgery.  The nice thing about having a friend who works at the veterinary clinic is that I get to see her.  The cone of shame and shaved fur is a huge bummer, but it’s obvious she’s not in pain.  And my goal as her devoted cat mom is to keep her out of pain, so I am comforted by this; I know she will be okay.

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About Amelia

feminist, seafood enthusiast, bookworm, blogworm
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