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December 21, 2009

All is well that ends well.


I'm going to tell you the end of this story first: everyone is fine. I am fine, the cat is fine, all is well in the world. Sometimes it's best to know the ending of a story before it even begins.

- - -

Last week I noticed that Sobakowa was a little bit lethargic. It was hard to tell for sure if something was wrong. She was eating and seemed to be drinking her water and sleeping in her normal spots but something just seemed off. I thought I would give it a day or so. After all, I have been sick for a couple of weeks and I'm lethargic myself -- maybe I was just projecting.

But the next day came and Sobakowa was sleeping in the closet. This is not usually a good sign. Bob sleeps in the closet because he is afraid of air. But that's very unusual behavior for the Sobakowa, who will greet strangers at the door and look at them with pleading eyes to take her far away on adventures that don't include cats. She really doesn't like cats.

I have a veterinarian who comes to my house to give all three cats their yearly check-up and vaccinations -- believe me it is easier to bring Mohammad to the mountain than to truck a mountain of felines over to the vet for a booster shot. And after Roy died I couldn't go to my regular vet's office without thinking of him, which usually ended in tears, so they recommended a doctor who makes house calls and everyone has been healthy and fine and well. Until now.

But of course with a sick kitty you need more than a housecall, I've been down this road before. I knew I had to take her in to the veterinary clinic so they could do all the tests and labwork and so I packed her into her little pink and grey kitty jail and off we went to Sherman Oaks Veterinary Clinic to see Dr. Clipsham. I left work early to make the last available appointment at 5:30 and as I was driving home it was just so much like all those other days years ago when I would leave work early to take Roy to the last available evening appointment, for his new medication or maybe new X-rays or sometimes for kittycat acupuncture, which seems crazy but helped him a lot. And I would have done anything to help that cat.

Roy and Sobakowa came to live with me on the same day, but Roy was already full grown and Soba was just the tiniest kitten you've ever seen. Mr. X and I had gone to a shelter to adopt a cat -- we decided beforehand we'd adopt an adult, one who was having a hard time finding a home. That was the plan. So we found Roy and that's a story all its own, but while Mr. X was signing the paperwork and paying the fee, I wandered around the shelter looking at the other animals. That's when one of the volunteer workers handed something to me.

"Here, can you hold this for just a sec?" she asked.

She was trying to clean out a bowl of spilled food from a cage. She handed me this little scrap of wet, matted, food-covered fur about the size of a baby sock. It was sticky. And it was shaking. And it smelled really bad.

I took it in my hand and I stared at it for a minute.

"What is this?" I asked. It was so tiny.

"Oh, it's the runt. All its brothers and sisters got adopted but this one was so ugly no one wanted it," she said. She was scraping food off the side of the cage.

I pulled the scrap close to my chest and it wriggled underneath my hair and up against my neck and squished into place. Then it started to purr. The little food-covered thing that nobody wanted began to purr.

I walked up to Mr. X who was just putting his wallet away and I said, "We can't leave. This one is so little and ugly and no one will take it and now it's mine and I can't leave until we buy it. And I think it's stuck to my hair." And so he sighed and got out his wallet again and filled out some more papers. There are times I can be reasoned with and times when I am impermeable to reason and he was at least smart enough to recognize when there was no arguing with me. I wasn't leaving without both animals.

And so we brought it home and I bathed it in warm water and baby shampoo and then we found out it was a little kitten, and it was a girl kitten and it was the only creature that poor, scared Roy would let near him for months. He'd been terribly abused by people and was skittish and had burn marks on his ears. Soba had boundless energy and she bounced off the walls, got into everything and ruled the whole house top-to-bottom, bringing Roy out of his shell and knocking over all the vases (which hasn't much changed). Roy was the only cat she ever liked and much later, when Bob and Frankie were found behind the garage of our old North Hollywood house, she tried to murder them and when that failed, she ignored them whenever possible. She has always preferred the company of people.

I still think of her as a teeny tiny kitten (she is the smallest of all my animals, just under ten pounds and about a foot long, with these stubby little legs) but she's actually closer to a senior citizen, or that's what Dr. Clipsham told me when I brought her in on Thursday.

"She's getting on up in years," he said. "I'm glad you brought her in, because if we can catch something early it can make all the difference."

I tried to bite my lip so I wouldn't start crying. It was too much like all those times with Roy, in and out of every doctor's office. Roy had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor just shortly after my divorce and I did everything I could to keep him healthy and happy and I still haven't quite recovered from his passing. Even up until the very end I never expected he would die. It just never occurred to me, I refused to think of it. I assumed I could keep him afloat with sheer force of will alone.

When we bring an animal into our lives we forget that they will not, most likely, outlive us. And realistically that's a good thing. I mean, cats just don't live to be 70 or 80 years like human beings. And it would be far worse if the human lifespan was dialed downward to match that of the animal companion. I know this now, after two years of missing Roy and trying to make peace with the fact that I missed my cat far more than I ever missed my ex-husband.

So when I saw Sobakowa sleeping in the closet you can imagine I got a little worked up, and I thought, "I can't do this again." But we're built for all sorts of things we assume we can't endure and in the end I made an appointment and bundled her off to the doctor and they examined her carefully, and took her blood pressure with a tiny little kittycat blood pressure cuff and they took samples of blood and checked her sugar levels and electrolytes and ordered a huge panel of tests on everything under the sun and then I handed over my credit card to pay for the $323.45 bill and we were sent home to await the results the next day.

Promptly at 9 a.m. the next morning the phone rang. I saw it was Dr. Clipsham calling and I took a deep breath, because whatever it was I would deal with it, and I said hello.

"Well, Laurie, I have great news! We ran a full panel of tests and Soba is doing great. No infection, her numbers are all where they need to be, weight is good, teeth are great, blood pressure and blood sugar are fantastic."

"Ok," I said. I exhaled, hadn't quite realized I'd been holding my breath! "So what's wrong with her?"

"Well," said the doctor, "Based on the tests we took, we think she has a little bit of an upset tummy. We think she has a hairball. A tummy ache can knock their energy level back for a day or so, but come by and we'll give you some hairball cream and in a day or two she'll be back to her normal self."

"My cat has a hairball?" I asked.

"Oh, it's perfectly normal," he assured me. "Stop by later today and one of the girls out front can give you the cream."

We hung up and I burst out laughing. My cat has a hairball. I'd spent the night pushing away horrible visions of tumors and kidney failure and liver disease and leukemia and diabetes and God only knows what else. I waited. I barely slept that night.

Finally, after a battery of tests and a full exam, it has been determined that my cat is in great health and she just has a hairball. Hallelujah! It's a Christmas miracle! It's a $323 hairball. And I could not be happier.

Posted by laurie at December 21, 2009 9:21 AM