My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.I found him on the shoulder of the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles on July 27, 2004 - probably the hottest day of that year. If not for the fact that traffic was caught in a rush-hour snarl, with no one going over 5 miles an hour, I might have missed him: a handful-sized bundle of bones wrapped in black and white fur, mouth opened in a scream.
--Hazel, Watership Down
What else could I do? I pulled over.
At first, he hid in fear behind the rear passenger-side wheel of my car. But when a semi rumbled by, he darted up onto my lap. When I scooped him up and held him against my chest, he began to purr.
I didn't mean to adopt him. But the no-kill shelter I took him to was closed, and he was so sweet and loving. He didn't want to be away from me. He was a mess of fleas, with both an eye and a respiratory infection; he was bony, his little paw pads were burned from the hot asphalt, and his voice was a rusty screech.
The vet I took him to named him Lucky. He answered to it on the spot.
I have never hated writing about him until now.
I still don't understand how it started, but on Sunday night, Lucky came into my room and started for his food dish. Then he stopped, hunched up, and vomited two small frothy pools of yellow vomit.
I cleaned it up, wiped his face, and got him some grass from outside. We don't use fertilizers or pesticides on the grass; we mulch it with clippings. I felt safe giving Lucky a small amount, which he ate. After that, I fed him a big glob of hairball remover - the dark, gloopy stuff, which he loathed. He then curled up and went to sleep.
On Monday morning, I woke up and found two more small pools of yellowish vomit on the bedroom floor. Lucky was in my closet, lying in a corner. I touched his nose and checked his mouth; he had no lesions, wasn't drooling, and showed no signs of dehydration or fever. I gave him some fresh water, cleaned up the vomit, and went to work after asking my housemate Annika to keep an eye on him.
Monday evening, I returned home to find Lucky hadn't eaten or drunk all day, but had vomited again on the library floor. With Annika's help, I got a syringe of water down Lucky, smeared corn syrup on his gums, and got him to eat more grass. Then I went out and picked up feline digestive drops to help settle his uneasy stomach. I gave him a dose. An hour later, he threw up again - three larger pools of liquid that smelled like chicken that had gone off. By now I was frightened, and I took him to a local vet. Lucky was x-rayed to see if he had any foreign matter in his stomach, and had his vitals checked. All looked okay - even his temperature was normal - and the vet told me that she believed Lucky had a hairball or bad food on his stomach. She told me to let him fast for 8 hours, and if he was still vomiting, to bring him back in.
Lucky was sleeping again in the morning when I got up. I left instructions for Annika or her husband to call me if that changed at all, and went to work with a heavy heart. When I came home, I saw a pool of water on my floor that wasn't urine - but it also had that raw, acidic smell. I cleaned it up, found Lucky, put him in his carrier, and took him back to the vet.
This time they took blood, palpitated his stomach, and tried to figure out what was wrong, while hydrating him via IV. His stomach hurt him; he didn't cry, but flinched when the vet touched him. Otherwise, he was his usual patient self with the vet, only complaining when his temperature was taken. I held him, rubbed his head and chin, and tried not to cry. All I could think was, Please let this be food poisoning. Please don't let it be kidney failure. Please.
One should be very careful with one's prayers. One should make certain there's no answer worse than the one that's feared.
Tuesday night passed badly for me. I woke up, certain I heard him walking across the floor, drinking from his fountain - which I had unplugged and placed on a shelf out of his reach - or eating from his dish, which rested on my dresser. I would have given anything to open my eyes and see him sprawled on the rug, blinking his eyes in the light and giving me a rippling "Meow?" Why are you up, Mom?
Wednesday morning, I stopped by the hospital to see him. He was awake, a little nervous, but happy to see me; the vet assistant brought him into an exam room, and I gave him a hug and many chin scritchies. He didn't purr, but he blinked his eyes at me, got off the table, and jumped down to the chair so I could kneel at eye level and lean my head against his. The only thing that annoyed him was the IV line attached to his leg, which he glared at with loathing with every step he took. I spent 30 minutes with him instead of 15, and was late to work. All day long I waited for a call from the hospital, half-fearing it would be bad news, yet terrified as the silence stretched on. At 5 p.m., I bolted from the office, tearing off to the hospital as fast as I could.
When I was halfway there, the phone call came.
They thought they'd found a mass somewhere close to his gall bladder, and wanted to do an ultrasound.
I agreed at once. All I could think was, if it's cancer, surely they can do surgery. They can remove it. He'll have many more months with me, if not years. He'll survive this. I'll take care of him. At this point, I'd already spent what savings I'd managed to accumulate on his care; yet I knew that, if I asked, my partner Stefan would help me with the surgery costs. I could pawn things - my laptop, Mom's wedding ring, other belongings. Whatever it took, I'd do it if it would save my tuxedo boy.
When I arrived at the hospital, the receptionist asked me to wait for the doctor. The vet came out, and asked if I'd come into a room with him. When we sat down, he told me what the ultrasound had revealed.
A "linear mass" in his lower intestine, likely a length of string that he'd swallowed, and that from the look of things had perforated the gut. Fluid had filled his abdomen. His gall bladder and spleen were enlarged. The radiologist, who had worked with intestinal perforations for years, had told the vet flat-out that she would not place Lucky's chances with surgery at higher than 50 percent. And the specialist informed us both that if Lucky did survive surgery, he would be likelier to die within days.
This is the part I hate to remember, because a voice in my head insists that I should have demanded a second opinion. I should have insisted on the surgery. I should have tried to lengthen my boy's life.
Instead, I turned to the vet and said, "I won't make him go through this. Not if his chances are this bad."
The vet told me he thought I'd made a fair decision, and he would bring Lucky to me. He did, wrapped in a hospital blanket, and placed him on the table. Lucky stared at him with wide-pupilled eyes; he'd been given painkillers, so he felt nothing, but I was crying and that upset him. So I wiped my eyes, forced myself to smile and calm down, and began saying goodbye to him.
I had an hour in which to pet him, watch him wander and explore the room (all the while scowling at that damn IV), and tell him how sorry I was that I'd failed him. I rubbed his chin and head, and despite the fact that he didn't purr, Lucky turned his head so that his face rested in my palm - his usual way of telling me not to stop petting him. His way of telling me he loved me.
He nuzzled my hair. I choked on sobs.
The vet came back in. I started to put Lucky on the table, and saw that blanket. He'd shown me how much he loathed it, and so I tossed it onto a chair. "He's not dying on that thing," I told the vet. "He hates it." I picked up my bag, which Lucky had lain on twice while we were in the room, and emptied its contents on the floor. I spread it on the table and placed Lucky on it; he promptly lay on his stomach, front paws stretched out before him like a perfect gentleman. I stroked his head and the back of his neck, and he lowered his head so that his face rested on my other hand.
The vet flushed the IV. Lucky growled; I rubbed the back of his neck again, and he quieted.
Then the vet gave him Propofol. At once Lucky went to sleep, his head pillowed on the back of my hand. And then the vet gave him the final shot of a clear purple liquid, one I could see clearly even though the tears spilled down my face. This stopped his little heart.
He went to sleep knowing that I held him. Hopefully, that I loved him as well.
When he was gone, I held him in my arms and cried.
He would have been nine years old in July. I found him in 2004 on a freeway in Los Angeles, a battered little baby with a broken nose, burned pads, and fleas all over. He greeted me with a purr. He left me with not even a sigh.
And my heart is broken. A healthy, happy, loving cat; a strong cat; felled by a piece of string. My baby boy is gone.
Goodbye, sweet boy.
I loved you so much. You were aptly named, but I was the lucky one to have found you.
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ETA: Wow. Rec List, and republished! Thanks.
Thank you all for commenting. I know there are a lot of cat owners and cat lovers on DKos, and the sympathy is most welcome. I will always mourn Lucky - but the day may come when I do find another little straggler somewhere, who decides that coming home with me would be the best thing ever.