21 April 2015

Diamond's silver lining

      Diamond was a 'free' cat, meaning she came from the shelter. Now, in the US, 'free' doesn't mean free free. It means free but for fees. Fees for vaccinations, for the microchip, for the actual 'sale' of the animal.

     Diamond is out of surgery now and I'll go see her in a little while. I'd looked at the x-rays yesterday, with both me and the vet scratching our heads at the whozywhatzit on the image. It was...well, odd. About 2 cm long (about 3/4 inch), it had a segmented look, a tubular look. To me, it looked segmented. But that made no sense whatsoever. I could think of no toy, not even the one she'd eaten, that bore any resemblance to this 'thing' lodged in her stomach.

    I'd cut up an brand new toy mouse and found that the sharp end of the wire was protected by a black bead. I told the vet that this morning before she went in. But when she called me she said it was  "orange". Orange? And she couldn't remove it with an endoscope.
    While eating lunch, it hit me. Diamond had eaten TWO things other than cat kibble, two things, one of which was the toy mouse that she vomited up. The other thing was something she dredged out of the garbage can in the kitchen. Two words: shrimp tail.

     We feed our cats a lot of real food. They get beef on the few occasions that we have it, chicken, duck, salmon, and.........shrimp. Cooked, but still. I clean them and cook them and Diamond and Sable both are screaming that they want it. They both know very well what 'shrimp' means. They both have a vocabulary of about thirty words.
We'd had shrimp a few nights beforehand. Both cats got a single shrimp each, cleaned,  cooked and cut up into pieces. But somehow Diamond got the final two chitinous segments of the tail and ate it. 

  The vet called me again, saying Diamond was out of surgery.She'd tried for 45 minutes to get that 'thing' and then had to go into the stomach. Well, no. She literally took the stomach OUT, opened it, removed the offending item and sewed it back up. She then took out the intestines and cleaned them out and put everything back in nice and neat and sewed her back up.

   One more reason I'm glad I never became a veterinarian. At some time in my ongoing process of growing old, I've gained the feeling of queasiness. Just listening to the vet talking about handling innards like one handles a garden hose made me queasy. 
She described the offending item as being 'plastic'.
That settled it for me.  I said, "I know what it is. It's a shrimp tail".

   "Huh", she said. She knows nothing about shrimp as she's allergic to shellfish and thus has never cleaned a shrimp.

   But I have, and I'm a biologist. I know what happened. I may have dropped the shell. Ms Garbage Diver Diamond may have dredged it from the garbage basket while I wasn't looking. Whatever. Diamond ate it.

   Shrimp,like most seagoing arthropods, have a sharp end to the tail (actually known as 'telson'). Shrimp exoskeleton is tough stuff. It can withstand the corrosive effects of hot water and salt. It turns bright orange when cooked.  It keeps the insides of the shrimp safe from the outsides of a briny ocean. It is so tough that a shrimp must actually pull itself out of the exoskeleton, it must "moult" because the chitin does break, soften or bend. 

    I imagine the piece of tail rotated and lodged so tightly in the pyloric valve that it wasn't going to budge. Nor was it going to dissolve from stomach acids.  

  Now I don't feel so bad. In a way, once again, there is a silver lining in a disastrous situation. Had Diamond not eaten the toy, she probably wouldn't have vomited. She would have just grown more and more ill, more 'dowly', for no reason that was obvious. Apparently food was making its way past the obstruction, possibly contaminating any wound the tail may have caused.  I possibly would have taken her to the vet with a "NDR"...that invaluable instinct I seem to have one, that one that means Not Doing Right. This instinct kicked in full strength the moment I heard her vomiting. 
     They would have done blood work, manually felt her gut but would only have found constipation, and sent her home. They wouldn't have done an X-ray for what appeared to be a metabolic problem.  I would have waited for her to "get it out of her system', without realizing until much later..perhaps too late..that it would not ever make it through her system.

    So, once again, this 'free' cat has cost a knee buckling amount of money to put her right. She's not home yet, I'll bring her home in a day or two after she's stabilized and the sutures have had a chance to really set. The vet made me aware that this 'free' cat most recent trip through Surgery Land is going to cost 'about' $2500. Yes. And probably more, because that's just the amount for the actual surgery, etc, not the stuff done yesterday.

    "Jumping", as my grandfather used to swear, "bald headed Jesus Christ".  That's a bunch of money that I don't really have. But I'll find it, somehow. 

    I've learned something about myself, as well. I can be hubristic. In the past, I've counseled people like me, those who aren't as rich as we would like, to set a price on one's pet when it's being cared for by someone outside the family. "Decide how much you can afford in an emergency"...meaning, if it's beyond that, have the animal euthanized. You have to do that when you're pet sitting for a friend who may be out of touch when a pet becomes drastically ill, and the petsitter must take it to the vet. I'd even have them write it down: "I authorize up to $500 in vet bills for my pet".

   However, you must set some sort of limit. You can't expect the pet sitter to front the serious money like I'm facing. That's not fair, nor reasonable. Professional pet sitters are professional pet sitters because they can't find a job that pays them so much money they can afford to pay someone else's vet bills. 

    You also don't want the pet to suffer, waiting for the owner to come back from some distant place. You'd better find a petsitter you absolutely trust to do the right thing for your pet, because sometimes the right thing, ethically and morally for the welfare of the pet, is the most painful, 'wrongest' thing for your heart.

   Last week, had you asked me what price I've set on Diamond's life, I would have said "a thousand dollars". Well, now I know better. It's going to be much more than that. But, I'm a silly old fool with that cat, as with all the cats I've owned and loved. She's not 'just' a cat. She's a sweet soul, one that loves me without reservation, one that can be counted on to be at my side when I'm laid low with a bug or surgery. She's the one purring on my chest. She's the one who comes to me in the middle of the night when, somehow, somehow, she knows I've had a nightmare. She's the cat who wants to be cuddled. Not Sable, my cockatoo/monkey/panther cat, the purebred whose royal Siamese pedigree is five pages long, going back 7 known generations. No, it's Diamond, the plain brown tabby cat of a lowbred, common Domestic Shorthair pedigree, out of a tortoiseshell feral mother and by some wandering lothario feral sire, who is the one closest to my heart.

Don't tell Sable.

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